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The student newspaper editorial Benilde-St. Margaret's doesn't want you to see

It isn't news that some Catholics opposed an anti-gay-marriage DVD sent by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. But after the editorial board at Benilde-St. Margaret's student paper, the Knight-Errant, criticized the archdiocese, school administration pulled the editorial from the paper's website. For good measure, school leaders also pulled an op-ed by a staffer who had just come out of the closet.

The administration cited Catholic teachings and a "disrespectful environment" for the move.

I'll have an interview with editorial board member Bernardo Vigil in my next post, but since the editorial no longer lives on the web, I'm republishing it in its entirety. Below that is a link to the op-ed, and the school's just-issued statement.

I'm not a Catholic, and I'm pro-gay-marriage, so you may want to factor that in when I say both student pieces are exceptionally well-written. If you want to have a little faith in the next generation's talent and guts, read on.

By the way, the administration did allow a news story about the DVD controversy to stay.

Here's the editorial:

Staff finds DVD unsubstantiated

The Catholic Church has been a long-standing opponent of gay marriage both in civil law and the Church itself. In keeping with this teaching, Archbishop Nienstedt produced and mailed a DVD in which he explicitly endorses an amendment to our state constitution that would bar homosexuals from the right to marry under civil law.

We as a staff believe the Church has both the right to have a teaching on this issue and to deny homosexuals the right to get married within the Church itself. However, we also feel that the DVD many of our families received is inappropriate due to the civil nature of the issue, and the content is nothing more than simple, emotional propaganda.

Archbishop Nienstedt states in the DVD that gay marriage poses a threat not only to the children taken out of the foster care system and adopted by married gay couples, but to children everywhere. He warns us that if we were to legalize gay marriage, the government would start teaching children in public schools that gay marriage is okay — something that is not consistent with Catholic teachings. The DVD further equates the effects of growing up in a household with two moms or two dads to growing up in a polygamous household, or an impoverished, financially struggling, single parent home.

The DVD tells us that the legalization of same-sex marriage will result in a world that no longer cares about a one-man one-woman vision of marriage, which will in turn result in a society that is, “callous and indifferent to the suffering it imposes on its own children, and on women who are left to carry the burden of parenting, and on men who are fundamentally dehumanized.”

How gay marriage results in heterosexual divorce and poverty, the DVD fails to address. How gay marriage leads to the acceptance of polygamy, the DVD makes no mention of either.

In the end, the DVD simply tries to equate gay marriage (an institution that would actually bring families together through the adoption of children) to broken homes and polygamy, without providing any facts to back it up. And, while the struggles of raising a child without a mother or father as support are certainly real, this stems from the fact that single parents are doing the job of two people and is not a reason to deny homosexuals the right to marry under civil law.

The DVD also aimed to reject the notion that the issue of gay marriage is an issue of civil rights. They did this in the most subtle way imaginable: by having a black man quote Martin Luther King Jr. The quote in question was from “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and stated that for a law to be just it must be in line with natural law.

What the speaker fails to address is the very next line of the letter that states, “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul.” Clearly this omitted line proves that MLK would not have supported discriminatory policies against any group, including homosexuals. The fact that the Church would go as far as to evoke MLK in an issue, which he clearly wouldn’t have supported, speaks volumes to the argument which the DVD presents.

To close its argument, the DVD states that the civil recognition of same-sex marriage would be an attack on our religious liberties as Catholics; however, no law that would be passed for gay marriage would have any impact on the Church’s ability to control its own definition of marriage. The legislature is discussing granting civil liberties to homosexuals in a legal way, not a religious one.

We have been told through this DVD to defend the historical definition of marriage through our votes. Well, up until 1967 it was a historical precedent not to let two people of different races get married in 17 states. In previous centuries, married women were considered their husband’s properties. But these things have changed, and it’s time for the civil definition of marriage to change again to account for our gay brothers and sisters, not in the Church, but at least in the civil arena.

Here's a link to a cached version of the op-ed, with some of the original comments. Note: the paper's staff did screen the comments, so not all may show up in the thread.

