Nutcracker Not-So-Sweet

During a recent eighth-grade trip to Chicago, chaperones and students of Notre Dame Academy in Toledo walked out of a performance of The Nutcracker after learning that lead characters would be portrayed in a gay marriage. This was a courageous and bold move—a correct application of Pope Francis’s well-publicized encouragement of young people “to make a mess” and his guidance in Amoris Laetitia that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

When activists take a traditional and beloved part of a Christmas celebration and attempt to co-opt it into a radical agenda which subverts the very nature of the family, a Catholic school is spot-on in saying, “not on my dime, and not on my time.” The chaperones—led by the academy’s dean—rightly used it as a teachable moment.

In fact, when heading up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) called upon Catholics to conscientiously object to attacks on the family. As he wrote in his Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, “The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.”

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That said, good for this group in taking a stand for social justice in the face of aggression and at great personal cost. Unfortunately, the story does not end here.

The school began to get complaints about the situation, and the president of the school declared it was all a bad mistake, posting on Facebook:

To clarify what happened, the decision was made for the NDA eighth-graders to leave a performance of The Nutcracker before it began because upon arrival they discovered that the producer had chosen to cast two men as the main character’s parents. However, the spirit of inclusion statement adopted by the NDA Board of Trustees in 2014 affirms that we in the Notre Dame Academy community welcome all into our gospel community including but not limited to people of all colors, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender expression, abilities, economic classes and nationalities. We consider the decision to not attend the performance a mistake and sincerely apologize to anyone we offended. The action does not reflect NDA’s true values. Rest assured we will redouble our efforts to live up to our inclusion statement.

Sometimes we teach our children as much from our mistakes as from our successes. We view this as a chance to teach our students the value of taking ownership of one’s mistakes and to reaffirm that our community is committed to inclusion.

If only the school president could learn from her own mistake in calling this a mistake, there might still be a happy ending. Notre Dame Academy should be committed, first and foremost, to its students’ formation and its mission as a Catholic school.

According to the encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, the primary mission of a Catholic school is “securing the Supreme Good, that is, God, for the souls of those who are being educated, and the maximum of well-being possible here below for human society” (#8). Leading the children in our care to God requires that they encounter the fullness of His truth and that we not foster situations in which they might be led astray in fundamental matters of basic human nature and morality. Also, service to the common good requires that we fight injustice and confront head-on societal ills and misconceptions about the nature of man and our duties to God and to each other. The scandal caused by seeming to accept and support same-sex unions works against this primary mission.

This production of The Nutcracker was clearly seeking to normalize sinful behavior. Without discriminating against anyone, a Catholic school should not willingly be a party to scandal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes scandal as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense” (#2284).

In this case, the performance was a blatant attempt to portray what the Church teaches as objectively disordered and sinful as a positive good to be pursued. This situation which the school did not seek out—it was thrust upon it—demanded a response.

Had the school decided not to attend the performance because chaperones had heard there was a gay performer on stage, it would have been inappropriate. However, what happened here was a reaction to a very public scandal.

The school has an obligation to teach its students in word and witness of the holiness of natural marriage in the face of all that would destroy it. The Church has consistently taught that marriage and the family are ordered to the good of a husband and wife and to the procreation and education of children, and that “a man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family” (Catechism, #2202). The Vatican has stated clearly,

Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (Considerations, #4).

Of course, it is well known that the Church is speaking here about the morality of specific acts and not the inherent dignity of persons, which must always be respected. In this light it is possible for a Catholic school to have a reasonable “inclusion” policy which affirms this fact and welcomes all who are open to (or at least will not actively work against) a Catholic school’s promotion of the human person as understood through the lenses of reason, Scripture, and tradition. The danger, of course, is that any public statement like Notre Dame Academy’s “inclusion statement” can be wrongly applied according to the demands of gender ideology instead of authentic Catholic teaching

The Catholic school shows true love by teaching students the truth about morality and marriage, while correcting and (if necessary) dismissing employees who object to Catholic teaching. It is all too tempting and easy to give in to false compassion and the adulation of modern society rather than engage in the hard and sometimes uncomfortable work of professing truth. The Vatican’s Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons puts it this way:

departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve (#15).

This loving message must be conveyed with regard for pastoral care. Regrettably, the Notre Dame Academy’s leader has failed to do this—perhaps out of a false sense of tolerance or perhaps out of fear. It is encouraging that, initially, some school members made the correct decision not to actively support the radical agenda thrust upon them by participating in a stunt designed to advance its purposes. For this, the modern culture says, the school must be punished. In reality, the Academy’s president undermined its mission and failed its students by caving in rather than standing up to the cultural bullies.

These bullies advance a narrow sense of inclusion which will not ultimately tolerate the Catholic understanding of the human person. Catholic schools can no longer do the right thing and expect to be left alone. Let us pray that they are up to the coming challenges.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


  • Daniel Guernsey

    Dr. Daniel Guernsey is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society.

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