What Message is Holy Ghost Sending its Students?

"One Heart, One Mind. Well, Unless…"

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

It’s unlikely you’ve gone about the last few days without hearing or reading about Michael Griffin. The teacher at Holy Ghost Prep, an all-boys Catholic high school in Bensalem, was promptly fired on Friday when he made it known that the reason he was late that morning was that he and his same-sex partner of 12 years were heading out to grab their marriage license — something that is legal to do now in New Jersey, where they live.

The tardiness was not the problem.

His story has made the local and national news many times over in print and on television. Michael and his partner, Vincent Gianetto, have given interviews for both. Father James McCloskey, the headmaster at Holy Ghost, has issued a statement. There is a Facebook support group for Mr. Griffin. Internet commenters are commenting.

My heart breaks for Mr. Griffin. I cannot fathom the suffocating hurt, disappointment and anger he must be feeling right now. But I also have faith that he’ll get through this: That he will find employment elsewhere. That he will have an amazing wedding in New Jersey (Hey Mike: Need help? Drop me a line!). And because he is an adult and steady in who he is, that eventually, he will be able to sort through the hurt and the disappointment and the anger, and know that this does not mean that he is not worthy, that this does not mean that he is any less a teacher, a man or a Catholic.

But who’s going to do that for the young Holy Ghost students who are being taught the exact opposite in this example currently being made of their teacher?

It’s all I can think about. Among the 500ish male students between ninth and 12th grade, between 14 and 18 years old, how many of them already identify as gay? How many of them have an inkling that they might be? Because for each and every one of those kids, this is the message that has been fired at them, at close range, for the past three days: You are not fit, and this is what happens when you are gay.

It’s a message they have undoubtedly heard before — but this one is so close to home. This time, it’s coming from the people and the institution that are supposed to be carrying them — leading them — through these formative and sometimes fragile years. For these students, it must feel as if someone they loved, trusted and thought was on their side is saying those words to them directly: You are not fit.

I went to Notre Dame, an all-girls Catholic high school in Villanova, and I will forever champion the same-sex Catholic education, in part because of the caring, nurturing, build-you-up-and-make-you-strong community and environment that I found there. I may not remember all the Bible stories, but I remember this: They taught us to treat everyone fairly, equally, kindly, and with compassion and respect, no matter what. They taught us to serve others. They taught us that each one of us had the capacity to do this, and that each one of us was worthy of receiving the same. It’s a message that sunk in, and that sticks with me to this day.

I imagine that at Holy Ghost, where the motto is “One heart, one mind,” the teachings and the vibe of the school are very similar. Except now, every student — and especially the gay students — must be shrugging their shoulders and adding an amendment to the message: “Well, unless…” If, during high school, Notre Dame had directed an exception to the rule towards me — for being who I was, for something that I couldn’t change — it would have rocked me. If the exception had come out of the mouth of someone who I loved, admired and respected — there were teachers there I felt that way about, and I imagine some students at Holy Ghost feel that way, too — it would have crushed me.

I know that Father McCloskey and the administrators at Holy Ghost are merely upholding the teachings and requirements placed upon the school through its affiliation with the Catholic Church, and that the real change needs to come from the church’s leaders. But McCloskey and the administrators at Holy Ghost do need to tend to the affect that this situation is inevitably having on the student body, and that doesn’t just mean with a rote, canned statement they can get away with feeding to the media.Whether it’s on behalf of themselves or on behalf of the Catholic Church, there is a discrepancy that must be accounted for. I just hope they do it before the exception to the message is what sinks in.

Carrie Denny is the editor of Philly Mag’s Philadelphia Wedding.