Finally, the school's statement:

Benilde-St. Margaret’s School is committed to ensuring that all students are safe, respected, and protected. As a Catholic school, our responsibility is to respect and uphold the dignity of the vulnerable, including students who are attracted to the same sex. Section 2358 of the Roman Catholic Catechism says that men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

As educators, we encourage student dialogue in a responsible way under the supervision of caring adults. As a Catholic high school, we have a responsibility to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. All high school administrators, public or private, have the right to regulate the standards for the school newspaper.

The online comments regarding the editorial and the opinion piece in question were creating a disrespectful environment as well as confusion about the teachings of the Catholic Church; therefore, the administration exercised its prerogative to have the material removed from the website.

Dr. Bob Tift
President, Benilde-St. Margaret's School

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Comments (29)

Speaking to the president's statement, I understand where he is coming from to an extent. An alternative, though, would be to keep the story posted but remove commenting. That would eradicate the main problem at hand and allow for the piece to remain online.

In other words, it is a convenient excuse.

I think MinnPost is the perfect venue for this editorial; a Catholic high school? Not so much.

It should be noted that Catholic schools accept students of all faiths and backgrounds. In exchange for the world-class educations they receive, students of other faiths are expected to respect the Catholic church and the Catholic faith.

Evidently these kids are of the opinion that respect is a one-way street. One might reasonably make the same assumption from your use of scare quotes around "disrespectful environment", Dave...

Hopefully this incident will help the students realize the error of that conclusion.

As a BSM alum, I am proud of the students who wrote the editorial and particularly the staffer who had the courage to come out publicly. It's good to know that young Catholics are still getting a message of social justice, no matter how much the hierarchy wants to downplay it.

As the same alum, I am ashamed and outraged at the school administration. Perhaps I will just donate to the Knight-Errant directly.

You know what they say about cigars, Tom - sometimes scare quotes are just quotes.

Anyone who hasn't yet figured out that gay marriage is inevitable should read the comments to the original censored article. Despite being enrolled at a Catholic high school and being subjected to (and censored by) the anti-gay positions of the Catholic hierarchy, most of these kids recognize just how nonsensical the Church's position is and how much courage this gay student showed in speaking out. That shouldn't be a surprise because its all about demographics - there is a strong correlation between age and opposition to gay rights. The Catholic Church and other gay marriage opponents should stop embarassing themselves, because a few years from now they are going to look as stupid as the racists of the 50s and 60s.

The Catholic Church really should direct its energies in other directions. Simple biology dictates that heterosexual marriage will always be far more prevalent than gay marriage. People don't choose to be gay; they're either built that way or they're not. The percentage of gays in the population is too small to make gay marriage common in any case.

The real threat to marriage is the cavalier attitude espoused by so many that divorce is okay and that you can dump your spouse whenever you get bored.

Conservatives moan and groan that liberals are behind this "decline in family values." But just look at the huge number of conservatives who have solicited prostitutes, had affairs and been married time and time again -- David Vitters, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Karl Rove, and Ronald Reagan among countless others.

The problem is not liberals, and not gays. The problem is with self-centered jerks who care more about appearances, glorification of money and fleeting pleasures than compassion, true love and life-long commitment. The Church should emphasize its core issues and not get caught up in the gay marriage argument they've obviously already lost among the young.

Mr Swift
Most folks never see those pesky one way signs on the outside of the Catholic Church until they enter.

I disagree with the schools (and Catholic) views on this, but I fully support the schools decisions to remove the editorial.

The school is supporting what the religion teaches. They have every right to have that view. If parents or students disagree, they are best to vote by exiting the school and/or religion.

Again, I disagree with the Catholic beliefs, but I also fully support religious freedoms.

The editorial is well written -- so well written that I wonder why the student would stay in that school.

Kids these day, what's a parent to do?

The Catholic Church has a right to their policy regarding gay marriage. And their particular reading of Genesis would be a fine justification for social policy if we lived under a theocracy. Happily we do not.

The Catholic Church has an impressive track record of backwardness, and it surprises me that people still believe that change can happen, specially on this pope's watch. But hey, after the crusades and the inquisition, the Church today is muuuch easier to live with.

