The Publication Was Pulled, but Abortion Still a Hot Top at Regis Jesuit High School | Westword

A Matter of Choice: Abortion Still a Hot Topic at Regis Jesuit High School

Should teachers have been fired for allowing a pro-choice piece to be published?
Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora.
Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora. Regis Media Kit
Share this:

I personally know someone who wasn't in the right state of mind or place in her life to provide and make good choices for a baby in that period of time. And now, she has 2 children. Having abortions doesn't always mean you don't want children. — Editorial in a now-erased Elevate, Regis Jesuit High School student publication

The Archdiocese of Denver oversees 36 schools in metro Denver, directing all of their policies and procedures. But Denver also has five private Catholic schools that are independent, except for requiring diocesan approval of their theology curriculum and its teachers. One of those schools is Regis Jesuit High School.

After two Regis Jesuit teachers were fired because a pro-choice opinion piece was published in the school’s student magazine, some faculty members and alumni alike worry that Archbishop Samuel Aquila and other archdiocese officials will soon have a heavier hand in the school’s operations.

In December 2021, a piece titled ‘Battle for Our Bodies," which outlined arguments for abortion, was published in Elevate, Regis Jesuit’s student magazine, which has existed since 2015 and is published both online and distributed physically around the school.

In an email to Maria Lynch and Nicole Arduini, Elevate's two faculty advisors, Regis Jesuit principal Jimmy Tricco shared his reaction to the column. “The piece…invites some dialogue and I hope varied perspectives are shared on this significant topic,” he wrote. “Provocative piece for sure, which makes for good conversation.”

No pro-life op-eds had been submitted, Lynch noted in her December 16 response to Tricco, adding that she hoped the piece might prompt someone to write one for the next issue of Elevate. But despite what seemed a positive exchange to Lynch, she and Arduini were fired on December 22.

“All I know is that the principal initially thanked me and [Arduini] for our efforts and said he thought the article would provoke good discussion," Lynch says. "Six days later, I was fired via email after only one attempt to call me, and a day after that, [Archbishop Aquila] released a two-page letter about the situation.”

In his letter dated December 23 that was sent to the Regis Jesuit community, Aquila wrote that he was deeply troubled that an article contradicting the Church’s teaching could be published at a Catholic school.

“Catholic schools must be fully pro-life institutions, not merely recognizing the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, but unabashedly defending it and forming students in the knowledge of the truth that they might be freed from the culture of death that pervades our world today,” Aquila said. “As such, faculty and staff of Catholic schools must be pro-life. They must also take to heart the mission to guide and form young men and women in the fullness of truth, not their personal political preferences or agendas.”
click to enlarge
Maria Lynch doesn't believe her firing was justified.
Maria Lynch
Lynch, who's taught Spanish, among other courses, quickly got a new job at Kent Denver School, which helped her feel free to ignore the nondisclosure agreement that Regis Jesuit asked her to sign as a condition of her firing. Arduini signed the agreement; she was not available to comment for this story.

“The agreement wouldn’t allow me to tell the truth if it was disparaging to Regis," Lynch recalls, "and I wanted to have the freedom to defend myself as a woman of faith, a pro-life advocate and a devoted teacher."

One reason Lynch wanted to be able to speak out is because she believes the school is going against its established editorial policies, blaming her and Arduini for a situation that they handled correctly.

The school’s editorial policies were clear, she says, pointing to a rule that states, “The publication’s advisers will not act as a censor or have final say in determining the content of the media.” In a different bullet point, the policy guidelines note: “School officials, administration or faculty and staff, likewise, shall not practice prior review or to censor any student media, with the exception of material deemed to be legally obscene, libelous, substantially and materially disruptive.”

Those policies had been on the school’s website but have been taken down. Also taken down was the entire issue of Elevate; Lynch says that students were told it couldn't be republished, even without the abortion editorial. Although the publication is supposed to come out quarterly, she adds that she's heard the next issue of Elevate is on pause for a while during a review of the editorial process.

In a statement regarding the school's response, David Card, Regis Jesuit’s president, and Tricco wrote: “While we believe in providing an avenue for student expression, we are taking steps now to consider the magazine’s editorial process to ensure its compatibility with and responsibility in representing the mission of Regis Jesuit.” The school did not reply to additional requests for comment.

