Catholic School Parents Demand Banning of Disliked Worldview: Catholicism

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Across the country, people who proclaim themselves to be on “the right side of history” are demanding that those in the wrong must be banished from shared society, with the latest most-prominent example being the Mozilla CEO who was forced out of his position based on a 2008 donation toward California’s traditional-marriage-supporting Proposition 8.

A much smaller-scale example has arisen in Rhode Island with a surprising twist.  Some parents whose children attend the Prout School — a private Catholic school in Wakefield operating within the Providence Diocese — have been calling for the resignation of the school principal for allowing a visiting priest to answer students’ questions about homosexuality, divorce, and adoption according to what (in his expert opinion) the Catholic Church teaches on those matters.

Of course, it takes a little additional research to understand what actually happened.  An article in the South County Independent (apart from mischaracterizing Opus Dei as “an orthodox division of the Roman Catholic Church”) calls the event a “speech” and an “address” and entirely allows the protesting parents to describe what happened as well as to present the event as if it was being recorded surreptitiously with harsh punishments for those who wouldn’t clap for Rev. Francis “Rocky” Hoffman.

Linda Borg takes things to another level in the Providence Journal, starting out with the assertion that Rev. Hoffman is “an inflammatory speaker.”  Borg broadens the attack on Opus Dei (declaring it to be controversial, naturally, without offering any competing statement from its supporters).  This gem of passive voice and anonymous statement of opinion is an archetype of its genre, bad grammar and all:

The group has been criticized for being secretive, sexist and for following certain practices that are considered outside the mainstream of the church.

Apart from some aggressive commentary that Borg lifted from Facebook, the only voices in the piece are school principal David Carradini, who appears to lack the fortitude and conviction one might want in a leader, and the diocese’s superintendent, offering general organizational support for him.

What’s the reality?

Father Hoffman is one of a pair of priests who conduct a call-in radio show called “Go Ask Your Father,” the very purpose of which is to answer confusing or difficult questions that Catholics (or others) have about the faith.  In this format, it would be impossible for people in the audience not to know that they’re being recorded, because he keeps announcing commercial breaks.  A great comment on the Independent article suggests that this was exactly the case:

So I go to Prout and was at the assembly. First off, we knew that this was a radio broadcast (IDK what this article is talking about), that was made perfectly clear to us, in fact, we were supposed to ask questions to Fr. Hoffman. Students whose questions were chosen, would get to ask them on the radio station. Questions were asked about gay marriage, abortion, and other theological issues. Fr. Rocky answered them all the way you’d expect him to. The problem was that for entertainment purposes, he said some dumb things: atheism is just a phase, gay people need to get with it (something to that affect), parents need to grow up and not get divorced (even though marriage is about love)…….the way he said somethings didn’t fit in with the idea of a loving and open Church.

General interactions with Catholic priests and listening to some of Father Hoffman’s other productions suggest that there may be a gap between what he was conveying and what students heard, but even so, this was a loose forum offered as part of a Catholic education.  On the downloads page for the show, the episode from Friday, April 4, is a Q&A with students at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro.  None of the students’ questions pointedly addressed the topics that apparently came up at Prout, but there’s an interesting Q&A at around the 28 minute mark.  It’s worth listening to the four-and-a-half minutes because they give an indication of Fr. Hoffman’s views on social issues that are difficult for the modern Church and a sampling of the language that he uses in speaking with these younger audiences.

For example, he notes that when Jesus told the crowds that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, “people said, ‘You’re sick.’  And they started drifting away.” He talks of an elderly couple that stays together because, when the husband is being obnoxious, the wife reminds herself that she can’t divorce him, and she can’t kill him, so they patch things up.  “But many times, the world’s saying, ‘He’s being obnoxious; ditch him.'”

What Catholics who lament the growing gap between popular culture and the Church want, however, is not for priests to speak the language of the day, or communicate doctrine in a way that the audience will better understand, but rather to maintain the holy facade while edging out the doctrine.  Just so, when the officials of the school, lamentably including chaplain Rev. Joseph Upton, held another assembly the following Monday to offer “a more welcoming message,” they did so only in a very narrow sense.

