Church and Country

I am writing this blog from the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, where JHS President Tom Arndorfer, Fr. Pat Couture, SJ and I are meeting with the leaders of the 18 other schools in the Jesuits West Province. We are here to reflect on our shared mission, to exchange best practices, and to discern what St. Ignatius called "the signs of the times."

Many of our conversations have focused on the clerical abuse scandal—both the heinous crimes committed over so many decades, and the institutional cover-up that allowed such evil to roam unchecked, preying on children and other vulnerable members of the Church.

Tomorrow, the US Senate will hold a vote on whether to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a US Supreme Court Justice, in the context of the public testimony by Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and a supplemental FBI investigation. Once again, sexual abuse has broken into the national consciousness, roiling communities, families, schools and parishes.

At JHS and at Mater Dolorosa, we are mindful that Judge Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit high school. As a Jesuit school, we are therefore connected both to the Church scandal and the Kavanaugh hearings, prompting us as JHS educators, students, and parents to confront existential questions: What does it mean to be Catholic or attend a Catholic school in the wake of the scandal? How do we treat others—at high school parties, online, in school? Our students are watching these events play out on the national stage, and looking to the adults in their lives, especially their parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and coaches, for answers.

Last Tuesday, September 25, Jesuit's faculty and staff spent the morning sharing stories and trying to make sense of what it means to work in a Jesuit, Catholic school at this moment. It was a challenging, painful and necessary conversation, and it impacted different members of our community in very different ways, including real anger, hurt, and disillusionment. As a colleague and friend, and as a human being, I once again felt my heart broken by the brokenness of the human condition. How do we go on, as Catholics and as human beings? But go on we must.

On Wednesday, October 3, 2018, the JHS Parent Advisory Board discussed the clerical abuse scandal for the second time this school year, this time in the shadow of the Kavanaugh hearings. The PAB is a diverse and insightful group of parents seeking, like the rest of us, to make sense of this moment. This vital group of Jesuit parents were hungry to share their fears, their concerns, and their strong convictions. Again, we listened, and again, we struggled for answers.

This is what we do know:

  • As a Jesuit school, we are called to engage the culture, and to be counter-cultural. We try to address forthrightly the issues facing our country and our Church, for we believe that both faith and reason are gifts from God and that they will lead us to truth and understanding. We will make mistakes in this attempt, but we will not waver.
  • We will continue to insist that students and staff treat one another not only with respect, but as holy beings made in God's image.
  • We will have classroom conversations, brownbag forums, and offer resources to students and families.
  • We will continue to offer programs such as Green Dot to teach students to combat power-based personal violence, including sexual assault, dating violence, and bullying.
  • On October 15, our office of Ignatian Formation will present a Pub Theology session at 7 pm to discuss the Church scandal (
  • We will face the horrific topic of sexual abuse with clear-eyes and hurting hearts, but we will face it.

There are practical questions here, including the roles that we may play as bystanders. Where are we as parents and educators when parties are occurring, when underage drinking is occurring? How can we learn how to spot the danger signs?

Recent revelations should also prompt discussions between parents and students about how decisions made in high school can stain a reputation for life, especially in the era of social media.

As Ignatian educators, we turn ultimately to Jesus, for whom St. Ignatius's "least society" and our school is named. The Mater Dolorosa ("Mother of Sorrows") is run by the Passionists, who have a special devotion to the Passion of Christ. Spread throughout this stark desert landscape are images of the suffering Christ and His Mother.

As I walked the grounds today, I was reminded that Jesus' real, human suffering—torture, in fact—was inflicted by arrogant, corrupt, and cruel church and civic leaders.

But Jesus' example, and that of His suffering mother, does not end at the cross. Jesus teaches us that in the fullness of time, resurrection is possible. Of course, for a survivor of abuse, the suffering can last decades, and can be unbearable. For many, the events of the last few weeks have resurfaced long-buried scars and pain. But perhaps now is a time for healing.

The early Church grew only because regular people risked their very lives to proclaim Jesus's message of hope, of freedom to those held captive by fear and oppression. Those early disciples, lay women and men, preached a new day in which the suffering poor, the outcast, widows, and orphans, would find dignity and justice.

We are still not there. The Kingdom remains elusive. But let us pray that we, and especially our students, can keep our eyes not only on the Passion, on the searing pain of this moment, but also on the hope of resurrection—of our church, our country, and our culture.

We have to teach the children entrusted to us to create a better future. They must learn not simply to stand by, but to stand up, when power-based violence emerges from the shadows.

At Jesuit High, and across the Jesuit global mission, we are in the business of hope. We proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and that ultimately evil will be unmasked, that justice will prevail, and that resurrection follows suffering.

Paul J. Hogan