The chair of the U.S. Conference Catholic Bishops’ education committee has entered the growing debate in the church around gender policies for Catholic schools, and he has sided with those who do not support inclusive policies.
In an interview with Crux, Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, who spent 20 years in diocesan schools, believes Catholic schools are moving away from their core mission. In his opinion, more inclusive gender policies are one reason for this “slow leak” in quality, alongside changes in teaching methods, class offerings, hiring practices, and board leadership.
Since dioceses and Catholic universities have the authority to create their own policies, Catholic schools are divided when it comes to gender inclusivity. Recently, the Archdioceses of Omaha, Nebraska, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota published policies that require students to “identify and behave in accordance with their biological sex,” though their implementation has been delayed. Similar policies were passed by dioceses in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and elsewhere.
Other Catholic institutions are creating more inclusive gender policies. At Villanova University, a “Gender Inclusive Practices Guide” was recently published with the hope of encouraging chosen names and pronouns in the classroom.
In his recent interview, Daly stated:
“’I think it’s important for us to know that we have to always be compassionate towards the student and their families who might be experiencing what is not an easy thing. However, the approach that’s being taken in certain medical circles, certain public schools, we believe is contrary to Christian anthropology.'”
When asked if gender policies may “steer people away from Catholic schools,” Daly observed that Catholic education is optional. He believes that Catholic schools should not be influenced by the “attitudes and the teachings and the trends of the secular,” since a Catholic education is “not for everyone.” He continued:
“’It’s a pastoral line that has to be clear that we are concerned about the students who may experience gender confusion, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are certain non-negotiables in Catholic schools. I think this is an important thing that often gets forgotten: People don’t have to go to our schools, and this is not something that is a minor issue. It’s something we can’t shy away from. I think we try to understand, but when it’s all said and done we as Catholic schools have a mission that is given to us by the church and we have to be faithful to it.'”
Daly also believes that “the voice of the church is sidelined, if not ignored, in certain Catholic universities.” For Daly, more and more Catholic schools are mirroring secular institutions creating a “huge contradiction” in the mission of a Catholic education:
“‘I think there’s some leadership at Catholic institutions of higher learning where it’s almost an embarrassment that the church calls people to truth. I’m not prepared to give up on the fact that Catholic colleges can be more faithful to their mission and at the same time have academic excellence, but I don’t hold a lot of hope out for certain places that have become so secular that I don’t know if they even care.'”
Many LGBTQ+ individuals already feel disconnected from Catholic institutions, and harmful rhetoric, such as Bishop Daly’s, continues to perpetuate the cycle of discrimination. While he claims that Catholic schools have a duty to align with Catholic teaching, schools also have a duty to teach the next generation to be kind, loving, and accepting. The Catholic schools that are taking steps towards gender inclusivity should be recognized for their commitment to holistic care, which is more authentic to Catholic education.
—Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, September 13, 2022