The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, has temporarily shut down its Department of Catholic Schools, but a diocesan statement says it was unrelated to an ongoing feud between teachers and parents with Archbishop Alexander Sample about gender ideology and the use of preferred pronouns.

An archdiocesan spokesperson told CNA that the archdiocese is reevaluating how to evangelize given a changing environment.

“The Department of Catholic Schools is temporarily closed as we work to reevaluate how to best integrate schools more fully into our mission,” Douglas Markwell, the archdiocese’s director of marketing and communications, told CNA.

“Our Catholic schools are an essential part of our mission of evangelization,” Markwell continued. “They serve a vital role in teaching, witnessing to, and spreading the Gospel. We have seen great changes in the environment in which our schools operate, but the importance of the mission and our dedication to our families is unchanging.”

The department oversees more than 40 archdiocesan elementary schools and high schools, which educate more than 15,000 students and employ about 1,300 teachers, according to the archdiocese’s website. It supports the schools by “communicating, assessing, and reporting on matters of faith, Catholic identity, policy, and academic achievement between the archdiocese, [the department], and the schools.”

Markwell did not respond to follow-up questions about how the temporary closure will affect the way Catholic schools function.

There was some speculation that the decision to close the department was related to new guidelines published by Archbishop Alexander Sample about gender ideology and transgenderism in Catholic schools, but the archdiocese has denied that.

In January, Sample published guidelines on how Catholics should handle gender ideology, which included recommendations on how schools should handle transgenderism and preferred pronouns that are inconsistent with a person’s biological sex. The guidelines led to a handful of principals and teachers resigning and protests from some parents and students.

The archbishop’s guidelines state that “Catholic institutions should not endorse gender identity theory nor enable any form of gender transition whether social or medical.” 

More in US

The guidelines further recommend that “names, pronouns, facilities use, attire, and sports participation should depend upon biological sex identity rather than self-perceived gender identity.” 

According to the guidelines, students should abide by dress codes that accord with their biological sex, locker rooms and restrooms should be organized in accordance with biological sex, formal documentation should use a student’s legal name and pronouns that align with his or her biological sex, and all education materials should align with Catholic teaching. 

The guidelines also discourage schools from posting signage that promotes “gender identity theory,” and no person should have medicine on site that is used for the purpose of gender transition.

Even though the archbishop’s recommendations are following guidelines set by the Vatican, he has received pushback from some members of the Catholic community in the Portland Archdiocese. 

Oregon Live reported that the longtime principals of All Saints K-8 School and the Madeleine School resigned following the archbishop’s guidelines, and at least three faculty members at St. Rose School had their contracts rescinded after refusing to sign a pledge that they would uphold the guidelines. 

The article also reported that an ad hoc group of parents and educators formally requested a meeting with Sample to express concerns about the guidelines. More than 1,000 people in the archdiocese’s Catholic community signed statements opposing the guidelines, according to the article. 

Sample also received pushback from at least one member of the clergy, Father Mike Biewend, the pastor of Madeleine Parish, who spoke in favor of former Madeleine School principal Carol Glasgow, who opposed the guidelines. He said the guidelines do not affirm “the preciousness of every child.” 

(Story continues below)

“All of us know about the so-called guidelines put out by Archbishop Sample,” Biewend said during a homily at the June 13 Madeleine School eighth grade graduation. 

“Miss Glasgow has given up her paycheck,” he continued. “... Did you know that she’s given up her career? Did you know that everything that she’s done in her professional progression to be principal and there on, she said in conscience, [she] cannot in good conscience, support what the archbishop is asking her, as a leader, to do.”

Biewend said that is who he wants as a principal: “Someone who’s going to teach you to always live by your conscience and a conscience that’s informed with the preciousness of every child.”

Sample’s recommendations are in line with the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, which published a document on June 10, 2019, rejecting gender ideology titled “Male and Female He Created Them.”

This article was updated June 29, 2023, to reflect the archdiocese's latest statement on the temporary closure of its Department of Catholic Schools.