Nativity School of Worcester flying BLM, LGBTQ flags can’t call itself Catholic, bishop says

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The stark, two-tone lettering of the Black Lives Matter flag and the bright rainbow stripes of the Pride flag had flown over the Massachusetts Catholic school for more than a year before the local bishop registered his opposition.

The Black Lives Matter flag, Bishop Robert McManus said in April, has been “co-opted by certain factions which also instill a general mistrust of the police.” And the LGBTQ flag could be used to contrast the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, he added.

When Worcester’s Nativity School didn’t budge, McManus issued a harsh decision. The tuition-free college, which takes in boys facing economic hardship, can no longer identify as Catholic because the flags are “incompatible with Catholic teaching”, he said on Thursday.

“The waving of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and outrageous message to the public about the Church’s position on these important moral and social issues,” McManus wrote. “Despite my insistence that the school administration remove these flags because of the strictly theological confusion and outrage they cause and may promote, they refuse to do so.”

That challenge, McManus said, left him with no choice but to strip the Jesuit-run school of its Catholic affiliation. The school can also no longer celebrate Mass or the sacraments or use diocesan institutions to raise funds. She did not appear Thursday in the diocesan list of Catholic schools in her region.

The decision, which comes during Pride month, appears to be a rare example of a Catholic organization affiliating with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” becoming a flashpoint with its diocese. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a nuanced approach to the phrase, endorsing the concept of racial justice but not necessarily organizations that cling to that message. The Black Lives Matter movement describes itself as aiming to eradicate white supremacy and stop violence against black communities.

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The Nativity School said its use of the Black Lives Matter and Pride flags was in response to a call from its students, most of whom are people of color, to make their community more inclusive. The flags symbolize that all are welcome at the Nativity, the school president said Thursday.

“Both flags are now widely recognized to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced and continue to face hatred and discrimination,” wrote Thomas McKenney. “While any symbol or flag may be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”

The bishop disagrees. The pride flag represents support for same-sex marriage and “an LGBTQ+ lifestyle”, he said. And while the church teaches that all lives are sacred, McManus said the Black Lives Matter movement has used that phrase to contradict Catholic teaching on the importance of the nuclear family. (Black Lives Matter previously stated on its website that it was intended to “disrupt the Western-mandated nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families.” The page was later taken offline. .)

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The Nativity has said it will appeal the bishop’s decision – but it has no plans to remove the flags, which it says shows its commitment to solidarity with its students and families. McKenney said the trustees’ decision was informed by the gospel, Catholic social teaching and the school’s Jesuit heritage.

The result follows months of dialogue between the school and the Diocese of Worcester. Around the same time McManus challenged the flags in March, someone tore both flags, the school said. Two months later, the bishop warned the school that it would lose its Catholic label if it did not remove the posters.

The School of the Nativity is not the only educational institution to be stripped of its “Catholic” label. In 2019, the Indianapolis Archdiocese told Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School it could no longer identify as a Catholic after it refused to fire a teacher who was in a same-sex marriage. The Jesuit Province of the Midwest said it would appeal the decision through a church process.

For Guillermo Creamer Jr., an openly gay alumnus of the Nativity School, the flags symbolize that the Nativity includes black lives — a message he says is crucial at a school with mostly black and Latino students.

“For these young men who are witnessing what is happening in the country and seeing the Black Lives Matter flag flying, it is very important,” he said.

Creamer, 27, said he expects the bishop’s decision to cause other Catholic schools that align themselves with Black Lives Matter or pro-LGBTQ messaging to somehow ask themselves. another if acceptable. But he said it might not be all bad if it encouraged Catholics to speak honestly about the relevance of these causes and how they fit into their faith.

In his letter to the community, McKenney reminded parents that the School of the Nativity is funded by individuals and groups — not the diocese — and would continue to operate as usual.

Outside the school building, he noted, flags are still flying.

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