Bullied for Adhering to the Faith in a Catholic High School

I used to be Catholic

I used to be Catholic

Over the past few months, ‘bullying’ has become a recurring topic of discussion among the members of Fusion, our youth ministry at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.  For professing his faith one of our members is being bullied – at the Catholic High School he is attending.

Sam (a pseudonym) was ecstatic when he learned last year that he’d be attending a prominent Catholic high school in our area. However, about three months into his freshman year, he began telling us about the troubles he was having at school.

The bullying begins

It started when the topic of homosexuality was being discussed in Sam’s freshman religion class. In this particular class the students were permitted to debate the subject, back and forth. After Sam stated the Church’s stance on homosexuality, his classmates became offended and even infuriated. The teacher did not step in and say that what Sam was saying was correct.  The teacher also did not try to explain or defend Church teaching. The students labeled Sam a bigot and continued to harass him in the hallway afterwards.

On another occasion, again in religion class, Sam stated that he doesn’t view pornography, and then explained to the class what the Catechism says about the topic:

“Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials” (CCC 2354).

After class, a fellow student followed Sam into the restroom and threatened to beat him if he ever spoke up against pornography again.

Teens Abandoning their Faith

While we may be quick to dismiss this as something that might happen in a public high school, this happened in a private school that has the word “Catholic” in its name. This is a high school which claims to teach the Catholic faith. This is very disconcerting.

We also can’t dismiss these incidents by thinking “Well, the other students probably misunderstood, or didn’t know, Sam.” Almost half of his religion class consists of kids that Sam attended a Catholic elementary school with. Now in high school, however, virtually every one of these kids has turned their backs on their Catholic upbringing.

According to Sam, these same kids that attended a Catholic grade school with him now curse and take the name of the Lord in vain, frequently. Some of these 14- and 15-year-olds now even proudly tell each other that they are drinking, smoking, and even engaging in hook-ups.

To make matters worse, whenever Sam walks by they assault him with illicit pictures on their cell phones. For his part, Sam has managed to stay true to his faith. He’s also grateful that our Youth Group and Youth Nights provide him with a safe haven.

Some Possible Fixes

Hearing about these and other school incidents makes my heart grow heavy. It would be easy to point a finger at and place blame for failure on the Catholic education system, or the students, or their parents. But finger pointing and placing blame won’t get to the root of the problem.

Instead, we need to dig deeper. We need to start by asking: What has happened to our Catholic teens today?

In the book Growing Young, authors Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin conducted extensive studies aimed at understanding today’s young people. They discovered several commonalities.

First, youths today are looking for answers to three questions say the authors: Who am I? Where do I fit in? What difference do I make? While this isn’t unique to our current generation of youths, “a recent study showed that 13- and 17-year-olds are more likely to feel ‘extreme stress’ than adults[.] Approximately 20 percent of teenagers confess that they worry ‘a great deal’ about current and future life events[.] Parents often don’t realize the constant heat felt by adolescents, increasing the pressure for them to figure out who they are and what’s important to them” [pg. 101].

Second, in their attempts to discover their identities, teenagers find their search “closely linked with their quest for belonging” [pg. 104]. In their search, teenagers typically turn to social media to stay connected with friends, family, and the world at large. When they yearn to connect with others through more than a screen, they turn to sexual experimentation.

Finally, many teenagers “[view] neighbors, relatives, teachers, coaches, pastors, priests, and parents as too busy or too self-absorbed to invest in them without an agenda. The family, once a hub of belonging[,] now increases pressure and a sense of loneliness” [pg. 107].

Investing in our Youth

As a result of these feelings, today’s average teenagers begin to lose enthusiasm and become apprehensive about their futures. Mind you, the Growing Young writers found these results were the same for all teenagers.  Religious affiliation did not make a difference.

So, where does faith fit into the lives of teenagers? In their findings, the writers learned that “even though church activities and leadership often make young people busier, there’s a significant upside. Congregational involvement seems to lessen anxiety by reminding young people of what’s important and inviting them to step away from the chaos of their lives to refocus on loving God and others” [pg. 102].

In other words, we need to invest more in our youths. It’s not enough to just teach them facts about their Catholic faith.  We can’t just give them a curt “Just believe and don’t question it”.  If they don’t understand why it’s relevant to their lives, teens will likely walk away from the Church.  They will abandon their faith. They’ll settle for the false promises that society tries to sell them. But inviting our teenagers to become more active participants in our parishes, will help them stay grounded in their faith.

How do we do that? Inviting them to participate in the life of the parish as ushers, cantors, and lectors is a good first step. Having more programs that address the issues facing today’s teenagers is also a good idea. But we must also be willing to lead and mentor them when they approach us with questions about the Faith. And we also have to empathize with them, and the struggles that they face.

And please remember to pray for our youths and young adults.

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24 thoughts on “Bullied for Adhering to the Faith in a Catholic High School”

  1. Paul Oakes, Great article-you keep on keepin’ on. The number of Catholics who believe what they say in the creeds and what is in the Bible, and the Catechism, is ever dwindling. And this will continue for some time. Not to worry-it is Jesus’s Church, not the priests’, not the bishops’ not the property of the man wearing papal white. When He is ready, Jesus will cleanse His Church. God bless you and always keep you and your family safe in the palm of His hand. Guy McClung, Texas TBFC.

    ps: which side of the border?

