telling students they belong in hell

This public school teacher is in hot water after TELLING NON-CHRISTIAN STUDENTS they were going to hell.

Of course, my son is told he may be headed to hell on an almost daily basis, but then again, he attends a Catholic high school ;-)

When he complains about his teachers being homophobic or openly dismissive of Islam or whatever, I always tease him with the line, "Didn't you get the memo? YOU GO TO CATHOLIC SCHOOL!!!!"


Leslie said...

"Of course, my son is told he may be headed to hell on an almost daily basis, but then again, he attends a Catholic high school ;-)"

You *are* kidding, right? Because my daughter is also a student there and her primary comment about this year's religion class is that the sister who teaches it is always smiling and joyjul (scarily so, in her opinion, although when I met her I thought she was lovely). I don't get much of a guilt vibe.

katie allison granju said...


Our experience thus far is that the religion teacher ( a guy) is the absolute archetype of an old-school Catholic school teacher in the ways in which he communicates religious history and philosophy to H's class.

Your mileage may vary.

I tell Henry often that there are many very progressive Catholics and that Catholics are on the forefront of many of the words most important social justice movements. He's liking the school fine, but not finding much variety in faculty opinions and worldviews.

I have no problem with the school communicating traditional Catholic values to my son. We chose the school knowing full well what we were choosing. He can take what he likes from his Catholic education and leave the rest behind.

Katharine said...

That kind of thing is why my kids go to public schools. I don't want them learning homophobia or prejudice of any kind from someone who says, "The Bible says so." It's my interpretation that the Bible doesn't say so, but many religious teachers choose to think otherwise. Public schools aren't perfect, but they're striving to be inclusive, at least in New York State.

Leslie said...

"I tell Henry often that there are many very progressive Catholics and that Catholics are on the forefront of many of the words most important social justice movements. "

I'm glad you are sharing that with him. I'm not sure whether his teacher is the same one my daughter had last year. If so, I know he is very morally conservative, but he does have a strong value for social justice. I can't remember whether that's something they got into discussing as freshmen--I think that may come later in the curriculum.

I'm just curious and you don't have to answer if you don't want, but why choose a Catholic school over Webb or another private option? I imagine the cost for a non-Catholic student is pretty comparable to what you'd be paying.

dewi said...

He's such a creative smart boy why did you send him to a school like this.
The perfect recipe to become an agnostic. When he learns to drive maybe he can go to a school that has less bullshit and more useful critical thinking skills encouraged.

katie allison granju said...

We have very few schooling choices in Knoxville, particularly for high school.

His choices were Catholic or our neighborhood, inner city (failing by objective measures) public school.

We applied for a transfer to a better public school and it was turned down.

I let him make the decision between our neighborhood school and the Catholic school. We talked through all the pros and cons of each choice and he picked Catholic.

Sarada said...

Is this a school run by the Nashville Dominicans? Just asking because of the "smiling and joyful" comment above, which goes along with their reputation.

I would say that conservative Catholic schools are in the minority, nationally. Most are either clones of public schools, to keep from offending those who can pay the tuition, or lean to the liberal/progressive (depending on which term you prefer) side.

dewi said...

Have you looked into or considered boarding school for 11th and 12 grades? I am the queen of attachment parenting, as the saying goes you keep them very close as babies and they are ready to fly as adolescents.

It was my daughter's idea and she was really into going to boarding school for 11th and 12 grades and adored not having to deal with any more insanity of Manhattan schools... So many benefits that our local private or public schools could not provide.

Many boarding schools are so well suited to creative interesting kids with fascinating progressive curriculums.

Proctor is one of many unique boarding schools that your son might enjoy. I wish I went to a HS like this as a teenager. :-)

katie allison granju said...


I was a day student at a very good boarding school for 7th-12 grade, so I know a lot about boarding life.

I do think the right boarding school might be a great fot for H for 11th and 12th and it's a conversation we'll have next year. I think his father would likely be opposed, and at this point, H is opposed, but we'll see where we stand in a year or so.

I would miss him beyond belief though.

My daughter J, who is 11, is already talking about maybe wanting to go to one of the boarding schools with really good hunter-jumper programs like Andrews or Chatham Hall.

Leslie said...


It's not a Dominican school, but she is a Dominican nun.

Leslie said...

"He's such a creative smart boy why did you send him to a school like this.
The perfect recipe to become an agnostic. When he learns to drive maybe he can go to a school that has less bullshit and more useful critical thinking skills encouraged."

