A year ago I attended an open house at Providence Academy. At such events you first meet en masse and then in a smaller, age-specific group, you're shuntered from classroom to classroom, hearing brief presentations from well-scrubbed staff.
At Providence, I sensed a whiff of full-throated Catholic craziness, as when I met Providence's lead theology teacher, who believes accepting evolution's truth undermines morality. Interacting with the Providence community, I learned many people there reject evolution; a lot of extreme ignorance holds sway at the school.
This evening I attended a similar event at Benilde St. Margaret's, where I followed the junior high school track--pretending I was considering enrolling my now-sixth grader.
Three students perform a relentlessly cheerful advertisement/skit. An older instructor leads us in prayer. The principal welcomes us at some length, mentioning the school--in addition to academics, sports and clubs--emphasizes diversity, multiculturalism and 'gender fairness.'
Chatting with the principal later one-on-one, over a chocolate chip cookie, I ask if he gives good marks to the Catholic Church, in the realm of gender fairness. He gets the joke and giggles knowingly. He mentions the school has had openly gay students and they are welcome and treated with full respect.
'And they're taught to embrace a life of unending abstinence, do I have that right?'
No, they're not taught that. Nor are students taught that there are good reasons for having a celibate, all-male priesthood. Nor are they taught that 'masturbation constitutes a grave moral disorder.'
The Catholicism on offer at BSM is invariably tolerant, friendly, moderate and non-dogmatic: If you disagree, fine, we can still be friends.
The teachers at Benilde have decided to soft-pedal or remain silent on their church's nuttier beliefs, yet the outright rejection of religion remains undiscussible.
A biology teacher speaks about the central priorities for seventh grade: understanding the components, properties and reproduction of the cell, the dissection of earth worms, more. A geology teacher talks of her gig, passing around some cool rocks. After my group exits, I ask the two teachers, flat out: 'Do you teach students that evolution is true?'
The biology teacher looks at me and says, 'Yes, we do. And we teach the real age of the earth, and that kind of thing too.'
'No if's, and's or but's?' I cross-examine.
'No,' they return, completely amicably.
The history and social studies teachers suggest they might interject some Catholic content into their lessons. When they discussed the 2012 presidential election, they spoke about the church's position on abortion but allowed students to make up their own minds.
The religion and morality teacher explains and demonstrates a major small group project her students recently completed: To make tv commercials and print advertisements to get young people to attend church more often.
Before leaving I chat with an attractive, hip-seeming Protestant Benilde mom who strongly recommends the school. Sensing my sensitivity she reassures me there's almost no religious lunacy going on here.
She has a [non-Benilde] daughter who is going through a period of intense religious questioning--a girl who announced she would not go through confirmation. 'But we're confident she'll eventually find some meaningful spiritual path, possibly not even Christian. She'll believe in something--I'm confident she won't end up an atheist.'
There's one thing that slightly rubs her the wrong way, at Benilde, despite her effusive praise: About 20% of BSM students aren't Catholic, though all are required to attend weekly Mass--and when they file up for Communion, row by row, non-Catholic students are asked to cross their arms upon their chests, signifying submissive non-participation, exposing non-Catholic students to a subdued, unspoken ritualized exclusion or humiliation.
She's attended Mass herself and is offered Communion--is not asked to perform the noli me tangere gesture--even when she has informed the priest she is not Catholic.
If you think gays and gay marriage should be welcome in the Catholic Church, that women and the married should be allowed to become priests, that pornography, masturbation, oral and anal sex are fine when consensual, that evolution is true, that the Church has much to apologize for, that reasonable people can prefer abortion to be legal everywhere, that any social stigma attached to divorce should be eliminated, that the Pope should be democratically elected, etc--are you really a Catholic?