Threats to the Catholic Church in America, as elsewhere, are often external ones. But as the clerical abuse scandals have amply demonstrated, Catholics themselves can sometimes be the Church’s own worst enemies.
Augustine once taught that we should fear the internal threats more than the external ones. Emperors might tear apart bodies in the Coliseum, but heretics can tear at hearts, and worst of all, they can tear at the very faith of Catholics.
But what about when the external and internal threats converge? For example, what happens when the coercive threats posed by post-Christian gender ideologues get interiorized by Catholics who have a weak understanding of the Faith?
This convergence of external and internal threats to the Church is increasingly on my mind, and a perfect illustration of it has surfaced at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, a Catholic girls’ school run by the Salesian Sisters of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in Washington, D.C.
“Visi,” as it is affectionately called in Washington social circle, is an elite school with rigorous academics, and an ostensibly strong Catholic profile. Earlier this month the Mother Superior, Sr. Mary Berchman VHM, notified students, parents, and alumnae that their alumnae magazine will begin including notices of same-sex unions along with their other marriage announcements.
Sister Berchman was perfectly aware that this decision was contrary to Church teaching, and stated as much in her email. Mother Superior claimed something quite extraordinary for religious sister: she claimed that the Gospel of Love itself contradicts the Church’s teaching, and so she is justified in doing so. It is to be expected that non-Catholic purveyors of gender wokeness will not understand the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, but it’s painful to consider that a religious sister would deny two thousand years of wisdom to converge upon the banal, circular logic of “love is love.”
Thankfully, Georgetown Visitation has produced some loyal daughters of the Church who do not share in the cultural confusions of Mother Superior. A group of alumae have produced an elegant and articulate rebuttal to Sister Berchman that deserves the widest hearing by Catholic educators. They write in First Things:
For Catholic educators to suggest that Church teaching is in error is misguided and offensive. We were taught, at Visitation, to hold ourselves to a high standard of intellectual rigor, and to defend our faith with courage. It is deeply distressing to see these lessons undermined by those who taught them to us.
By pitting the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage against the love of the gospels, the logic of your letter is that those who affirm Church teaching are acting against love—in short, that they act out of hate. Offenders on this list would include not only the Holy Father and millions of Catholics around the world, but also Visitation’s founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. If Visitation’s current leadership has decided not to “focus” on Church teaching, it cannot pretend to do so under the auspices of the founders’ mission.
The hopeful point is that it’s smart young alumnae who understand their faith who wrote this letter. I am genuinely encouraged that Georgetown Visitation’s most articulate Catholic daughters were taught to think, and argue, and understand the Faith well enough to see the errors of Mother Superior. But it’s also painful to see that they must do so at all.
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