Monday, November 15, 2010

The Two Editorials that Benilde-St. Margaret's Catholic High School Doesn't Want You to Read

NOTE: For an update on this story, click here.

There's something that officials at Benilde-St. Margaret's Catholic High School in St. Louis Park, MN don't want you to see. They've removed from the school's online newspaper The Knight Errant a staff editorial that thoughtfully critiques the Minnesota Catholic bishops' anti-gay-marriage DVD mailing and an essay by student Sean Simonson that, in addition to similarly critiquing the bishops' campaign, also offers an informed perspective on what it's like being a gay teenager. Many are crying censorship.

Here's local writer Nick Coleman's take on what he sees as "the saddest part of this situation":

. . . [S]chool officials [have] censored a personal op-ed called “Life as a Gay Teenager” written by a BSM student who recently came out as gay — all the while giving lip service, so to speak, to Catholic doctrine that says “Men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yeah, respect and compassion! Except for that kid in the corner who tried to write a personal essay about his own struggle with suicidal thoughts in the on-going effort to be honest about his identity in a hostile environment of rejection and repression. Un-effing believable. The church continues to shoot itself in the foot. But it’s the kids who end up wounded.

Do you know another sad part of this situation? Benilde-St. Margaret's was one of eight of the eleven local Catholic high schools that in the late-1990s participated in the Safe Schools Initiative sponsored and implemented by both the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and the Archdiocesan Catholic Education and Formation Ministries (CEFM) office.

Sadly, Archdiocesan support for CEFM and CPCSM’s Safe Schools Initiative did not last. Perhaps because of then-Archbishop Harry Flynn’s 1998 rebuttal of The Wanderer for attacking the initiative (the first time a bishop publicly rebuked the ultra-conservative newspaper), reactionary elements within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis intensified their efforts to put an end to it. They ultimately succeeded and in 1999 the Archdiocese notified the schools that CPCSM representatives were no longer welcome to be part of CEFM’s work. The formal "safe staff" training of faculty and administrators effectively ceased as a result.

Are we now seeing the results of that cessation at Benilde-St. Margaret's? In some ways, the answer is a definite yes. But we also need to acknowledge that there must be a certain degree of openness to and acceptance of sexual orientation at the school for these two editorials to have been written, discussed and published in the first place. I like to think that the Safe Schools Initiative of ten years ago played some small part in the development of this open and accepting environment.

Although I was a volunteer with CPCSM in the late 1990s, I was only ever minimally involved in the Safe Schools Initiative. Later, however, I did take on the task of compiling and editing the various resources, strategies, testimonials, and anecdotal components of the initiative and crafting them into what became the 2007 book, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. (For reviews of this book, see here, here, and here.)

Shortly after the book’s publication, Archbishop Angelo Amato of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote to Flynn and informed him that the book was “not suitable to be used in Catholic schools.” Why? Because it “calls into question the teaching of the Church on homosexuality.”

It would seem that the two Knight Errant articles were censored for a similar reason, as Benilde-St. Margaret principal Sue Skinner notes on the paper's website that:

This particular discussion is not appropriate because the level of intensity has created an unsafe environment for students. As importantly, the articles and ensuing online postings have created confusion about Church teaching.

Oh, I don't think anyone's confused about what members of the clerical caste of the Roman Catholic Church teach about homosexuality. The issue is that this teaching, like so much of what the "official" Church teaches about sexuality, is simply rejected by increasing numbers of Catholics as woefully inadequate and profoundly damaging to people – young people especially.

Bernardo Vigil, the arts and entertainment editor of The Knight Errant, recognizes this. City Pages
reports that Virgil was recently "kicked out of class for wearing duct tape across his mouth with the word 'Censorship' written across it." Apparently other paper staffers are wearing rainbow clothing in protest. Good for them!

Says Virgil:

The people who said it was inappropriate for us to publish these stories are the same people who are perpetuating an atmosphere of homophobia on campus, so caving to the calls for censorship is basically showing solidarity with the view that homophobia is okay. The articles need to go back online.

On his blogsite, Coleman actually provides a link to the censored student op-ed – complete with the 93 comments in response to it that were posted before BSM officials yanked it offline. Or so they thought.

Yes, thanks to the wonders of Google's cashe system we can all still get to read the student op-ed that school officials attempted to censor. Either follow
this link, or read it in its entirety below.

Also below, again courtesy of Google (via, is the censored Knight Errant editorial, "Staff Finds DVD Unsubstantiated."