When the voices of “tolerance” proclaim the value of “diversity,” they don’t mean they tolerate real, substantive differences.  Rather, they will only tolerate people whom they have labeled as “diverse” — as in, different from people with whom they disagree.  When a “welcoming” community gathers together to sharpen its pitchforks and drive out people who make challenging statements, the message isn’t that they are, in fact, welcoming, but that they will insist on the absolute right to determine who is welcome.  (How welcome, I wonder, do any students now feel who might have agreed with Father Hoffman, or whose parents do?)

Just as the separatists and censors of politically correct America do at the national level, the principal of Prout and his young chaplain have done their community academic and spiritual harm.  Mr. Carradini should have stated the plain fact that Fr. Hoffman is an experienced and well-regarded priest, putting forth an argument held by many of his co-religionists, and presented it as a challenge to those who disagree with him to put together an intelligent, well-sourced, and respectful argument about why he was wrong in his explanations, at least in the way he articulated them.  And Father Upton should have affirmed that the Church is in many ways in conflict with society, that it will always remain so, in one way or another, and that the process of working through the friction is a function of the Holy Spirit, acting through all of us — not in denial, but in respect and love.

Far from working to prevent Relevant Radio from the airing the episode, the community at Prout should be anxious to promote it, perhaps inviting Father Hoffman back for further exchanges.

  • It can only dissuade men and women from pursuing religious life if they can’t trust in their own extended community to give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Students’ education can only be stunted if their experience is limited only to things that do not offend them, whether because they do not care or because they do.
  • And if Father Hoffman is so dreadfully wrong, if he was being abusive (albeit inadvertently), then his own soul may be in danger.

Of course, our secular age, with its inversions of tolerance, diversity, and welcome, doesn’t show much belief in souls, and its mobs therefore aren’t so concerned with the growth of the individual, but rather with the imperative that nobody stand in the way of remaking God’s creation in our own fallen image.  A mob can’t be fomented under the banner of being bigger people interested in helping those it declaims, only under the call of proving itself more powerful and destructive.



  • Maureen

    Well done! What a refreshingly intelligent and well researched article!

  • brassband

    I have listened to many of Fr. Rocky Hoffman's broadcasts and I have never heard him say anything that would surprise a reasonably well catechized Catholic. Maybe he went far off he rails at Prout, but I can't tell from reports because there have been no specific reports of what he said. So I would really like to hear this program — or read a transcript — before commenting further on the reactions to it.

    Like you, I thought immediately of the Jesus's "hard saying" in the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6, and the reaction of Jesus's listeners ("As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." Jn 6:66). Of course, given our fallen nature, it is very hard to remain always faithful to every one of Jesus's teachings, and so there are some we might prefer not to hear.

    But the remedy is not to silence the teacher. Instead, we should avail ourselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, where, as Pope Francis has said, "God waits for us and never tires of forgiving us."

  • justinkatz

    The most discouraging thing, to me, is that the woman whose Facebook posts are quoted in the Providence Journal claims to have sent a letter about the matter to Pope Francis. So, here's a guy who has in his sphere of concern nations where homosexuals can be killed under the law as well as nations where Christians are being massacred, and she thinks it should be a matter of pressing concern to him that a priest at a New England private school might have been indelicate in trying to convey Catholicism to teenagers.

  • David C

    I'm the (nonCatholic) parent of three Prout grads, and I'd say it's true that the school was always very light on pushing Catholic doctrine to the students.

    The mother quoted in the article is long-term Prout parent, and I know it's true that there's unhappiness with the principal, as the student Justin linked to before says (there's been a wholesale change in school leadership in the past three or four years).

  • Russ

    The Prout School receives some public funding for text books and transportation and since "money is fungible" that's the same as using tax payer dollars to fund this speaker, who many find offensive. We can debate whether his teaching accurately reflect the views of the Catholic church, but "we shouldn’t be having those debates in the context of the government’s taking our money to fund it." Right, Justin?

