Q: My unmarried daughter was recently
expelled from a local Catholic
high school for being pregnant. The father
of her unborn child, however, continues to
attend the same school.
My daughter has chosen life for her unborn
child yet this is how the school responds!
It seems to me that they are
following a hypocritical policy. Would Jesus
expel her from a Catholic school?
When I spoke with a priest at a local
parish about this, he was surprised that the
school had expelled her. Does such a policy
reflect how Catholic high schools deal
with pregnant female students?
A: At one time, many all-girls or
coed schools followed this policy,
but most of them dropped it almost
20 years ago, I think. From 1975 to
1984, I taught at Roger Bacon High
School, then an all-boys Catholic high
school. The school became coed in
1984, and I returned as chaplain and
teacher eight years later.
I have taught pregnant students. In
the early 1980s the interparochial and
private high schools in the Archdiocese
of Cincinnati adopted a policy
that students are not to be expelled for
The older policy mandating expulsion
arose from a feeling that any other
course of action could be interpreted as
condoning premarital intercourse. “Could be interpreted” are the key
words here because a single action is
frequently open to multiple interpretations.
In light of rising abortion rates, continuing
such a policy in Catholic high
schools could now be interpreted as
an unspoken encouragement to abort
rather than to carry a child to term. It
also legitimates a double standard based
I hope that you, your daughter and
this Catholic high school will find a
way for her to continue her education
there, as well as to give birth to her
child. This child’s father continues to
have natural and legal responsibilities
toward this child.
Not Interested in Community
Q: The word “community” is being
grossly misused in the Catholic
Church today. I feel disillusioned, disappointed
and discouraged with my Church.
Recent changes have made us more like
For example, there is no reverence anymore—with all the loud talking and even
laughing during the distribution of Holy
Communion. It doesn’t feel like Mass—and now Baptisms are included, which
makes for more distractions.
Personally, I don’t want a community. I
want a quiet, beautiful place to pray and
be peaceful. Now I cannot concentrate.
A: Reverence before, during and
after Mass remains important.
The General Instruction of the Roman
Missal calls for a period of “sacred
silence” after Holy Communion is distributed
(#43). Shorter periods of
silence can be observed after the first
and second readings on Sundays and
after the homily (#56).
The Eucharist is, however, the prayer
of many followers of Jesus Christ—not
of a single person. Private prayer is
needed, but the Eucharist cannot be
reduced to the backdrop for an individual’s
private prayer. Its readings and
prayers are meant to be proclaimed to
a community of disciples responding to
Jesus’ instruction, “For where two or
three are gathered together in my
name, there am I in the midst of them”
The Church makes special provision
allowing Baptisms at Mass to indicate
to parents, godparents and everyone
present that they all have new responsibilities
toward infants, children, teens
or adults who are being baptized.
The Catholic Church is a community,
branches united to one another
and to the vine who is Jesus (see John
15:1-17). Jesus says that loving one
another is important. According to 1
John 4:21, “This is the commandment we have from [God]: whoever loves
God must also love his brother.” We
understand that to mean all people.
Q: My Protestant friends have challenged
me about the Catholic
Church’s belief in purgatory. They rightly
say that this term never occurs in the
Bible. When did it first appear in Catholic
A: In A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Paulist, 2000), Gerald
O’Collins, S.J., and Edward Farrugia,
S.J., note that authors such as Clement
of Alexandria (d. 215) and Tertullian (d.
225) wrote “in various ways of purification
after death and our communion
through prayer with our dear departed.”
The Second Council of Lyons
(1274) and the Council of Florence
(1438-45) “taught the cleansing suffering
endured after death (by those
not yet fit for the beatific vision) and
the value of prayers and pious works
offered for their behalf.”
O’Collins and Farrugia continue:
“The Council of Trent (1545-63) maintained
the doctrine of purgatory, said
nothing about the nature and duration
of purgatory, and reiterated the
value of offering prayers and the
Eucharist for those in purgatory....The
state of purgatory can be understood as
a final process of loving but painful
maturation before we see God face to
face. With the last judgment, purgatory
will come to an end.”
Some notion of temporal punishment
due to sin, the basis for the teaching
on purgatory, is reflected in the
decision by Judas Maccabeus to offer
sacrifices for deceased Jewish soldiers
who had worn pagan amulets (see 2
Maccabees 12:38-46). Judas Maccabeus
presumed that the prayers of the living
can help the purification of those who
Second Maccabees and six other
Old Testament books are not in Protestant
Bibles because Martin Luther
accepted the later rabbinic tradition of
recognizing as divinely inspired only
those books originally written in
Hebrew. For over 1,000 years, however,
Christians had recognized those
books as belonging in the Bible.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “All who die in God’s grace
and friendship, but still imperfectly
purified, are indeed assured of their
eternal salvation; but after death they
undergo purification, so as to achieve
the holiness necessary to enter the joy
of heaven. The Church gives the name
purgatory to this final purification of
the elect, which is entirely different
from the punishment of the damned”
The teaching on “temporal punishment
due to sin” reflects the fact that
every sin has a life of its own, even
after it has been confessed and forgiven.
A lie that I tell on Tuesday and
then confess on Saturday does not vanish.
Its evil effects continue until people
are no longer interested in repeating
it. Believing otherwise is naïve.
This is not to say that every Catholic
who has spoken or written about purgatory
has presented this teaching correctly.
An exaggeration, however, is a
caricature that does not fairly represent
the original teaching.
Father Leonard Foley, O.F.M., chose
to end his classic book, Believing in Jesus,
with these words: “Being saved is being
cleansed, liberated, raised up to the life
of Jesus daily. Purification is the daily
dying to whatever is selfish, untrue, un-Christlike, and daily being raised by
him to a deeper sharing in his own life.
“We are called to be like persons in
purgatory in one crucial way: We are
trying to learn to say the last words of
the Bible as they say them, with bursting
desire. To say them with no lingering
strains of selfishness, with no
lack of trust, with our whole heart and
soul, mind and strength: ‘Come, Lord
Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).”
Q: A young woman keeps coming to my house to promote the Jehovah’s
Witnesses. I used to think they didn’t differ much from
Catholics, but now I realize that they do not believe that Jesus is
God or that our souls are immortal. Their New World Translation
of the Holy Scriptures differs significantly from the New American
Bible. How did this come about?
A: Although you may not phrase it this way, a basic difference
between you and this woman is that you see the Bible as given to a faith
community that determined which books belong in the Bible and that
interprets difficult passages in a trustworthy way. I recommend that you
read “Interpreting the Bible: The Right and the Responsibility,” by
Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M. (September 1997 Scripture From Scratch newsletter).
Christians were reading the Bible for almost 18 centuries before 1872,
the year that Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,
began his preaching career. Shouldn’t that suggest that his private interpretation
of Scripture could include mistakes?
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