Duct-taped but not unbowed: a Benilde student editorialist considers censorship

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.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Frankie Massaroni on 11/15/2010 - 09:10 pm.

    @Bernardo-good for you for duct-taping yourself. It seems rediculous that BSM is censoring the Knight Errant but the fact that they are pulling you from class for non-violent protesting is just stupid. They don’t make a big deal over the Day of Silence, which is also dealing with GLBT rights, so why are they making a fuss over one kid with tape over his mouth? If they hadn’t censored the articles in the first place, this wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.

    Congrats BSM administrators, you really have dug yourselves into a hole this time…..

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/15/2010 - 10:00 pm.

    I fear that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church both in Rome and in the US which, under Popes John Paul II and now Pope Benedict, has been driven in extremely reactionary ways (in directions which lead back to the days before Vatican II), ways which make it more and more difficult for the average American Catholic to continue to find value in the church in which they grew up fails to realize that they are pushing the “faithful” far beyond where they will just fall in line to whatever comes down through the ancient, hierarchically-derived, and in today’s world, exceedingly obtuse order.

    Incidents such as the censorship at Bilde/St. Margaret’s make it painfully clear to many moderate Catholics how little hope there is that the church will ever return to more faithful paths. Such actions make it equally clear that their own strong sense of what God is calling the church to be and to do is being ignored by the leadership of an institution which, although claiming the name of Christ, tends to react to EVERY crisis in exactly the opposite ways than those the Gospels tell us Christ, himself, would have reacted.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/16/2010 - 06:43 am.

    Parents should recognize that liberal kids would feel more at home at a government school. It would also open up a seat for a kid who really appreciates a catholic education.

  4. Submitted by chuck turchick on 11/16/2010 - 09:52 am.

    C’mon! Principal Skinner? Any relation to Principal W. Seymour Skinner on the Simpsons?

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/16/2010 - 10:11 am.

    “Incidents such as the censorship at Bilde [sic]/St. Margaret’s make it painfully clear to many moderate Catholics how little hope there is that the church will ever return to more faithful paths.”

    I wonder where the vast supply of hubris is stored whereupon non-Catholics come by the confidence that they are in any way qualified to judge the “paths” that the Church should follow.

    I realize that it is not reasonable to expect people not of the Church to understand that the male/female relationship occupies the very heart of the Catholic faith. But it does seem reasonable to expect them to realize that their uninformed opinions are just that.

    People are free to label themselves as they please, but there are in reality no “moderate” Catholics, nor are there “radical” Catholics.

    There are Catholics and non-Catholics.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/16/2010 - 10:42 am.

    A display of intolerance at a religious school? I’m shocked and appalled. Swift and Tester are right, if you want tolerance go to a public school… while they still exist.

  7. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 11/16/2010 - 10:59 am.

    Thomas, you assume it is just non-Catholics who judge the path the Church should follow. A great number of Catholics are disturbed by the path of the church leadership on this issue, so do you therefore believe they have the qualifications to judge the path of their own church? After all, other Catholics use this exact same qualification (their self-identity as Catholics) to *also* judge the path of their church, if they see it as the proper path.

  8. Submitted by Patrick Steele on 11/16/2010 - 11:29 am.

    I was raised Catholic, yet strayed from the Church. The paramount issue for me was the the shameful record the Church holds (locally and globally) on social issues.

    There is a profound gap between the young and old, easily out-pacing the gap between the religious and not, with regards to feelings towards gay marriage. I’ll defer to Desmond Tutu: “Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.”

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/16/2010 - 12:07 pm.

    Matt, I come from a large, Irish Catholic family.

    Some of us are quite devout, others less so. But we would all call ourselves “faithful Catholics”.

    There are many issues me and my family question, but we question with the sure knowledge that the answers are there if we are willing to accept them, and that those answers will not require straying, or re-inventing the terms of our faith.

    For instance, we are uniformly upset about the way the church has handled the pederasts that infiltrated the priesthood. Especially, we are highly disappointed with the failure of the Holy See to take the issue seriously until it became a world-wide scandal.

    And we got an answer, belatedly I admit, in the elevation of Pope Benedict.

    There are also issues of doctrine, such as the position of women in the Church, that I believe are up for a reasoned debate, and there are issues relative to the core of the faith, such as the nature of male and female relationships that are not.

    In general I’ve found that most of the time I found myself questioning “the path” of the Church, the answer laid in not overlooking the whole of the Church’s message. You won’t understand the Church’s position on contraception if you are not familiar with Catholic teachings on human sexuality in its entirety.

    In any case, the issue of homosexuality is, for me, settled religiously, morally, rationally and scientifically.

  10. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/17/2010 - 08:01 am.

    Utter nonsense.

    Little Bernardo knew fully well that this is a Catholic school. You don’t agree with the school u got your local public “Diversity” school down the street. His free speech has never been inhibited. Just that his free speech ends when its on another persons property (school newspaper)

  11. Submitted by Paul Schmelzer on 11/17/2010 - 12:01 pm.

    Dennis Tester writes: “Parents should recognize that liberal kids would feel more at home at a government school. It would also open up a seat for a kid who really appreciates a catholic education.”

    Heh. This liberal kid is that way because of his Catholic education and Catholic family.

  12. Submitted by Erica Mauter on 11/18/2010 - 12:22 pm.

    “Heh. This liberal kid is that way because of his Catholic education and Catholic family.”

    This one, too.

    @Raj, most kids don’t actually get a choice in the matter.

  13. Submitted by Dick Novack on 11/24/2010 - 07:48 am.

    David:

    Benilde’s previous censorship incident was September 1962, the first issue of the year for the then 1000 student all boys Christian Brothers school, when a now very well known University of Minnesota Dept Head was news editor and wrote a piece for The Lancer which was critical of Benilde’s administration as well as a couple pieces administration considered frivilous.

    The senior editor was fired for not having cleared the newspaper with the advisor before it went to the printer (but went on to be yearbook editor.)

    The news editor was not fired for reasons he says he still does not understand, but had to rewrite more acceptable pieces to replace the unacceptable ones for that issue which was republished as the October issue.

    That news editor became co-editor of The Lancer for the rest of the year with another uninvolved student.

    The September issue was burned – but not before at least the three of us flitched copies one of which is still known to exist as that news editor has been facebook supporting the current student writers.

    At this point I will pass on identifying these individuals and friends unless they give me permission.

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