Worcester’s maternity faculty, which carries BLM and LGBTQ flags, can’t name itself Catholic, bishop says

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The bold, two-tone letters of the Black Lives Matter flag and the bright rainbow stripes of the Pride flag flew over the Massachusetts Catholic school for more than a year before the local bishop registered his opposition.

The Black Lives Matter flag, Bishop Robert McManus said in April, had been “co-opted by some factions, which also inspires widespread distrust of the police.” And the LGBTQ flag could be used to contrast the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, he added.

When Worcester Nursery School stood still, McManus issued a tough ruling. The tuition-free middle school, which serves boys in economic need, can no longer call itself Catholic because the flags “do not conform to Catholic doctrine,” he said Thursday.

“The raising of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” McManus wrote. “While I insist that the school board remove these flags because of the confusion and the very theological scandal they can do and encourage, they refuse to do so.”

That defiance, McManus said, left him no choice but to strip the Jesuit-run school of its Catholic affiliation. The school can also no longer celebrate Mass or the sacraments or use diocesan institutions to collect donations. It was not included in the diocese’s list of Catholic schools in its region on Thursday.

The decision, which comes during Pride Month, appears to be a rare example of a Catholic organization’s association with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” becoming a focal point in their diocese. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a differentiated approach to the phrase, endorsing the concept of racial justice, but not necessarily the organizations subscribing to that message. The Black Lives Matter movement describes itself as aiming to eradicate white supremacy and disrupt violence against black communities.

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The Nativity School said the use of the Black Lives Matter and Pride flags is in response to a call from its students, most of whom are people of color, to make their community more inclusive. The flags symbolize that everyone is welcome at Nativity, the school president said Thursday.

“Both flags are widely understood today to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced and continue to face hatred and discrimination,” wrote Thomas McKenney. “Although any symbol or flag may be co-opted by any political group or organization, the raising of our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”

The bishop disagrees. The Pride flag represents support for same-sex marriage and “an LGBTQ+ lifestyle,” he said. And while the Church teaches that all lives are sacred, McManus said the Black Lives Matter movement used this phrase to contradict Catholic teaching about the importance of the nuclear family. (Black Lives Matter previously said on its website that it aims to “disrupt the Western-mandated nuclear family structure by supporting one another as extended families.” The site was later taken offline.)

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Nativity said it will appeal the bishop’s decision – but it has no plans to remove the flags, showing its commitment to showing solidarity with its students and families. McKenney said the school’s decision was influenced by the gospel, Catholic social teaching and the school’s Jesuit heritage.

The result follows months of dialogue between the school and the Diocese of Worcester. Around the same time that McManus had problems with the flags in March, one person tore down both flags, the school said. Two months later, the bishop warned the school that it would lose its Catholic label if it did not remove the displays.

The crèche school is not the only educational institution to have its “Catholic” label stripped. In 2019, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis told Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School that it could no longer call itself Catholic after refusing to fire a teacher who was in a same-sex marriage. The Jesuit province of Midwest announced that it would appeal the decision in a church proceeding.

For Guillermo Creamer Jr., an openly gay Nativity School graduate, the flags symbolize that Nativity is inclusive of Black lives – a message he says is crucial in a school with a predominantly Black and Hispanic student population.

“For these young men to see what’s happening across the country and see the Black Lives Matter flag flying, it’s a very big deal,” he said.

Creamer, 27, said he expects the bishop’s decision to prompt other Catholic schools that align in any way with Black Lives Matter or pro-LGBTQ messages to question whether it’s acceptable. But he said that might not be a bad thing if it encourages Catholics to speak honestly about how these issues fit into their faith.

In his letter to the community, McKenney reminded parents that the crèche school is funded by individuals and groups – not by the diocese – and that it will continue as usual.

In front of the school building, he remarked, the flags are still flying.

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