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Homosexuality, divorce and remarriage: Will a Catholic school in North Carolina set the tone for the Church?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 28, 2014

A continuation of one of the most important Catholic stories of the past decade is unfolding at a Catholic high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Parents and students at that school are divided in response to a presentation critical of homosexuality at a school assembly. The resolution of this division will send a signal which could substantially affect how local churches respond to similar cases in the immediate future.

The issue has all the necessary elements of a blockbuster:

  • The speaker was the well-known theologian Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, a member of the Nashville Dominicans (Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia), who are renowned for their fidelity, their experience in education, and their consequent rapid growth.
  • Some parents and students have mounted a campaign against the school because Catholic teaching on homosexuality, divorce and remarriage were clearly presented at the assembly, to the discomfort of those who disagree with that teaching.
  • These parents predictably cite Pope Francis to condemn the clear presentation of Catholic doctrine on sensitive issues.
  • Other parents and students have rallied behind the school, expressing outrage at this movement to suppress the truth.
  • Bishop Peter Jugis is monitoring the situation ande diocesan officials will attend a meeting with parents and students to deal with the matter on April 2nd. [Note: Earlier we had erroneously reported that Bishop Jugis would personally attend the meeting. That was incorrect. He is scheduled for the dedication of a new church at that time.]

Since the 1960s, Catholic schools in the United States have frequently dealt with widely contested Catholic moral positions through silence, temporizing, or the accommodation of multiple opinions. More recently, however, there has been a tendency to shore up Catholic doctrine in the various dioceses, in the seminaries which train their priests, and consequently in the Catholic schools themselves.

But one of the biggest secondary problems of relaxing any sort of discipline in the first place, including intellectual and doctrinal discipline, is that it is far more difficult to get it back than it would have been to never let it go in the first place. Consequently, throughout the United States (and undoubtedly in other Western nations), Catholic schools have experienced painful blowback from disgruntled school communities when key Catholic moral principles have been followed in curriculum, preaching, hiring and firing. In each case, how the matter is resolved makes a huge difference to the Catholic future of the school in question. And as I indicated, this particular case has features almost guaranteed to make it influential elsewhere.

Problems and Solutions

There are, of course, several things wrong with the objections of the offended parents. For example, just because Pope Francis said we cannot focus continuously on the most neuralgic moral points of conflict between the Church and the world (as if this is the Church’s only message), this does not mean that we are not supposed to teach Catholic faith and morals in their entirety, or that we cannot judge the difference between a virtue and a vice. In fact, we are bound to do both, and it is precisely the purpose of Catholic education to make such distinctions clear.

Frankly, it is even somewhat humorous to see people playing the “we can’t talk about this all the time” card just because the school has set forth the moral principles governing sexuality and marriage once. And as for being “welcoming” (another point raised by those who object to the presentation), it is hardly welcoming to someone to conceal the truth, as if that must be reserved to a select few, while others are considered unfit to hear it.

It is unlikely that anyone in authority in this case will deny Catholic teaching. Unfortunately, without going that far, there are always escapist tactics available to the faint of heart who wish to avoid confrontation. One such tactic would be to play the Outsider card. On this reading, Sr. Jane Dominic would be cast by authority as an outsider, one with whom the diocese had never had any trouble before, but one who did not clear her remarks with the administration of the school (or the diocese, or whatever). The implication is that, left to “ourselves”, we would have handled this situation better.

Another equally classic tactic would be to play the Sensitivity card. On this reading, it is so difficult to speak about these complex moral and emotional topics, especially to adolescents, that Sr. Jane Dominic should have realized she could not make this presentation without tremendous misunderstanding and hurt. “We”, of course, realize this. In the future, therefore, such matters will be handled privately, according to the needs and dispositions of each student and each family.

Certainly it is very touchy to speak about the morality of homosexuality in a culture which is saturated with the message that the application of morality to homosexual behavior is a wicked violation of human rights. Just as certainly, it has always been difficult to address divorce and remarriage when many students come from broken homes, homes in which their family ties are to divorced and remarried parents. Even when these issues are explained with the greatest possible sensitivity, unflinching fidelity and significant courage are required.

What Wisdom Demands

Nonetheless, I do not expect Charlotte Catholic High School or Bishop Jugis to utilize any of the weasel tactics that have been employed so often before. I think that in general the Church in the United States has gotten beyond that point in the progress of its internal renewal. I readily grant that the Church may be only just barely beyond it, which leaves room for some residual doubt, but I am hopeful that the school administration and the bishop will stand firm. I promise my own prayers to that end. But what does standing firm mean?

