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'Being sponsored by the Jesuits does not alone make a school Catholic': Worcester bishop pens second letter demanding Black Catholic school remove BLM, Pride flags

A Black Catholic school in Massachusetts is once again under fire from Bishop Robert McManus for displaying flags in solidarity with African Americans and the LGBT community.

Flags at Nativity School of Worcester in Massachusetts. (Joe Bukuras/Catholic News Agency)

WORCESTER, Mass. — For the second time in six weeks, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester has written a statement critiquing a Black Catholic school in his diocese for displaying Black Lives Matter and Pride flags outside its building.

The all-boys Nativity School of Worcester, 66% Black/biracial and part of an independent Jesuit network, was addressed in an “open letter” on May 4th, following the school’s refusal to remove the emblems after McManus’ first statement in early April.

The Massachusetts school, which serves grades 5-8, has displayed the flags for more than a year, reportedly at the behest of the students themselves.

In his new release, McManus compares Nativity and its flags to hypothetical Catholic institutions offering abortion services or contraception, implying that by demanding the flags be removed, he is “simply doing his job”.

“These symbols which embody specific agendas or ideologies contradict Catholic social and moral teaching,” he said in the 900-word piece, republished on May 6th in Worcester’s local Telegram & Gazette.

“So to the Board of Nativity School, the question is simply this: Which identity do you choose?”

McManus’ statement alleges that the Pride flags imply support for “an LGBTQ+ lifestyle” and that the Black Lives Matter movement supports a similar agenda—among other principles seen by the bishop to be problematic.

He hones in specifically on a number of talking points raised by conservatives in recent years, quoting the BLM organization’s former commitment to “disrupting the Western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement”—wording that was removed from their platform in September 2020.

McManus also claims that the BLM movement supports gender ideology via a “13-principle agenda for schools”—referring to a relatively obscure guide published by Black Lives Matter at School, an organization unaffiliated with the BLM Global Network.

Like many conservative Catholics, McManus in his statement also appears to deride the Society of Jesus writ large, claiming that “being sponsored by the Jesuits does not alone make a school Catholic”.

(As of May 2022, every Jesuit school in the United States is in fact a Catholic school—though one in Indianapolis is currently battling its archbishop in a case similar to Nativity’s.)

McManus had noted in his first statement in April that no further comments would come from him on Nativity School until discussions between himself and the school had concluded. In the weeks since, the bishop has faced mounting public scrutiny, including from Worcester’s own College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school—headed by a Black Catholic—where McManus critiqued gender ideology during a speech in 2019.

A few days after last month’s statement against Nativity, it was announced that McManus would not be attending Holy Cross’ commencement exercises for the fourth year in a row, and more than 500 students and alumni signed a petition calling for him to be officially disinvited from the 2022 celebration.

On April 27th, a group of Holy Cross alumni protested at the Diocese of Worcester headquarters, displaying BLM and Pride flags of their own. Criticism has also been leveled against McManus in relation to his arrest for drunken driving and other offenses in 2013.

The outcry against McManus’ flag demands has also extended into the realm of public governance, with Massachusetts Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Maura Healy—herself a Catholic and a lesbian—calling his actions “intolerance”, alongside similar criticism from Worcester City Councilor Sean Rose, an African American.

The Worcester Human Rights Commission also responded publicly, successfully urging that a Progress Pride flag—which combines elements of Pride and the movements for Black and Brown lives—be flown outside of City Hall in a show of solidarity.

Nativity itself has remained committed to displaying the flags, stating last month that they show their students that the marginalized “do matter and deserve to be respected”.

Pope Francis himself has expressed support for the protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, and as recently as this month expressed support for the LGBT community—saying that “a ‘selective’ church, one of ‘pure blood,’ is not the Holy Mother Church, but rather a sect.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also responded to the BLM movement, with Black laypeople and clergy—including a bishop—contributing supportive reflections posted on the USCCB website more than a year ago.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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