    • Mike

      If we follow your thought process, then you have to agree that government funding of planned parenthood is the same as funding abortions?

  • David C

    Russ, that is incorrect. Textbooks (from a specific required list) are provided to families from their hometown school district; the Catholic school is not involved. Similarly, school bus service is provided (limited towns only) for the benefit of families, not the school. Prout runs its own buses from Aquidneck Island and Warwick, which are outside the state-specified boundaries, and the parents pay for it if they wish.

    • Russ

      I was just referencing what I read on the school's Web site. Perhaps the info is dated:
      theproutschool.org/matriarch/MultiPiecePage.asp_Q_PageID_E_421_A_PageName_E_HomeNewsandEvents4

      "The future of taxpayer supported state funding programs for parents with children in nonpublic schools is in jeopardy. Under Governor Chaffee’s proposed budgetary cuts, funding for textbooks has been eliminated. Funding for transportation could easily suffer a similar fate. If local cities and towns do not provide funding for the textbook loan program, the cost to parents to send their children to Catholic schools will rise sharply."

      I'm not actually arguing against using public funds for busing private school students. I was just paraphrasing Justin's argument for denying funding to any arts organization that has produced work that might offend someone like himself, whether or not the art in question was directly funded by the state because money is "fungible." Struck me as funny that he'd then turn around and accuse others of only tolerating diversity that is "different from people with whom they disagree."

      oceanstatecurrent.com/analysis/picking-nits-in-outrageous-underwear-spending/

  • justinkatz

    You are lying again, Russ. (I can understand why, of course, with the belief system that you're trying to support.) That isn't even close to a paraphrase of my argument. It's just another lie from you.

    • Russ

      Well, you can't deny those quotes are what you said. Of course it's not always easy to decipher what you mean.

      Do tell why public funds should be used to fund "offensive" works at private schools but not at theaters and art galleries. Or is it that tax dollars at Catholic schools are not fungible? (Kind of seemed like that in the Prout appeal though, didn't it)

  • Oh, Justin, there are far more important things at Prout and LaSalle like how the sports teams are doing in the RI Interscholastic league..and Opus Dei is a fringe element of the Church, didn't you see The DaVinci Code?

    and yes, the Supreme Court in a bit of sideline dancing did say funds and services (not people although the case involving a deaf sign language interpreter divided the court) provided to private and in that case religious schools are okay within the Establishment clause. The "fungibility" of money is played by both sides depending on the recipient of the funds, although the private schools really don't help themselves in many cases by citing the "we save the taxpayers money" line (the marginal cost saving to the taxpayer is zero, if not negative when you add in the need to transport and provide other services, especially in low density numbers).

    From RICatholic when Chafee proposed cutting the textbook program

    "Father Angelo Carusi, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, questioned if Catholic school parents are being singled out.

    “Should these parents be punished because they are concerned for the moral well-being of their children?” he questioned. “If our students don’t have books, our schools will be forced to close. Is the public school system equipped to handle all of our students?”

    really, when LaSalle sends bands and cheerleaders to sporting events and my public school is begging for 2d hand instruments..and RI Catholic foundations is sitting on well over 65M in funds (and that was a few years ago).. and my school district cuts sports and band while spending over 100K to transport fewer than 20 kids to private schools because it is in the "catchment area" and we have to run multiple buses so the kids won't be on the road "longer than they would if they went to the public school."

    but I digress, Justin – you had a great point in that this was a teachable moment for the school (maybe it takes its cues from Prov College..) but hey, when the Church went away from holding parents responsible just as much as catholic school/parish religious formation for teaching the faith, this is what you get. Just like common core, how many of the parents who complain about that have actually read the common core documents?

    "The fullness of Catholic education is predicated on the understanding that those who have been given the responsibility to teach accept the full scope of the responsibility in all of its dimensions. In matters of faith, all teachers are witnesses to the gospel message and pass on the living faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the resource that guides our lessons and teachings"

    • justinkatz

      Joe,

      I'm sorry. Your comments are usually very good, but it's just plain laughable to insinuate that breadcrumbs of busing (which many private school students do not use) and textbooks (which have restrictions, I believe, like being the one that the public school uses) put exorbitant pressure on public schools.

