Bernardo Vigil showed up at Benilde-St. Margaret’s Monday with duct tape over his mouth. He made it through first period, then second, but in third period, he was pulled out of class and (more or less) told to go to the principal’s office.
Vigil is an editorial board member at the school newspaper, the Knight-Errant, which late last week published an editorial criticizing the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for sending out an anti-gay-marriage DVD on the eve of the 2010 election.
The editorial — since pulled from the web by school administration for “creating a disrespectful environment as well as confusion about the teachings of the Catholic Church” — was sort of a big deal, since Benilde-St. Margaret’s is a Catholic school.
Despite his adhesive protest, Vigil is well-aware he has “no legal rights” to insist that the editorial (and an accompanying op-ed by a just-out-of-the-closet staffer) be restored. He’s also surprisingly understanding — though not accepting — of the administrators who did the censoring.
The school says leaders are not available for comment, and released a statement that didn’t really clarify what “creating a disrespectful environment” meant.
However, Vigil says administrators, including principal Sue Skinner, told him that “given the level of intensity” of reactions to the piece, “they didn’t want students who were closeted — gay students who were not as confident as [the op-ed author] — to feel unsafe or intimidated.”
I asked Vigil if he bought Skinner’s rationale. He replied, “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t. But the staff has a personal relationship with the principal, and I don’t doubt her sincerity.
“Institutionally, this is a pretty accepting place to be. There’s no room for open hostility, and they take bullying seriously — which is why they might have taken the online comments so seriously.”
That said, Vigil added, “I don’t think they accomplished what they wanted to do. Their censorship supported homophobia. They’re siding with the people who called for us to be censored. Perception is reality.”
Vigil says to his knowledge, the school has not previously censored the paper, including opinion pieces calling for contraception to be taught in health classes. An adviser pulled a piece that referred to the Old Testament as “the Jewish book of fairy tales” because “it was disrespectful,” Vigil says. “We have a pretty long history of self-editing. We don’t have prior review (by the administration) and we try to be respectful of the school, especially considering we are a private Catholic school.”
He sees the DVD editorial as an example of respectful dissent, and the out-of-the-closet op-ed as a heartfelt testament. (As City Pages noted, the Knight-Errant is an award-winning school paper.) He says administrators have not threatened to expel him, or any of the 11 Knight-Errant board members for whom the editorial represented “consensus.”
I’m sure many faithful Catholics will vehemently disagree with Vigil’s views, both in the student paper and here. But I found a strong-willed young man who also displayed thoughtfulness. Though it might feel paradoxical to some, any high school should be proud of that.