Catholic school cancels “inappropriate” speaker… not what you think

Catholic school cancels “inappropriate” speaker… not what you think

A Michigan all-girls Catholic high school has cancelled a speech by an author because they deemed the content of his speech to be inappropriate for their students. Finally, we’ve found Catholic school administrators who take seriously their mission to teach and uphold the Church’s teachings… Oh, wait, it’s not what you think. The speaker, Daniel J. Flynn, was sponsored by the conservative Young America’s Foundation and he had planned to talk about, among other things, the Nazi and eugenicist origins of the beliefs of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.

Flynn’s upcoming speech was to be drawn from his 2005 book, “Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas,” and highlighted controversial ideas that influenced 20th century birth control activist Margaret Sanger as she founded what is now Planned Parenthood.

Stickley said the speech had been approved in advance by administrators but was canceled Friday because the material was deemed inappropriate for students at the all-girls Catholic school.

The principal claimed that the speech was canceled because a school official failed to follow school policy.

So what’s inappropriate for Catholic high school girls to hear is the truth about Planned Parenthood. I wonder what else they’re teaching these girls.

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  • ok, at least this time it’s not the school i went to…It’s the rival Catholic girl’s school in the area. But just as it was in my high school – where i had to bend over backwards just to start a pro-life group, I know this area and I would bet money on what is going on.

    This is the other Catholic girls school in a very wealthy area. Many of the families that send their girls to these schools are major donors to Catholic schools and organizations, but are not necessarily orthodox. They are families that have been in the area forever, and all the kids and the parents went to Catholic school in the Detroit area so they keep up the tradition and appearance. These are the people that administrators don’t want to piss off.

    These were the people my principal thought a pro-life group would anger, that complained if their daughters were taught too much orthodoxy, that funded ugly, modern chapels, that pulled their funding away if confession was made available and *gasp* promoted as a good thing.

    There are plenty of wonderful faithful Catholics in the metro Detroit area who donate to schools and organizations as well – but the other voices are awfully loud sometimes.

  • “The principal claimed that the speech was canceled because a school official failed to follow school policy.”

    Assuming this is accurate, the solution is simple.  Go back and follow proper procedure and reschedule the talk.

  • I graduated from this school.  This news does not surprise me in the least, but I must say I was actually heartened to hear that the school now has a student pro-life group (who arranged for the speaker).  There was no such group when I attended in the early 90’s.

  • I believe that the man should be allowed to speak, but were I there I would suggest that to discredit Sanger based on her “Nazi leanings” is unproductive.  She and many people of good repute foolishly toyed with eugenics in those days. Many people who are pro-contraception are not “Nazi like”, so all the agrument does is ignore the probable majority of reasons to oppose it. It seems to me that it would be more productive to take her on on the problems of contraception which have become so evident in our time.

    Maybe he does that in the talk, but the Nazi thing just seems uneccesarily inflammatory.

  • I see on their website they call their freshmen students “freshwomen”.  How inclusive!

    Note, too, that the talk was not mandatory and was scheduled to take place after school hours.

  • Ah, but they didn’t say which school policy wasn’t followed, did they? Does this leave a window for future arbitrary prohibitions?

  • Ann…a point of disagreement.  Planned Parenthood makes a serious point about honoring this woman, who believed that abortion could (and should) be used in eugenics.  This was not incidental to her views, but an integrated aspect of her thought which deserves a wider telling.  There is still a “Margaret Sanger” award given by Planned Parenthood each year; reminding people about the link between abortion and eugenics (for the sake of bettering the gene pool) is an useful tool (and intellectually honest, which is morally necessary to use it) to convince persons that Planned Parenthood has quite an unsavory past, and has not really sought to distance itself from this.

  • Ann,

    Gianna Jessen relates the story of an African American woman she met who had been very high-ranking in Planned Parenthood, ultimately making it to the Board of Directors.  She said the organization’s racist/eugenicist agenda became gradually clearer to her as she progressed, but she ignored it.  It was only when she got to the Board of Directors that she realized the organization is and always as been about eugenics.  She quit and became a pro-lifer.

