Sean Simonson's Benilde censors explain themselves, sort of

No more of this gay talk, please.

No more of this gay talk, please.

Since we first told you yesterday about the decision by the administration of Benilde-St. Margaret's Catholic school to remove two opinion pieces from the school paper's website, the story has been blowing up across the local and national media.

Now we've got an explanation from the school and the archdiocese as to why they shut down the conversation on homosexuality, as well as copies of the original articles they tried to flush down the memory hole.

Yesterday Benilde released an official statement by Bob Tift, the school's president. Tift's statement notes the Roman Catholic Catechism's admonition that those with "homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."

But, Tift continues,

"The online comments regarding the editorial and the opinion piece in question were creating a disrespectful environment as well as confusion about the teachings of the Catholic Church; therefore, the administration exercised its prerogative to have the material removed from the website."
The statement doesn't explain why, if the comments were the concern, the school didn't ask the paper to suspend the comments rather than remove both pieces in their entirety. And the administration isn't making any comment beyond Tift's justification.

The editorial, which questioned Archbishop John Nienstadt's snail-mail spamming of local Catholics with a DVD arguing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, has been republished here, albeit without the accompanying comment thread. Challenging the action of the head of the archdiocese of which the school is a part is obviously problematic in an organization as hierarchical as the Catholic Church.

Dennis McGrath, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told City Pages the school made its decision to remove the stories on its own, but that the archdiocese supports the decision:

"The first thing about a Catholic school's identity is the word 'Catholic.' That's the quintessential element, it's the raison d'etre. What that implies is that in an academic environment, vigorous discussion is to be championed. But at the same time, there are boundaries: One is the basic teachings and dictates of the church, which is 2000 years old. Catholic identity is important to people who send their children to Catholic schools."
The Catholic Church has never pretended to be a democracy, and you might argue that if your parents are sending you to a Catholic school, it shouldn't come as any surprise that you won't be allowed to second-guess the Archbishop in a newspaper that, indirectly at least, is run by the Archbishop.

More troubling, to many, is the removal of the second piece, a first-person account by Activities Editor Sean Simonson of the pain and isolation of being a gay teen.

Here's a link to a cached version of Simonson's essay, complete with about a day's worth of comments. It's worth noting that while this snapshot of the page was taken on Friday, it may not include all the comments that were posted before the story was pulled.

But the conversation that takes place in the comments we can read isn't particularly disrespectful. In fact, compared to your average comment thread in City Pages, it's sincere and restrained. That's not to say that there isn't a fair compliment of commenters reminding everyone that sodomy is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and the like, but the overall picture is of a community earnestly wrestling with a challenging issue.

In short, it's exactly the kind of conversation that Simonson and the other editors were hoping to provoke. And it's that conversation that the administration tried to shut down when it pulled the articles.

The good news is that the conversation isn't over. The editorial and Simonson's essay are now getting more exposure than they ever would have had they remained uncensored, and Simonson and Vigil say the conversation among their peers is continuing on Facebook and elsewhere.