First they came for the Con­fed­er­acy

Now trendy Catholics are top­pling their re­li­gious icons

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Anne Hen­der­shott

While most Catholic lead­ers have been silent about the re­moval of the stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ate War hero Robert E. Lee, and the des­e­cra­tion of stat­ues of Abra­ham Lin­coln and Christo­pher Colum­bus, it may be time for them to get in­volved in the de­bate as re­li­gious stat­ues are now on the chop­ping block. The lead­er­ship of San Domenico School, a 167-yearold Catholic K-12 school in San Anselmo, Calif., has re­moved sev­eral overtly re­li­gious stat­ues from school grounds in or­der to make the school “more in­clu­sive” for students of other faiths — or no faith at all.

In an in­ter­view with a reporter for the Marin In­de­pen­dent Jour­nal, Amy Skews-Cox, chair­man of the San Domenico School’s board of trus­tees, said the re­moval of the re­li­gious stat­ues is “com­pletely in com­pli­ance” with the school’s new strate­gic plan. Ar­gu­ing that the stat­ues of Je­sus Christ and the Vir­gin Mary are “alien­at­ing” for students of other faiths, Ms. Skews-Cox claims, “If you walk on the cam­pus and the first thing you con­front is three or four stat­ues of St. Do­minic or St. Fran­cis, it could be alien­at­ing for that other re­li­gion and we did not want to fur­ther that feel­ing.”

Echo­ing Ms. Skews-Cox’s con­cerns about alien­at­ing prospec­tive students, the head of the San Domenico School, Ce­cily Stock, pointed to mar­ket­ing con­cerns as the rea­son for the aban­don­ment of the Catholic iden­tity — telling a reporter, “What we were find­ing af­ter do­ing some re­search is that in the broader com­mu­nity we are known as be­ing a Catholic school and are not nec­es­sar­ily known as an in­de­pen­dent school. We want to make sure that prospec­tive fam­i­lies are aware that we are an in­de­pen­dent school.”

There is no ques­tion that the school is “in­de­pen­dent.” A few years ago, the school re­moved re­li­gious in­struc­tion for sec­ond-grade chil­dren wish­ing to re­ceive the sacra­ments of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and first com­mu­nion. And, last year, the school re­moved even af­ter-school cat­e­chism — pre­fer­ring to al­low chil­dren to learn about world re­li­gions in­stead of Catholic the­ol­ogy.

Re­fus­ing to be­come in­volved in the Do­mini­can school’s de­ci­sion to re­move the re­li­gious stat­ues, Sis­ter Mau­reen McIn­er­ney, pri­oress of the Do­mini­can Sis­ters of San Rafael, the re­li­gious or­der that founded the school in 1850, said, “It re­ally isn’t my place” to get in­volved with the de­tails of the op­er­a­tion of run­ning the school. Claim­ing the school has re­tained a statue of St. Do­minic, the school’s name­sake, Sis­ter McIn­er­ney told a reporter that “it would be fine” if there was a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of stat­ues … it wel­comes peo­ple of all faiths. It is mak­ing an ef­fort to be in­clu­sive of all faiths.” And, although Sis­ter McIn­er­ney added that “San Domenico is a Catholic School,” the mis­sion state­ment no longer de­scribes the school as “Catholic.” Rather it is de­scribed as hav­ing a “Do­mini­can Catholic her­itage.”

In­deed, the school’s pre­sid­ing bishop, the Most Rev­erend Sal­va­tore Cordileone may have some­thing to say about whether Sis­ter McIn­er­ney is cor­rect when she says that San Domenico is a “Catholic School.” As the pre­sid­ing bishop, Arch­bishop Cordileone must cer­tify that a school that calls it­self Catholic is in­deed teach­ing the truth of the teach­ings of the Catholic Church. That may be dif­fi­cult to do when the school’s direc­tor of the world re­li­gions de­part­ment openly claims to a reporter that “the Do­mini­can teach­ing phi­los­o­phy is not to teach there is only one truth.”

The fact that the truth of Catholic teach­ings has be­come con­tested ground on yet an­other Catholic cam­pus is not news. With the ex­cep­tion of a few Catholic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties (like my own aca­demic home, Fran­cis­can Uni­ver­sity of Steubenville), most of the 230 Catholic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have strayed far from their Catholic roots. This all be­gan in 1967 when Catholic col­lege lead­ers gath­ered in Land O’Lakes, Wis., to cre­ate a man­i­festo that de­clared their “true au­ton­omy and aca­demic free­dom in the face of author­ity of what­ever kind, lay or cler­i­cal.” Since that time, most Catholic col­lege pres­i­dents have ig­nored at­tempts by their pre­sid­ing bish­ops to bring their schools into com­mu­nion with the church.

What is new is that such strong re­jec­tion of the Catholic iden­tity is now oc­cur­ring openly on a Catholic K-12 cam­pus. San Domenico is not the only Catholic school that is re­mov­ing its stat­ues. There con­tin­ues to be pres­sure to re­move stat­ues of Fa­ther Ju­nipero Serra from a num­ber of Catholic col­lege cam­puses in Cal­i­for­nia. And although Catholic col­lege lead­ers have re­sisted the pres­sure to re­move stat­ues of the Fran­cis­can priest — re­cently can­on­ized by Pope Fran­cis — who played a key role in the evan­ge­liza­tion of 18th cen­tury Cal­i­for­nia, it is doubt­ful they can con­tinue to re­sist the calls for the re­moval of his statue. Crit­ics have de­picted Fa­ther Serra as hav­ing com­mit­ted “geno­cide” on the cul­ture of the in­dige­nous peo­ple. There is also move­ment to re­move a bronze statue of Fa­ther Serra that cur­rently stands in the Na­tional Stat­u­ary Hall, south of the U.S. Capi­tol ro­tunda.

In 2015 Cal­i­for­nia State Sen. Ri­cardo Lara pro­posed a mea­sure to re­move Fa­ther Serra’s statue and re­place it with a statue of as­tro­naut Sally Ride. And, although Gov. Jerry Brown re­fused to sup­port the mea­sure, there is great sup­port for the re­place­ment be­cause Ride’s would be the first statue of a gay or lesbian in the U. S. Capi­tol hall. In the moral panic sur­round­ing “of­fen­sive” stat­ues that has con­sumed the coun­try, it is likely that Fa­ther Serra’s stat­ues may not sur­vive much longer.

The lead­er­ship of San Domenico School has re­moved sev­eral overtly re­li­gious stat­ues from school grounds in or­der to make the school “more in­clu­sive” for students of other faiths — or no faith at all.

Anne Hen­der­shott is pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy and direc­tor of the Ver­i­tas Cen­ter for Ethics in Public Life at Fran­cis­can Uni­ver­sity of Steubenville, Ohio. She is the au­thor of “Sta­tus Envy: The Pol­i­tics of Catholic Higher Ed­u­ca­tion” (Trans­ac­tion Pub­lish­ers, 2009).


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