I didn’t want to write about this whole froofra (more controversy! yay!), but I’m procrastinating on writing something else more lucrative, so there you go.
But first, story time!
I don’t know if you remember the mid-90s. I barely do. But at some point in the mid-90s–maybe just in France–people discovered the existence of tabletop role-playing. You know, Dungeons & Dragons and the like. And people and the media started freaking out that kids were getting addicted to role-playing games, that it made them withdrawn and hostile and bad, and maybe, just maybe, that there was something satanic going on about it. It was alleged that a middle school kid who had stabbed his teacher had done so because he had played D&D (the teacher lived). Columbine and many, far too many other tragedies later, we know to take that stuff with a cartload of salt. Or maybe we don’t.
Anyway, I was in 6th grade at the time (yes, I am that young/old) at my Good Catholic School and they made the entire class sit down. A nice woman came and explained to us mellifluously that Dungeons & Dragons is dangerous and addictive and it makes people crazy and we should stay clear of it, and if we’ve started playing it we should stop. At some point during the talk, I burst out in tears, uncontrollably. After the talk, I was immediately surrounded by well-meaning staff assuring me that they would help me and support me in my battle against addiction to D&D. As a matter of fact, at that point, I had never played a tabletop role-playing game, although the school talk convinced me to try at the first opportunity.
I cried, frankly, because I was hit full force with the realization that the world was full of destructively well-meaning idiots, that many of these idiots had power over me, and that I would be dealing with them for the entirety of the rest of my life. Now that I have a daughter, I call it the Procession of the Assholes, and I tell her, sweetie, it’s a Cross you’re going to have to bear.
Where am I going with this?
I am not comparing Sr Jane Dominic Laurel to the well-meaning, church-going idiot who tried to preserve me from the evil of D&D. I am wishing to make a different point, namely: that the tears of a child are hard to interpret. And that they have a logic of their own.
That’s the thing that struck me the most about the reports after this event. At least one parent reported their child coming home distraught and crying. And that is something we should respect. Suffering is never anodyne. All suffering is shared by Jesus on the Cross. And we don’t know why that child cried. But it’s something we need to take seriously. When I read that a nun gave a talk and kids went home crying, my first impulse is to say “Oh come on. Grow up.” But then I remember that I cried too.
Kids have divorced parents. Kids are starting to discern a gay orientation, and are afraid to tell anyone, and wonder, hearts gripped by fear, whether they will be accepted or not. You say one thing, they hear another. This is a very difficult subject.
There’s just too much stuff we don’t know. What is it that’s in Sr Jane Dominic’s talk? “Catholic school teaches Catholicism! Parents outraged!” Nice headline. But no report I’ve seen has actually said what’s in the talk. In the aftermath, a priest in the school said that part of the speech was inappropriate. Which, of course, tells us nothing. Maybe this priest is bending to the power of the mob and that part of the speech was fine. Or maybe it wasn’t. And what does “appropriate” mean, anyway?
Nobody knows what the speech actually said. And yet everybody is sure about how to react to it. The parents (who only heard secondhand from distracted (pre)teens what the talk said). The commenters. “Ah, the homophobic Church and its homophobic nuns!” “Ah, the dictatorship of relativism has invaded even our schools and everything is going to hell in a handbasket!”
If I had to bet, I’d say the “conservatives” here are probably getting the clearer picture. Probably Sr Jane Dominic gave an excellent talk faithful to Christian doctrine, and teens heard what they wanted to hear, and were distraught, and told a version what they thought they heard to their parents, who heard a different version, and freaked out. And there is something absolutely revolting to the reports of the subsequent event where the majority of parents seemed to exhibit what can only be described as mob behavior, booing down parents who supported the school, and so on. One parent said, very politely and charitably, “I do not trust your judgment and I do not respect Father Kauth,” the school’s chaplain. This is probably why in its infinite wisdom the Holy Spirit didn’t let me become a priest because I’m pretty sure I would have responded “Well nobody’s forcing you to put your kids in a school you don’t respect.”
Here’s the thing: we have to get out of the culture war mentality. The genius French comedian Pierre Desproges had this line: “The Enemy is dumb. They think we’re the Enemy. But they’re the Enemy.” Yes, there is a supernatural Enemy. But the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. What you have in this school isn’t a new battle in a trench war. What you have in this school are souls. What you have are children, confused by a crazy culture, confused, probably, by poor catechesis of themselves and their parents, confused by the hormones that confuse all of us at a certain period of our lives, confused by things we don’t even imagine. What you have are souls that need to be cared for and nurtured.
I don’t know if the “science bits” that the diocese now says are objectionable in Sr Jane Dominic’s talk were good science, or junk science, or somewhere in between. I do know–and this might be more of a French Catholic thing than a US Catholic thing–that I’ve listened to a lot of sententious junk science about sex, families, psychology, and so on, in Catholic settings. And I know that I’m a member of the Church that proclaims that God is logos and that rationality is part of man’s Imago Dei, a Church whose antibodies, when they do function, vomit out pseudoscience like the malevolent germ it is.
“Will Catholic parents end Catholic education?” They already have. Catholic parents killed Catholic education when they demanded that it become a carbon copy of secular education, except with slightly better odds of getting your kids into a good college, which, as far as I can tell, is what 99.9% of Catholic schools are (and when the Church let it happen). The Tradition of the Church invented the single most effective education method and the Church (collectively–hierarchy, parents) has completely ignored it. Catholic schools have been “of the world” for a very long time. They are “of the world” when they become a cog in the grand machine of postmodern meritocracy, and when they become battalions in the culture war. They are “of the world” when they cater to parents who see themselves as–and let parents see themselves as–mere consumers of Catholic school services, so that they feel entitled to have the school teach whatever they want to teach. And why shouldn’t these parents do so, when Catholic schools seem to work the way every other school works?
Catholic education today is in crisis. That’s the problem. That’s what we need to fix.