In the weeks since a Massachusetts bishop stripped a Jesuit school of its church affiliation over Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, Catholic LGBTQ advocates and local activists have continued to criticize the bishop’s action.
Worcester’s Bishop Robert McManus’ decision to withdraw the Nativity School of Worcester’s Catholic affiliation came after a months-long dispute between the bishop and school officials over their decision to continue flying the flags despite McManus’ insistence they be removed. The Nativity School’s students are primarily Black and brown and come from low income backgrounds.
Joshua Croke of Love Your Labels, a local group for LGBTQ+ youth, said the bishop’s actions would be harmful because “these kids are still seeing this messaging that says there are people in our community that feel like you should not have the right to exist or express yourself and your identity in a way that makes you feel most whole and authentic,” according to The Boston Globe.
Parlee Jones, who heads Black-centered organizations in the area and had a child attend the Nativity School, said McManus’ action was “so outdated and shows no compassion, and it’s just disrespectful.” She added: “[I]t’s just sad that somebody in that seat of power would say these things out loud in this community.”
Guillermo Creamer, Jr., a gay Catholic who chairs the Worcester Human Rights Commission and graduated from Nativity, pointed to Pope Francis’ more welcoming style towards LGBTQ+ people and then asked of McManus, “why now?”
Beyond the Worcester area, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, issued a statement in which she commented:
“What is more Catholic than Nativity’s efforts to give some of the most marginalized children in our society a wonderful education and a chance at a better life? Is flying two flags he happens to find objectionable more important than that? This is a shameful denial of the Gospel message of Jesus. . .It is an overtly racist and homophobic action that will not be allowed to stand.”
Mollie Wilson O’Reilly of Commonweal commended the Nativity School’s leadership for standing firm, while highlighting the contradictions in the church on LGBTQ+ issues and, by proxy, racial justice issues, too. She wrote:
“The Church’s head-in-the-sand attitude toward human sexuality has led us to this point, when bishops like McManus insist that Catholics cannot stand with the Black Lives Matter movement because BLM stands with queer people. That is where our Church is expending its energies at a moment when racist violence and white-supremacist politics are on the rise. Transgender people and their rights are under attack. Extremism is ascendant in the United States wherever Republicans hold power. Lives are literally at risk.
“How should Catholics respond? We are called to stand with the persecuted, but our bishops are more likely to speak out on the side of the persecutors. That contradiction, that scandal, is why our Church must reform its teachings that condemn same-sex love and ‘gender ideology.’ Rejecting LGBTQ people aligns the Church with discrimination and political violence and ties our hands when it comes to resisting injustice of any kind.”
Wilson O’Reilly asked further whether the scandal here is Catholics not understanding the message of the Cross, as McManus claims, or whether Catholics see the persecuted Christ all too plainly in this moment” at Nativity. She concluded:
“Bishop McManus may hope that his exercise of ecclesial authority will clarify the Church’s teachings for his flock. My sense is that he has clarified instead the deep dysfunctionality of a Church divided against itself. As long as the Catholic Church is unwilling to examine its complicity in spreading anti-LGBTQ prejudice, it will keep finding reasons to avoid working for justice. Meanwhile, Catholics like the faculty and staff at Nativity School will carry on doing that work, but they shouldn’t have to fight their leaders to do it.”
Finally, theological ethicist Kevin Ahern tweeted that, of the three flags flying at Nativity, the Pride and Black Lives Matter ones are less problematic than the U.S. flag. He tweeted:
“Only one of these three flags flew over the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki- the same one that flies over Guantanamo Bay and the same one that is present at state executions”
The situation in the Diocese of Worcester is far from resolved. The Nativity School’s leadership is backed by the Jesuits, who are appealing the bishop’s decision. If a similar case in Indianapolis is any indication, this case may end at the Vatican where results are unclear. But, in the meantime, the faithful should keep pressure on Bishop McManus to rescind his unjust decree and apologize for the harm he has caused.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 7, 2022