Sister Jane Dominic Laurel is a nun who is part of the Nashville Dominican community, known for their Catholic orthodoxy. According to the Charlotte Observer, she caused a huge uproar in an area Catholic high school [sorry I didn’t make the “Catholic ” part clear in the first version] when she gave a talk about Catholic sexual morality:
Days later, some students launched an online petition that called her comments “offensive and unnecessarily derogatory.”
A record of the comments was not available. But students attending told their parents she criticized gays and lesbians and made inflammatory remarks about single and divorced parents.
The petition, which has drawn more than 2,000 supporters, listed 10 objections to her remarks, including this: “We resent the fact that a schoolwide assembly became a stage to blast the issue of homosexuality after Pope Francis said in an interview this past fall that ‘we can not insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.’ We are angry that someone decided they knew better than our Holy Father and invited (this) speaker.”
Some students told their parents that a few teachers left the assembly in tears.
In addition, parents called for a letter-writing campaign, sending out emails that listed the addresses of the Diocese of Charlotte, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, even the pope in the Vatican.
So far, nobody has produced a recording of her speech, or the text, so its content can be independently examined. But the diocesan spokesman told the paper that the nun has a Ph.D. from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. It’s not like the school pulled in any old nun off the street. At least one person who heard the talk stood up for Sister Jane:
The Rev. Tim Reid, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, sent an email lauding the nun, saying “she represented well the Catholic positions on marriage, sex, same-sex attraction and proper gender roles … The Church has already lost too many generations of Catholic schools students to … a very muddled and watered-down faith.”
Here’s a link to the petition. From its complaint:
9. We resent the fact that a school wide assembly became a stage to blast the issue of homosexuality after Pope Francis said in an interview this past fall that “we can not insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives methods.” We are angry that someone decided they knew better than our Holy Father and invited a speaker who addressed the issue of homosexuality to our school to speak twice in the course of one school year.
10. We the students of Charlotte Catholic High School are confused why time was spent condemning the practice of homosexuality when we could have been spent condemning: world hunger, gun violence, the death penalty, unjust care of the elderly, human trafficking, genocide, discrimination etc.; OR been promoting: love, prayer, the Beatitudes, practical ways to serve Christ, patience, just war theory etc.
Again, as far as I know, there is no recording or text of the nun’s speech available, so unless you were there, you don’t have any way of knowing whether the talk was over the line or not. Some of their complaints (see the petition) indicate that the nun may have said some bizarre things. It is possible to present orthodox Catholic teaching in an offensive way. On the other hand, the priest said Sister Jane was right on target. It could be that these Catholic students were being told the Catholic truth, and they thought she was giving them hell. I don’t know, and unless you were there, you don’t either.
But look, if these students are objecting to a straightforward presentation of Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality, then they’re nuts. You go to a Catholic school, you should expect to be exposed to Catholic teaching. This is not a bug; it’s a feature. That it would even be at issue shows how far things have decayed. It’s one thing to have heard Catholic teaching at a Catholic school and to disagree with it. But to have a massive public fit over a nun being invited to the school and teaching what the Catholic faith teaches — that is, to protest that the school “allow[ed] these ideas to be expressed” — shows how far things have declined.
The local bishop is going to meet with parents and students about it on Tuesday night. If you have found a link to text of Sister Jane’s speech, or to a recording of it, please share.
UPDATE: Great comments by Wholly Roamin’:
I teach in a diocesan Catholic high school and have a ton of thoughts about this.
(1) It is totally possible to be a well-meaning orthodox Catholic who is trying to do the right thing and and to still be an unhelpful ass about it (I say this from experience). Curmudgeons like me often forget this point. It is a possibility with Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel’s talk at the Catholic high school was a tirade of hateful slobber in the worse way. But you can find videos of her on YouTube, Vimeo, and elsewhere that show she is not a cockamamie lunatic on the matter. She’s actually kind of dull; she is more like a college Theology professor than a youth-rally event personality.
(2) We don’t have a recording or transcript of what Sr. Jane actually said at this event, so it’s hard to make a good judgement. But, a person with her credentials and reputation can generally be expected to present a suitably orthodox Catholic position on Catholic stuff. They didn’t get some yahoo from a fringy right wing Nuns-on-the-Humvee convent.
(3) The article makes it seem like Sr. Jane presented the genuinely Catholic position on tough subjects: abortion, gay marriage, contraception, divorce, etc. These are *super* heavy topics, even when everyone agrees with you. But when you drop them on a culture like ours that has never been given the genuinely Catholic position on the subjects, they are even heavier. Or worse, for people of my generation (read: the generation who has parented the kids currently of high-school age) who were taught *mistruths* of the faith, we’ve been handing on theological and moral NONSENSE to our kids (when we’ve bothered to hand on theology and morality at all). We were terribly undercatechized, so now we’re passing on the Catholic nonsense that we learned by watching Whoopi Goldberg movies and 70s Jesus musicals. These poor kids never stood a chance. Let alone that poor nun.