Well, gee, my daughter is extremely creative and very smart and she hasn't turned into either a clone or an agnostic yet as far as I can tell.

Katie, just to clarify, did you LITERALLY mean that Mr. S is telling H that he's going to hell? Because Emily says she cannot imagine him saying such a thing and neither can I. I'm not arguing with any of your other opinions but I really would like to know if that was based on an actual comment. The truth is, if he DID say such a thing, that would be grounds for serious discipline at the very least, since the Church teaches that God alone can judge a person's ultimate destination.

katie allison granju said...

I'll have to ask H exactly what he said -- I was probably exaggerating a wee bit ;-)

I do know that he frequently says that gay folks are headed for the fiery pit.

katie allison granju said...

But I think his last name starts with an H.

Leslie said...

Oh . . . if it's Mr. H it might be a new guy. No idea what he might say . . . but he has no right to consign anyone to the fiery pit!

Anonymous said...

The idea that your son, because he attends a Catholic school, should expect to be told that he may be going to hell is pejorative and fosters anti-Catholic stereotypes. The patronizing wink is supposed to reassure your Catholic readers that you're really not the mean-spirited person such a statement makes you appear to be. In fact, it rather seals the deal.

Anti-Catholicism has been called the anti-Semitism of the social and intellectual elite.

Frankly, an apology is in order.

You need to attend Henry's class and talk with the teacher to find out what's going on. No Catholic Religion teacher worth his salt is going to tell his students that homosexuals, or anyone for that matter, are going to hell. So, either you don't know for sure, or the school needs to be alerted. A good first step might be to ask Henry exactly what the teacher said, then talk with the teacher about what your son heard.

Bob Hunt

katie allison granju said...

Bob- I respectfully disagree.

My son's teachers are Catholic, thus, they are teaching him Catholic doctrine.

Catholic doctrine clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin. Thus, while I disagree with these teachers and I hope (and know) that my son disagrees with them, I understand that this is what they are teaching in their classes.

Catholicism also teaches that acceptance of Christ is the only way to salvation. Thus, it is not surprising that his religion teacher isn't telling the kids that Islam is an equal and appropriate theological path for them to take.

Nothing his teacher is telling him is surprising or outside the purview of mainstream Catholic doctrine as I understand it.

My original point was that if a teacher in a public school told kids the same things my kid is being told in his Catholic school classes, there would (rightfully) be an uproar. I was making that point in a somewhat humorous way.

And when Henry "complains" that his teachers are instructing him in ways that sometimes contradict his personal views (example: homosexuality is a sin condemned by God), I do sometimes tease him that he knew what he was signing up for when he signed up for it.

katie allison granju said...

PS: I can assure you that the teachers at H's school ARE telling the kids that homosexuality is a major sin and not "Christ-like."

I apologize for using the "going to hell" language. The actual language he's heard is is "major sin," "seriously wrong," "separates us from God."

Anonymous said...

With what do you respectfully disagree? As I read your post, you make my point.

First, while your son's teachers may be Catholic, that doesn't necessarily mean they're teaching Catholic doctrine. Virtually every Catholic above the age of reason can confirm that observation. I hope they are teaching Catholic doctrine, of course. But Catholic doctrine is defined by the magisterium of the Church, not by the High School Religion teacher. Based on your remarks, however, it does seem that Henry's teacher is teaching sound Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

It's easier to talk in colloquialisms (ie: homosexuality is a sin), but given the delicacy of the matter, perhaps a bit more precision is in order.
The Catholic Church does not teach that homosexual orientation is sinful. Disordered, yes, but not sinful. Homosexual activity is objectively a grave moral wrong, being inconsistent with God's plan and purpose for sexual love. So, were a person to engage in homosexual activity with freedom of will and an understanding of the consequences, that would constitute a grave sin. Of course, were a person to engage in extra-marital heterosexual activity under the same conditions, that would also constitute a grave sin. The language of "not Christ-like", "major sin", "seriously wrong", "separates us from God" are consistent with Catholic doctrine on all grave sins, including, but not limited to, homosexual activity. I'm glad to be assured that this is what Henry's Catholic Religion teacher is teaching. It is another leap, however, and an inappropriate one, for a Catholic teacher to say that "gay folks are headed for the fiery pit" and I'm grateful for your clarifying that Henry's teacher did not say this. The Church never presumes to know that a person stands separated from God, because no one can discern another's intention, freedom of will or understanding of consequences. Only the person him or herself can do that, though often getting some good spiritual direction is necessary on that journey.