“As a private school, Regis can set whatever guidelines it wants for its student media — but once it sets those policies in place, it has an obligation to support its faculty when they abide by them,” says Lynch, who'd taught at the school since 2016. Arduini joined the faculty in 2019 as a journalism, graphic design and yearbook teacher.

When students were writing feature stories, Lynch explains, the advisors worked closely with them. But the editorial section was supposed to be more independent, the part of Elevate that could address controversy through opinion pieces. The magazine once ran an editorial praising Ruth Bader Ginsberg, describing her work on Roe v. Wade as “compassionate”; another editorial criticized Aquila’s support of an organization that carried out conversion therapy.

On January 11, Lynch reached out to the archbishop’s office to discuss her situation and was told that Aquila didn’t have time to meet with her, but that she could share her concerns over email. She did, but has yet to receive a reply.

Religious beliefs of other people should never interfere with a person's choices with their body and future. — Editorial in Elevate

While Archbishop Aquila is not talking, some Regis faculty members are.

“The decision to fire [Arduini and Lynch] was a harsh overreaction to a minor situation,” says one teacher who asked to remain anonymous, in order to avoid the same fate. “What is particularly upsetting about what took place in December is the cowardice at the root of it all. ... There was absolutely no reason to fire the editors, unless, of course, the principal and/or president were concerned about their own professional reputation and decided that firing them would help demonstrate their commitment to Catholic values and thus save face with the archdiocese and/or the board of trustees.”

Originally part of Regis University, the high school became its own entity in 1921, moving to an Aurora campus from Denver in 1989. The once all-male school opened a girls' division in 2003. Today the school's nearly 1,700 students share some common spaces but operate with boys and girls in separate buildings most of the time.

The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, is a religious order in the Catholic Church known for its social justice orientation relative to the rest of the Church. Jesuits strive to be contemplatives in action, uniting spiritual thought with tangible issues in the world. Jesuits are also committed to education, prioritizing dialogue and deliberation in educational environments.

According to another teacher who also asked to remain anonymous, while a private school has the prerogative to change guidelines for student publications, the current changes don't align with the school’s Jesuit principles.

But such dialogues can occur without allowing views that differ from the Church’s to be published in a school magazine, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Denver released by Mark Haas, director of media and public relations.

“In a Catholic institution, educators can create a space in the classroom for all of this, with their role being to clearly and compassionately guide the process of inquiry, and ultimately help the students to encounter Jesus Christ and the truths of the Catholic faith,” the statement reads. “But there is a difference between learning and formation that takes place within a classroom, and a pro-abortion article being published in an official school publication.”

click to enlarge
News of the firing broke in the Aurora Sentinel, which included a photo of the editorial.
The Sentinel
While the article was the opinion of a student, publishing it implies that the school endorses its viewpoint, according to the archdiocese. “All people, including students, certainly enjoy free will to accept or reject the teachings of the Catholic Church, but that does not mean that anti-Catholic views should be published in a Catholic school magazine,” the statement concludes.

But at least one Regis Jesuit teacher believes that firing Elevate’s advisors is the anti-Catholic activity in this case. “The Catholic thing to do would have been to promote the dignity of [Lynch and Arduini], who are both amazing, dedicated, mission-centered educators who were just doing their jobs,” this teacher says. “Instead, our administration chose to protect their reputation and the reputation of the school under the guise of upholding Catholic values. It is a convenient excuse, and one that demonstrates little courage or integrity on their parts. They chose ideology over people, something Jesus repeatedly denounced the Pharisees for.”

According to Lynch, some people — Catholic or not — have trouble seeing how a person or institution that is pro-life would allow such an article to be published. She sees it as a chance to strengthen that value through deliberation. “It’s much easier to believe I’m a teacher pushing her personal political preferences or agendas on her students, but the reality is that I so believe in the truth of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life that I welcome any challenge to it," Lynch says.

The basic human right of choice is at risk due to the lack of trust and faith towards abortion clinics and procedures. — Editorial in Elevate

In a hall at Regis Jesuit High School, this quote is pasted on a wall: “Doubt comes in at the window when denied the door.” For Lynch, removing the magazine and firing the advisors embodies that saying. How can students deal with their questions if any mention of such questions results in teachers being fired and their voices being silenced?

“The premise is always trust," says a current teacher. "We must trust God and our students enough to believe that they will come to righteous conclusions on their own. Even if they do not come to good conclusions as young learners, we must not panic or act out of fear. Panic and fear do not inspire faith.”

