On The Catholic School-Thing Freakout


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And people and the media started freaking out that kids were getting addicted to role-playing games, that it made them withdrawn and hostile and bad, and maybe, just maybe, that there was something satanic going on about it.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.

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  • Guest

    You make an excellent addition to this channel’s roster of bloggers, and I think that you have put out some genuine light on this issue which has hitherto generated only a lot of heat here.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Thank you.

  • nashvegas

    I live in Nashville and I believe Sr. Jane Dominic gave this exact same talk to the youth and parents at our parish a few weeks ago. From what I understand, it was an engaging and informative talk. No mobs. No booing. No pitchforks. We love having the Dominican Sisters here. They are a source of great pride for the local Catholic community.

    That being said, I just have to say thank you for writing this because it was pretty much exactly what I was thinking needed to be said. Your story about the realization of the “Procession of Assholes” is priceless.

    Honestly, from what I have been able to gather, I think a few kids were upset by Sr. Jane Dominic’s talk, and I think some local activists caught wind of it and opportunistically hijacked the discussion to create a political event (thus the booing). But the bottom line is…


    • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

      From one of the parents who was at the meeting, and who posted to another blog here at Patheos, she dared to imply that perhaps homosexuality was nurture rather than nature, and that got PFLAG involved. Oh, and she did so at an assembly that the parents didn’t sign a consent form for. Horror of Horrors, they missed a consent form.

      • Mike

        Believing that homosexuality is not genetic or fixed at birth is not only evil but stupid, bigoted, moronic, anti-science, weird, ugly and retarded and if you have a problem with that it just confirms that you are evil and retarded and moronic; there is no way out.

        • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

          Exactly, never mind that science has yet to conclusively prove that homosexuality is either genetic or fixed at birth, and that the real anti-science folks are the ones who carefully fake their results to fit their predetermined bias.

          • Mike

            What if this turns out to be true and we develop a cure for it that can be administered in the womb? Does it then become a birth defect? That’s at least what one writer in Slate thought.


          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Interesting you should say birth defect. Autism has a demographic of just less than 2% while homosexuality has about a little over 2%. When we’re talking about those small percentages and a sexuality contrary to sexual organ function, then what else can it be but a defect?

          • Mike

            Actually i didn’t come up with that description. I first heard it described in those words by someone named Mark Joseph Stern or something like that who writes for Slate. He ran a story last year about this research and what it could mean.
            Well obviously it sounds extremely insulting to these people but if it is “genetic” or fixed somehow it is hard to avoid that conclusion that it is just some kind of a “defect”. Personally i don’t think it is genetic or fixed but obviously some people are more pre-disposed to some temperment or something that later on causes them to be attracted to the same sex. I think Daryl Bem’s exotic becomes erotic theory is most accurate. But the q becomes why do they feel different from say other boys or girls and that may be something that is depending on the person somehow based on their biology. But of course this implies that it is to some extent maleable which is a modern heresy. Either way i think it’s actually a fascinating phenomenon.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Atually identical twin studies of have shown that there is a two part component to homosexuality.

            52% of identical (monozygotic) twins of homosexual men were likewise homosexual

            22% of fraternal (dizygotic) twins were likewise homosexual

            11% of adoptive brothers of homosexual men were likewise homosexual


            The fact that the data breaks out in these bimodal distributions suggests that there is a genetic and environmental factors involved. If it were purely genetic, then you would have seen 100% identical twins to be gay. If it were purely environmental then there would not be a difference between fraternal and identical twins. Homosexuality is a complex phenomnea that involves both genetic and environmental factors.

          • Mike

            Yes i agree that it is both but i suspect probably more environment in that these people, which may who knows include you and me are somehow pre-disposed to this and then through environment come to grow into it and finally accept and live it out. So i don’t think there’s some genetic pre-disposition to homosexuality per se but to a certain feeling or temperment than then develops in this direction in some people. The other interesting this is that apparently being raised by a same sexed couple increases your odds of yourself identifiying as gay by like 4 times, from 2% to 8%, according to this one study. Another really interesting thing is how seeminlgy different this seems to be for women. Women are alot more maleable whereas the men in my opinion sometimes really look like they have some kind of “syndrome” if you know what i mean.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            I agree with everything you said. This was a particular interesting point.

            “The other interesting this is that apparently being raised by a same sexed couple increases your odds of yourself identifiying as gay by like 4 times, from 2% to 8%, according to this one study.”
            If that study holds then there is no argument as to why homosexual couples should not adopt.

          • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

            No cure will be developed. Instead, the prenatal test will be used to eliminate the disease in the same way it is being done for downs syndrome children.

      • oregon nurse

        You know, one of the things that has gotten lost in all the heated discussion is the legitimate, imo, right of parents to decide the sex-based talks they want their children attending. That was part of the parental objections and they did get an apology from the diocesan representative and the priest who set it up. It actually smelled a little coercive on the part of the school (second presentation after the first was parent/student oriented, out of school time, well publicized but poorly attended) but it also could have been a dumb oversight since the principal was on leave.

        There were 13 year olds at the assembly and maybe my old-fashioned ideas are too old-fashioned but that concerns me. Parents have a right to decide when, where, and how their children will get sex education.

        • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

          That is actually the same argument I got from the pastoral council about the Christ in the Womb Series. I’m not at all sure that it holds up in the age of google, when sufficiently smart kids can do their own research.

