Nearly 1,000 parents gathered at Charlotte Catholic High School on Wednesday night to air complaints about a recent speech to students by a nun who made what many considered inflammatory comments about gays and lesbians, divorce and single parenthood.
So many parents lined up to speak that the meeting with high school officials, the school’s chaplain and the Diocese of Charlotte’s vicar of education lasted more than an hour longer than scheduled.The article goes on to state:
Diocese spokesman David Hains acknowledged after the meeting that the Rev. Matthew Kauth, the school’s chaplain, apologized to the parents for a March 21 speech by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel that was not the one he expected her to give.
Hains also said the high school committed to developing new policies that would better scrutinize visiting speakers in the future. He said the school also wants to do a better job of communicating with parents ahead of time when such speeches will deal with sensitive subjects such as sexuality.
“Parents should have been better informed,” Hains said.Most Catholic bloggers and websites immediately rushed to support Sister Jane against charges made by the parents and students of this high school. Father Z typified many of the responses by Catholic bloggers to this situation. I don't mean to pick on Father Z. I am using his posts because I think they are representative of the thinking of many Catholics. He posted several times on this issue, always in support of Sister Jane. On his first post, entitled, "Sister explains the situation. Spittle-flecked nutty, bullying, intimidation ensue" [HERE], Father Z wrote this:
This is [what] we are going to experience for a long-time, friends. If we Catholics (read: faithful to the teachings of the Church concerning faith and morals) actually dare to speak in public about the Church’s doctrine favorably or attempt to govern our lives by it, the blow-back will be instantaneous, relentless, savage.There is one big problem with this statement: neither Father Z nor anyone else who was not at Sister Jane's talk knows exactly what she said. And we will never know specifically what she said because there was no recording and no transcript of her remarks. As the title to Father Z's post implies, he feels, even though he does not know exactly what was said, that the problem is entirely with those who were in Sister Jane's audience, and it has nothing to do with her.
In a subsequent post entitled, "Nun Under The Bus", which you can read HERE, Father Z wrote:
I suspect [emphasis mine] that what happened, to build this up into such a thing, is that parents heard vague reports – I say vague because teens are such great sources of accuracy in reporting – about her remarks from their politically-correctly conditioned children and, stung in conscience, got out the pitchforks and torches.This is a very inflammatory statement on Father Z's part, which he admits is based on assumption, not actual knowledge. In this same post, Father Z ironically wrote, "Surely there is something of a mob mentality building, and swiftly." Canonist Dr. Ed Peters was the first to comment, and he made a very wise statement:
My hunches are almost exactly like unto yours, but hunches don’t cut it in the kinds of battles around us now. No one who has not heard (apparently there is no recording) or who has not read (apparently there was no text) Sister’s talk CANNOT weigh in on what she said, for the simple reason that they don’t KNOW what she actually said. Lesson: Keep a record, people.
Unfortunately, neither Father Z nor any of his readers heeded this statement by Dr. Peters, as you will see if you read the comments.
The events around the recent talk by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P. in Charlotte, NC have produced a great deal of speculation from many sides. Among the commentators, there are few who were actually present to hear the talk, which was not recorded.
. . .
We believe it is our privilege to bring the best aspects of our faith tradition to bear on the moral and cultural questions of the present age. In her presentation, Sister Jane Dominic spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals. Her deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise. Sister is a trained theologian from a Pontifical University and has the credentials to contribute to scholarly bodies of work. This she has done in the past with distinction. The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister’s academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students. The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver. The consequence was a complete misrepresentation of the school’s intention to bring a message that would enlighten and bring freedom and peace.Of course, for those who already had their minds made up, this statement by Sister Mary Sarah will make no difference. Typical of one comment from Father Z's post:
I am just a sinner who reads the CCC and tries his best to live the teachings of our Church. But from my perspective, and the available reporting, I would take Sr. Jane Dominic over Sr. Mary Sarah, hands down. As I recall, we are here to afflict the comfortable, not cater to their delusions.Why do we feel we need to take sides? The person who posted does not know either Sr. Jane or Sr. Mary Sarah, yet he has already made up his mind that he will "take Sr. Jane Dominic over Sr. Mary Sarah, hands down." Why is he pitting one against another? Why is he making the judgment that Sr. Mary Sarah is somehow the "bad guy" in this situation?
Another very similar situation happened just recently involving Father Rocky Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio, who gave a talk to teens at a Rhode Island school on sexuality. You can read about this story HERE. Once again, parents protested against the speech as being divisive. Once again, Catholic bloggers and websites, without knowing exactly what was said, rushed to judgment to support Father Hoffman and condemn those who complained against him.