      One reason private schools have things that public schools don't is because private schools pay less. My wife, with over a decade of experience, makes less than any first-year public school teacher and much less than half (in some cases a third) of what comparable teachers make. But what can you do when the choice is accept a pay cut during a downturn or watch the school close.

      Another reason is that private school parents tend to be more motivated, to ensure return on their investment and because they tend to be those kinds of parents. (In some cases they're also wealthier, but I'd estimate that's much less of a factor than it's usually taken to be.) So they invest more time and money.

      Another reason may be that private school alumni give back to their schools more in subsequent years.

      But the big one is the teacher. If you want to know why music and sports are disappearing from public schools look to the unions. Plain and simple.

  • David C

    Russ, the blurb you cited off the Prout website just points out that the bus and textbook program saves parents money. The school itself receives no payments, the parents get the benefit. Without it, costs to attend go up.

    • Russ

      The school gets no benefit… well, except lower tuition costs and we can assume higher enrollment. Apparently Justin is OK with tax dollars funding (by his definition) things other people find offensive (so long as he doesn't).

      • David C

        Does not lead to cheaper tuition. In private schools, textbooks are purchased by the families directly from vendors, and bus service (for those who want it) is separately paid as well (that's how Prout buses for kids outside the Washington County area are paid for).

  • Guest

    Free speech and freedom are rights that the PC "offended" try to limit. If these whiners don't like what Prout offers, vote with your feet. Good riddance.

  • Justin – Yes, you are of course correct in that the biggest expenditures for public (and I would suspect any school) school districts are personnel and of course, the situation of having public school unions for both teachers and support personnel do raise compensation above the private school market value.

    However, pointing out a larger source of expenditure problems does not negate the point that any area of questionable expenditures that have real opportunity costs to a public school district (be it for music or sports or even simply property tax reduction) should not be questioned or challenged.

    If it truly is 'breadcrumbs", and given the higher values of the more prominent sectarian high schools' tuitions (and fees) compared to the average per-pupil public high school costs, it seems those schools could easily absorb such a "minor" cost. If those schools decide to tuition discount, that is their decision (or the ability of substantial school or larger institution endowments); however, those schools should not cry poverty then at the thought of picking up textbook or transportation costs (especially when they charge a textbook fee in some cases).

    My hypothesis is that the actual impacts (of transportation) are highly variable between districts, especially factoring the combination of town/city geography, private school enrollment/residence, and actual use. However, the question remains why taxpayers should fund the private choices of parents who opt out of a publicly provided good.

    I pay taxes and could benefit from fire and police protection (although I also pay for home security and also have never had to use directly those services), but, like other publicly provided goods/services, I am cost sharing the risk within the larger community (and also paying for the positive externalities/indirect benefits in some cases generated from the good/service). The same is true with public education. Just because you pay taxes and opt out receiving a benefit to which you are entitled does not equate to a right to get some of the costs rebated to you for your private choice.

    Again, the marginal cost of returning a private school student is essentially zero. Granted, it is probably a step function where a certain level creates discreet costs, but there are significant private gains (as you note, the greater flexibility/control private schools have on costs afford them more educational options) that accrue directly to those who attend the private school so there should not be a need to subsidize those parents.

    Again, a diversion from your main point. Apparently the school name "Crusaders" still makes the cut as not politically offensive though..

  • justinkatz

    You are incorrect on two key points:

    1. Although you could cherry pick a couple of schools that are outliers, most private schools in Rhode Island (especially sectarian) cost well below public schools. Moreover, the marginal cost for adding a student to public schools is over $8,000 per year. on average, in Rhode Island.

  • Well, I did use high schools (it was more than a "couple"). I suspect the entire cost will vary, but again, as I mention with regard to transportation, it is (my estimation) highly specific to situations with say high school/middle school (like Prout/MSG Clarke) or schools that pull from larger districts.