    1. Francesca de Medici

      I taught Catechism at a Catholic school for a few years. Majority of the parents do not know the Church’s Catechism, they are married to non Catholics, (I had to bring my own statue of the Virgin, because either a Father or Mother would threaten to pull their kid out of school with the statue in the room. Also, no crusifix only crosses. Many of the Children would be taken to non Catholic Churches for communion because the parent liked the minister or music better. After teaching my class how to genuflect before they sat down in their pew and explaining why we Catholics do so, a Mother reprehended me and told me her daughter does not take a back seat to anyone and God does care about things like that’s. I told her it was a sign of respect. I got a phone call the next day telling me to stop it with taking the kids to Church and teaching them stuff. “Just color.” That was the end for me

  2. Way back, when I attended a Catholic school, we started with the Baltimore Catechism. By about the forth grade we knew what the church taught, and the basics of morality and virtues. We had a good foundation that has served me well. This was buttressed by sound teaching from the pulpit. Since about 1962, and the age of dissent, we don’t hear much in the way of faith, morality or apologetics on Sunday morning.

    1. When we were homeschooling out children, I mentioned using the Baltimore Catechism to the religious education office at the Diocese of Manchester, NH.
      They went ballistic. It was my last contact, ever, with the diocese.

  3. James Martinelli

    The Vatican 2 Church has achieved the almost impossible: making Holy Mother church ugly, boring, worldly. My formation was before Vatican 2. I’m not ‘traditional’, I’m catholic. The Church has left me behind. Pope Francis wants MORE implementation of Vatican 2. I have a question for theologians: would ‘invincible ignorance’ possibly excuse these youngsters mentioned in the article?

  4. I have written previously, in a different context, that Catholic schools have morphed into elite academies for the rich and the subsidized inclusive minorities to beef up the self righteousness component. They are expensive beyond belief and toe the PC line. Little trace of Catholic character is to found in them. I recommend looking into a good home schooling program.

  5. I guess it’s fine to try and involve teenagers, but you’re not to the root of the problem. The nuclear family is destroyed. Even in families with both biological parents at home (and married!), how much meaningful time do they spend together? A Catholic school is much like a public school in that the student’s day is often filled from 7 am to 7 pm (or later). Even if the parents know their faith and work to transmit it, when would they be able to do so? And, let’s be honest, often the focus of Catholic schools is on the sports programs, then academics, then the truth of the faith.

  6. So, the reason for not mentioning the school’s name is…what?
    We should be well beyond the point of being nice, Mr Oakes.
    The Faith is being betrayed from every direction. It’s now or never.

  7. Catholic schools have become factories for the mass production of fallen-away Catholics. Secular and materialistic cultures have made their way like liquid manure through the fissures of these schools. Most of these pupils who sneered at the faithful Catholic are mercenary thinkers who profess whatever is convenient in order to “fit in” with the crowd. I’m sure that not that long ago the same pupils would have bullied a fellow-student if they even imagined him being gay. But of course, “times have changed,” “the world has moved on”, and “we must all go with the flow.”
    Such schools might as well be handed over to the state because as “Catholic” schools, they are not fit for purpose. Faithful Catholics should boycott such schools, and opt for home-schooling.

  8. Pingback: TVESDAY AFTERNOON EDITION – Big Pulpit

  9. As a general rule, Catholics don’t have faith. They just follow the flow of the opinions of their social context. In earlier times this social context was much defined by the Church and its teachings. Today, with all the media influence, this is no longer the case. That’s the sad truth behind phenomenons like these. The first thing these kids should be told is that they are not Catholics, but that they can become Catholics, if they wish. I guess that no more than 10 percent is interested in doing so.

  10. This does not surprise me in the least. In campus ministry, we say that if a university student attended a Catholic high school and was involved in their high school youth group, there is a 98% chance they will stop practicing their faith in college.

    1. Some are to blame, but the parents get the lions share. If you don’t get it at home don’t expect them to get it at church even if the priest does his job.

    2. Not necessarily. The kids often view parents as not up on the latest research and way behind on everything when the entire rest of the culture is spraying a contrary narrative. It’s like spitting into a hurricane.

    3. Parents who are not themselves catechized cannot be expected to catechize their children. Clergy are to preach, teach, and sanctify–and there ain’t too much of that going on these days

    4. I agree, in many cases, the parents are not doing their job. However, for those that are, many receive no reinforcement from the pulpit. Most preaching these days stays away from the hard teachings our youth need to hear. It is all fluff and nice and get-along language — most of it devoid of our rich Catholic heritage that has so much to offer that would be compelling for our youth. They have to be taught from the pulpit as well that they are in a midst of a real battle between good and evil — that what is out there is not just cultural differences or alternate lifestyles or values per se. They should be hearing self-sacrifice, mortification, giving their time for others, getting off their phones, etc. Rarely do we hear current events affecting our youth being pulled into the homily as an opportunity to teach them what a Catholic should do, yet this is what is confronting them every day. A year-after-year expository of the gospel is not going to do it. There has to be a mix. It is hard enough getting them to come to Mass to then suffer from a completely irrelevant homily that lets their mind wander or makes them wish they could just glance at their cellphone for just one second. There is no other venue during the week where you have this opportunity of a captive audience than the Sunday homily and it pains me when it is wasted. I don’t need them, I go to Mass because I love God and he desires my worship regardless of the homily. But, our young people are still maturing in their faith and they need more food and motivation.

    5. Why are we arguing when we agree? I don’t deny the need for good preaching. Do you deny the primary role of parents in educating their young? I don’t think so. Save your arguments for those who deny everything.

    6. Wasn’t arguing here. Simply elaborating on one of the reasons our kids are where they are. In my case we have done all that we can and just want back up from our priests to a greater degree.

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