          • oregon nurse

            I guess it comes down to what one defines as sex education. I still would not want someone deciding what, when, and how my child will receive sex education without my knowledge and consent, even in a Catholic setting. Parents have control over the bulletin getting into the hands of little children, or at least they should.

    • oregon nurse

      But if you read the archdiocese newspaper account, it says she threw some controversial sociology/anthropology/psychology into her talk which IS NOT reflected in her online video presentations and which even the conservative priest who set up the assembly was dismayed by. Perhaps she did not do that in her presentation at your parish. Her own college president, a fellow sister of her religious organization, posted a written statement that Sr. Jane went outside her area of expertise in presenting said ‘science’. I’m not going to call it pseudo-science, I call it soft science. It’s very hard to prove any causation, due to difficulty of applying scientific method, when studying behavioral realms.

  • Mike

    One of the “problems” where i live is that all schools including Catholic are funded by the government even though individual homeowners can decide to support the secular board. And so what happens is that many of the schools can not say anything about sexuality or divorce for ex. because the board is afraid that the government will defund them or force them to join the public boards. Plus as everywhere there are activist teachers and students who pine to start a “debate” on the hot topics and see the Catholic school system collapse.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Interesting. Sad. There is much the same problem in France. Thank you.

  • http://seeinfra.wordpress.com K.Chen

    A couple questions. 1: how do you say “Procession of the Assholes” en français because I want to use the term in polite anglo-company, and as we all know, saying rude things in a foreign language is better. 2. Did you actually ever try Dungeons and Dragons?

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      1. “La procession des connards”

      2. Actually, no, although I did end up playing a game of Warhammer.

      • http://seeinfra.wordpress.com K.Chen

        1. Thank you!

        2. I am so very sorry.

        • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry


  • EveTushnet

    “and this might be more of a French Catholic thing than a US Catholic thing”–oh, if only! I wrote this about a recent conference here in DC: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/evetushnet/2013/09/bedrooms-and-bootstraps.html

    Anyway, love the story of your youth, & agree w/the point you’re making with it.

    (argh, edited bc I seem to have forgotten basic html)

    • mochalite

      That’s a very fine piece. Refusing to deal with what kids actually need to know is just sad, in the same way as people talking to children about Easter using hatching eggs and blooming flowers as examples. They seem to think that kids can’t handle big thoughts, miracles, God. And, of course, they can.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      I remember that post, thank you. And the first paragraph is highly, highly relevant to how we should catechize young people.

  • mochalite

    Anecdote: There’s a Catholic school near us, known to be educationally excellent. When we were taking our daughter out of public after first grade, a friend suggested we send her there. I said, “But we’re not Catholic.” She said, “Oh, it’s no big deal … They just have chapel once a week.” As you say, it should be a big deal. (And I hope she was wrong.)

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      To be fair: a big part of the mission of any corporal work of the Catholic Church is that it can’t just serve Catholics. A Catholic school that wouldn’t attract you wouldn’t be a good Catholic school.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Until someone comes out with what Sr. Jane actually said, this is all an exercise in futility. And arguing over it amounts to self justification of our egos.
    As to your general argument. The Catholic Church bewails the lack of Catholic knowledge among Catholics. Well, it can start evangelizing the Catholic population by teaching CATHOLICISM in its Catholic schools.

    • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Except that it’s a lot easier to say “teach Catholicism” than actually do it. Children aren’t a blank slate (modern heretical innovation).

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        I don’t think I’m actually getting your point. Are you saying we give up on Catholicism? Are you saying Catholicism should change with the wind?

        • http://pegobry.tumblr.com/ Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Sure, what do you want to call this new religion? Neo-Druidism?

          • IRVCath

            I get the feeling M. Gobry was being sarcastic.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            I didn’t think so, especially since he never replied to my comment.

  • BTP

    Excellent post.

    With respect to D&D: I think everyone on the planet was completely worried that it would turn kids into killer Druids. Silly people. On the other hand, various members of the procession des connards have told children that the polar ice caps would be gone by 2013 along with their attendant polar bears. I recall my own daughter being quite upset by this; I don’t recall signing a petition as a response.

    I couldn’t agree more when you observe that Catholic schools were killed when everybody mostly just wanted them to get their kids into college. What we observe at CHS is a secular response to a secular institution.

    Yet I am bewildered at your idea that “we” have to get out of the culture war mentality. Believe me, I’d like nothing better than that this war were not thrust on us. But the jokes about how the Enemy thinks we’re the Enemy, Rene Girard’s observations, and Solzhenitsyn are not appropriate responses when the Schlieffen Plan is working its way past Namur.

    I make two suggestions: One, the Gospel is not a suicide pact. Two, it is a sin not to know who your friends are.

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  • Tara

    Sr. Jane Dominic has a series of lectures on the topic and her citations are provided.


    They are excellent.

  • Sheila Foy

    I am happy to see that others are as puzzled as I m about this situation. Sr Jane’s reputation stands behind her. I was involved in Catholic Education for50 years. Definitely there have been changes to help our young people grow in their faith and to become contributors to our world. But the Catholic family and the Catholic school are up against such challenges of our society. The media has done a good job in brainwashing even the best of us. Because we (the Church) have a pro-life stance-note I did not use the media term, anti-abortion, and have a stance on same-sex relations, the Church is considered out of touch with reality. When these issues are dealt with in the classroom,it is important to teach as Jesus did- with honesty and compassion.
    Like everyone else, I find it puzzling that parents who pay for a Catholic Education are upset when the truth is taught. It is a shame that they did not accept their role as co-educators of their children. Sheila