    However, you seem to confuse average and marginal. The marginal cost — a single student – is almost zero (except for the first few students of course) for an established district/school. That point, along with the positive externality component, is why government provides basic education in theory (and in some cases mandated by state constitutions)

    The marginal cost of bringing back a single student from a private school to an established district is practically zero — again, I would argue it is a step function where at some tipping point of returning students in a grade (elementary or middle) or some total number of students (high school) there would be some additive costs (a new teacher, etc.). The gain to the district (from extra state aid) for the single *marginal* student probably is greater than any marginal cost.

    Yes, the **average** cost of adding a student when you use that statistic is what you cite.

    However, if the average applied on the margin for each individual student, then my district could lower its costs by $8K if a single student went to a private school, ceteris paribus. The marginal and average cost curves would be identical — somehow I think that is not the case.

    This is the problem with charter schools that pull a student or two from each grade from a district. The marginal cost to the **district** is yes, the per pupil average (by law) but the marginal savings (the true marginal cost to educate that student if they stayed) is practically zero. That's the dilemma with the way charters schools are funded and are populated.

    If they take 200 students from a Central Falls to a Blackstone Valley, it probably is a wash or maybe a savings (not considering the specific educational value). When you pull 20 students from 6 grades from a Chariho to a charter school, there is practically no offsetting savings, just the $300K cost to the district. Same is true with private schools, except of course, the public schools don't pay the tuition, but again, the subsidization through some services has no offsetting costs unless you look at a larger pool (maybe a Providence). That is no comfort to a rural/suburban taxpayer funding tens of thousands to run multiple buses for a handful of kids so their parents don't have to face *all* the true costs of their choice.

    Again, I don't begrudge parents, wanting different educational experiences for their children based on their own value system, who are willing and able (be it directly or through the private schools' ability to finance) to pay for that choice — just don't ask local taxpayers to subsidize it unless you can point to some redeeming benefit that accrues to taxpayers that outweighs the opportunity cost to the public school district.

    Seriously, what is the benefit to the larger community for transporting students or providing textbooks to private schools when a public option is available? I have heard the argument of it saves local taxpayers money – again, highly variable/situational dependent (at best and at worst it costs local districts) or "I pay taxes and don't use the school so I should get some benefit" (again, that is not rational for how communities fund non-fee or non-user specific public goods).

  • justinkatz

    I don't mean this as harshly as it probably sounds, but you're cheating on both of your numerical arguments.

    1. You can't compare private high schools (selected or all of them) to the overall per-student cost of districts. The cost of district high schools is different from district elementary schools, for example. You can average or you can differentiate, but you have to do the same on both sides of the equation.
    2. You're using a specific definition of "marginal" and applying it to the whole system. What's the marginal cost of adding a student to a Rhode Island classroom? I don't know. Which classroom? If that child breaks the threshold for splitting a class in two, the marginal cost could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If that happens once for every few dozen students, the average marginal cost in the system is a handful of thousands. The only "marginal cost" that makes sense to use is the one that corrects for things that are less likely to change (like school buildings), but uses cost per student. Of course, we can make that number more or less accurate, depending on application, but we can't just say "the marginal cost is almost nothing."

    And to answer your question: What's the benefit to the average taxpayer of funding education at all? Having a government-branded school system isn't the good that we're financing with our tax dollars. Having an educated population is; private schools can serve that function just as well, or better, as public schools. You might as well claim that allowing poor people to use food stamps at privately owned grocery stores doesn't serve a public good.

  • Except Justin, there is no "public" grocery store. If there was and a person chose to go to a private store, would you expect the taxpayer to subsidize the person who chose the private store simply because the food is preferable for whatever reason at the private store?

    Military people, as part of their compensation, have access to commissaries and exchanges that offer (in most, but not all cases) lower prices (or at least no sales tax on items). Should the servicemembers who don't like the quality or variety of products offer on base get a bonus if they opt to shop off-base (or reimbursed for any sales tax paid if applicable off-base) because the product offerings are more to their liking?

    I don't think so; I would think we would simply say you have this benefit, but if you opt not to exercise it, then you should bear the cost of that choice, not the taxpayer.

