Five Dominican sisters who teach at Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, California walked out of class on Friday of last week when it became evident that some students at the school were participating in a national “Day of Silence” for LGBT youth.
“We went home on Friday because what happened was inappropriate,” the sisters explained in an email sent to Marin Catholic students over the weekend. “We went home because we were made to feel uncomfortable and used for another’s agenda. We went home because the Catholic school and faith that we love was being compromised.”
The Day of Silence is a nationwide event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. According to the organization’s website, the Day of Silence “is a national day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.”
Marin Catholic is one of four high schools operated by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which has been rocked by controversy since an announcement in early February that contracts and employee handbooks for the schools would include clauses detailing Catholic teaching on sexual morality. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has received considerable pushback from certain quarters over the morality clauses, as well as for his vocal defense of Church teaching on sex and marriage.
The five sisters, who teach theology, English, math, science, and social studies at Marin Catholic, belong to the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In response to last week’s events, a statement was posted on the order’s website, which read in part:
With advance notice, the Sisters can often be present at the many activities which take place in our schools. Since the community is both contemplative and active, often times our participation is through prayer. Hence, we do our best to make sure our presence is felt both ways.
The Sisters continue to enjoy teaching the students who have freely enrolled at [Marin Catholic], knowing and understanding that the truths entrusted to the Catholic Church are the heart of its mission and identity.
The sisters’ email to students assures them that “the sisters love you all no matter what” and that they are not “anti-gay.” “We do not support bullying, bigotry, or any kind of prejudice,” the email reads. “We pray for everyone. Our classrooms have always been characterized by respect and warmth towards every student.”
According to the email, it was the Day of Silence’s connection to GLSEN that was primarily behind the sisters’ decision to leave school last Friday. “GLSEN believes in actively promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12,” the sisters’ email reads. “Its members have many times spoken out against Christians who do not share their views. Their materials say that any Church which teaches homosexuality is sinful is an ‘oppressor’ and should be opposed. The group which funds them has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations whose purpose is to challenge the Catholic Church and who actively try to change Church teaching.”
The sisters also objected to the way in which the Day of Silence was promoted and carried out on campus, apparently without the knowledge or approval of the Marin Catholic administration. While there had been plans for a school-wide prayer for students who are victims of bullying, messages on the school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts the night before the event indicated that Marin Catholic would be participating in the national Day of Silence. On Friday morning, some students were passing out materials promoting GLSEN’s Day of Silence, the sisters said. “Students were pressured to accept flyers/stickers representing a mission contrary to Catholicism,” the sisters’ email stated. “Some students told us that when they declined the stickers, they were yelled at and openly criticized. The atmosphere was one of tension and division. All the Sisters felt compromised, offended, and uncomfortable.”
While it remains unclear how the posts promoting GLSEN’s Day of Silence appeared on Marin Catholic’s social media accounts, an email from school administrators last Saturday stated that the school was not in any way affiliated with the GLSEN event.
“Our intention was not to take part in a day of silence, but rather take a moment in the morning to pray together as a school community, in Christ’s message, remembering that we must be inclusive, accepting, and loving if we are to be an authentic Catholic community,” the email from President Tim Navone and Principal Chris Valdez read.
Unfortunately our school’s official message became compromised and misinterpreted Thursday night when it became associated through Facebook with an activist group with which we are not affiliated or align[ed]. This association led to the distribution of that groups’ stickers and flyers on campus at the start of school on Friday. … The Sisters had to make a decision in real time to leave campus until this issue could be resolved and spoke to both of us prior to doing so. This decision, however, further confused the students and created some false rumors about the Sisters not caring for students who feel bullied, ostracized or marginalized. As we know from past experience, this could not be further from the truth.
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