Action Alert!

What the Charlotte controversy reveals about the acceptance of Catholic teaching

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 03, 2014

News coverage is now available for the resolution of complaints about Sister Jane Dominic Laurel’s controversial presentation at a Catholic high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Nashville Dominican sister spoke at a school assembly about Church teaching on marriage, divorce, homosexuality and gay marriage, and on the impact the disregard of Catholic teaching and the natural law has on children growing up in broken our unnatural home environments.

Complaints were numerous enough that a special meeting was called to discuss the matter, and diocesan officials decided to apologize for two things: First, that the school had not notified parents of the assembly and its sensitive contents; and second, that Sister Jane Dominic would have been better advised to leave out the data she used on the last portion of her talk, data which shows the deleterious effects on children of aberrant marital arrangements, because the value of that data is debated.

This resolution meets the minimum standard I proposed in my original discussion of this incident, “that 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.” The apologies made do affirm Church teaching, in that it is specifically stated that the presentation did conform to Catholic doctrine. Problems are acknowledged only in the handling of certain data.

I have no objection to the statement that parents should have been forewarned (even though this may also have been met with a negative reaction). But the second apology is weak for two reasons. The first reason is the one I gave in my original discussion:

[I]t 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.

The second reason is that the data on the impact of aberrant marital situations on children is overwhelming in showing that these children are far more likely to suffer emotional instability, uncontrolled anger, severe insecurity, and affective disorders throughout their lives. This or that piece of data may be debated, but the only people who contest the massive weight of the data as a whole are those who are championing an artificial vision of reality opposed to the natural law. Lending credibility to this sort of “debate”, which is absolutely unavoidable no matter what sociological studies prove, is one of those distractions which should not have been admitted. I fear that the second apology as phrased by the diocese’s vicar for education gives away too much in an effort to placate those who loudly objected to the talk, though the chaplain who arranged the assembly, Fr. Matthew Kauth, issued a better and more explanatory statement.

As far as I have been able to determine from the limited correspondence I received from some of those who objected to Sr. Jane Dominic’s presentation, the tactic chosen for the formal complaint was to insist that nobody was questioning Church teaching. Rather, the formal complaint was against the presentation of the alleged familial consequences of ignoring Church teaching. Such practical data was referred to in a variety of ways, such as “scare tactics” and “hateful”. Thus, for example, the presentation was deemed hurtful to single parents struggling to raise children under difficult circumstances; and also hurtful in that it indicated that gays could not, in actual practice, be fit parents. In this sense, the objection gave the Catholic officials a way out, and they took it.

A Much Deeper Problem

But it is just here that we recognize a more subtle and also much deeper problem. If you read the news report, you will see that tempers were very high over this problem of “data”, and that those who thought the whole presentation was just fine were shouted down. What this means is that there were many people professing to accept Church teaching (or at least choosing not to object to its presentation in a Catholic school) who nonetheless became extremely upset because the actual demonstrable practical consequences of living in opposition to Church teaching were enumerated.

We have slipped here into a pattern all too common in Catholic life today: The idea that the Church may teach something (yeah, yeah) but it really doesn’t matter. People can do what they deem best, and their way for them will be as good as anything. This attitude is false, and Sister Jane Dominic committed the cardinal sin of demonstrating its falsity. In point of fact, “their way for them” will not be as good as anything. It will not only be spiritually deadening, but also have disastrous concrete, practical consequences, including negative impacts on others which are statistically measurable.

The acceptance of Church teaching must go beyond theoretical assent to a lived commitment, and that lived commitment includes an awareness of the many deeply unfortunate consequences of living in denial of the realities which Church teachings (and the natural law) describe.

It is for this reason that parents who are raising children in the aftermath of divorce, spousal death, or abandonment face such a difficult challenge. Insofar as they bear responsibility for the broken family, this is seriously sinful. Insofar as they do not, it is a heavy cross. They need to know that it will take a life of prayer, heroic virtue and grace to prevent the consequences from injuring their children. They also need to know that with God all things are possible. But the last thing they need is to believe it is no big deal.

The same realities apply to children raised by gay “parents”. It is true that some gay “parents” can be better at some aspects of parenting—for example, ensuring physical safety or helping with math homework—than parents in families founded on true marriage. It is also true that not all gay “parents” will deliberately abuse their children, whereas some real parents will in fact do so. But all of this is beside the point. It is actually intrinsically abusive to place a child in a home to be raised by gay “parents”, or to permit gay “parents” to manufacture children for themselves under any circumstances. In addition to being a deliberate violation of a child’s natural right to be raised by a mother and a father, at the very least gay “parenting” is deeply abusive in terms of the normal affective development of the child.

