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Catholic pro-life student attacked at public school, school criticized for lack of protection

Sisters Vanessa Pagano (left) and Nichole Pagano, who are both students at Hunterdon Central Regional High School and attended an unsanctioned pro-abortion rally at the school in order to stand up for the unborn with a pro-life sign. / Vanessa Pagano.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 03:05 am (CNA).

Seven students have been suspended from Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey — and seven “extended detentions” given, with more disciplinary measures possibly to come — after a rowdy pro-abortion protest by students resulted in the physical and verbal assault of a sophomore holding a pro-life sign.

Jeffrey Moore, the school’s superintendent, acknowledged the “distressing” behavior of the pro-abortion students toward 16-year-old Nichole Pagano at a live-streamed school board meeting on May 23. But he was still severely criticized at the meeting for the way the situation was handled.

At the meeting, Moore gave a presentation about the unsanctioned protest, which took place on May 16.

“I want to reiterate, certainly the most distressing moments of this incident were in the behavior that was shown to counter-protesters who had arrived and those involved,” he said.

“Shoving, expletive-laden verbal aggression, vandalism to signs, signs were knocked over, thrown, kicked, all of those things that made this a most distressing and disrespectful scene and example of student behavior against a student there who showed up with another viewpoint.”

Nichole speaks out

Nichole told CNA on May 24 that when she and her senior sister Vanessa, both Catholics, saw around 200 students forming a pro-abortion protest in the middle of the school’s campus during class hours, they immediately felt a call to action: they needed to stand up for the unborn. And they did.

As Nichole walked around the protest holding a pro-life sign that said “Equal Rights For Babies in the Womb,” she was physically attacked and screamed at by students.

Nichole, of Readington Township, recalled: “There’s like 200 kids there and then all of a sudden they come surrounding us — mostly trying to come at me and attack me because I had the sign — and then they came at me all up in my face, verbally screaming at me, and physically even grabbed me and ripped me down.”

Nichole Pagano, 16, stands holding a pro-life sign at an unsanctioned pro-abortion rally that occurred at Hunterdon Central Regional High School May 16, where she was verbally and physically harassed while having her sign vandalized. Vanessa Pagano.
Nichole Pagano, 16, stands holding a pro-life sign at an unsanctioned pro-abortion rally that occurred at Hunterdon Central Regional High School May 16, where she was verbally and physically harassed while having her sign vandalized. Vanessa Pagano.

Nichole said that her 18-year-old sister was the only person protecting her, “trying to get these kids away from me and almost pushing them off of me, off my arm, and blocking them so they wouldn’t get my sign.”

Nichole said that after the protest she had scratches on her arm and legs, and her shoulder hurt. Her father, Michael Pagano, described the shoulder injury as being a “sore shoulder.”

Superintendent Moore said at the board meeting that some school and town police officers “were attached near that student so that she would have that presence nearby as we continue to work to dissipate the crowd.”

After he said this, someone could be heard yelling from the crowd: “That’s a lie!”

Nichole told CNA that the school’s principal Edward Brandt apologized to her at a school board meeting on the day of the protest. Moore also publicly apologized to her.

Referring to Brandt’s apology, she said that “it didn’t seem like too big of an apology, though. It kind of seemed like a quick, short, little apology. It didn’t seem very long and even that concerning.”

She added that after the apology, she “didn’t hear anything from anyone,” adding that the school didn’t contact her parents. Her father confirmed that no one had contacted him or his wife, Jennifer, as of May 25.

Nichole spoke publicly at the May 16 board meeting about the “hurtful” events that occurred that day.

She told CNA that when she saw the protest, she was baffled that students thought it was acceptable to protest in favor of abortion, especially in school.

“Like, do they really know what that is? I don’t think enough of them even know exactly what it is and how it works,” she said.

Nichole said that if she were to give other high school students advice on how to deal with similar situations, she would say: “You’ve got to just do what your heart says and what you believe in. You’ve got to do what’s right.”