Well said, students, and I agree, David, that any school ought to be proud of the quality of writing and thought that went into the editorial. Bernardo seems a pretty good example of the sort of kid that high school teachers treasure, even when they disagree. The piece is thoughtful, nuanced, not at all disrespectful, but also not at all in line with Catholic orthodoxy, so it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that school officials decided to pull the piece. In religion – as fundamentalists of every stripe have demonstrated repeatedly over the past decade – orthodoxy is everything, and the head of the school is merely being straightforward by saying that, as a Catholic school, they “…have a responsibility to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

I didn’t read all of the comments on the cached page – I stopped after about 25 or so – but they’re in line with the sort of thinking I generally encountered from students at my own public high school when I was teaching. Some on both sides a little bigoted, most of them more tolerant, and sad that it’s basically become a public dispute, some not very well-informed, and others quite well-informed. It’s a nice illustration of one of the things I enjoyed about my decades in a high school classroom. A few with already-hardened viewpoints, but most at least making an attempt to see both sides of the issue, even if their gut feeling is one way or the other.

And frankly, given the emotion involved in the issue, and the fact that a lot of teens almost literally wear their emotions on their sleeves, I can see in the comments I read why the administrator might have concluded that a “disrespectful environment” might be created. I don’t agree, but I can see how the principal of a private (presumably expensive) Catholic school would want to err on the side of caution, though not for the reason(s) that Mr. Swift is implying. Much of the work of a principal nowadays is public relations, and it’s not hard to see a potential PR / enrollment / fundraising nightmare just over the horizon if parents of minimal tolerance were to see the editorial in the school paper.

I’d say Aaron Vehling’s alternative might be a viable proposal, but it would have to be in place before the editorial saw the light of day, not afterward, in order to placate the various powers-that-be. Pretty much like teachers in a classroom– and reinforced by the fact that they’ve not yet reached legal age in most cases – students basically have to leave the First Amendment at the door if they’re going to write for a school newspaper. One of the ironies, of course, is that they’d be much more free to express whatever their opinion might be about this or any other issue in a regular class than they are on the printed page of the school paper. That’s been established law for quite some time, including a SCOTUS case drawn directly from a high school newspaper conflict that, while not based on religious orthodoxy, rather clearly highlighted just who’s really in charge of high school publications. Hint: It’s not the students – or their faculty sponsor.

David,
Did you seek comment from the Archbishop? It would not be surprising to discover that he ordered the piece pulled.

It always amazes me that some people think that they can get to have their own beliefs when they enroll at Catholic schools or join Catholic parishes. The Catholic Church is not a debating club.

I think they stay there because if they posted those comments from a position from outside the Catholic Church, not one person in a thousand would be the slightest bit interested.

People like to read about conflict and some people like the attention they get when they start arguments. That's probably a major attraction of the internet's comboxes, by the way.

One wonders if the parents of rebellious students think they are getting their money's worth from a Catholic education.

If the Knight-Errant calls itself a student newspaper, then the issue should not be about whether the content of the paper condones or objects to Roman Catholic teachings. If the school is going to censor what the students have to say, then the Knight-Errant simply becomes a Catechism pamphlet. The students who attend this school and write for this paper are individuals and should not be expected to represent the church in their journalistic writing. I applaud this student for having the guts and integrity to stand up for his beliefs. I can say without a doubt that I was not as brave during my high school years. Kudos.

Ray, debate has existed in the Church since its founding. Read the Acts of the Apostles, particularly the bit about the Council of Jerusalem. The Church has a long and dignified history of thoughtful, rational debate. I tell all of the people I sponsor in the RCIA program to question, question, question. It is the only way to come to a mature faith.

David,

Thank you for printing this editorial in its entirety in order to give it, and the controversial censorship, the wider audience it deserves.

In all the discussion of this noxious DVD, I think this editorial is among the most carefully reasoned and calmly thoughtful responses I've seen. Cudos to the author(s).

