Alumni from a Philadelphia Catholic high school were allegedly involved in a hate crime last week, accused of attacking a gay couple on the street that left one victim with a wired jaw and broken eye socket, and the other one badly bruised.
In the aftermath, a school coach has resigned but reactions to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s statements are mixed. Ultimately, the response has been insufficient and this is a missed opportunity.
Fran McGlinn coached basketball at Archbishop Wood High School, in the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster, from which several of the assailants including McGlinn had graduated. Archdiocesan spokesperson Kenneth Gavin confirmed the assistant coach’s resignation on Wednesday, saying he was further banned from employment at archdiocesan schools. The identities of McGlinn and the others became known after social media users viewed surveillance footage which was made public to find the assailants.
In a statement reported by the Bucks County Courier Times, the Archdiocese also said:
“This afternoon, administrators communicated with the entire Archbishop Wood school community to make it emphatically clear that the school does not, under any circumstances, tolerate or condone the violent and hateful behavior displayed by those who took part in this senseless attack.
“Administration also stressed that Catholic schools are centers of learning where students are expected to treat each other in a Christ-like manner at all times and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The actions of those who took part in the attack are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable.”
“A key part of a Catholic education is forming students to respect the dignity of every human person whether we agree with them or not. What students do with that formation when they enter the adult world determines their own maturity and dignity, or their lack of it. Violence against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable and alien to what it means to be a Christian. A recent beating incident in Center City allegedly involved, in some way, a part-time coach at Archbishop Wood High School. After inquiries by school leadership, the coach was contacted regarding the matter and he resigned. Archbishop Wood’s handling of the matter was appropriate, and I support their efforts to ensure that Catholic convictions guide the behavior of their whole school community, including their staff.”
First, Archbishop Wood administrators are to be commended for quickly dealing with McGlinn’s employment when his involvement in hate crime became apparent. In twenty LGBT-related employment incidents at Catholic institutions this year, this is the first resulting from a church worker’s actual failure to uphold human dignity and the common good.
However, both Chaput and the Archdiocese’s statements fail to recognize openly the specific nature of this attack. Reports claim the assailants asked the couple if they were boyfriends and yelled homophobic remarks while beating the two men. Though Pennsylvania hate crime laws may not be LGBT-inclusive, in this incident it is essential for Catholic officials to acknowledge the homophobia seemingly at the core of the attack.
Yet, neither the word “gay” nor any variation is used in the statements which simply condemn violence. One interesting note is that the archbishop said no one should be attacked “simply for who they are,” a possible shift from the language of same-sex attractions in vogue with American bishops back to language of sexual orientation. This, however, does not directly name what happened as a hate crime specifically targeting a gay couple and is therefore insufficient.
Archbishop Chaput has a record of acting against LGBT people. He is known for expelling a child of a lesbian couple from Catholic school and denying Communion to LGBT advocates. Chaput recently aided efforts by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference opposing a non-discrimination bill that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.
Further, this incident is a missed opportunity for Archbishop Chaput and archdiocesan officials to make an unequivocal statement in support of LGBT people who face discrimination and violence. Though Chaput was critical of Pope Francis in the past, this incident could have provided a moment for the archbishop to change his tone and implement a more pastoral approach when dealing with the LGBT community. Catholics United has called on him to do as much when it comes to Philadelphia’s transgender community. Why not use a moment of horrendous tragedy to build a bridge and reach out with love for lesbian and gay Philadelphians as well?
Thankfully, the story is still in the news and there is time for Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Wood H.S. officials to make a more explicitly LGBT-focused condemnation of this attack. Let us pray they will finally feel the ‘Francis Effect’ now spreading in the US and do the right thing.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry