Saint Joseph’s Catholic – But is his High School?

At what point do we here in Ontario stop calling Catholic schools, Catholic? A name, says the Catechism, expresses a person’s essence. And what applies to persons applies also, by extension, to societies, schools, presidents, prime ministers…

My local area has made international news of late, when just a Catholic – we will use the name for now – high school in Renfrew, Saint Joseph’s, suspended one of its students. When said student, Josh Alexander, considering the suspension unjust and unwarranted, returned to class, he was arrested.

What crime warranted such draconian punishment of a 16 year-old?

Josh’s travails began when he retorted to a teacher’s claim in class that ‘gender’ was a spectrum, that there were, according to Scripture, only two. Josh refused to back down. This was not just a speculative debate on whether God was wrong when He created them ‘male and female’, for the school also allows gender-confused teenage boys – we may as well call them young men, for they may be 18 years old – to use the girl’s – that is young women’s – toilets and changerooms.

There are at least two problems here: The claim that there are more than two sexes (I strive not to call them ‘genders’, a category which belongs to things, not persons). This is tantamount to heresy. Then there is the application of that error in mixing the sexes in environments where they will see each other in a state of nakedness. Do we need to spell out the scandal involved in that, regardless of what precautions are taken?

Josh opposes this policy based on his religious convictions, even if one hardly require revelation to perceive that this is errant nonsense. Josh led a walk-out back in November, with most of the school body on the other side of the street opposing him, and shouting down what few protestors there were on his side. He’s been called a ‘bully’ – a usual tactic of ideologues whose policies are even mildly opposed – a charge which Josh vehemently denies.

The episcopal office has been contacted by a concerned mother, and the reply from the vicar-general could use a bit more of what we might term Pauline righteous indignation and firm paternal correction. One wonders what the Apostle would have made if Christians had engaged in such scandals in Corinth – well, we sort of know, as a brief perusal of his letters demonstrate.

What we do read is that the “the diocese does not have jurisdiction over the internal life of the Board, nor does the Bishop have the authority to intervene in internal matters”. Hence, the bishop can provide only ‘moral suasion’, while protecting the ‘vulnerable’.

The most vulnerable in this tragedy are the scandalized girls afraid to use their own washrooms – and, by that, I mean the real, biological girls.

In other words, the bishop admits he has no authority over a Catholic school in his own diocese – which brings us back to the notion of a name signifying, or not signifying, as the case may be, what a thing really is. He is in a tough spot, for the Catholic system sold out long ago; like Esau, giving over its birthright and identity for the state’s Mammon – modern buildings and classrooms, big gymnasiums and sports fields, prestige of diplomas, and, not least, plush salaries, benefits and pension plans for the administrators and teachers…But the pied piper comes calling, and the school must do his bidding.

This is but the end point of a long process of disintegration in the Catholic school system from various deleterious factors, cultural and otherwise, and we might wonder whether it be well past time to invoke and apply the Code of Canon law:

Can. 803 §1. A Catholic school is understood as one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person directs or which ecclesiastical authority recognizes as such through a written document.

§2. The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.

§3. Even if it is in fact Catholic, no school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.

I teach at an autonomous private Catholic college in the same diocese, and we hold that title with the consent of the bishop. I would hope that were we ever to instantiate such malfeasance as Saint Joseph’s that the chancery would act, and act swiftly, and we would change policy just as swiftly. Purportedly, the bishops as a group are going to publish a joint statement on this ‘gender question’ sometime in March. For now, there is this statement from the president of Conference of Canadian Bishops, which does speak the truth, albeit in rather academic terms. Hopefully, the updated reply is follows Saints Paul and Peter in its apostolic tone and clarity for evil days are upon us, and on our children. Pray for them.

The irony in all of this is that Josh himself isn’t even Catholic. But he lives up to that noble name more than his school, and, it seems, those who run it. The Board has issued a response, replete with the usual misleading language, couched in false compassion, which the reader may peruse: Feb resp RCCSB

My own take on the publicly-funded Catholic educational system, given my own experience many moons ago when things were not quite so in articulo mortis as this, would be to cast it off, as dead weight, a millstone dragging the Church – and those who belong – further into an abyss.

This would be a radical step, but we need such – to go back to the ‘roots’ of what a Catholic school should be, and it may be best to start over from scratch. Poverty, and freedom from the state, have their own benefits, not least of which is freedom to teach, and live, the truth.