A Catholic School Removes Teacher for Defending Faith

Chesterton once wrote that “War is not the best way of settling differences—but it is the only way of preventing them from being settled for you.”  If the Catholic Church is to continue to teach the timeless truths about the dignity of all human persons from conception to natural death, and the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, the Church needs to begin to seriously engage in the war that has already been declared against her by those who wish to destroy these teachings.

In the past few weeks, there has been an escalation of the attacks against the Church in places like the Archdiocese of San Francisco where Sam Singer, the head of a high priced Public Relations firm, was hired to wage war on Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone because of the archbishop’s strong defense of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Organizing protests, and enlisting the local media to help him in his battle against the archbishop, Singer has been successful in waging a well-funded media war on the Church and her teachings.

Likewise, in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, a battle began last week against a priest who gave permission to show a pro-life film, To Be Born, to a sixth grade CCD class. Described in the local newspaper as holding “rabid anti-abortion views,” the priest—a pastor who is beloved and greatly respected by his faithful parishioners at St. Monica’s Catholic Church—was called a “bully” in a front page story of the Wilkes Barre newspaper. Unfortunately, instead of fighting back with the truth of Catholic teachings on the sanctity of life, the priest has appeared to accept the criticism of showing a pro-life film to “sensitive” sixth graders by admitting that he “showed poor judgment” in allowing the pro-life film to be shown. The CCD teacher who showed the pro-life film has resigned. She was already under attack from parents because she had the temerity to disclose to her students that “not everyone goes to Heaven.”

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While it is understandable that the Pennsylvania pastor would want to de-escalate the public controversy by apologizing for allowing the film to be shown, his failure to engage in the battle makes things harder for those on the front lines of the ongoing war on the unborn. It would have been better if the priest was at liberty to explain that the reason sixth grade CCD students need instruction in the pro-life teachings of the Church is because by the time they reach sixth grade many students have already been introduced to the pro-choice message of abortion providers like Planned Parenthood in their middle schools. The Affordable Care Act opens the door to Planned Parenthood clinics in public middle schools and high schools—providing grants for establishing “School Based Health Centers” run by abortion providing organizations. While the law prevents these clinics from being used to provide abortion, the middle and high school clinics make abortion referrals, and assistance in accessing contraceptives and abortifacients. Planned Parenthood runs school-based clinics in many middle schools throughout the country.

In addition to the clinics, fifth and sixth grade students are exposed to sexually explicit messages in the books recommended by Common Core Standards throughout the country. Mary Jo Anderson published an article last year in Crisis, entitled, “Common Core Sexualizes American School Children,” which asks the question, “why has so much disturbing material been systematically built into the Common Core recommended texts?” CCD is supposed to be the place where public school children learn about the teachings of the Church—teachings that can counteract what they have learned in their public schools, and it is unfortunate that this priest did not simply say that.

It is difficult to fight these kinds of battles—especially when the media favors those who attack the Church. Archbishop Cordileone has been under siege since he arrived in San Francisco—but he has been courageously fighting a noble fight against an overwhelmingly greater force that wants the Church to just stay out of the conflict over same-sex “marriage.” It is unfortunate that some of his brother-bishops—including the bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey—have decided to surrender in the face of the enemy.

Two weeks ago, when Patricia Jannuzzi, a religion teacher at Immaculata High School in the Diocese of Metuchen, posted a statement supporting traditional marriage on her personal Facebook page, angry same-sex “marriage” advocates, some of them Immaculata alumni, demanded that she be removed from her teaching position, and that the school address the “homophobic undertones in the school.” Creating a change.org petition called “Stop the Public Hate Speech of Teachers” alumnus Tom Robinson (class of 2001) posted: “I know that many of you want to see Mrs. Jannuzzi fired, but addressing the systemic problem of homophobic undertones in the school and publicly posted on social media is much more important than one person keeping her job.” For Robinson, anyone—including a religion teaching at a Catholic high school—who refuses to support the goodness of homosexual acts is an enemy that must be destroyed.

Jannuzzi is indeed being destroyed. Much of the media—including the local newspapers—have described Jannuzzi’s Facebook posting as a “rant” when the reality is that she wrote: “We need healthy families with a mother and a father for the sake of the children and humanity!” Pointing to her statement that “(gay activists) want to reengineer western civilization into a slow extinction,” as evidence of her hatefulness, more than 1,000 individuals have signed the petition to have her removed. And, rather than defending Jannuzzi for her willingness to defend Catholic teachings, the principal and the pastor of her school have suspended her—sending a letter to alumni, parents and students apologizing for “any hurt this has  caused to any individuals and the negative light in which it has cast our school.”