Standing firm means that even if the competent authority judges that the matter was badly handled in some way on this particular occasion, any appropriate apology or correction will be accompanied by a clear reaffirmation of the reality of Divine Revelation and the certainty of Catholic teaching on these important subjects. Since the main point of controversy is obviously the validity of Catholic teaching, it is imperative that nothing be allowed to detract from what ought to become an even more spectacular teaching moment. Therefore, it would be even better to avoid distracting side issues altogether. This means extending the benefit of any doubt to Sr. Jane Dominic, such that the correctness of her presentation of the Church’s infallible teaching is reaffirmed and defended without a single caveat.

Some may raise questions about such a strong and forthright approach. Is it prudent? Is it wise? Not only is it prudent, it is what true wisdom demands. As St. Paul says, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). So each one must decide whether or not to persist in being unspiritual. This choice must be always on offer. The bottom line is that there is one greater even than Solomon at work in Charlotte Catholic High School (Mt 12:42, Lk 11:31). The Church’s first task is to speak unambiguously in His name.

See also the follow-up: What the Charlotte controversy reveals about the acceptance of Catholic teaching.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 01, 2014 10:13 PM ET USA

    Please join us in praying the Rosary at 8:00 tomorrow, during the meeting of CCHS parents with Father Kauth.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 31, 2014 11:20 PM ET USA

    I'd like to encourage people to sign the petition in support of the Priest and Catholic education actually teaching Catholicism. Please pray also, because in this world we live in, with all of the attacks on our religious freedoms, and all of the persecuted Christians dying every day for our faith, we desperately need Catholic schools that are not afraid to teach Catholicism.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Mar. 29, 2014 10:36 PM ET USA

    The anger of some parents and children was in reaction to a talk given by Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel who it seems is a well-known theologian. I wonder who invited her and why? I am hopeful that the good sister was deliberately invited precisely to address so-called “confusion”about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and to bring about this teachable moment about what is Catholic and what is not Catholic. It sounds like a few parents were frightened that she was too convincing. Good. Yes donate!

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Mar. 29, 2014 10:31 PM ET USA

    If the Bishop does not provide strong, open and forceful support for Sister Dominic then he will fail in his duties as a Bishop and should be condemned for his lukewarm beliefs in the Faith. There should be no apologies for her presentation or how it was delivered. There should be strong denunciation of the so called Catholics who want to undermine the Church's clear teachings on the subject. Enough is enough. We need to stand up and be counted.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 29, 2014 8:31 AM ET USA

    No matter the amount of human sentiment that longs to avoid confrontation fidelity to truth is absolutely essential- always practiced in charity. Failure to adhere to the truth results in the problems described above; we become victims of our own inadequate (not truth-full) rhetoric. It becomes dangerous very easily as we can see above and as has been demonstrated with the Obamacare provisions etc. Nice conclusion to the discussion.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 29, 2014 6:19 AM ET USA

    The broad embrace of homosexuality is predicated upon two psychological factors, each of which maintains "codependence" in sex addiction: 1. the widespread tolerance of sexual infidelity in heterosexuals 2. the remarkable effectiveness of antibiotics (for example), which gives everyone a false sense of medical security. The transformation of the society will begin with the collapse of medicines; only then will people be even willing to consider the costs to themselves of their sins.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Mar. 28, 2014 6:48 PM ET USA

    Let's pray, as Jeff Mirus suggests; that's always the proper first step regardless of the question at hand. Then let's act, and I have a suggestion for action. Go to the sisters' site -- there's a link in Jeff's article -- and donate, and when you do so, mention that you want to support the integrity of people like Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel. Let your anger fuel your pen. If your anger grows as you think about the disloyalty to Christ exhibited in Charlotte, increase your donation to match it.

  • Posted by: Defender - Mar. 28, 2014 5:19 PM ET USA

    I found that many of my students would say that they and their parents were "pro-gay, SSM, etc." It was always the same, the Church's position (and why it is) was never explained by anyone, ever - that's the problem. Parents, previous teachers, administrators and clergy all ran from the subject - though there are also many who are homosexual or agree that's there is nothing wrong with it - wherein lies the other problem (this is compounded by Catholic colleges who don't defend the Faith either).