For the past several days, my phone and email have been hyperactive as I have been asked by dozens of people for my “take” on the firestorm surrounding a group of students from Covington Catholic High School following the March for Life in Washington, D.C., last Friday. I have been contacted because most know that I have spent my entire priestly ministry in Catholic education, actually beginning to teach high school while still a college seminarian. Not without reason, then, am I often introduced at Catholic school events as “Father Catholic Education.”
So, what did/do we know? It is somewhat like A Tale of Two Cities.
Scenario A: A group of high school boys disrespected a Native American man with a drum.
Scenario B: Act One: The boys, fresh from the March for Life, go to the Lincoln Memorial and wait for their bus to take them home. While there, they are confronted by a hostile, vile group of black supremacists who hurl at them anti-Catholic, anti-white, anti-gay and anti-American slogans – even calling the two black boys from the school “niggers”. This activity goes on for nearly two hours.
Act Two: A Native American man interposes himself between the hostile black agitators and the “CovCath” kids, getting directly into the face of one of the boys – who “smirks.”
Within nano-seconds, the media is all over the story, reporting Scenario A: Catholic high school boys, in D.C. to work against women’s reproductive rights, are also racists. In short order, the administration of the school and the Diocese of Covington get on board and condemn the boys, even threatening expulsion. As real “facts”and video emerge, the story moves in the direction of Scenario B, causing some media outlets to apologize, including Jake Tapper of CNN. Even the peripatetic Father James Martin expressed a willingness to apologize; perhaps when he heard the anti-gay slurs from the black supremacists, he changed his mind!
1. Shame on the Diocese and the school for rushing to judgment, especially in this Pope Francis era of “Who am I to judge?” In this terrible time of instantaneous “news,” have we not learned to keep our counsel until a full picture develops? How many police officers have been unjustly condemned by rash evaluations, only to be vindicated when full, unedited videos become available?
More to the point: As a former high school teacher and administrator, I have no delusions about the sanctity of teenagers. However, I always made a presumption of innocence (isn’t that a basic tenet of American jurisprudence?), but was likewise confident in the human and Christian formation to which my students had been exposed. I was able to troop them around the country and even Europe with nary a care about their conduct.
If “CovCath” felt compelled to believe the worst about their kids, what does it say about their level of confidence in what they have taught those young men and what those students have or have not absorbed? I would be happy to offer their faculty and administration one of my popular workshops on Catholic identity!
When the media contacted the school and the Diocese, an appropriate and fair response would have been: “We have no comment at present, pending a full investigation of the episode.” Period. And no fair-minded reporter could have balked at that.
2. Why were some of the boys wearing MAGA hats? To be sure, there is nothing immoral about the hats, but they are unnecessarily provocative, skewing the pro-life cause in the minds of an already-negative culture. If the boys were in the nation’s capital to learn, first-hand, about American civics, it would have behooved adults to tell them that we don’t need to be “in your face” to win a cause; truth be told, the pro-life movement has gotten as far as it has (and it has gotten very far, largely due to now two generations of Catholic school students), precisely because we have always taken the high road, which has always infuriated the proponents of the Culture of Death. I am a Trump supporter (albeit at times a reluctant one) but would not have worn a MAGA cap to the March and, as a principal, would not have allowed my students to do so, either.
3. Where were the chaperones? Some adults were clearly present since the boys asked their permission to chant the school fight song – and got it from someone. The very minute that the black racists started in on the boys, I would have said, “Guys, let’s go. We’re out of here!” Instead, they allowed the situation to escalate for nearly two hours! They did not teach the boys how to handle a bad situation and actually endangered their welfare.
If those chaperones were faculty or staff, they should be terminated. If they were parents, they should never again be given a position of trust.
4. The Native American activist certainly did not enter the fray to de-escalate the impending crisis; he went to agitate (as his unfolding history now demonstrates). He has the temerity to say that he felt threatened by the boys, when it was he who marched into their midst, coming within inches of Nick Sandmann’s face. Had a white supremacist done that to a Native American or African American boy, all hell would have broken loose in the mainstream media.
5. The “Statement of Nicholas Sandmann” is a powerful account of the unfolding of events, with every detail corroborated by subsequent audio and video; indeed, none of it shows any wrong behavior by the kids: not a hint of malice or prejudice, even under fire. I must say that as impressed as I am by the “Statement,” my long years in high school work cause me to question that the document was written by a sixteen-year-old! It would have been better to call it a “Statement on Behalf of Nicholas Sandmann.”
Where do we go from here?
The school sent the boys to Washington to advocate for justice for the unborn, and it should be praised for that. Unfortunately, the kids themselves didn’t get justice from the anti-life media and, even more sadly, from many in their own Church.
In this professional educator’s opinion, how should this be resolved? The Diocese and school ought to apologize to the boys. I think the adults present should get the axe. But I’m not holding my breath.
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