What you said Henry's teacher is teaching them about Islam is precisely on track with Catholic doctrine. BTW: This does not translate into Muslims, or other non-Christians, necessarily going to hell, for the same reasons mentioned above. The Catholic Church, at least since the Second Vatican Council, has been a champion of religious freedom.

I'm sure that if a public school teacher taught these things there would be quite an uproar (not to mention one less public school teacher). That is as it should be. I don't expect the public schools to teach Catholic doctrine. I would prefer they refrained from teaching the latest social agenda, but there you go. Nevertheless, even as an attempt at humor, your remark that "Of course, my son is told he may be headed to hell on an almost daily basis, but then again, he attends a Catholic high school" was genuinely offensive.

I'm glad that you're reinforcing with Henry that he should expect to encounter a Catholic worldview at a Catholic school. I'm glad to hear, too, that he seems to be encountering just that at Catholic High.


Sarada said...

I think that you either misunderstand, or are misrepresenting Catholic doctrine.

The Catholic Church does believe that their church is the fullest espression of God's intention for salvation. However, it also teaches that "those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes - the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life - will enter God's kingdom. All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this kingdom." You can read more about that if you look up the Wiki entry on Dominus Iesus. No, the Catholic Church would not consider another religion such as Islam to be an equal path to salvation, but it would also not go so far as to say that all Muslims will be condemned to hell.

The Catholic Church clearly discriminates between homosexual, and homosexual acts. While a homosexual who is in a sexually active relationship would be considered committing a grave sin, a homosexual who is living a chaste life would be completely accepted by the church.

I often see that this is all lumped together as "homophobic" by those who disagree with the church teachings, however, it can be hard to argue homophobia when the Catechism states that homosexuals "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign ofunjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

This is further than any of the other conservative denominations have gone, and the Catholic church has also so far not been interested in "therapy" which turns homosexuals into heterosexuals.

I understand that requiring all homosexuals to live without a sexual relationship, even a monogamous one, would be considered discriminatory or homophobic by some, but you should at least give them credit for not consigning all homosexuals to hell by inclination, as you characterized their teaching.

Sorry if this is all too much information, but religion is my subject of interest, so I tend to ramble sometimes. :)

katie allison granju said...

I appreciate the nuanced and especially careful explanation you all are offering of the complexities of Catholic doctrine.

This isn't what my child is getting in religion class at his Catholic high school. I am sorry if this makes you unhappy, but please do not direct your unhappiness at me; I'm just reporting his experience.

WHat he is getting is a rather black and white, exceptionally UNnuanced explanation of many tenets of Catholic doctrine that comes pretty darn close to saying "gay people are going to hell."

Sarada said...

Okay, that's fine, or not, as the case may be. The quality of theology teachers greatly varies. I find it rather ironic that you wound up with one of the conservative variety rather than the school my college roommate attended where they all joined in saying the Our Mother every morning, instead of the Our Father.

My only concern was that you seemed to be saying "The Catholic Church clearly teaches ______" when they don't. I like to try and correct misunderstandings.

If your son is feeling feisty, he can bring up the official view in class. ;)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm pretty happy with what the Religion teacher is teaching. But I'm basing that on your reporting of Henry's experience, and especially your clarification of what the guy is really teaching. But you need to get the story straight. First, he was teaching that gay folk are going to the firey pit, then he wasn't exactly, now it's pretty close to gays going to hell again. Is he teaching that homosexual sex is a grave moral wrong or is he teaching that gays are going to hell?

You're obviously concerned about this, and there's reason to be. I think this really warrents a visit by you to Henry's class and a talk with the teacher about what he's teaching. Then you can make a decision about whether this is what you want your son exposed to.

What I'm not happy with is the wink and nod anti-Catholicism of your statement re: Henry being told he may be going to hell, as if his experience at Catholic is in any way comparable to Matt LaClair's experience at his public school. It's pejorative, stereotyping and offensive.


Leslie said...

I'm not unhappy at you, Katie. I would, however, be quite unhappy and feel like something should be done about it if a teacher at the school is saying that anyone, from Osama bin Laden on down, is definitely going to hell, because to do so goes against Church teaching. I suspect that from your point of view, there's not that much of a difference between saying someone is guilty of a serious sin (homosexual ACTIONS, not orientation) and saying that they are going to hell for that sin, when you disagree completely with both statements. But for those of us who believe the first and not the second, the difference is huge. But my intention is not to pick on you and certainly not on your son, rather to correct misinformed opinions concerning Catholic teaching.

Anonymous said...