As in the situation with Sr. Jane, the school involved in Father Hoffman's situation also apologized for the comments made by Father. In an email sent from the school to the parents:
My intention in inviting him here was to have a priest articulate Church teaching in a manner that was pastorally appropriate, doctrinally sound, and deeply respectful of the trust the students showed in bringing these questions forward for answer. My prior knowledge of Fr. Hoffman and his program gave every reason to expect this outcome,” [Principal David] Carradini wrote. “My expectations, and those of the faculty and staff, were not met, and for that I am deeply sorry. Several of the answers provided were not entirely representative of the full breadth of Church teaching on a number of complex and sensitive issues. Several members of the student body, faculty, and staff – including me – were personally offended by his manner of presentation.This statement, like the one by Sr. Mary Sarah, only brought out more condemnation from many Catholics, who are convinced that all of these people are Catholic in name only and really want to destroy the Church. Many Catholics look at these fellow Catholics as the enemy.
The world is in very bad shape right now. People have completely lost almost all sense of right and wrong, good and bad. What use to be completely taboo in our culture is now accepted and even embraced. For those of us who are trying to live according to traditional moral values and, most especially, for Catholics, the world has become an alien, antagonistic and hateful environment in which we have no place. Here in the United States, even our government is trying to force us to violate our own beliefs with such actions as the HHS mandate. And it is much worse in other parts of the world where Christians are paying the ultimate price for their beliefs.
The question is, how do we deal with this situation? Who is our real enemy here?
Does this mean we should never point out sin, that we should never let people know when they have strayed from eternal truth? Absolutely not. But it does mean that we may have to re-think HOW we present the truth of the Gospel to this post-Christian world. We can't just say, as far too many have, that if people won't listen, then let them burn in hell. This completely defeats everything for which Jesus died such an excruciatingly painful and humiliating death.
We have to realize that many people are victims of our anti-God culture. In one interview he gave, Pope Francis said the Church is like a field hospital:
“I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”In this regard, Father Kevin Cusick, a chaplain for the Marines, wrote a fascinating article explaining just what a field hospital does. You can read his article HERE. Father Cusick explains the function of a field hospital:
Why does a field hospital exist? Where there is a war or a battle there will be the wounded and the dead. In support of the fight the field hospital must function to keep as many as possible in the battle for total victory. Those whose wounds can be treated on the spot and sent back out to join the others in battle continue to be force-multipliers and better enable the military unit to achieve its objective. In more serious cases the wounded will need to be transferred to the rear for more intensive surgery or therapy.Father Cusick explains how a field hospital functions in aiding those who have been injured. He then explains how this relates to the statement by Pope Francis:
What is Pope Francis getting at when he compares the Church to a field hospital in a war zone? I believe he wants us to remember that our faithful often have wounds, though we cannot see them, perhaps, and those wounds have tremendous spiritual and other effects on human beings that hamper a full, free and joyful relationship with God as offered in the Church. I believe he wants us to adapt our care to include sensitivity to those wounds that prevent others from partaking fully in the Church’s life and the Lord’s healing from sin and other realities that hurt them and burden them.I think far too often many of us look at others who are spiritually wounded, whose spiritual legs are broken, and we condemn them because they can't walk like we can. But is this how Our Lord looked on those who were so spiritually lost? Think of Luke 13:34, when Jesus said, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the [city] that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent unto her, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen her brood under her wings, and ye would not."
From Father Cusick:
If we Catholics are to now see ourselves as workers in a field hospital, what kind of mindset do we need? We must be concerned with customer care. We must be ready to meet others where they are before we know what they need, to get where they need to be. We need to be with them enough to “have the smell of the sheep” on us, as Pope Francis says. In this way we will be able to truly care for them, to prescribe not some arbitrary medicine but to focus on their real needs. This way others will begin to experience the love of Christ truly present already in the Church and in the local church of the parish.
If parishes are to be like field hospitals, what kind of things do they need to do differently? We must always operate with the knowledge that grace builds on nature. If families or children are not getting to Sunday Mass, if families are not attending together, there may be human reasons underlying the symptom that need to be treated first. Parenting skills must be dealt with before parents are prepared to see they are leaders in the home, the first teachers of our children in the ways of faith, and then to act on that God-given role. Our witness must be one which compels our recently confirmed young people to pursue their faith and to continue to attend Mass. Our religious education must be effective in handing on the truths of faith to our young people, and so on.
Our proclamation of the Gospel and teaching of the Faith will not have effect without a knowledge of those we are sent to serve. We must take the time to examine and diagnose the spiritual illness before able to effectively offer a cure. This takes time and love.These are very wise and loving words, from someone who truly cares about others. I think that far too often we are more concerned with being right than helping others. We are so quick to condemn, to point the finger, to write people off as hopeless. We hear bits and pieces of situations, and we think we know all the facts and can accurately judge what is happening.
Like Dr. Peters, I suspect that both Sister Jane and Father Hoffman gave very orthodox talks on Catholic teaching. I don't believe this is the issue at all. I believe the issue is whether these talks in the format in which they were presented were helpful to those who heard them. The answer seems to be an obvious no. So do we just walk away from these people? Or do we, instead, try to find another way to reach them, because it would seem that they are obviously among the spiritually wounded.
We need to ask ourselves what our purpose is as Christians. Is it just to uphold our own righteousness and look down on those who don't agree with us? Where would any of us be if Our Lord had done that? Our Lord has shown great patience and love with us, gently correcting us and leading us in the right way. Don't we owe that to others for whom He also died?