Life As a Gay Teenager
By Sean Simonson

The Knight Errant
November 11, 2010

I have considered suicide. Yes, I have considered taking my own life. Unlike six other boys recently in the news, I never took the steps to follow through on my dark thoughts, but, unfortunately, I can understand what drove them to. Because I know what it’s like to be a gay teenager.

Imagine going through adolescence: hormones raging, body changing, and relationships that go a little deeper than friendship developing. Now, add on being gay.

Don’t believe being different is difficult? Try going through a day in the life of a gay teen.

Every day you hear someone use your sexuality – a part of you that, no matter how desperately you try, you cannot change – as a negative adjective. That hurts.

You fear looking the wrong way in the locker room and offending someone. Politicians are allowed to debate your right to marry the person you love or your right to be protected from hate crimes under the law. Your faith preaches your exclusion – or damnation. And no one does anything to stop it.

Recently, the Archbishop used money donated by an anonymous source to denounce same-sex marriage. That’s right: a major religious leader used non-Church money from a questionable source to publicly condemn your right to express your love in a public and binding manner.

A public school district nearby – after a wake of suicides by kids much like yourself – cannot bring itself to put your protection from bullying into its policies. Members of the district fear your kind and how you might brainwash their children into thinking that your behavior is appropriate or to join you.

A political party makes its position denying your right to marry one of its main voting points. And your nation voted this party in office.

You cannot legally give blood to save a life, nor risk your life to defend your country unless you hide your identity and deny who you are.

Oh yeah, and the words “queer,” “homo,” and “faggot” that people throw around all the time? Yeah, those might as well be personal attacks.

This is daily life for me. And I can understand why, if you are gay like me, you might consider ending it all. But I hope you don’t.

Why? Because without you, who is going to make it better for everyone else? Without you, no one is going to stand up against the injustice. I need you to help me make this world a better place for both of us and everyone else like us.

And all of you who don’t have to undergo this horror daily, it’s up to you to help. Don’t stand by and let hatred go on. Don’t sit back and watch your friends be discriminated against. Reach out and help those who might need it.

Together, maybe we can make the world an easier place to live for gay and straight teens alike. Because no one else is going to do it for us.

To read responses to this editorial, click here.


Staff Finds DVD Unsubstantiated


The Knight Errant
November 11, 2010

The Catholic Church has been a long-standing opponent of gay marriage both in civil law and the Church itself. In keeping with this teaching, Archbishop Nienstedt produced and mailed a DVD in which he explicitly endorses an amendment to our state constitution that would bar homosexuals from the right to marry under civil law.

We as a staff believe the Church has both the right to have a teaching on this issue and to deny homosexuals the right to get married within the Church itself. However, we also feel that the DVD many of our families received is inappropriate due to the civil nature of the issue, and the content is nothing more than simple, emotional propaganda.

Archbishop Nienstedt states in the DVD that gay marriage poses a threat not only to the children taken out of the foster care system and adopted by married gay couples, but to children everywhere. He warns us that if we were to legalize gay marriage, the government would start teaching children in public schools that gay marriage is okay––something that is not consistent with Catholic teachings. The DVD further equates the effects of growing up in a household with two moms or two dads to growing up in a polygamous household, or an impoverished, financially struggling, single parent home.

The DVD tells us that the legalization of same-sex marriage will result in a world that no longer cares about a one-man one-woman vision of marriage, which will in turn result in a society that is, “callous and indifferent to the suffering it imposes on its own children, and on women who are left to carry the burden of parenting, and on men who are fundamentally dehumanized.”

How gay marriage results in heterosexual divorce and poverty, the DVD fails to address. How gay marriage leads to the acceptance of polygamy, the DVD makes no mention of either.

In the end, the DVD simply tries to equate gay marriage (an institution that would actually bring families together through the adoption of children) to broken homes and polygamy, without providing any facts to back it up. And, while the struggles of raising a child without a mother or father as support are certainly real, this stems from the fact that single parents are doing the job of two people and is not a reason to deny homosexuals the right to marry under civil law.

The DVD also aimed to reject the notion that the issue of gay marriage is an issue of civil rights. They did this in the most subtle way imaginable: by having a black man quote Martin Luther King Jr. The quote in question was from “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and stated that for a law to be just it must be in line with natural law.

What the speaker fails to address is the very next line of the letter that states, “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul.” Clearly this omitted line proves that MLK would not have supported discriminatory policies against any group, including homosexuals. The fact that the Church would go as far as to evoke MLK in an issue which he clearly wouldn’t have supported speaks volumes to the argument which the DVD presents.

To close its argument, the DVD states that the civil recognition of same-sex marriage would be an attack on our religious liberties as Catholics; however, no law that would be passed for gay marriage would have any impact on the Church’s ability to control its own definition of marriage. The legislature is discussing granting civil liberties to homosexuals in a legal way, not a religious one.