“Even if it’s sometimes hard to do, you go to do it to make a stand and make a point.”

School board members scolded by the public

At the most recent school board meeting, the school’s handling of the situation was criticized multiple times, with one man even calling for Moore’s job termination.

The critical comments included a statement from New Jersey state assemblyman Erik Peterson, who represents the 23rd Legislative District, including parts of Hunterdon.

Explaining that he was present at the meeting “in solidarity with the parents,” Peterson said that Nichole “is the victim, not the ‘counter-protester.’ She was assaulted. It’s on video.”

“The problem, from my perspective, is the leadership,” he said. “These kids didn’t learn this on their own, they learned it here. And it starts with this board and the superintendent.”

Peterson called Moore’s presentation “disrespectful to everybody in this room and to this board, to everybody, and to the victim.”

Asked if the school had checked in with Nichole to ensure her future safety and well-being, a school spokesperson said in a statement: “We are deeply distressed by the behavior between students who engaged in verbal and, in a very small number of instances, physical aggression during this gathering.”

“Youth demonstrations have a long history of educating students toward civic-mindedness; however, the behavior in this demonstration was disrespectful and distressing enough to be an affront to that tradition of peaceful assembly and protest. We are investigating thoroughly and taking all appropriate disciplinary actions.”

The statement went on: “This demonstration brings us to serious reflection on the procedures we have for managing such events and, most especially, on the examples that we, as adults, are setting for our children.”

“The actions that they see taken by adults impact the actions that they believe to be appropriate and acceptable.”

“As we move to correct their behavior, we must work together to offer better object lessons. We must provide outlets for expression, but these need to be exercised with care, respect, and dignity for ourselves and one another. We need to teach these lessons of civil discourse to our children in much more deliberate ways, especially in these times.”

The statement concluded: “At Central, we will continue to insist on respect in all civic and political processes and hope that this contributes to a future in which there is better and more constructive civic participation. We are thankful for the partnership with our community in that effort.”

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Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington. / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 25, 2022 / 21:21 pm (CNA).

The Communion ban in place within House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home diocese in California now extends to the Diocese of Arlington, located just outside Washington, D.C.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said Wednesday that he would respect the ban imposed by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone last week because of Pelosi's staunch advocacy for legalized abortion.

“He is her bishop and as that bishop the direction and guidance he provides is not limited to just a geographical area,” Burbidge said on his diocese's "The Walk Humbly Podcast." His comments were first reported Wednesday by the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocese's newspaper.

Burbidge is the second U.S. bishop to announce that he will apply San Francisco Archdiocese ban in his own diocese. Bishop Robert Vasa said on May 20 that he would do so in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, where Pelosi reportedly attends Mass occasionally. At least a dozen U.S. bishops have publicly come out in support of Cordileone's action.

Bishop Joseph Strickland said on May 25 that Pelosi would be barred from receiving Communion in the Diocese of Tyler in eastern Texas.

He wrote on Twitter: "The concern for Mrs Pelosi’s eternal salvation extends to the Diocese of Tyler. She is barred from Communion here until she repents & stops advocating the murder of children. Pray for her heart to be turned to God & away from the power of this world."

Cordileone has stressed that his decision was "pastoral, not political." Burbidge said on the podcast that he views the issue the same way.

“I can’t say it enough, (these) decisions are made for the good of individuals to guard the faithful from scandal," which is caused when Catholics in public office take positions at odds with Church teaching," the bishop said, according to the newspaper's report. "That confuses people and a bishop has to guard against that."

Burbidge revealed that while he has not publicly announced that someone should not receive Communion in his diocese, "I have privately shared that directive with individuals who have continuously scandalized the Church by holding a personal Catholic identity while also publicly advocating for abortion or other inherent moral evils," the newspaper reported.

“All people, including those who are not public individuals, have to approach the sacraments truly in communion with the Church and Our Lord,” Burbidge said.

This report was updated at 05:32 MDT on May 26 with Bishop Strickland's comments

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