Catholic Schools--The Next Casualty of the Culture Wars?
Cathleen Kaveny February 18, 2014 - 11:03am
A couple of points:
1. Professor George made an authoritative pronouncement about how a hypothetical Muslim school should decide an internal personnel matter. But making those sorts of pronouncements really does require the extensive knowledge and training of a mullah—a common term for a Muslim scholar who is an expert in Islamic law and theology, just as making an authoritative pronouncement about an internal personnel matter in a Jewish day school really requires the extensive knowledge and training of a rabbi. My point was that a Catholic really can't be a mullah—or a rabbi—and shouldn't act as though he or she is. One has to wonder why George would automatically conclude that the term “mullah” is itself an insult.
2. Is there a difference between questioning Professor George and attacking him? But let’s push through the fulminations and focus on the answer to my question. He writes:
If [the teacher] were repentant, then I, as her fellow sinner, would support keeping her on. I’d even host the baby shower. The example being set for the school children in that case would be one of repentance and forgiveness—loving the sinner, even while rejecting the sin. Of course, if her intention is to flout the Church’s teachings, then it’s a different story. That’s what is going on when a teacher, say, moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex—or goes into the strip club business.
So...the baby shower sounds good. (Don’t forget the gift.) But let’s think about this analysis. How would we know she’s repentant? Would she have to publicly repent? (If so, we’re getting a little too close to the Scarlet Letter here for my taste.) How would you communicate to the kids that she had sinned? Wouldn’t that disclose too much information, at least at the elementary-school level?
George writes: “If her intention is to flout...” But "flouting" generally connotes some form of open and public contempt. Can one disagree with a particular communal norm, not follow it in one’s own life, and yet still not be guilty of "flouting" that norm? Looking at the polling data on these matters, we may have a situation where a) the unmarried woman doesn't think the norm about premarital sex holds in her particular case and relationship, but b) has no intention of publicizing her view in any way at work. But she gets pregnant. She's not flouting the norm—but her body is definitely revealing a violation of it. You might say the baby is flouting the norms!
When it comes to Catholic moral teaching, I just don’t see “moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex” as comparable with “goes into the strip-club business.”
In the end, I think there are four points to be considered in this controversy.
1. There have always been, and there are should always be, different kinds of Catholic schools. A school run by Opus Dei isn’t going to be the same as a school run by the Jesuits. That type of diversity is all to the good. The key here is to communicate expectations to all stakeholders (teachers, parents, and, if age appropriate, kids). That takes care of some of the controversy, but not all. If Santa Rosa gets great teachers willing to dedicate themselves to their students and live the way the bishop wants them to live for $25,000 a year, then good for them. If not, they can teach at the public school, and make twice as much money. Unhappy parents won’t send their kids to either school.
2. As we all know, official Catholic teaching on some matters isn’t in sync with the behavior of vast numbers of Catholics. That in itself isn't a problem—after all, we're all sinners. But on some issues, for some people, Catholic teaching does not comport with what they judge to be a true moral analysis in every case. Even that isn't necessarily a problem—I think that for many years now, people who didn't think that all premarital sex was wrong thought that this teaching might be a good corrective for adolencents saturated in the culture's "If if feels good, do it" approach. But what is going on now with same-sex marriage and some other issues now seems to raise matters to a third level. The students in Seattle think the church's teaching is not only wrong, but also unjust—it's harmful. And that is where the heart of the contemporary clash is.
Some conservative Catholics think this is simply unjustifiable dissent. Some progressive Catholics think they are on the front edge of a curve of doctrinal development—they think advocating for change on some issues of sexual morality is like advocating for religious liberty in the decades before the Second Vatican Council. Much of the hierarchy, it seems, fall into the first category, while much of the laity fall into the second.
3. How do most progressive Catholics who want to send their kids to Catholic school deal with the fact that they don’t agree with every detail of church teaching but think the fundamental worldview of Catholicism is true and important? How does the hierarchy deal with the fact that many of the people who send their kids to Catholic schools are not in 100 percent agreement on moral matters? How does the church deal with the fact that, especially in the inner cities, many of the kids aren’t even Catholic? They may be religious—but all other religious traditions don’t all have the same views on sexual matters. Given the connection between marriage and income status, many of their parents may not be married. Archbishop Charles Chaput has one answer—don’t let kids whose family structures don’t conform to the catechism in the school in the first place. I'm not sure Pope Francis would agree.
It seems to me there was a tacit agreement in place in the past. Schools wouldn’t inquire into the home lives of their students, their students' parents, and their teachers. And, in turn, the students, parents and teachers wouldn’t push their disagreement or uncoformity in the face of administrators or clergy.
But this tacit agreement is breaking down, on both sides. Where will this leave Catholic schools? Will they be the next casualty of the culture wars?
About the Author
Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.