Three Catholic Schools Reject Omaha Archdiocese’s New Anti-Transgender Policy

Three Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Omaha have made clear they will not be adopting new transgender-negative policies, the implementation of which has now been delayed, as Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday.

Officials with the three schools—Creighton Prep, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, and Marian High School—all released statements distancing their institutions from the archdiocesan document that was issued last month and then quickly retracted for further review. The document included prohibitions against affirming trans and nonbinary youth, mandating instead that students, staff, and volunteers all be treated according to assigned sex, among other restrictions.

The objecting schools, all of which are sponsored by religious orders, did not directly criticize Archbishop George Lucas and his policies, but clearly distanced themselves. The Omaha World Herald reported:

“Creighton Prep has ‘no plans’ to add the policies to its handbook, the school’s president said. The Rev. Matthew Spotts. . .said Creighton Prep’s decision ‘is not really a question of accepting or rejecting the archdiocese’s policies for their schools,’ but a matter of governance. . .

“Spotts said Prep’s student handbook was set before the beginning of the school year.

“‘It would be highly unusual for us to make any changes to the handbook after the school year has already begun,’ he said. ‘We have no plans to make any major changes to our handbook.’ . . .

“‘Our practice is that Creighton Prep affirms the teachings of the Catholic Church and encourages our students to make positive moral choices, including decisions about human sexuality,’ he said.”

At Duchesne Academy, Head of School Meg Huerter Brudney wrote a letter to the school community, saying, in part:

“‘Our school year has just begun, and our policy handbook is established for the year,’ she wrote. ‘We will not adopt the recently published policy regarding gender issues and will continue to work closely with the Archdiocese of Omaha. . .Our status as a Catholic, Sacred Heart, and independent institution empowers us to carry out our mission to make known God’s love in the world while meeting the unique needs of our community.”

Finally, at Marian High School, President Michele Romero Ernst and Principal Susie Spethman Sullivan sent a letter to parents acknowledging the archdiocese’s new policy, but the leaders said there were no plans for “significant modifications to our handbook” at the school.” They, too, leaned on their identity, writing that as “an independent Catholic school, Marian has a process for adopting new policies that is guided by our mission and core values,” adding they “recognize situations involving questions of sexuality and gender are complex in the context of Catholic teaching, and we strive to work with everyone in our community with compassion and sensitivity.”

The full statement from each school is available here.

According to the Omaha World Herald, there was no information about the position of Mercy High School and Mount Michael Benedictine School, which are also sponsored by religious congregations. The Omaha region has three Catholic high schools—Skutt, Gross, and Roncalli—which are tied to the archdiocese itself.

Deacon Tim McNeil, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said the “religious-order schools can develop their own policies.” a point “made clear when the policy was first shared with school diocesan and religious- order school leaders a few weeks ago.”

With the Archdiocese of Omaha having preemptively retracted its new, flawed gender identity policy, it may appear as if these school officials’ rejection of it is now a moot point. But these statements from Catholic educational leaders are significant for what they are and what they could portend.

More and more anti-transgender policies are being released in U.S. dioceses, each one seemingly more punitive than the next. Rarely have any church officials in public so simply, yet firmly, said they would not comply. The leaders at Creighton Prep, Duchesne Academy, and Marian did not need to refute the archbishop directly to do so. They avoided conflict without compromise. And they did so by leaning into their missions and the charisms of their sponsoring congregations to see that harming trans and nonbinary students and community members was inconsistent with their educational witness.

Second, this incident should prompt more Catholic schools sponsored by religious communities nationwide to object when local bishops seek policies that will knowingly harm LGBTQ+ youth. In law and in spirit, such schools have a certain independence on which they can rely to protect the well-being of students, parents, staff, volunteers, and alumni. The response in Omaha shows that being firmly LGBTQ-inclusive need not lead schools and chanceries into conflict even when disagreements exist. A simple, insistent “no thank you” will suffice.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 8, 2022

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