Now this teacher fears that if the school is forced to change its policies, orienting teaching protocol toward total agreement with the Church rather than exploration of ideas, the school will lose what makes it unique. “The entire foundation will begin to unravel,” the teacher says.

Some alumni have the same concerns. Sean Coffey graduated from Regis Jesuit in 1999 and learned about the Elevate incident when he saw a petition sponsored by religious nonprofits Faith in Public Life and Faithful America urging Regis Jesuit to reinstate the fired teachers. “I was just flabbergasted,” Coffey says. “I was like, surely this isn't the Regis Jesuit I went to.” Over 11,300 others have joined Coffey in signing the petition; the goal is 12,800.

Coffey remembers taking a sociology class at Regis Jesuit where students discussed public policy and learned how to research both sides of social issues to reach conclusions. Now he's worried that by stifling one side of an issue, Regis Jesuit is going back to the 1950s, while the Church’s focus on helping those in poverty and facing other obstacles should mean that abortion, including how it impacts social mobility for women, is a topic that students need to learn about and the church needs to engage with. “To me, it's a social justice issue…the right to the access of birth control and access to contraception and access to abortion and a woman's right to choose,” he says.

“I think it sends a very distinct message to women about whether their voices are valued in topics about decisions they're making, but I also worry about the message that it sends to the young men and the male faculty that we're not going to allow debate on this issue that impacts half of our school,” Coffey adds.
click to enlarge
Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
Aleteia Image Department
In his December 23 letter, Aquila said he was asking his staff to help ensure that “deeply faithful Catholic formation” happens for all staff and students at Regis Jesuit.

According to Haas, it is the responsibility of the local bishop to ensure that all Catholic schools are grounded in Catholic doctrine. “Aquila has always taken this responsibility seriously and remains committed to actively supporting all the Catholic schools in the archdiocese, while leaving day to day administrative, operational, and personnel matters to the school’s leadership team,” the statement from the archdiocese says. “He is also committed to ensuring Catholic school families can be confident their students are receiving Catholic education that is faithful to the Church’s teachings.”

To do that, Aquila has been considering ways in which the archdiocese can work more closely with Catholic high schools and build relationships while “recognizing the uniqueness of the different schools, but drawing together in the shared mission of the Church in educating young people in the fullness of the faith,” the statement continues, noting that those discussions started before the Elevate controversy.

Making abortion illegal would cause more people to die due to illegal abortion procedures. In the attempt to 'save' more lives, you're just risking even more. — Editorial in Elevate

Abortion remains a hot topic in Colorado, with lengthy debates accompanying consideration of the Reproductive Health Equity Act, a bill proposed at the Colorado Legislature this session to ensure that people can make reproductive health decisions — including whether or not to have an abortion — free of government interference.

That proposal, too, inspired a response from Aquila. "The government's only duty and task is to recognize the right to life and protect life, if it is truly a just government," he wrote in a paid advertisement in the Denver Post. "But abortion denies that gift to some babies...It makes government god."

The bill was passed on party lines last week.

Meanwhile, there are other signs that the archdiocese might be clamping down in other ways. At the beginning of the 2021 school year, long before the offending issue of Elevate was printed, Regis teachers were prohibited from adding pronouns to their email signatures, for example.

Now Regis Jesuit teachers are concerned about what more archdiocese attention could mean for the school, noting that there are rumors of a “formation plan.”

“Most of the specifics of this have not been revealed, but teachers have heard that they will focus on the school’s policies and teachings surrounding gender, transgenderism and sexual identity,” one teacher says. “There is a feeling among faculty that the potential exists for teachers to be fired based on their sexual orientation after this.

“The future feels uncertain," the teacher adds. "It strangely juxtaposes with the joy that teachers and staff have with one another and with their students. There are many faculty who are leaving or considering leaving because of what happened, and there are many more that struggle with staying because they either do not have job prospects or want to protect the students who may be harmed by future decisions of the archdiocese or school.”

“I took an appreciation for understanding that issues are often not black and white,” Coffey says of his time at the school. “There is often a lot of nuance to something, and it's important to try and put yourself in someone else's shoes. I took from my education that conversation is good. Dialogue is good. Research is good. Especially about issues that are impacting people every day and that are important. ... I feel like the message they sent with this was that conversations aren’t good.”
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.