Kirsten Andersen

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Another Catholic school embroiled in battle over Church teaching on sexuality

Kirsten Andersen

WAKEFIELD, RI, April 16, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Another controversy has erupted at a Roman 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 April 4.  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 has seemed 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.

LifeSiteNews attempted to reach Bishop Thomas Tobin, a bishop known for his strong defense of Church teaching on life and family, to clarify the diocese’s position, but was unsuccessful as of press time.

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 are openly calling for Principal David Carradini’s ouster.

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 boasts the highest percentage of Catholics in the country but is also extremely socially liberal and recently legalized 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 [sic] 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 Caradini [sic] 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 [sic] Hoffman. He is wrong. He did irreparable harm to our Prout Family. He must go.”

LifeSiteNews reached out to Carradini to ask what, specifically, Fr. Hoffman said that was offensive. We requested the audio from the presentation, which was being recorded for Hoffman’s “Go Ask Your Father” show on Relevant Radio, a Catholic station.  Carradini did not respond to us directly, but the diocesan communications director emailed to say that the school does not have the audio available, and that Carradini is not doing interviews on the matter.  A follow-up call to the bishop’s office was redirected to the voice mail of the same communications officer.  She did not return our call.

Relevant Radio also declined to provide LifeSiteNews with audio or a transcript, and chief marketing officer Nancy Jensen said Fr. Hoffman was unavailable for interviews during Holy Week.  However, Hoffman issued a 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,” Hoffman said.  “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.”

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While the lack of availability of audio or transcripts makes it difficult to judge what actually happened at Proust, 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?”  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?” the priest 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, Zuhlsdorf lamented, “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.”

Several of the comments on Prout’s Facebook page from young alumni seem to bear out Zuhlsdorf’s criticisms.  “I am a Prout alumni who graduated in 2002,” wrote Maria-Grace Torti. “This school was accepting and tolerant when I attended. I am so disappointed that this wonderful school's reputation is being tarnished. This Principle [sic] has to go.”

“I will do anything I can to help. I feel so bad for the kids who had to hear this crap,” Torti added.

So far, the diocese appears to be siding with Carradini against those calling for his resignation.  “While the situation that took place at the Prout School last week was deeply regrettable, Principal David Carradini has no plans to resign,” wrote Daniel Ferris, superintendent of Diocese of Providence Catholic Schools. “He has apologized in both writing and in person for the assembly featuring Father Rocky Hoffman of Relevant Radio and has kept the dialogue open with students, parents and faculty since that assembly on April 4.” 

“Despite an uproar from some parents, I have received calls, letters and emails of support for Mr. Carradini and his continued leadership at the school,” added Ferris.  “He has my full support as he works to bring healing and reconciliation to school community.  As we move into the holiest week in the Christian calendar, as we commemorate and reflect on the mysteries of Christ’s passion and death, we are reminded of our own flawed humanity and our need for personal forgiveness and redemption.“

In an e-mail to parents, Principal Carradini explained, “My intention in inviting [Fr. Hoffman] here was to have a priest articulate Church teaching in a manner that was pastorally appropriate, doctrinally sound, and deeply respectful of the trust the students showed in bringing these questions forward for answer. My prior knowledge of Fr. Hoffman and his program gave every reason to expect this outcome.”

However, Carradini wrote, “My expectations, and those of the faculty and staff, were not met, and for that I am deeply sorry. Several of the answers provided were not entirely representative of the full breadth of Church teaching on a number of complex and sensitive issues. Several members of the student body, faculty, and staff – including me – were personally offended by his manner of presentation.”

Despite Carradini’s apology, angry parents have planned a meeting to be held Wednesday evening at 7PM to discuss their options for forcing him out.  The address for the meeting is listed as 36 Piping Plover Road in Narragansett.

The incident at Prout is reminiscent of the recent furor at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina, where comments made by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel that were critical of divorce and homosexuality provoked anger among students and parents, leading to a contentious meeting between diocesan and school officials and parents that attracted roughly 1,000 people.  That controversy became so heated that Sr. Laurel, a professor at Aquinas College, has taken a sabbatical from her teaching and speaking duties.

The similarity between the two stories has led some Catholic bloggers to accuse diocesan and school officials in both locations of throwing those who dare to promote unpopular Church doctrines “under the bus.”

“Catholic education’s easy bargain of don’t ask, don’t tell concerning dissent against Church teachings and morality has coalesced into ‘outrage’ from parents and students when high schools try to teach and enforce Church teachings,” wrote Rebecca Hamilton of the Public Catholic blog.  “Bishops, when faced with these angry mobs have turned to the time-honored bureaucratic practice of court-martial-the-private/fire-the-secretary/shoot-the-messenger. Sister Mary Tracy resigned in Seattle. Sister Jane Dominic Laurel took a sabbatical in North Carolina. Father Rocky Hoffman hasn’t been cashiered the way the nuns were, but he has been properly apologized for to the mob.”

“The response to angry mobs demanding that Catholic schools not teach Catholic teaching has been to wave the white flag and toss the hapless offender who committed the crime of doing what the Church says we should all do under the bus,” Hamilton wrote.  “If every Catholic who believes what the Church teaches gets thrown under the bus for being politically incorrect enough to say so in public, we’re going to need a lot bigger bus.”

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