Since January 2021 the school had been flying a rainbow LGBT pride flag and a version of a Black Lives Matter flag. In March 2022 an unknown person tore the flags down. McManus addressed the flag controversy on April 3, with the school being warned it could lose its Catholic status.
The “Black Lives Matter” phrase came to prominence after the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, which was ruled self-defense. It was invoked at the same time as 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted by the fatal police shooting of a Black man, Michael Brown, which was eventually ruled to be self-defense. After the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, it became a rallying cry for foes of police brutality and racism.
McManus’ June 16 statement did not explain his concern that the Black Lives Matter movement undermines the family. However, the largest official organization which bears the slogan, the Black Lives Matter Global Network, has promoted LGBT ideology and opposes the nuclear family. Until the language was removed in September 2020, the group’s website said that, as part of its social justice and anti-racist work, the organization aimed to “dismantle cisgender privilege,” “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” and foster “a queer‐affirming network.” The organization is currently fighting accusations of financial mismanagement.
In an April 3 statement, McManus said the Black Lives Matter emblem, “has at times been co-opted by some factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police and those entrusted with enforcing our laws.”
The school's response
In a June 15 letter to the school community, Thomas McKenney, Nativity School's president, depicted McManus' action as “a change in Nativity’s relationship with the Diocese of Worcester and our continued commitment to providing an excellent education rooted in the Jesuit tradition.”
McKenney said the school is “entirely funded through the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations.” It receives no diocesan funding and its governance and control of school operations are “fully independent of the diocese.”
“Please know that any decisions made by the diocese will not change the mission, operations or impact of Nativity,” he told the school community.
McKenney said the school began to fly the flag in response to the middle school students’ “call to express support for making our communities more just and inclusive.”
“As a multicultural school, the flags represent the inclusion and respect of all people. These flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching,” he said.
“Pope Francis has praised the outreach and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the spirit and movement of ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination.”
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“Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”
McManus’ decree prohibits Nativity School from any fundraising at diocesan institutions. The school also is barred from being listed in or advertising in the diocese directory. In addition, Worcester Bishop emeritus Daniel P. Reilly’s name must be removed from the school’s board of trustees.
According to NBC News Boston, Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said McManus “was just looking for alternatives to the flags to be able to get the same points across, that Black Lives do matter, that God loves everyone. But does it have to be done with specific logos, if you will, of a particular organization that we have differences with?”
McKenney said the school “will seek to appeal the decision of the diocese to remove our Catholic identity through the appropriate channels provided by the Church in circumstances like this.”
“At the same time, after meaningful deliberation and discernment by its board, leadership team, faculty, and partners, Nativity will continue to display the flags in question to give visible witness to the school’s solidarity with our students, families, and their communities. Commitment to our mission, grounded and animated by Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and our Jesuit heritage compels us to do so.”
The senior administration of Worcester’s Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross developed the school, which opened in 2003 to address low graduation rates among boys who come from economically insecure homes.