Nun at center of Charlotte Catholic High controversy goes on leave

The Dominican nun whose comments about sexuality caused a storm at Charlotte Catholic High School has cancelled all of her speaking engagements and is taking a sabbatical from her teaching post at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn.

In a statement on the college's web site, the school's president also wrote that Sister Jane Dominic Laurel went too far in part of her March 21 address to students at Charlotte Catholic High.

Sister Mary Sarah, the president, wrote that Laurel "spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals," as she is qualified to do as a theologian trained at a Pontifical University -- a school established or approved by the Vatican.

But, the president wrote, "her deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise."

Diocese of Charlotte officials have said there is no video or audio recording of what Laurel said at the school. But students who attended told their parents that Laurel cited studies and statistics that she said indicated gays and lesbians are not born with same-sex attractions and that children in single-parent homes have a greater chance of becoming homosexual. She also suggested there were correlations between masturbation and homosexuality, some students said.

These reported remarks led some students to launch a petition that denounced Laurel's address as "offensive." That prompted a counter-petition defending Laurel as a faithful presenter of Catholic teaching.

Last Wednesday night, the school and the diocese held a meeting that drew nearly 1,000 parents. Most who rose to speak objected to Laurel's comments or to the school's failure to warn them in advance that Laurel would speak to students on such a sensitive topic.

Charlotte Catholic promised to better scrutinize future speakers and better communicate with parents ahead of time, said diocese spokesman David Hains.

The Observer has emailed and called Laurel, but she has not been available for comment.

The story about the uproar over Laurel's comments has been picked up by national news sites, including Huffington Post and USA Today.

In the carefully worded statement on the Aquinas College website, Sister Mary Sarah, the school's president, publicly addressed the controversy at Charlotte Catholic High School for the first time and at some length. But some of her words are open to interpretation.

"The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister's academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students," the president wrote. "The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver. The consequence was a complete misrepresentation of the school's intention to bring a message that would enlighten and bring freedom and peace."

Added the president: "There are no words that are able to reverse the harm that has been caused by these comments."

The statement also announced that Laurel "has cancelled her speaking engagements and, at her request, is preparing to begin a sabbatical from teaching at Aquinas College."

Read the college president's full statement here.

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