We have been told through this DVD to defend the historical definition of marriage through our votes. Well, up until 1967 it was a historical precedent not to let two people of different races get married in 17 states. In previous centuries, married women were considered their husband’s properties. But these things have changed, and it’s time for the civil definition of marriage to change again to account for our gay brothers and sisters, not in the Church, but at least in the civil arena.

Recommended Off-site Links:
St. Louis Park Catholic School Bans Pro-Gay Editorials (November 15, 2010).
The Student Newspaper Editorial Benilde-St. Margaret's Doesn't Want You to See – David Brauer (, November 15, 2010).
Benilde-St. Margaret Censors Anti-Homophobia Editorials from Student Newspaper – Nick Pinto (City Pages, November 15, 2010)
St. Louis Park Catholic School Pulls Op-Ed on Gay Issues from Website – Mila Koumpilova (Pioneer Press, November 16, 2010).
Catholic School Paper Deletes Student Editorials on Catholic DVD, Gay Teens – Sasha Aslanian (Minnesota Public Radio, November 16, 2010).
Minnesota Catholic School Censors Editorial Critical of Archdiocese – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 2010).
Minnesota Catholic School Deems Mere Discussion of Being a Gay Teenager Too Controversial to Print – Ryan Tedder (Queerty, November 16, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Dave Navarro to LGBT Youth: "We Need Your Voice"
President Obama's Message to Bullied LGBT Youth: "It Gets Better"
Confronting Classroom Homophobia
Quote of the Day - October 4, 2010
Prayer of the Week - October 11, 2010
Quote of the Day - October 19, 2010
Photo of the Day - October 19, 2010
A Girl Named Sara: A "Person of the Resurrection"
For the Record

Image 1: Photographer unknown.
Image 2: Nikki Tundel (Minnesota Public Radio).


Anonymous said...

Sir, I think the point that you are missing is that they pulled the articles because of the comments. I personally think they should have never allowed comments on these pieces. However, they did. Many of the comments were hateful and truly horrible! The admin was trying to protect its students from this hate. They were concerned about students who might be struggling with their identity that would read these horrible comments. They were also concerned that their students might think that these misconstrued comments about Catholic teaching were actually what the Church teaches. It is also interesting to note that both boys involved believe that the administrators were/ are sincere in their care for their students and their reasons for removing the articles.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

I've read through the comments to Sean's article, "Life As a Gay Teenager," and disagree with your assessment that many are "hateful and truly horrible." The majority are in support of Sean's article.

If it was certain online comments in response to Sean's piece that the administration felt were getting out of hand and creating, as the school president says, a "disrespectful environment" for LGBT students, then why weren't just these offending comments removed? Both Sean's piece and the other editorial could have remained on the school's website, along with those comments that the administration deemed non-harmful to students.

Also, it's doubtful that the content of any offensive comments would have presented LGBT students with anything that they haven't already heard or experienced. It may actually have been an educational moment for non-LGBT folks to see what LGBT people have to put up with in their lives. A "Welcome to my world" experience, if you like.

Of course, simply removing any offending comments isn't going to address the homophobic attitudes that may well be behind them. What is the school administration doing about such attitudes?

As to the idea of other comments causing "confusion" about church teaching . . . well, I agree that no one should be confused about the true nature of what the church's clerical caste teaches about homosexuality. We all should recognize how uninformed, dysfunctional and damaging this teaching really is.

Also, as I discuss here, it's this teaching that fuels anti-gay thinking and behavior. Accordingly, could it be that those "misconstrued" comments about Catholic teaching that are potentially harmful to LGBT people, are simply highlighting the true dysfunctional nature of the "official" Church's teaching on homosexuality?

It's something at least to think about.



Mareczku said...

Michael, I agree with what you say here. Something to think about indeed.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Here's how Nick Pinto of City Pages describes the comments to Sean Simonson's essay, "Life as a Gay Teenager."

"[T]he conversation that takes place in the comments we can read isn't particularly disrespectful. In fact, compared to your average comment thread in City Pages, it's sincere and restrained. That's not to say that there isn't a fair compliment of commenters reminding everyone that sodomy is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and the like, but the overall picture is of a community earnestly wrestling with a challenging issue.

"In short, it's exactly the kind of conversation that Simonson and the other editors were hoping to provoke. And it's that conversation that the administration tried to shut down when it pulled the articles.

"The good news is that the conversation isn't over. The editorial and Simonson's essay are now getting more exposure than they ever would have had they remained uncensored . . ."