Last month I wrote about a Black Lives Matter fanatic who is superintendent of Catholic schools in Buffalo. I urged that he be fired immediately. Would that Bishop Fisher of Buffalo showed as much fidelity as did Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts in mid-June.
Here is what happened.
In January 2021, the Nativity School of Worcester raised Black Lives Matter and Pride flags just beneath the American flag on its flagpole at the entrance to the school. The school covers grades 5–8 and enrolls underserved kids with full tuition waivers. It has a Jesuit orientation, and from its founding in 2003 has called itself Catholic, though it receives no funding from the diocese.
Last March, Bishop McManus was informed of the new flags and ordered the school leaders to remove them, stating that Black Lives Matter flags and “gay pride flags” are inconsistent with Catholic teaching. “Is the school committing itself to ideologies which are contrary to Catholic teaching?” he asked.
The school, however, didn’t budge. The leaders responded, “The Black Lives Matter and Pride flags fly below the American flag at our school to remind our young men, their families and Nativity Worcester staff that all are welcome here and that they are valued and safe in this place. It says to them that they, in fact, do matter and deserve to be respected as our Christian values teach us.” Note that the response used the term “Christian,” not “Catholic.”
The bishop warned the school that if it didn’t remove the flags, it would lose its Catholic identity. Thomas McKenney, president of the school, held firm, stating, “As a multicultural school, the flags represent the inclusion and respect of all people. These flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching.”
Bishop McManus didn’t waver, either. On June 16, he issued a decree that said, among other things, “The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues.” The decree prohibited Nativity from identifying itself as Catholic, from holding Mass on its grounds, and from doing any fundraising involving diocesan institutions.
The tale ends there, with Nativity going its own way. As other bishops hear of the story, however, they should contemplate a survey of their own schools. Are they conforming to Catholic doctrine? Do the leaders show Catholic fervor?
It’s a good idea. The flags flew at Nativity for more than a year before they came to the bishop’s attention. And one might have wondered long before about President McKenney’s fitness to run a Catholic school. He comes out of the fundraising and ed school worlds, and in the announcement of his hiring in May 2021, he said nothing about Catholicism, only that he aimed to “build on the school’s remarkable successes and support young men who will become leaders of the future.”
My father went through Catholic schools from kindergarten to 12th grade and served as an altar boy for years. He used to say that his priests and nuns had a motto: “Give us the kids for a few years and they’ll be Catholic forever.” That is only the case, though, if we have committed Catholics running the schools.
Mark Bauerlein is contributing editor of First Things.
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