US Catholic school embroiled in dispute over Church teaching

US Catholic school embroiled in dispute over Church teaching

Kirsten Andersen

Controversy erupted at an American Catholic school after students and parents reacted with outrage to Church teaching on sexuality as presented at a school assembly.

Father Francis "Rocky" Hoffman spoke to students at The Prout School in Wakefield, Rhode Island, on 4 April. During the course of his talk, he apparently made comments critical of homosexuality and divorce that some students found offensive.

The Diocese of Providence's spokesman on the issue appeared to agree with Hoffman's critics.

But Catholic observers suggest the controversy is part of a growing tendency to uproar against Catholics for simply professing Church teaching on marriage and homosexuality.

Administrators at Prout issued written and verbal apologies to parents and students alike after a number of parents expressed anger about the content of Fr Hoffman's presentation, and that they weren't notified in advance. Many openly called for Principal David Carradini's ouster.

"Conservative message"

In a lengthy discussion on the school's Facebook page, parents and alumni alike said Principal Carradini and Fr Hoffman should have known better than to bring such a "conservative message" to Rhode Island, which, despite boasting the highest percentage of Catholics in the country is one of the most socially liberal having recently legalised same-sex "marriage".

"The Prout School family is reeling from the comments made by Father Francis Hoffman of Opus Dei who was invited to speak with the student body by Principal David Carradini," wrote Mary Beth Hanley.

"Fr Hoffman used this forum to belittle gays, tell children of adoption and divorce; that their parents really do not love them and other abominations which are not part of Church teachings, or the teachings of Jesus Christ.

"Thus far, Principal Carradini does not feel he needs to resign due to gross lack of leadership and inability to protect the students entrusted to his care from Fr Hoffman. He is wrong. He did irreparable harm to our Prout family. He must go."

Father Hoffman responded with the following statement:

"I am a priest in good standing in the Catholic Church, and I only teach what the Church teaches in matters of faith and morals. That is a matter of established public record.

"As for the pastoral approach to complex and sensitive questions, each situation has to be taken case by case. The advice given to one set of persons may not be as helpful to others.

"All priests know this from experience, and hopefully always learn to improve. The priest, as a representative of Christ, always wants to leave people with hope in their hearts."

Some Catholic observers have noted that many Catholics steeped in secular culture - particularly the young - have become increasingly intolerant of anything they see as "intolerance" to lifestyles their church considers sinful.

"Once again we have an example of the Magisterium of Sophomores," wrote Fr John Zuhlsdorf of the What Does the Prayer Really Say? blog.

"Is this it now? Is this how it is to be? Do we now have an inquisition made up of High School students and soccer moms?" Fr Zuhlsdorf called the situation at Prout a "train wreck".

"What did Fr Hoffman say that was so horrible? Could he have been harsher than the Bible?" he asked, quoting Leviticus 20:13: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination."

"Could his talk have been more challenging than Matthew 5:32: "But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery'?"

In a separate post, Fr Zuhlsdorf remarked, "If you speak in public now with any clarity about the Church's teachings on sexuality, marriage, etc, or avert to conclusions which rational people reach about the same derived from the Natural Law, you will be met with fury."

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