Sister Jane Dominic Laurel and Charlotte Catholic High School have received a great deal of attention in recent weeks. Much has been written about Sister Jane’s talk (“Masculinity and Femininity: Difference and Gift”) which was given at an all-school assembly on March 21. The subsequent parents-only meeting resulted in over 900 attending, the vast majority there to express anger at the school.
From all accounts the nearly two and a half hour meeting consisted of parents loudly, and very often rudely, attacking the school’s chaplain, Father Matthew Kauth. Parent after parent stepped up to the microphone for their allotted three minutes. Parent after parent said they were outraged by the topic, the venue, the lack of notification in advance and correlative data presented by Sr. Jane regarding children’s environment and same sex attraction.
The verbal assault on Fr. Kauth during the meeting was described by some as “ugly” and “completely disrespectful” treatment of a priest. Some who attended said they left the meeting feeling “shell-shocked”, while others compared the atmosphere with that of the angry mob on Good Friday who called for the crucifixion of Our Lord.
The handful of parents who attempted to defend Fr. Kauth and to recognize the schools responsibility to teach the truth of human sexuality were interrupted or shouted down. In other words, the usual intolerance from the tolerance crowd.
As someone who lives in Charlotte, has friends whose children attend the school and who has been to many masses offered by Fr. Kauth over the years, this sad affair hits close to home for me. However, there is another aspect to this story that demands attention, one which sets the stage for this type of conflict to manifest.
Oases of Heterodoxy
Situations like Charlotte Catholic have been created in large measure by the poor catechesis and heterodoxy that permeates so many Catholic parishes today. In diocese after diocese (and sadly mine is not exempt), stridently disobedient laity can easily find a parish which will accommodate their cafeteria Catholicism.
What’s most troubling, however, is that everyone knows the breakdown. Often incorporating the language of contemporary political analysis, people speak of the “conservative” parishes and the “liberal” parishes.
While these terms are often used to describe how the liturgy is offered, they can also reference the overall orthodoxy of the parish. The identifiably more “liberal” communities attract many dissenting Catholics when orthodoxy is re-introduced at their parish. These same dissenters know they will avoid hearing about the challenging and unpopular truths of the faith by running off to these oases of heterodoxy. That there are priests who openly accept this recognition as a badge of honor is scandalous. It is also a betrayal of those priests who do not seek the easy way for themselves, but instead embrace the cross in defense of the truth.
We have seen for decades this widespread refusal on the part of many priests to tackle the tough subjects, such as contraception, abortion and same-sex attraction. No doubt many remain silent because of their own dissenting views. The tacit approval of contraception in private often manifests as a deafening silence from the ambo. It is that very silence that also betrays their brother priests.
The conflict many priests face when they become pastors or chaplains is made all the worse because of those priests who preceded them and who failed to protect the souls entrusted to them by God. “The road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks,” as St. John Chrysostom tells us, “and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that light the path.”
As someone whose vocation is marriage and who has been blessed with children, I am reminded of the responsibility of fatherhood. Anyone who is a father knows that often he must teach his children the tough lesson, whether they want to hear it or not. This is no different for our priests, our spiritual fathers. And yet, so many have refused to teach the tough lesson; setting the stage for what happened at Charlotte Catholic High School, and other schools and parishes across the country.
True Mercy and the Salvation of Souls
The studies and opinion polls confirm what we already know from experience: a majority of self-professing Catholics reject the Church’s teachings on matters such as contraception and same-sex “marriage”. Many priests refuse to preach the Gospel of Life because they view avoidance as the more merciful or pastoral approach. Pope John Paul II called this a “false mercy, which is not concerned with the truth and therefore cannot serve charity, which has as its only goal the salvation of souls.”
For orthodox priests, such as Fr. Matthew Kauth, the salvation of souls is his only goal. As a high school chaplain, it is the freedom and beauty of the truth that Father seeks to share with his kids. As he told the parents during his opening statement at that explosive meeting:
“When I came here, I experienced to an increasing degree the suffering that comes to our children and the blackness they feel inside. They are taught by nearly every form of media that Christ’s teachings in His Church are restrictive bars, medieval torture chambers to keep them from happiness. When they have “broken free” I get to see their agony. I desire with a father’s heart to protect them from harm and the false notions of freedom to be able to live in the true freedom which chastity brings-free to love as we were made to love.”
These courageous priests do not shy away from the hard teachings or the unfashionable truths. Instead of selecting the wide road, these holy men choose the narrow gate. May their brother priests embrace the cross that is theirs through ordination and begin teaching these difficult but beautiful truths of our Catholic faith.
(Picture: The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio -1602).