DENVER, Colo. — Leadership at a Denver-area Catholic high school retracted an entire issue of a quarterly student magazine after a student’s “deeply troubling” pro-abortion rights essay drew criticism and concern from several parents and the local archbishop.
The student essayist seemed to argue that the unborn child is not a human life and explicitly compared the fetus in the early stages of development to a “common tulip.”
In response, the Jesuit school’s leadership said the essay published without proper guidance. In addition, two faculty advisors for the newspaper no longer work at the school.
“An opinion piece that presented a stance on abortion clearly in opposition to Catholic Church teaching was included in the winter issue of the student-produced magazine that we found both deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Regis Jesuit High School president David Card said in a Jan. 10 statement to CNA.
“First, we want to be clear that as a Catholic, Jesuit institution we believe that life begins at the moment of conception. In this instance, we failed our students in providing proper guidance in how to consider matters involving our firmly held beliefs, especially those upholding the dignity of human life,” Card said. “While we believe in providing an avenue for student expression, we are taking steps now to consider the magazine’s editorial process to ensure its compatibility with and responsibility in representing the mission of Regis Jesuit.”
Card’s statement largely repeated the Dec. 17 letter he and principal Jimmy Tricco published online in place of the electronic version of the quarterly student magazine Elevate’s winter issue.
That letter retracted the issue in its entirety. In discussing the beginning of life at conception, Card and Tricco said: “We believe that protection of life at this stage represents the foundational requirement of respecting the dignity of human life at every stage. We are fully invested in disseminating and defending this and all Church teaching in all that we do.”
The student essay “The Battle for Out [sic] Bodies” contained factual errors, including the claim that Congress, not the U.S. Supreme Court, legalized abortion in the early 1970s. The essay claimed the unborn child before the sixth week of pregnancy has “the same mental capacity and cell organism complexity as a common tulip.”
“The basic human right of choice is at risk due to the lack of trust and faith towards abortion clinics and procedures,” said the author.
“Some say that having an abortion is a form of murder, but there is a difference between a baby and a fetus,” said the essay. “A baby is a living human, whereas a fetus is an organism inside of a woman’s womb that grows during pregnancy until it becomes a baby.”
To make abortion illegal would encourage “illegal and unsafe” abortions, and risk even more lives instead of saving them, the essay said.
“Even though it may be frowned upon in many communities, it is a procedure that many women go through,” the essay continued. The author advocated access to contraception, sex education, and family planning services “instead of changing the laws and creating a pseudo-religious government to rule over women.”
“Religious beliefs of other people should never interfere with a person’s choice,” the essay said.
Regis Jesuit High School, in the eastern Denver suburb of Aurora, offers single-sex instruction in both a boy’s and a girl’s divisions, with almost 1,700 students combined. About 1 in 3 students receive need-based financial aid, though tuition is over $19,000 per year.
The Archdiocese of Denver provided to CNA a Dec. 23 letter from Archbishop Samuel Aquila about the controversy.
Archbishop Aquila said many families reached out to him to voice their “deep concerns” about the essay. He said he was “deeply troubled” that an essay advocating a position “in direct contradiction to the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life” was allowed to be published in a Catholic school.
He described abortion and euthanasia as “the preeminent issues for the Catholic Church today.” Archbishop Aquila cited Pope Francis’ own description of abortion as “an absolute evil.” He added that it is his duty as Archbishop of Denver to ensure that Catholic institutions in the archdiocese are faithful to Church teachings.
“I am grateful that the leadership of Regis Jesuit High School promptly retracted the article and addressed this situation recognizing the failure that took place in allowing this article to be published,” he said.
Archbishop Aquila welcomed the high school leadership’s commitment to defending Church teaching. He said he deeply desires to support this and has asked his staff to help them ensure there is “deeply faithful Catholic formation” for all students, faculty, and staff.
“Catholic schools exist to be sanctuaries of education where students can come to encounter Jesus, be transformed by a relationship with him, grow in wisdom and virtue, and discover their call for their lives as young men and women created in God’s image and likeness,” the archbishop said.
It is “vital” to understand this mission for Christians “in a time where moral relativism has consumed our society and culture, and where to proclaim truth is considered oppressive and bigoted.”
“Knowing truth leads to true freedom and human flourishing because it leads to Jesus, he who rescues us and gives us the fullness of abundant life,” Archbishop Aquila said.
According to the archbishop, Catholic schools “must be fully pro-life institutions” and need to defend the sanctity of human life and to form students to help free them from “the culture of death that pervades our world today.”
“As such, faculty and staff of Catholic schools must be pro-life,” he said. Faithful Catholic schools need to be led by faithful educators “in love with Jesus Christ and his Church”, who witness to the truth of the Gospel.
Both faculty advisors for the Regis Jesuit publication confirmed to the Aurora-based newspaper Sentinel Colorado that they no longer work at the school.
One of the advisors, Nicole Arduini, told the Denver Post she was let go after the column was published.
“I am saddened about the situation,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching student journalism and am proud to have worked with an amazing group of young journalists.”
The school’s student editorial policies say that advisors will not act as censor or determine media content, the Denver Post reports.
“Rather, the advisers will teach journalistic skills and guide the students in making sound legal and ethical decisions,” said the policies. “School officials, administration or faculty and staff, likewise, shall not practice prior review or to censor any student media, with the exception of material deemed to be legally obscene, libelous, substantially and materially disruptive.”
The high school is a separate institution from Regis University, but both are affiliated with the Society of Jesus.
Regis University was the focus of controversy in November 2018 after the Jesuit institution hosted a drag show performed by students that purported to support transgender students. University officials had sent emails to faculty suggesting they attend the drag show, assign books by “queer, and especially transgender” authors to their students and add a preferred gender pronouns policy to their classroom syllabus.
Archbishop Aquila publicly objected that this guidance was not in conformity with the Catholic faith but rather was an example of “ideological colonization” repeatedly decried by Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.