We cannot “play house” without dire consequences. There is a natural order to things which, when we fail to perceive it in nature, is made clear to us through Revelation and Catholic doctrine. The consequences of evading and denying that order are both naturally and supernaturally grave. Refusing to admit the consequences is a cultural accommodation and a self-deception that actually rises to the level of practical dissent. An authentic recognition and response to reality is an important part of what it means to accept the teachings of the Church.

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. 08, 2014 5:38 PM ET USA

    It is such a shame. For almost four decades the passing on of faith has not happened. Our bishops have been too cowardly. So now we see the grim harvest of that cowardice. In a parish I used to belong to the DRE (husband and wife)who worked with college youth were pro-abortion. Where was the bishop? Do our bishops have a clue, or do they even care, what is happening?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Apr. 06, 2014 7:47 PM ET USA

    Pope John Paul II clearly foresaw in Veritatis Splendor how the homosexual movement, the abortion movement, the euthanasia movement, the eugenics movement, the contraceptive movement, the homologous and heterologous artificial insemination movement, the fetal stem cell "research" movement, the infanticide movement, et al. would be justified on the basis of the two fundamental errors to run rampant in the 21st Century: consequentialism and proportionalism. Catholics should study that encyclical.

  • Posted by: Defender - Apr. 06, 2014 1:17 PM ET USA

    There are many Catholic school teachers who have run into this same thing and, because they have been willing to teach the Faith as it is (not what the administrators want it to be), they have lost their jobs or have been put into positions where they don't teacher Religion anymore. It doesn't seem to matter at the diocesan level either, where you might find all sorts of nonsense going on, too.

  • Posted by: filioque - Apr. 04, 2014 10:42 PM ET USA

    So now the school and diocesan officials have acknowledged the need for a warning before students are exposed to Catholic doctrine. It cannot be the topics that shocked as the children are drenched in them daily, so it must have been the substance. And where is the bishop? Jeff is right, this is a spectacular teaching moment and it is being squandered.

  • Posted by: jacquebquique5708 - Apr. 04, 2014 11:07 AM ET USA

    Very good explanation. With prayerful support for Sister Jane Dominic for having the courage to walk into the lion's den. The sad reality here is that the lion's den is the very bosom of Christianity in a Catholic environment. There is room for prayerful and heartfelt dialog on almost every issue. The horrifying aspect here is the violent response in the heat of the moment by more than a few to a representative of Catholic doctrine in the very arena of the teaching of the Catholic faith.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 04, 2014 10:58 AM ET USA

    This is very, very serious. We are crossing a threshold here. The attitude of the so-called "Catholic" parent betrays the whole situation: One parent told Father Kauth, "You have divided parents, you have divided students, and we’ve lost respect for you." In counterpoint, the very words of Our Lord: "You think I have come to bring 'peace' to the world..?" "No..., not 'peace,' but a sword..."

  • Posted by: mleiberton3126 - Apr. 04, 2014 7:52 AM ET USA

    Two days ago, my parish Lenten-retreat priest-leader shared his worry about Obama's lack of a father. He stated that he had voiced his concern with another priest who was an ardent Obama supporter. The Obama supporter priest was said to not be worried at all about Obama's parentage.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 03, 2014 9:16 PM ET USA

    What is this, the Twilight Zone...? A Dominican Sister does what the bishops should have already done, and SHE GETS REBUKED...? When Paul the Apostle was stoned, was a Council held to see if he had done "anything wrong??" It is written "Do NOT (capitals added are mine) ask a coward about war..."

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Apr. 03, 2014 6:24 PM ET USA

    Once again I urge those who support Sr. Jane Dominic's integrity and fortitude to back up their conviction with action. Go to Jeff's original article, find the sisters' site address, and make as great an unrestricted donation as you can. And tell the sisters why you are doing this. Let them know there are Catholics who not only care about the truth but who are capable of evincing more backbone evidently than some Catholics in the hierarchy.

  • Posted by: shrink - Apr. 03, 2014 3:53 PM ET USA

    Thanks Jeff for you cogent analysis. I would add the following psychological point: Once society tolerates wide-spread divorce, it is tolerating wide-spread child abuse, because divorce is simply legal recognition of one kind of child abuse. The gay parenting aspect simply extends a tolerance of abuse that has been with us for 50 years.

  • Posted by: timothy.op - Apr. 03, 2014 3:17 PM ET USA

    Excellently put! The widespread indignation at Sister's clear statement of the truth about these maters would be pretty difficult to imagine if the school's theology teachers had been doing their job. Though we can't know for sure, it certainly sounds like this was the first time many of these students (and their parents) had heard the Church's teachings clearly defended. Tragically, I suspect this is also the case where similar events have occurred throughout the country.