(4) It also seems like this might have been the first time these students were given the genuine Catholic position on tough subjects like abortion, gay marriage, contraception, divorce, etc. If that’s true (and it’s VERY believable that Catholic students could make it deep into their Catholic school career and not know a lick about Catholic teaching), then it’s a failure of all the Catholic schools– and of Charlotte Catholic in particular– to drop Sr. Jane into the fires of an school assembly.
(5) Charlotte Catholic might be a pillar of Catholic orthodoxy who has been stalwarts for the faith. But I don’t think so. Nor do I get the impression that it’s a wingnut communist-Catholic school, either. Their website (CharlotteCatholic.org) doesn’t give me any real reasons why it’s a weirdo lefty *or* weirdo righty Catholic school. It just seems like a pretty typical Catholic high. Which seems odd that they’d bring in a somewhat boring speaker to talk about stuff like this because there are more big-name engaging speakers who make the school circuit. But it’s also odd that they would get 2,000 protest signatures responding to the event. For a mainstream school, this sounds more like a snoozefest than a rallying cry.
(6) But Catholic schools have been catechetical catastrophes for decades now. Catholics don’t even know what they don’t know when it comes to tough Catholic positions. If this is Charlotte Catholic’s attempt to right the ship from a school culture-gone-lost, then it’s admirable that they want to right the ship. But that needs to start in small steps– this ship is large and it’s a long way off course. You can’t drop genuine Catholicism on people like a holy Atomic bomb. Have they read anything about evangelization? What a sure-fire way to tick off everyone.
(7) Why do parents pay $8,000-$11,000 in tuition (source: CharlotteMagazine.com) to send their kids to a Catholic school, then get all mad when it teaches Catholicism? In some places, Catholic schools are for parents escaping disastrous public schools. In that case, people drop tuition money because they don’t trust the public schools, and don’t give a lick about Catholicism. That’s not Charlotte. They a typical school district with a variety of sinker and floater schools. So students and parents drop thousands on Catholic tuition, then hit the fan when Catholicism is taught? Weird.
(8) Based on how Catholicism has been taught in Catholic schools for the last few decades, parents have a right to feel blindsided.
(9) This isn’t going to end well. Or maybe it won’t even end. But it’s also typical of American Catholicism in my generation and the next. We’ve been given so many mistruths for so long that we don’t recognize the truth (or The Truth) when we see it. It’s hard to imagine Catholicism– nay, Christianity– holding together without schism or total abandonment by a remarkable number of its nominal adherents. This is has been happening in Europe for decades, now it’s our turn. In many places there, the only ones that even bother practicing Christianity are stuffed shirts like me; Cultural Christianity is totally dead. America, behold Charlotte Catholic and beyold thy future.
(10) As a Catholic school teacher, this is both empowering, because I feel like we’ve been given an awesome mission, and disheartening, because it is going to be a long and lonely road from here on out.
UPDATE.2: Reader Lasorda posts this video of Sister Jane giving a short talk on love at a Catholic university. Clearly this woman is a fire-breathing hatemonger. It burns us, Precioussss:
UPDATE.3: Erin Manning’s comment:
My redheaded rant about this from last Thursday is here:
Honestly, what this and the Eastside Catholic High School situation illustrate most poignantly is simple: Catholic parents are being defrauded when they send their children to Catholic schools. It was true long ago when I was in Catholic schools myself, and it’s even more true today, when a bunch of ignorant Catholic teen crybabies can be outraged–outraged!–that somebody came into their Safety Zone/Adolescent Day Care Center and unleashed a whole bunch of trigger words and microagression (otherwise known as Catholic Church teaching) in their general direction. Oh, horrors–the spoiled darlings probably expected crisis counselors in the school the next day to help them deal with their shattered emotions and badly bruised egos.
You know who’s to blame for this? Everybody. The bishops who let Catholic schools become expensive child care instead of centers of solid education and excellent catechesis, the parents who were more interested in being flattered and appeased and courted for donations than called to live in holiness, the students who seem to be out to prove (by high school, anyway) that Catholic kids can screw around even more promiscuously and wantonly than the kids in the public school down the street, and the parish communities for thinking of the parish school as a nice amenity for those who could afford it instead of a beacon of light and truth set like a shining gem in the solid band of the wider parish mission to spread the Gospel and practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Now, *some* of the teachers, like the dissident nuns and openly heretical lay teachers of my own experience, are also to blame; but there have been a handful of teachers (religious and lay) who have tried to stem the tide and stop the hemorrhaging out of the lifeblood of Catholic teaching and principles from these schools. Most of them have endured punishment for doing so, up to and including being fired for presenting Church teaching in the classroom.
If anything is good about these recent events, it’s that more Catholic parents will realize in the future that if they choose to spend $$$ to send their kids to Catholic schools, the one thing that is almost certain is that their kids will end up heretics. Sure, the parents can work hard to undo the damage at home, but why not spend that $$$ on an expensive private school instead, where the kids might at least gain access to an elite network that will help them with jobs and so on in the future?