Bob, I don't know you and you don't know me, but I assume from your comments that you are Catholic. I am also a Catholic, a cradle Catholic. I attended Catholic schools k-12 and am now very active in the Church as an adult. My daughter attends second grade at a Catholic school. So I know of what I speak.

For you to assume that there is no way some Catholic teachers like Katie's son's teacher are telling students that sinners are going to hell is laughable to me. Of course there are some teachers out there saying that.

I have a deep love and respect for my religion, but I also have a sense of humor about Catholicism, which is what this blogger was trying to have. Catholics didn't get our reputation as judgmental and quick to condemn non-Catholics to "the firy pit" out of thin air. We got it because we tend to do it. Maybe you don't do this, and I know I don't, but let's get real here, it is highly likely that this kid's religion teacher is saying things to suggest that gay people are going to hell. Catholics and Catholic priests say that all the time.

I believe you need to lighten up and get a sense of humor. This blogger is commenting on her own child's experience at one Catholic school with one Catholic teacher. She was not making some wholesale sweeping condemnaation of Catholocism and in fact, instead of ripping her a new one, why not give her some props for sending her non-Catholic child to one of our schools. We are (by the numbers anyway) a dying denomination in this country and we should welcome non-Catholics exploring our religion by sending their children to our schools, not jump their case because they happen to be joking around a little about a reputation Catholics DO have, whether we like it or not.

Boston, MA

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comments. I am Catholic. Back in 1980-81, I spent a school year up in Boston and really enjoyed your city (though a bit more sun would have been nice). I've never had a better cheese steak sandwich than in Boston.

If you would kindly re-read my posts carefully, you'll see that I never assumed that a teacher at a Catholic school was not telling his students that sinners are going to hell. He should be teaching that if he's teaching at a Catholic school. We're all sinners, and none of us merit salvation. As such, we're all headed to hell, but for the grace won for us by the sacrifice of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

To be quite precise, though, the concern was not that the teacher was teaching that sinners are going to hell. The concern was that the teacher was teaching that gay folks are going to hell. Neither did I assume he was not teaching this. Rather, I recommended to Katie twice that she check it out personally with a visit to the class and a talk with the teacher, and that she alert the school if the teacher was, in fact, teaching that gay folks are going to hell. There was some confusion, however, based on Katie's posts, as to exactly what the guy was teaching. All the more reason for a visit to the class and a talk with the teacher to clear things up.

But that's just the first issue. The second issue is the one regarding Katie's statement that, "my son is told on an almost daily basis that he might be going to hell, but then again, he attends a Catholic high school ;-)" This is where I'm supposed to be in need of a sense of humor.

Do I think that Henry is actually being told on an almost daily basis that he might be going to hell? No, of course not. I understand that it was meant as a joke. It wasn't funny.

Are Catholics intolerant of other's beliefs and actions and quick to consign them to hell? I'm sure some are. I'm sad for your experience with priests who say that all the time. Should I ever meet one I'll tell him what I think about his attitude. But does the fact that some Catholics do that justify the stereotype? This is what Katie's joke was relying on, that everyone would get the joke because everyone knows Catholics are like that. No, it doesn't.

I've met black people who happen to be lazy, and maybe Katie has also, but never in a million years would she or I make a joke to the effect that "My son has to carry a heavier load at work on an almost daily basis, but then again, he works with black people." Such a statement would immediately and rightly be recognized as racist and fostering stereotypes of blacks, and the jokster would be soundly and rightly condemned by all.

So, why is it that when a joke is made that relies on an anti-Catholic stereotype is the guy who calls the jokster on the carpet told to lighten up? Is it because we Catholics are feeling wounded by the priest sex scandal? Is it because we're afraid that, since our religion is suposedly dying in this country, we can't afford to be so touchy?

Honestly, Mary, I think we Catholics are a bit too accomodating to the joksters and movie moguls and novelists and journalists and comedians and politicians who rely on latent and not-so-latent anti-Catholicism to foster stereotypes of Catholics, or an outright anti-Catholic political agenda. So, with respect -- No. I won't lighten up. I don't find Katie's statement funny at all. I find it stereotyping and offensive, and she should apologize.

If you're interested, you might check out a couple of books: "Anti-Catholicism in American Culture", edited by Robert Lockwood and published by Our Sunday Visitor Press. Lockwood is a Catholic journalist who works for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Also, "The New Anti-Catholicism: the Last Acceptable Prejudice", by Philip Jenkins, published by Oxford University. Jenkins is an Episcopalian and professor of Religious Studies at Penn State.

