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01/28/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/28/2020 00:21

Catholic School Faces Threats of Violence After Announcing LGBTQ-Welcoming Policy

Sr. Mary Berchmans with students at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School

New court records reveal that a Catholic high school received bomb threats last year after deciding to include same-gender wedding announcements in its alumnae magazine.

In May 2019, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, D.C. announcedthat the school would start including such announcements in their alumnae magazine. At the time, the school received several threats to burn, bomb, and kill students at the school, threats which have become public after court records were unsealed January 3, 2020.

The caller was found to be a California woman named Sonia Tabibzada, whom officials from the school say has no evident ties to their school or any alumni. Her phone message to the school was filled with vulgar expletives. According to NBC News,Tabibzada has been charged with one count of obstructing religious exercise (the school's campus includes an active chapel) and one count of making interstate bomb threats. Tabibzada left two violent voicemails directly linking her threats to the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the school's magazine. A judge has ordered her to be held in jail until her next hearing in Washington, D.C. According to LGBTQ Nation, Tabibzada has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Georgetown Visitation, an all-girl's high school with approximately 500 students, made headlineslast year when Sr. Mary Berchmans, president emerita and present head of the Visitation Sisters monastery there, wrote to students and alumnae explaining a recent change in policy to allow same-gender marriage announcements in the school's alumnae magazine. She explained in a letter to the community that the decision came out of a deep consideration of what it meant to live with Jesus and the school's LGBTQ students. She wrote:

'The Church is clear in its teaching on same-sex marriages. But, it is equally clear in its teaching that we are all children of God, that we each have dignity and are worthy of respect and love.'

She added that living within that contradiction is difficult, but that a choice had to be made between church teachings and the teachings of the Gospel:

'We know from history - including very recent history - that the Church, in its humanity, makes mistakes. Yet, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it learns and grows. And so, we choose the Gospel commandment of love.'

While Tabibzada's threats are extreme, Georgetown Visitation also received more moderated, but still negative responses. Monsignor Edward Filardi, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda, Maryland, at the time described Berchman's letter as a 'dagger to the heart' and a betrayal, reported Crux. A marginal number of alumnae also protested, but the school's communications director said the response to Berchman's letter was 'overwhelmingly and heartwarmingly positive.'

It is upsetting to see a Catholic institution's difficult first steps to honor its LGBTQ students and alums being met with such strong threats of homophobic violence. We hope that other Catholic schools and institutions will be inspired by Georgetown Visitation to start taking the same steps, instead of being dissuaded by the hatred of those who bear ill will towards LGBTQ people and their communities.

-Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, January 28, 2020

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