These young journalists are getting quite an education right now. They are learning the prizes and pitfalls of speaking Truth to Power. Let us hope they come out the other end of this story with their courage intact (and with generous scholarships to continue their writing educations). The pettiness, shortsightedness, and cowardice of their censors is astonishing, though hardly surprising.

I'm pretty sure there was some historical figure who counseled his followers to do the same thing as these kids -- speaking Truth to Power, that is. I seem to remember that he had something important to say about radical inclusiveness, too. Now, what WAS his name?

It's a great story, but it has some ups and downs. If I remember right, religious leaders of his time had similar problems with a lot of what he said. I'm not really sure that the meaning of his story has come down clearly through the ages, but there's a good book out there about the whole thing...

DB - you're right, it's small stories like this that give me hope for the future - that there's a certain part of the next gen that's not totally beholden a 'reality TV' construct. As for the Catholic hierarchy, they pale in comparison on all levels.

David

I'll be happy to show you blogs of your religion that actively censor issues that are inconvenient.

Perhaps someone can remind me why the Roman Catholic Church considers homosexuality a sin or oppose gay marriage?

From the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a8.htm#II)

II. THE DEFINITION OF SIN

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121

1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight."122 Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods,"123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God."124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125

1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate's cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas' betrayal - so bitter to Jesus, Peter's denial and the disciples' flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,126 the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.

IV. THE EFFECTS OF THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY

1638 "From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament."140

The marriage bond

1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself.141 From their covenant arises "an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society."142 The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant with man: "Authentic married love is caught up into divine love."143

1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God's fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.144

The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony

1641 "By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God."145 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they "help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children."146

1642 Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony."147 Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,"148 and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:

How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.149

"One wonders if the parents of rebellious students think they are getting their money's worth from a Catholic education."

My eldest son's graduating class of 36 at St. Agnes boasted 3 National Merit Scholars, and a 100% college attendance rate. I don't know for a fact, but would be shocked to learn the BSM doesn't have at least as good a record of academic achievement.

As to the editorials' quality, other than the fact that it is properly punctuated and correctly spelled, the piece offers nothing more insightful than one will find in any pro gay marriage propaganda sheet.

That being said, the piece is valuable in that it offers the opportunity for BSM's religious staff to have a reasoned discussion with the kids, and carefully explain not only the error of their beliefs, but the reasons why such beliefs cannot withstand a rational, common sense inspection.

"Catholic education" or "religious school" may be the problem here. Religion teaches accepting certain things on faith and not asking questions. Education requires the asking of questions.

Dismissing the editorial as "nothing more insightful than one will find in any pro gay marriage propaganda sheet"? That's just wishful and conclusory nonsense, besides being ironic.

The editorial was itself a criticism of a specific piece of propaganda, not a polemic on the underlying social debate. If its insights on its subject matter have been provided anywhere before, I haven't seen them. It is a vital and unique perspective: persons undertaking a Catholic education, identifying, evaluating, and speaking out in measured tones against the Church's brazen and calculated intrusion into secular affairs.

The piece is not pro-gay-marriage as much as it is anti-demagoguery and pro-secular democracy. The students should be lauded for standing up for the proposition that democracy works best when governed by reason and not by inflamed passions and the intrusion of religious dogma on civil society.

Christopher, if you haven't run across the tactic of trying to equate homosexuality with black American's civil rights struggle you must have had to try very hard to avoid it.

By the way, equating homosexuality (a behavior) with skin color (an immutable characteristic over which we have no control) is ludicrous on its face.

Mr. Swift's view that homosexuality is primarily a behavior, a sex act, something changeable....that is the divide which lies at the heart of all these conflicts.

As a gay person who never chose to be gay (and I still haven't met a gay who has), I still get exasperated when encountering people who believe there is some element of choice involved. But maybe?...my parents took me to see "Nine to Five" when I was three years old, and I very much enjoyed it, as the story goes. Did the antics of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton turn me gay? Certainly my upbringing in the Catholic church, including four years at Catholic high school (Totino-Grace) didn't turn me gay...but maybe? On most days, the most pressing concern of my homosexual agenda is deciding what to have for dinner, so alas, I don't get too caught up in my occasional befuddlement caused by the beliefs of my fellow citizens.

