Video of white students from Covington Catholic High School confronting a Native American elder at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C., last Friday went viral this past week. However, this is not the first time a school overseen by the Diocese of Covington in Kentucky has come under national media scrutiny.
In May of last year, the Catholic diocese ruled just hours before Holy Cross High School's graduation that the openly gay valedictorian and the student council president could not give their planned speeches at the Covington school's official graduation ceremony.
Determined to make their voices heard, the valedictorian, Christian Bales, and the student council president decided to give their speeches anyway. After the official ceremony, the pair grabbed a megaphone and spoke to a crowd of students and families on the school’s lawn. Bales' speech, which was posted to social media, quickly went viral.
Bales said at the time that he was unsure whether his sexual orientation played a role in the Diocese of Covington's decision to not permit him to speak at graduation. "I honestly have no idea, because what I've been taught about the Catholic faith is that it's about love and tolerance and acceptance of all people," he said.
Bales, now 19 and a freshman at the University of Louisville, spoke to NBC News on Tuesday about last year's incident and the recent viral video that has dragged Covington back into the national spotlight.
“I was not surprised at all,” Bales plainly told NBC News when asked for his reaction to last week's D.C. confrontation. “It was only a matter of time that something this school community did would blow up to this degree, and I think they need to be held accountable.”
Bales claims Covington Catholic is "notorious for being a not-well-disciplined school," and he described the Diocese of Covington as "archaic."
"They have the very last say in everything about students in the diocese," Bales said, adding that the diocese has still not provided him and the student council president with “thorough explanations” of why their speeches were canceled last year.
At the time, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Covington said the students' speeches were not submitted on time and "were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church," assertions Bales denies.
As for this latest incident, the Covington diocese told the Cincinnati Enquirer Tuesday, "This is a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate."
After viewing additional footage of the incident, which some viewers have claimed adds context that vindicates the Covington Catholic students who surrounded and allegedly taunted a Native American man, Bales maintained the students "were not blameless."
Bales’ sentiment is echoed by the American Indian Movement Chapters of Indiana and Kentucky, which said in a Facebook post that the new video “does not absolve those boys of their behavior.”