    You are right in that the positive benefit is a population with some minimal level of education and that education is not truly a "public" good so the private sector could provide it. The thorny 1st amendment issue aside for sectarian schools, I would have no problem if the more value solution for East Greenwich let's say is to pay Rocky Hill (in theory that capacity is no issue) and shut down the public high school. However, that is not the right question in this case.

    The question is, given a public school exists that is capable of achieving that minimal level of education, why should taxpayers choose to subsidize a private alternative? Again, I would have no issue if it adds some value to society that is not cost effective for the existing public school to provide (unique special education needs for example) — but that is not the issue here. We are talking about taking from public schools so parents of general education students don't have to arrange transportation or pay more in tuition (or pay out of pocket to provide it on their own) for making a private choice.

    I don't see how that is much different than telling the servicemember that if you don't like the commissary, we'll throw a few bucks your way from the commissary budget to pay for your need to shop off-base.

    As for cost, okay, I can look at the UCOA data for High schools and in the end, some are more and some are less so on average it is probably not that significant (or to compare the tax capacity of a town with endowment resources of the catholic diocese).

    But you make my point on the marginal cost — yes, it really depends on which "marginal" student you pick. The 8th student who can ride the existing bus to a private school – little cost. The 9th student who requires a second bus to run – tens of thousands of dollars. That is why the blanket subsidy given for private school transportation is problematic. It may have made sense when private schools accounted for a larger share or were concentrated; it can be very problematic with declining enrollments spread over multiple (and geographically diverse) communities.

  • justinkatz

    The service member is an entirely distinct situation. He is in the military as employment, with the commissary being a benefit of employment, paid for by his employer (ultimately, that is, us). Parents are required to ensure their children are educated; taxpayers are required to support public schools. Education isn't a benefit; it's a requirement, a mandate.

    Now suppose we had a conscription military, service members are required to eat three meals per day, and the commissary is forbidden by law from offering kosher food. A different picture begins to emerge.

    I dispute the notion that public schools should be assumed to be adequate to the purpose of providing students with the minimal education desirable to society; one could argue that they share a large portion of the blame for the current condition of our country, not the least the corrosive politicization of everything and currency of ideological fads. Putting that aside, though, there's no reason that a community's method of providing for the education of its citizens can't be a hybrid system. Suppose a system could be contrived that would empower every student to achieve his or her potential and at a lower cost; should it be kicked to the side because of the illogical mandate that the existence of a public school precludes any public funding of non-public schools? Why should our children suffer for your biases?

    I'm not quite sure why you're trying to salvage your point about costs. "Some are more and some are less" is not a standard of comparison. On average, public schools are much, much more expensive, because they've become exactly what one would expect after decades of relying on a wholly inadequate democratic mechanism for accountability and the perverse incentives of a workforce that can both negotiate its terms and elect the people with whom it will be negotiating.

    Finally, a reject your assertion that I've made your point on marginal costs; rather, you're reworking your point in order to declare it made. As a factual matter, I'd want to see your sources before I'd accept the $100,000 for busing fewer than 20 students, especially concerning the possibility that it includes special needs children. Even so, that number pales in comparison to the premium that you're paying for the privilege of having a unionized workforce and unaccountable bureaucracy in charge of the schools.

  • Guest

    The unions and increasing teacher pay are slowly eroding student programs. In NK, teachers get better pay and the argument is about what sports programs or language classes need to be cut to keep the school budget plus-up under 1million over last years budget. Extrapolate this out and eventually we'll have schools with no students…which will still meet union needs.

  • helen

    Joe,that minimal level of education in public schools you talk about comes at a great cost to society because we are paying for in many cases exactly what you described; a minimal level of education.

    That is inadequate. Were that not the situation,colleges and universities would not have to offer remedial courses in English and mathematics. We would not have grocery store clerks who try to charge $40.00 for a two pound yellow turnip on sale for $.49 a lb.(that actually happened to me). We would not have a huge percentage of people impoverished and on public benefits.

    It's in the best interest of all of us to have the highest level of education possible for our children. All of the children.