I have been a high school adviser for 20 years and also worked as a reporter, and I am impressed with the quality of the stories that were censored. The students at Benilde-St. Margaret's student paper did an excellent job reporting and writing. Congratuations to them and their adviser. The censorship should not have occurred, but because of it their writing is now being read by a much larger audience. Bravo for getting an important story out to thousands of readers.

Mr. Swift, it was the propaganda DVD that brought up civil rights in the first place, having done so dishonestly. A thorough debunking could not avoid but address the issue. It was the thorough debunking that was novel, not the disingenuous perversion of the civil rights movement published by the Catholic Church. Of course the students went wrong by bringing facts and reasoned argument to a pie fight.

Believe that being gay is a choice? That's your prerogative. How is it relevant to the formation of secular public policy? Are we the Land Of The Free with Limited Government, or an arm of the Catholic Church?

What smart kids! They have shown that, despite the chasuble, the archbishop has no clothes.

He, like the fabled king, spouts words without meaning or support, and yet urges others to believe them. The students, acting in the role of the yet un-cowed boy who trusts his own eyes, clearly see what the archbishop refuses to see -- the reality around them.

Bravo!

"By the way, equating homosexuality (a behavior) with skin color (an immutable characteristic over which we have no control) is ludicrous on its face."

I suggest that Mr. Swift be clear about differentiating between the position of his church (that homosexual attraction itself is "objectively disordered"*) and valid scientific studies of human sexuality, which indicate that human sexuality, like all other aspects of hard-wired human preferences, consists of an entire continuum of orientations. This despite the Church's acknowledgement that "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex" which "has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures."

I marvel that any gay man or woman would continue to profess allegiance to a church that teaches their most fundamental emotional relationships "do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity."

I invite Mr. Swift to watch Bishop Jim Swilley's recent conversation with his congregation regarding the bishop's perception of his own homosexuality.

http://www.livestream.com/bishopjimswilley

* Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm#I

Disagreement is not disrespect.

Suggesting that allegations are not supported by facts, is not heresy.

The DVD opened up the debate by alleging (or implying) far-reaching societal impact - an argument far beyond "church doctrine".

It's symptomatic of today's "debate" that the more extreme or rigid a belief system is, the more it is outraged, offended and supposedly martyred by rational, reasonable fact-based challenge.

Bottom line, you can't be slandered by the truth and if this is how rigidly doctrinaire and reflexively defensive church-affiliated education is, thank God for public education.

Time for a Second Schism

Martin Luther had predecessors when he nailed his arguments to that church door in Wurtemburg.
He also had a brand new technology that allowed huge numbers of Bibles to be printed for the first time, so people could actually read it for themselves.

The Roman Catholic Church had lost its way. Its leaders had gotten too deeply involved in the joys of material wealth, too concerned with temporal power, and too uncaring for those whom Jesus loved.

The same conditions exist today. When your shepherd wears Prada shoes and insists on leading the flock off the cliff, there are going to be at least a few sheep that figure it is time for a new deal.
They will not always accept the idea that they have to go join another flock. And with all these new forms of lateral communication, they can find each other much more easily. The Bishops no longer control the lines of communication between the communicants.

Sooner or later, enough people of courage are going to stand up and tell the administrators of their church, "We are the real Catholics. You are not. Go away." I suspect this will happen within the next ten years. Once it gets rolling, it will happen really fast.

This development gathered a great deal of momentum during the onset of the child molesting scandal. It has been temporarily diverted by the concerted efforts of the hierarchy to concentrate everyone's attention on the "far more important issue" of abortion. Next stop, over-riding the case of Griswold vs. Connecticut, which overturned the prohibition against any woman - married or not, with a medical reason or not - having access to any form of contraception. This will go on for as long as the membership lets them do so. But sooner or later they are going to get fed up with this pattern of three-card monte, and get serious about change. It is already so long overdue that the
pressures within the church are enormous, and growing every day.