And, to make matters worse, on March 20, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, the episcopal leader of the Diocese of Metuchen, appeared to concur with the high school administrators by saying that “the teacher’s comments were disturbing and do not reflect the Church’s teachings on acceptance…. Pope Francis reminds us that we are to accept all of our brethren. We must ensure that our educators steer away from harsh and judgmental statements that can alienate and divide us.”

What Robinson—and those who have signed the change.org petition—want is for the Immaculata High School to stop teaching what the Church teaches about same sex behavior. For them, Church teachings on homosexual behavior are hateful. He makes it clear in his post:

We are asking for action to be taken and hate speech to stop at Immaculata.  A school-wide Stop Hate Speech awareness day and sensativity [sic] training for students and teachers would go a long way.  Knowledge is power and providing students with knowledge about how to act in society is just as important as learning geometry, writing, or a foreign language.

Contrary to what Bishop Bootkoski seems to suggest, in 2010, Pope Francis referred to the trend towards same-sex “marriage” as a movement that begins with the devil, cautioning us to “not be naïve: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a move of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” In a criticism of the Immaculata decision to suspend the offending teacher, Rod Dreher asks: “Could Pope Francis Teach Here?” Dreher points out that in January, Pope Francis gave a homily in which he called same-sex “marriage” an “ideological colonization that we have to be careful about that is trying to destroy the family.” Pope Benedict XVI warned in 2012 that the policies which “undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” Jannuzzi was merely echoing Benedict who knew that this was a war that needed to be fought.

We are all called to fight that war. Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton and Harvard, and the vice chairman of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, is advising parents of students at Immaculata High School to boycott the school until Mrs. Jannuzzi is fully reinstated. The suspension of this faithful teacher—a teacher who in 2012 was given the Regina Nostra medal by the diocesan bishop for her “love and devotion” to Immaculata High School and the parish—is proof that Immaculata High School is “not a fit place for your children.” George has posted Jannuzzi’s photo on his own personal Facebook page—and has asked that others join this fight. Over the weekend, the family lawyer announced that Jannuzzi’s contract will not be renewed in the coming school year despite the bishop’s public statement implying that her suspension was only temporary.

There will be cultural battles because there can never be common ground on issues like abortion and same-sex “marriage.” No institution like the Catholic Church can exist in isolation from cultural conflicts. Sociologists like James Davison Hunter and the late Philip Rieff have cautioned us that we can never get “beyond” the culture wars. Rieff’s books, Triumph of the Therapeutic and Charisma, remind us that, “Where there is culture, there is struggle.” For Rieff, culture is war by other—normative—means. “By its very nature the work of culture—including Catholic culture—is the matter and manner of disarming competing culture.”

This is not to suggest that the Church must be filled with hostility. It does not mean that the Church is resistant to all change. The Church, like all institutions, is constantly being “re-created” in certain ways as some change is inevitable—it is inherent to culture as it emerges through conflict. However, this re-creation cannot be guided by the changing values of a secular culture. The Church cannot change her infallible teachings—the teachings of the Magisterium—including the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of the family. These are not just “values” because values change. These “non-negotiable” teachings are the definitive teachings of the Church and they will never change. Thus, to the extent that secular forces challenge Church teaching, the culture wars will continue.

The constant battles have already made many of us war-weary—including, most likely, the leaders of Immaculata High School and the Diocese of Metuchen. But, we can never concede defeat because of political pressure from alumni, donors, or movie stars like Susan Sarandon who criticized Jannuzzi on behalf of her nephew who matriculated there. Pope Francis warned us to be wary of “popular opinion.” On December 9, 2013, in an address to the members of the International Theological Commission, he said that although the Church must pay attention to the sensus fidelium, or the sense of the faithful when exercising its teaching authority, the Church should never confuse that sense with popular opinion on matters of faith. Pope Francis has made it clear that sensus fidelium does not mean “majority opinion.” The Holy Father knows, as his predecessors knew, that we are at war with a movement that began with the Fall of Man in the Garden, and will continue until the end of time. It is a war without end—but we are emboldened in the battles as long as we remember to “Thank God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (Cor 2:14).


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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