By Laura Keener.
You could literally hear a pin drop as the faculty, staff and student body of Covington Catholic High School waited in the gym, Jan. 23, for the arrival of Bishop Roger Foys. As Bishop Foys entered the gymnasium the entire assembly stood up, waited for Bishop Foys to take his seat and then in unison took their seats. He was there to address the students about the events that took place Jan. 18, after the March for Life in Washington, D.C., where a student standing face-to-face with an elder Native American was captured on video and ignited a firestorm on social media — making headlines around the world
Bob Rowe, principal, opened with a prayer, then introduced Bishop Foys.
“These last four days have been a living hell for many of you, for your parents, for your relatives, for your friends and it certainly has been for me,” Bishop Foys said as he began to address the assembly. “We are under all kinds of pressure from a lot of different people, for a lot of different reasons.”
Bishop Foys began by sharing how impressive the March for Life had been, especially the Mass celebrated at St. Dominic Church just before the march.
“I know many of you couldn’t be at the Mass because you had a problem with your buses. It was really a moving time,” said Bishop Foys. “Over 1,000 people gathered for that Mass and there’s a real reverence about it.
“I told the students before we dismissed that … when they left that church and when they marched on the streets of Washington, D.C. for life, like we’ve done for the last 46 years, that they represented what was best about the Church and what was best about the Diocese of Covington; that we were sending out our best to stand up for life. It was a wonderful day, filled with real grace. That night I slept peacefully. It was the last night I’ve slept peacefully.”
Bishop Foys explained that by Saturday morning he and Curia staff were beginning to receive calls and e-mails from news stations and people from all over the world commenting about the confrontation in Washington. By Sunday morning the diocesan website was receiving over 200 thousand hits per hour and e-mails were coming in at a rate of over 10,000 an hour — crashing servers. Staff phones rang persistently for days — cell phones and office phones — until voicemail boxes were full; calls from media seeking a statement, or comments from individuals all over the world criticizing either the students for their behavior or the diocese for their lack of support.
“Soon, my brother bishops began to text me worrying about my welfare and yours. People care about you. People love and care and are concerned about the Church and they are concerned about you.”
Bishop Foys went on to summarize the situation that he, Mr. Rowe, the students, the Covington Catholic community and the diocese are now facing and about the investigation being done.
“This is a no-win situation. We are not going to win. No matter what we say, one way or another, there are going to be people who are going to argue about it, people who will try to get into people’s heads and say, ‘This is what he meant. This is what they meant when they were doing this and doing that.’ The best we can do is, first of all, to find out the truth, to find out what really went on, what really happened. So we do have investigators who are here today, a third-party who are not associated with our diocese, not associated with me or with the school, who are working on this investigation to find out what happened.
“I am the shepherd of this Church. I have to present not only to the people of our diocese but also to the world the facts. Not the facts that someone has imagined or the facts that someone thinks or facts that people might determine from seeing a video. I encourage all of you, especially the students who were there at the march, to cooperate with the investigators. This is with the permission of your parents. We’re not going to have you do anything without the permission of your parents. And the teachers and chaperones who were there, I am asking you, too, to be cooperative with this.
“Father Michael Hennigen (school chaplain) has said that ‘The truth will set us free.’ That’s true. It is my fond hope, it is my prayer, that when the truth comes out you and I and the diocese will be exonerated. But I need something to present to God’s people and say, ‘Look! Here are the objective facts.’ This investigation isn’t going to be over overnight — it can’t be if it’s going to be thorough.
“Some people’s lives, as you know, have been affected for the rest of their lives and the honor of our school has been tainted. We have received, and probably you have received, horrible, vile e-mails. This brings out the worst in people.
“We have to ask ourselves, what are we going to learn from this? One of the things I hope we’ve learned, I hope you’ve learned, is that perception can become reality. A person can be doing something that is absolutely innocent but if he gives the slightest hint, the slightest perception, that this is something wrong that is what people are going to remember, and then for them that becomes their reality.
“I’m going to ask you, as your bishop, to stay off social media in regards to this situation at least until it is resolved. Because the more you say — pro or con — the more you exacerbate the situation. You have to help, especially yourself, by getting off social media. Right now anything we say — you or I — anything we say is questioned. The devil is real; trust me. He has taken this good thing, this March for Life, and turned it into a media circus.”
Bishop Foys then talked to the students about the statements that have been released by the diocese and the school, which have been criticized.
“Some people think our first statement was too strong, but in my mind with what we saw and what we heard at the time, we had to say what we said and we meant it. If that behavior is genuine then we have to condemn it.
“We issued a second statement yesterday. Regardless of what you heard or what you’ve read or what you think— I am on your side. I want you to come out of this in a positive light.
“In our second statement I asked people to pray that we will arrive at the truth. The only way we can do that in an objective way is through a thorough and in-depth investigation. It is my hope and my prayer that, in the end, it will show exactly what happened and that we will be able to stand tall and proud. People will still criticize us one way or the other — people will believe it or not believe it — but at least we can say we’ve taken the time to talk to all the parties involved and to get all the footage we can that was taken that day and say, ‘Here, this is not what we think happened or what we would like to believe happened, but this is what in fact happened. If there was some wrongdoing we have to own up to that, too. Father Michael is right, it is the truth that will set us free.”
In closing he reminded the students how much he supports Catholic education and CCHS in particular.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I support Catholic education. Over the last 17 years I have come to Covington Catholic a number of times each year. I always open your school year with Mass and I celebrate with you your successes. It pains me, more than you can imagine, having to be here today; but we can get over this. I’m 73 years old, I have faced a lot of struggles and hardships — we will get over this, there will be time to heal, it will be all right. But in the meantime preserve the integrity of the school, be the best that you can be and lay off the social media for a while.
“Know that I stand with you, that I join with you in that ‘Spirit that will not die’ and that together we will work through this. Thank you and God bless you.”
As Bishop Foys turned the podium over to Mr. Rowe, he expressed his confidence in the principal. “Mr. Rowe has done a wonderful job here in his leadership. I have full confidence in him and he will continue to lead you,” he said.
In his final remarks before dismissing the assembly Mr. Rowe said, “Bishop Foys supports us — now we need to support him.”