  • I have to agree with Ann. I have read a couple of Margaret Sanger’s books. She is not a “eugenicist” in the Nazi sense – in which the government decides which people are desirable and forces or encourages sterlization of everyone else. (And targets certain populations for genocide.)

    Margaret Sanger believed that if contraception were readily available, the “bad” people would decide to have fewer children of their own free will. “Bad” people, in her view, might include African-Americans, but it also no doubt included a lot of shanty Irish, rednecks, and the like. It is worth noting that she was a home-health nurse in New York City and probably saw a lot of poverty, illness, and squalor in the homes she served. I don’t agree with her (with benefit of 100 years of hindsight), but I think she honestly believed that voluntary contraception/family planning was going to cure all these problems. I never saw any evidence that she was in favor of having the government force sterilization or contraception. (If someone can give me a quote to the contrary, please do so. Preferably in context.)

    She was also opposed to abortion, BTW. And the daugher of a lapsed Catholic. Her dad used to make fun of her when she would pray as a young girl.

    My take after reading her books is that Sanger was very naive in believing that free, contracepted love would change the world, and that that was her true “cause.” Although she had traditional eugenicist friends, her own views seemed to be pro-“voluntary” contraception—thinking that people would naturally choose to have smaller or no families if they had the choice.

    The polemical nature of much Catholic writing about Margaret Sanger and PP is a real turn-off, even to those of us who agree with the Church’s position on contraception and abortion. The looseness with facts and the readiness to interpret everything she did in the worst possible light seems downright un-Christian. The books I’ve read are emotional, and lack objectivity and genuine scholarship – even if they do have “900+” footnotes.” (As if that makes a book accurate or good!)

    I am anti-abortion, no fan of Sanger, and I think the modern PP is a scourge on our society. But I’m not convinced that Sanger didn’t mean well, or that she foresaw the bad fruits that her philosophy would bear. In any event, those of us who are pro-life will never win hearts or minds if we exaggerate or discount honest but misguided motives to make Sanger look bad (this is also known as “lying,” and it’s a sin).

  • For those who would like to mine Margaret Sanger’s own words, the American Life League has the complete text of two of her books on their web site.

    Recovered Feminist, it’s true that many well-meaning folks subscribed to certain ideas we now find repellent before the effects of the modernist and nihilist and utilitarian philosophies that motivated Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler were seen by the midpoint of the century. But that doesn’t let Sanger off the hook, and neither does it let Planned Parenthood off the hook.

    I’m not sure what’s so un-Christian about finding Sanger’s expressed opinions so odious. She wanted to make sure that the “feeble-minded” could not reproduce. She thought that the best thing any big family could do was to prevent more children from being born. She believed that organized charity to aid the poor was wrong because it did not address what she thought was the real problem: continued “breeding” by the underclasses.

    No lying or exaggeration is necessary to make Sanger look bad. All you have to do is read her own words yourself. You may be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. After reading her books, I think the real Margaret Sanger is plainly evident.

  • Recovered Feminist,

    I agree with you completely.  I have also read almost all of her writings.  I also am pro-life, anti-contraception and loyal to the Magesterium.  I have read a lot of what the Church had to say in opposition to her position back then and frankly,it was often ad hominem and the reasons that were given were not well articulated. In some cases, pure power and political pressure was used against her. I believe we would not be where we are in this culture if the Church had been more charitible toward her. 

    Now in the glow of a hundred years more experience and with the help of JPII’s Theology of the Body, such attacks are time wasting, mind wasting and counter-productive.


    The Church allows for eugenic considerations in making moral decisions about whether and how to limit or space children.  Sanger really thought that poverty was caused by too many children. The blacks and undereducated whites constituted the poor back then and they tended to have children.  In that case, it appeared that she was “racist” perhaps.

    Where do you get the fact that she thought organized charity was wrong?

  • I’d like to see where the Church says eugenics is a valid consideration in making moral decisions. I wasn’t aware that the Church promoted purity of the races.

    Her opposition to organized charity is in Chapter 5 of her book, “The Pivot of Civilization.” The chapter is entitled “The Cruelty of Charity.” Here’s what she says:

    Even if we accept organized charity at its own valuation, and grant that it does the best it can, it is exposed to a more profound criticism. It reveals a fundamental and irremediable defect. Its very success, its very efficiency, its very necessity to the social order, are themselves the most unanswerable indictment. Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease.

    Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and is perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents. My criticism, therefore, is not directed at the “failure’’ of philanthropy, but rather at its success.

    I’d say that’s pretty clear. God forbid we have too many defectives, delinquents, and dependents. Ann, didn’t you once say that many of your relatives are Hispanic immigrants? How do you think Sanger would view them?

  • I find it troubling that a Catholic who claims to be “pro-life, anti-contraception and loyal to the Magisterium” would assert:

    “I have read a lot of what the Church had to say in opposition to [Sanger’s] position back then and, frankly, it was often ad-hominem and the reasons that were given were not well articulated…I believe we would not be where we are in this culture if the Church had been more charitable toward her.”

    Are you serious, Ann?  I hope not.

  • We all promote or condone social actions whose effects we can’t accurately predict, but what Sanger promoted in that last quote is certainly anti-Christian. It IS right to always have programs for the poor-Jesus Himself said that the poor would always be with us. When too much of the population is poor, it’s time to do something about the economy, the distribution of wealth, and the quality of education, I think. It’s not time to prevent the poor from “breeding”!

  • Wow all of you.  I did not want to get in such emotional polemics with people I know are also pro-life etc. Please, please do not think that my opinions which are set forth here betray that.  They emphatically do not.  I would hope that we could learn from the past and mount a winning approach in the future to the task of convincing the culture that contraception is destructive and immoral.

    I hope you will understand that I am truly with the Church on this issue. That does not mean that we have to approve all the types of approaches in implementing it.

    So the best I can off the top of my head, I will try to address some of your comments.


    You ask about eugenic reasons for morally using accepted methods of family planning.  Puis XII in his 1951 Address to Midwives said.

    “Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.”

    You are right about all the Hispanics in my family and may I ask you to rejoice with me about the 10th little half Hispanic grandchild on the way.  What Sanger would have said about Hispanics or more precisely Mexicans, I do not of course know.  One thing I do know about her personally is that she took many children of many different backgrounds, including little Catholics, under her wing in her retirement years.  I also have read that she wanted to belong to the Church, but was rebuffed by Church people because of her father’s radicalism. 

    Thanks for the reference re organized charity.  I cannot agree with her if she would do away with organized charity.  If she is also saying that organized charity often perpetuates the very poverty it is supposed to ameliorate, I would think that probably true.


    . The above sort of addresses your concerns also. 

    I am all those loyalties and I am serious.What if she had met a Catholic nun or priest who had befriended her?  Is it not possible she would have embraced the Church and its teachings and put her goodwill and energy into developing acceptable methods of family planning?

    Is it not charitible and prudent to “not confuse the error with the person who errs” as John XXIII said in Pacem in Terris?  That is what I am trying to suggest.

  • Ann, it is quite knowable what Sanger would say about your Hispanic relatives, especially your 10th grandchild because quite often she referred to darker-skinned people as “undesirables” and opposed such mixing of the races.

    As for Pius XII, since the encyclical was written in Latin, I’d like to know what word was used in the original and what context it was offered in, because “eugenics” as commonly understood through most of the 20th century was not compatable with Catholic morality, not least because it advocated intentional intervention in birth in order to selectively breed children for favored traits.

  • Dom,

    It might be that she would have changed her mind had she been welcomed into Catholic thinking by loving Catholics. Doon’t forget the era in which she spoke.  It was the same era, where in Louisianna blacks and whites went to separate Catholic schools also and Catholics were openly and egregiously prejudiced against blacks and Italians and the “Spanish”, 

    Anyway, the big issue is not the motive for her pro- artificial contraception (motives for NFP are what are important) but the advocacy of artificial contraception.  That is our battle today.  I still believe that we dilute our agrument and harden people’s heart to the Catholic message when we get to accusatory about the “person who errs”.

    Re the Address, it is available on the net and I have multiple books with the address in it, published years ago. Isn’t it also commonly thought that eugenics can mean not having a child which might be genetically handicapped? Is that what the Pope might have meant?

    I want you to know that I will change my position if I find it against the teaching of the Church.