Massachusetts Bishop Asks Catholic Middle School to Take Down ‘Pride,’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ Flags

The school risks ‘no longer being identified as a Catholic institution’ if it persists in flying the flags, according to the local diocese.

Nativity School of Worcester, a Jesuit middle school in the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, is risking its Catholic status by refusing to remove certain flags from its flag pole, per the request of the local ordinary, Bishop Robert McManus.
Nativity School of Worcester, a Jesuit middle school in the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, is risking its Catholic status by refusing to remove certain flags from its flag pole, per the request of the local ordinary, Bishop Robert McManus. (photo: Joe Bukuras/CNA / Joe Bukuras/CNA)

A Jesuit-run middle school in Massachusetts could lose its Catholic designation if it ignores the local bishop’s call to stop flying “Black Lives Matter” and “Pride” rainbow flags outside its building.

The Nativity School of Worcester, in Worcester, Massachusetts, has been displaying the flags for more than a year, The Boston Globe has reported, but Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester only recently learned about them, a diocesan spokesman told CNA Monday.

The middle school, which is privately run and not part of the diocesan school system, has a predominantly African American and Latino student body. Students attend the school tuition-free.

In a statement issued April 3, Bishop McManus expressed concerns that the flags could lead to confusion about the Catholic Church’s teaching on civil authority and same-sex civil marriage.

While noting that “symbols can mean different things to different people,” Bishop McManus said that, “as the Bishop of this diocese, I must teach that it is imperative that a Catholic School use imagery and symbols which are reflective of that school’s values and principles so as to be clear with young people who are being spiritually and morally formed for the future.”

“While our role in a school is not to convert those who are not Catholic, nor is it our role to deny our Catholic identity,” he added.

“While the Catholic Church joins with our nation in teaching that all lives are equal before God and the law and that all lives demand our respect regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, the flag with the emblem Black Lives Matter has at times been co-opted by some factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police and those entrusted with enforcing our laws.”

“We do not teach that in our schools,” Bishop McManus said.

“And, while we teach that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God, gay pride flags are often used to stand in contrast to consistent Catholic teaching that sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman,” the bishop continued.

“Is the school committing itself to ideologies which are contrary to Catholic teaching? If so, is it still a Catholic school?” he asked.

Bishop McManus has been communicating with school administrators since the flags were brought to his attention about a month ago, diocesan spokesman Ray Delisle told CNA. Delisle said the school risks “no longer being identified as a Catholic institution” if it persists in flying the flags.

News of the controversy drew reporters and TV crews to the school on Monday. Both flags were displayed at half-staff outside the school.

The school’s president, Tom McKenney, said in a statement issued Monday that the flags fly to “remind our young men, their families and Nativity Worcester staff that all are welcome here and that they are valued and safe in this place.”

McKenney added: “It says to them that they, in fact, do matter and deserve to be respected as our Christian values teach us. That is the purpose of flying these flags.” McKenney noted in the statement that Nativity is not a diocesan school and is sponsored by the USA East Province of Jesuits. The province did not respond to CNA’s request for comment Monday.

In response to a later email inquiry, McKenney told CNA that the flags were flying at half-staff Monday in honor of Marine Capt. Ross Reynolds, formerly of Leominster, Massachusetts, who was killed during a NATO training exercise on March 18.

The conflict with Nativity School is not the first time Bishop McManus has made headlines for his engagement with Catholic education in his diocese.

In February 2012, Bishop McManus asked Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, to rescind its invitation to Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, to be its commencement speaker, citing her public support for legalized abortion and same-sex civil marriage. The college complied with the bishop’s request.

More recently, in 2019, Bishop McManus drew criticism from two senior administrators at the College of Holy Cross for comments he made regarding transgenderism at a health care conference sponsored by the school. In response, Bishop McManus said that “if certain members of the Holy Cross community find this to be hurtful and offensive, then perhaps the college should present clearly what Catholicism teaches regarding Christian anthropology and human sexuality.”

The most recent reported case of a U.S. prelate making the decision to remove a school’s Catholic status occurred in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. In 2019, Archbishop Charles Thompson announced that a local Jesuit high school, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, would no longer be recognized as a Catholic school, due to a disagreement about the employment of a teacher who attempted to contract a same-sex civil marriage.

In a June 2019 statement, Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, head of the Jesuits' Midwest Province, said the province would appeal the decision, first through the archbishop “and, if necessary, [pursuing] hierarchical recourse to the Vatican.” The province’s subsequent appeal to the Congregation for Catholic Education has not yet been resolved.

Canon law states that “no school, even if it is in fact Catholic, may bear the title ‘Catholic school’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.”