Bishop Peter J. Jurgis has said he is “shocked” by reports of “a lack of charity and respect” at a North Carolina high school meeting about a religious sister whose discussion of homosexuality came under attack.
“There simply is no room in the Catholic Church for such displays of uncharitableness and disrespect,” the Bishop of Charlotte said April 9. “If we have failed in this regard let us make amends to God and neighbor. Even when we disagree, that disagreement should be expressed respectfully in love.”
The April 2 Charlotte Catholic High School meeting with students’ parents concerned the March 21 presentation of Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P., an assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn.
She addressed an all-school assembly in a one-hour presentation, “Masculinity and Femininity: Difference and Gift,” that discussed Catholic teaching about sexual difference in light of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Her presentation was not recorded and accounts of its content rest on descriptions from school administrators and students.
High school officials told media outlets that a significant portion of her talk discussed homosexuality and attributed a correlation between the decline of fatherhood in the U.S. and a rise in homosexuality.
A petition reportedly created by a student at the high school said that students were “confused why time was spent condemning the practice of homosexuality.” The petition called the presentation “offensive.”
According to student reports, she cited studies and statistics indicating that people are not born with same-sex attraction and that children raised by a single parent have a greater chance of becoming homosexual. The students said that her presentation suggested a correlation between masturbation and homosexuality, the Charlotte Observer says.
The controversy over her presentation became the subject of national press coverage.
The school’s meeting about the presentation drew 900 parents. Among those who spoke, some parents supported the school and the presentation, but most were critical, the Catholic News Herald reports.
Bishop Jurgis said he was “shocked to hear the disturbing reports of a lack of charity and respect at the parents’ meeting, and outside the meeting in conversations and in social media.”
He noted that there were “different viewpoints” about Sister Laurel’s presentation and that the school apologized for not notifying parents in advance about the subject of the assembly.
He said Catholic moral teaching was “not raised as a matter of contention” at the meeting.
“All of our Catholic schools are committed to hold and teach the Catholic faith in its fullness and with integrity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains an explanation of our faith and is accessible to all,” the bishop said.
In an April 2 statement, Aquinas College said Sister Laurel’s talk “attempted to reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church” on a “challenging topic.” The college said her talks have been “favorably received” at other venues.
The college said the talk was intended to show that human sexuality is a “great gift” from God, though contemporary culture sees this “differently.” The college said Sister Laurel had intended to bring a message that brings “life, peace, and a deep sense of purpose.”
“It appears that this message was not universally accepted,” the college continued, expressing hope that no one felt unloved by God. It called the subsequent controversy “unfortunate.”
Sr. Laurel holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
Aquinas College president Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith commented on the presentation April 4, noting that of those commenting on the matter, few people were present to hear the presentation. She said that Sister Laurel “spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals,” but said “her deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise.”
“The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister’s academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students,” Sister Mary Sarah said. “The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver.”
“There are no words that are able to reverse the harm that has been caused by these comments,” she said. “The community of Aquinas College is saddened by this extreme outcome and wishes to reiterate that this is not something the College condones or desires to create.”
According to Sister Mary Sarah, Sister Laurel has cancelled her speaking engagements. At Sister Laurel’s own request, she is preparing to begin a sabbatical from teaching at Aquinas College.
Bishop Jurgis urged parents, students, staff and faculty to “move forward toward healing with charity, the hallmark of our Christian life.”