As for ripping Katie a new one, let me just say that it's very difficult to communicate tone of speech on a blog post. As such, I'm very careful in how I write my posts. You'll notice that I don't use exclamation points. I don't type words in all capitals. I don't use expletives or even phrases like "rip her a new one". I don't call people names. Even when I'm angry, as I was at Katie's offensive joke, I attempt to contain my anger by simply writing out what I have to say, even if I'm using blunt or firm language. Being polite doesn't mean you ought not call someone to the carpet when necessary.

Finally, the question of whether Cathoicism is dying in our country is open to debate, though it would be difficult to make that argument "by the numbers". The numbers of Catholics in the US continues to grow and the Church enjoyed considerable growth in the 1990s, some, but by no means all, because of immigration. Whether or not the scandal will impact that growth substantially is not yet known, but it's encouraging that few Catholics seemed to have made the decision to leave because of the scandal, and the Catholic faithful gave in record amounts to the financial support of the Church in the years just after the scandal broke. It seems, too, that the free-fall in seminarians for the priesthood and women entering religious life is over, those numbers having leveled off or increased slightly, though perhaps it's too early to tell. Other figures are less encouraging: the decrease in numbers of Catholics attending Mass on a weekly basis and the decrease in numbers of Catholic weddings are of particular concern. It will be crucial that the Church respond to these realities in effective ways. Hopefully that will mean preaching the gospel with renewed vigor.

I do know that Boston has suffered terribly in recent years, though I understand that the Church there has been more or less on life-support since the days of Cardinal Cushing. Demographics are shifting. Let me assure you that the Church in Knoxville is quite vigorous. We're growing! (Oops, my first exclamation point). So, if you ever feel like leaving the cold, cold north, come on down South. The water's warm and the churches are full.

God's peace to you, Mary.


Anonymous said...

Katie, Just so you know, I too am Catholic and am not in any way bothered by your joke. I do appreciate you sending your son to one of our schools (which happens to be the same one my son attends). It is actually a very conservative school and even as a Catholic I am sometimes bothered by the judgemental tone and sense of self righteousness that my child encounters in his classes. For the record, my son also tells me that his teacher has told him sinners including gay men are going to hell. I asked him last night to tell me very clearly if this is what the man said and he says yes the guy told the class that gay men are going to hell. This was said in the context of a discussion of the Tennessee gay marriage amendment. As a liberal Catholic I was so pleased to hear that at least half the children in this class apparently told the teacher he was wrong and that gay people are born that way and fully embraced by God just as they are.

Leslie said...

To Katie and the anonymous who child also goes to KCHS:

Would it bother either one of you if I spoke to the principal (naming no names, of course) about what you say this man is teaching? It may not bother you all enough to complain, but it does bother me to have Catholic doctrine mangled in the classroom.


Anonymous said...


I've already made a phone call.

When the post was made by Anonymous citing more details and the conversation with her son that it was definately said by a teacher that gays are going to hell (unlike Katie's back and forth and exaggerating a wee bit, etc...) and in what context the statement was made, I made a call to the chancery and spoke with a staff person who is in a position to investigate further exactly what is going on.

I have two concerns: First, that the students get the straight scoop on what the Church teaches on homosexuality, including the critical distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity, and that the Church never presumes a person's separation from God. I don't know what was said in that classroom, but the last thing a Catholic school needs is a Religion teacher with a personal agenda, regardless of stripe. He is to teach what the Church teaches. He may have done so, but if we have students coming home and telling their mothers what these boys have told their's, then at the very least some clarification is in order. If he taught Church doctrine rightly, at least a couple of kids didn't hear it.

A second concern is that the investigation be somewhat discreet. Again, I don't know what was said in that classroom, and there's no need for some guy to get into a whole heap of trouble because a couple of mother's misunderstood what their sons misheard. We're talking about a guy's job and reputation. Unless you were in that classroom, and no one who has contributed to this track was, then it's best to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Nevertheless, enough has been said to raise my concerns for the sake of the students and the reputation of the Catholic community in Knoxville. I have no connection to Catholic High School, but I'm a Catholic and I contribute to the support of this Church, and we don't need idiots in our schools.

I've asked to be updated on what he's able to find out. I'll let you know.


spiney said...

"Of course, my son is told he may be headed to hell on an almost daily basis, but then again, he attends a Catholic high school ;-)"

I read that as "my son is told the Catholic position on issues that disagree with those positions that he holds, and that disagreement implies that he might be headed to hell," not "Catholics tell everyone they are going to hell."

I think Bob is over-reacting/misreading.