Bishop Ronald Gainer -- appointed late last year to head the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg -- is prohibiting girls from boys' contact sports teams at Catholic schools and in Catholic youth leagues, citing "safety & modesty" concerns.
The policy is at this link, and excerpts follow. But it's worth pointing out that if this approach seems traditionalist and even archaic -- something that would be pigeonholed into the conservative thought of the papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and contrary to the modern ethos that enthrones equality above virtually all other concerns -- remember that Bishop Gainer was appointed to Harrisburg by Pope Francis. For all the conversation recently about Pope Francis' appointment of different kinds of bishops than his predecessors (see Chicago), this is just a reminder that Francis is more complex than that. Bishop Gainer, an Eastern Pennsylvania native, was originally a John Paul appointee as bishop of Lexington, Ky., who made it perfectly clear that the pro-life, anti-abortion agenda was "THE paramount issue of are time" for Catholics as both believers and voters. Now that he's in the state capital here, it shouldn't be a surprise that he'd implement rules with a traditionalist understanding of gender roles.
"Gospel-based values are taught and learned in these athletic programs by developing respect for self and for others through competitions and other forms of human interaction in which dignity, integrity, fairness and moral strength are emphasized. Christian witness to authentic Gospel values is given by all who are involved in these programs in the form of adherence to appropriate norms of conduct, decorum and moral discipline.
"Preparation for Christian adulthood likewise involves the development and encouragement of appropriate, dignified and respectful forms of contact between male and female students. The Diocese therefore believes that it is incompatible with its religious mission and with its efforts to teach Gospel values to condone competitions between young men and women in sports that involve substantial and potentially immodest physical contact.
"Consequently, the Diocese has adopted this policy prohibiting co-ed participation in thefollowing sports: wrestling, tackle football and tackle rugby. In any sport in which co-ed participation is permitted, the appropriate ecclesiastical authority designated by the diocesan bishop may issue and enforce rules of conduct that reflect morally appropriate norms of contact between participants."