The Catholic school apostolate has been the focus of my entire adult life, beginning when I was but a seventeen-year-old seminarian, including more than twenty years of teaching and administration in high schools, and now with a responsibility for assisting schools to enhance their Catholic identity. Having been propelled into this mission at the height of the sexual revolution, I was always concerned about the dating habits of my students, since I was convinced (as I still am) that, in the Catholic scheme of things, the only purpose in dating is to find a spouse. For that reason, I never supported dances that required dates, even (and maybe especially) proms. Why? Because I believe that such events put young people at risk(theologically, we call them “a near occasion of sin”).
Hundreds of memories came flooding back recently when it was announced that a Jesuit high school in upstate New York had decided to allow two boys to attend the prom as a couple. That fact triggered yet another memory from 2005 when two high schools on Long Island (one all boys, the other coed, but both administered by the Marianists) had cancelled their proms because of the out-of-control nature into which those dances had devolved in terms of sex, alcohol and drugs, let alone the extravagance displayed (often enough with parental knowledge and complicity).
In some measure, it was almost inevitable that a Catholic school would be put in the position of having to deal with such a same-sex request/demand. What do I mean? For decades, Catholic educators (and here I include priests, teachers and parents) have been gun-shy or intimidated about addressing the psychosexual issues of our youth. Immodesty in dress, public displays of affection, crude language and jokes, inappropriate and unchaperoned encounters, access to contraceptives – these sources of temptation have been topics studiously avoided by most adults, for fear that they will be perceived as “out of it” or “nagging.” Worse still, how many “educators” actually see nothing wrong with my laundry list and thus give wholehearted approval to such behaviors? And then, when unfortunate results ensue, everyone seems befuddled, asking how such things could happen. I am not thinking simply of unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancies; I am also thinking of the incredibly high rate of teenage depression and suicide, not unrelated to putting youngsters into a position for which they might be physically capable but certainly not psychologically prepared – let alone dealing with the underlying moral issues at stake.
Because these matters have not been handled sufficiently or at all within the context of boy-girl relations, they are now emerging within the context of same-sex relations, fraught with the political baggage and social pressure of the moment, as well as the general sexualization of any affection. Of course, if we had been diligent and responsible in handling these concerns within the heterosexual frame of reference, we would not find ourselves engaged in a rear-guard action now within the homosexual frame of reference. Indeed, the Church would simply be perceived as “an equal opportunity” employer, upholding the same standards for all her children.
Particularly disturbing about the scenario with the two boys is that the official statement of the school’s administration never states clearly just what the Catholic position is on same-sex relations. Further, has anyone even asked why teenagers should be discussing their sexual proclivities at all (regardless of orientation)?
The two high schools on Long Island have just announced that they are reinstating their proms, but under highly controlled circumstances and within prudent financial bounds. A few years back, doing a high school evaluation, I came across a school where the prom ended with a midnight Mass! What a lovely way to conclude an evening of good, clean fun and how much more difficult for students to leave Mass and engage in immoral behavior.
When I began my teaching career, a very wise old Sister told me that the fundamental job of a Catholic school teacher was two-fold: first, to foster virtue, so as to make saints; and second, to make the good thing the popular thing. Winking at, or even encouraging, immoral behavior fails on both scores.
The Obama Administration’s attacks on our religious liberty have had the salutary side-effect of causing clergy to address the immorality of contraception for the first time in decades. Similarly, calls for “sexual equality” can provide us with a golden opportunity to pick up the ball we dropped forty years ago.
The Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., is a member of the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic High School Honor Roll National Policy Advisory Board, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation, and editor of The Catholic Response.
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