In recent days, the Nativity School of Worcester has come under fire from the Diocese of Worcester for flying Black Lives Matter and pride flags outside of their building. In response to this criticism, the school came out with a statement saying, “The Black Lives Matter and pride flags fly below the American flag at our school to remind our young men, their families and Nativity Worcester staff that all are welcome here and that they are valued and safe in this place.” Through flying these flags, they are striving to show students “that they, in fact, do matter and deserve to be respected as our Christian values teach us.”
The Nativity School is an all-boys Jesuit middle school located in Worcester, MA that currently serves 61 students in fifth through eighth grade. The school is made up predominantly of students of color, with 46% identifying as African-American, 33% as Hispanic or Latino, and 2% as white. According to their website, 100% of their admitted students qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch, and the school does not require tuition. In general, their students graduate with reading and math skills at 11th or 12th grade levels. This school has been a pillar in the community, providing low-income students of color with an outstanding Jesuit education and helping them achieve success in high school and beyond. Therefore, it seems outrageous that the diocese should be going after this school that has proven itself to be successful and thriving.
Bishop Robert McManus released his own statement, reading in part, “As the Bishop of this diocese, I must teach that it is imperative that a Catholic School use imagery and symbols which are reflective of that school’s values and principles so as to be clear with young people who are being spiritually and morally formed for the future.” He went on to state that the pride flag symbolizes ideas contrary to the Church’s teachings on marriage and that the Black Lives Matter flag has been adopted by “factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police and those entrusted with enforcing our laws.” He has demanded that the school remove the flags or risk losing their designation as a Catholic school.
This is not the first time Bishop McManus has made threatening demands, however. Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA, invited Vicki Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy’s widow, to speak at their commencement ceremony in 2012. Vicki Kennedy was openly pro-choice, and after McManus criticized her views, the college rescinded its invitation. At a 2019 Catholic health care conference hosted by the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, McManus gave a speech titled “Transgenderism: The Multifaceted Challenges to the Moral Teachings of the Church.” He blasted many higher education institutions, including Holy Cross, saying “When a college tries to promote diversity and inclusion by contravening the very clear Catholic moral and social teachings, we have a severe problem.” He added, “According to church law, no institution in a diocese or archdiocese can call itself Catholic without the public approbation of the local bishop. And the bishop also, when he becomes convinced that a college is going in such a direction that they have in point of fact abandoned the Catholic identity, has the canonical right to remove that Catholic identity.”
These inflammatory statements and more have led to harsh criticism of McManus, a much more conservative Catholic than many other Church leaders, including Pope Francis, who has preached acceptance of Catholics identifying as part of the LGBTQ community. However, this points to a larger problem in the structure and leadership of the Catholic Church. Bishops like McManus are getting away with making offensive and threatening comments like this towards well-respected Catholic institutions, pitting the Catholic identity against the tidal wave of social change emerging around the world.
Boston College embodies the same Jesuit values as the Nativity School, so this incident is something that should concern not just the students in Worcester, but students and leaders here on BC's campus and at other Jesuit institutions around the country. BC has only recently announced that they are adding an LGBTQ+ office for students on campus, but it took years of student petitions and efforts that were continually shot down. Jesuit institutions are known to be more open to social justice and social change than the Catholic Church as a whole, but there is still a long way to go. Nativity School continues to fly their flags, reminding their students that all are welcome and that their racial or sexual identities should be celebrated no matter what Church officials may say.
Can usually be found listening to The Strokes or Taylor Swift. Spends far too much time eating ice cream or rewatching the same 3 TV shows and would probably rather be at the beach right now.