I swear, they aren't all like this.

Reading this made me sick to my stomach. Two young children in Boulder, CO have been unceremoniously expelled from Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic primary school,upon the discovery that their parents were both women.

I know. It's the Catholic Church.

The same Catholic Church that had the audacity to judge Massachusetts for legalizing gay marriage at the same time it was making headlines for having aided and abetted child molestors in escaping responsibility for their actions. It's the same Catholic Church that in America has raised a shitstorm over a President's support of abortion rights when even the Pope, who thinks rock music is the devil, is willing to have a constructive dialogue on issues of social justice. The same church that threatened to withdraw its charitable organization if Washington DC allowed gay marriage. So why am I expecting anything from these fucking swine?

Because I am the product of a Catholic education. For four years I was both a beneficiary and a student of an educational philosophy that for hundreds of years has honed minds that have changed the world. Scott Janssen at HuffPost sees this through more or less the same lens.

Boston College High School is a remarkable institution. I was taught government and politics (out of a textbook intended for second year college students) by a man who ran for Congress after a stint as a state legislator. The director of the Dramatics Society worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His assistant, who designed set pieces and costumes and taught us how to craft them, worked in professional theater as well as architecture (which he also teaches) and so many other disciplines that an attempt to list them here would only do him a disservice by omission. Many in the faculty are published authors. One writes a weekly column on education in the Globe. Numerous others would have had resumes every bit as impressive had they not gone straight from college back to teach at their alma mater.

These are people who are passionate about education. And the institutional history of that passion and dedication dates back centuries.

Ignacio de Loyola, so named for the Spanish castle where he was born, could have had an easy life. His family's plan for him began and ended with his becoming a cleric at an early age. But Ignacio was his day's equivalent of a comic book nerd. He devoured tales of powerful knights, and like Don Quixote, wished to better them. Unlike Don Quixote, he lived at a time when such a thing were possible, and through some means not uncovered by history, he gave his duties as a cleric the slip, and from 1509 to 1521, he was a knight of the highest reputation, and it seemed no blade could harm him. But a French cannon did, in 1521, when he was leading the King's men in defense of the citadel at Pamplona. The shot went between his legs, taking a chunk out of one and breaking the other. As he fell, so did the Citadel.

The victorious French took him with them to the castle at Loyola, where he underwent a long and painful recovery, involving multiple botched surgeries on his broken leg, in an era with no anesthesia. He asked his caretakers for books of knighthood, but all that was available were books on the life of Christ and of the Saints. And he read them in the same way as he'd read about chivalry: yearning to out-fast, out-consecrate, and generally out-holy the Saints between the pages of the only books he could get his hands on.

Look, dude had issues.

After hanging up his sword and military vestments and giving away all his possessions, he took the name Ignatius and dedicated the next 11 years of his life to educating himself in order to be a better help to others. Then he founded the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, each of whom to this day complete 11 to 13 years of college prior to being ordained. Their mission to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth through public service, primarily--obsessively-- through education.

He's now known as St Ignatius of Loyola, patron saint of education. The prototypical Catholic educator. And although in his lifetime he did seek to convert the Protestants and the Jews and the Pagans, it was the schools founded in his name, mine in particular, that led the way in dismantling the notion that Catholic schools were for Catholics alone.

Which can only be seen as the logical extension of Ignatius' belief in the supreme importance of education. If the mission of the Church is to make the world a better place, and the way to make the world a better place is to educate the people and instill in them the desire to improve the lives of others, then it would be a sin to deny schooling to anyone for such petty reasons.

And yet here we are.

Archbishop Charles J Chaput wrote a rather pathetic and predictable defense of the policy. which as someone who is proud to have left the Church--but also to have learned quite a bit from it-- I feel obliged to refute.
The main purpose of Catholic schools is religious; in other words, to form students in Catholic faith, Catholic morality and Catholic social values.
See, and here I thought that the main purpose of any school was to educate. But no, he goes on to say that academic excellence is a matter of pride "as well." Good to know. I wonder if Catholic hospitals have the same kind of attitude.

Many of our schools also accept students of other faiths and no faith, and from single parent and divorced parent families. These students are always welcome so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.

In the Archbishop's world, it's apparently perfectly reasonable that non-Catholics would send their kids to a school whose primary purpose is to teach their kids how to be good Catholics. And you have to love the weasel words, which present no enlightenment whatsoever into what makes gay parenthood more of a breach of Catholic values than divorce.

We need to remember that Catholic families pay twice for a Catholic education: through their taxes, they fund public education; then they pay again to send their children to a Catholic school. The idea that Catholic schools should require support for Catholic teaching for admission, and a serious effort from school families to live their Catholic identity faithfully, is reasonable and just.

He'd just said that a Catholic identity wasn't necessary for attendance. He said it exactly one paragraph ago. It's becoming clear that while my Catholic educators taught me the virtues of critical thinking, Archbishop Chaput wasn't so lucky. I was taught that the formation of conscience is something we must do individually. Chaput says "If Catholics take their faith seriously, they naturally follow the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals; otherwise they take themselves outside the believing community. "

You heard him, divorced folks. You heard him, birth control users. You've removed yourselves from the believing community because you disagree with the Church on one or two of its teachings. And the Church never changes those, ever.

At the end, he puts on his "reasonable" face, and claims that ultimately, the children couldn't attend the school because teachers have a duty to teach the "authentic faith of the Church" without wounding the children's feelings. Apparently that duty curiously doesn't extend to calling divorced parents sinners.

I don't pretend that everyone else's experience with Catholic Schools are the same as mine. Or that the Jesuit model is universally emulated (even though it should be). But one thing is clear here. The Catholic Church has lost sight of its mission. I know. I've been there. I've studied the mission. In my own way, I've been a part of it, even though I'm now no longer with the Church, or indeed any religious organization.

I still believe in the mission of Ignatius. It helped form my political identity. My support for gay rights, and my self-identification as a Progressive do not come in spite of my Catholic background. They come because of it.


  1. I learned more about you, personally, in this one post--really wonderful essay than in all the years of knowing you and corresponding with you.
    I'm not phrasing it exactly right. But I think you should be focusing on writings like this. It's wonderful

  2. I'm glad you wrote something substantial. I miss you. It can be done even when busy.

    My experience with Jesuits comes from my grad school, though my brother attended Loyala - a Jesuit High School outside of B more.You seem to have high regard for them.

    I'd never heard of the Colorado thing until now, it is unfortunate, but I have seen and heard of some horrible things happening in parts of the Catholic Church, this one kind of flies in the face of their teaching really. Doesn't it?

  3. Pia: It took me a while after hearing the story for me to be in a place where I could write . I'm proud of it though, and I've resolved to keep it up. Thank you, Pia.

    Cooper: It's true. And I feel better about myself when I'm writing, which these days is an important perk.

    It flies in the face of everything I ever understood Catholicism to mean. Really it's been the second blow of a one-two punch. I was ENRAGED when I heard that the Church was holding its charitable work hostage over the citizens' right to self-determination in Washington DC. I really wish the Jesuits could just smack some sense into them all, but sadly, they've been maligned within the Church for their association with liberation theology, and don't have nearly as much influence as they should.

    I miss you too. I'll try to do this more often.