Catholic schools implicitly welcome children of gay parents

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January 28, 2011
By: Chuck Colbert /TRT Reporter
The Boston archdiocese has issued a new admissions policy for parochial schools, saying it will not “discriminate against or exclude any categories of students” but parents “must accept and understand that teachings of the Catholic Church are an essential and required part of the curriculum.”

The new Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Admission Policy comes eight months after a controversy erupted in Hingham, Mass.  There, Father James Rafferty, pastor of St. Paul School, rescinded an admissions offer to an eight-year old boy, the son of lesbian parents.

In response, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley directed a team of clergy and lay persons to formulate new guidelines. The team included school principals and pastors, as well as members of the Presbyteral and Pastoral Councils.  Father Rafferty was also on the team.

The new policy allows for autonomy at the parish level.  Pastors and principals, therefore, may draft their own admissions policies, but they must be “written, included in the school handbook, consider the welfare and best interests of the child and be disseminated to prospective students and their parents prior to registration.’’

The new guidelines also state “admission is dependent both on academic qualifications and the desire to promote what is in the best interest of the student.”

At the time of the Hingham flap, there was no specific archdiocesan policy for the situation, but children with gay parents were not barred outright from the schools.

Both archdiocesan officials and funders of Catholic education in Boston were critical of Rafferty’s handling of the matter.  The Boston archdiocese assisted the parents in finding another school.

As the Boston Globe reported, the “Catholic Schools Foundation, which gives millions in scholarships to low-income students, said it would not subsidize tuition at any school with a discriminatory admissions policy.”
Michael B. Reardon, executive director of the foundation, told the Globe that his organization is pleased with the new policy.  “From the perspective of the foundation, the key part of this is that it does not exclude any group of students, and it promotes what is essential to Catholic education, which is inclusivity,’’ he said.

But the new policy does not define what is considered a category.

“Our schools welcome, and they don’t discriminate against any categories of students,” Secretary for Education Mary Grassa O’Neill told The Pilot, the archdiocese’s official newspaper. “It covers all categories of students.”

Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Father Richard Erikson told The Pilot, “Catholic education is a treasure of the Church, and we want to share that as broadly as we can,” adding, “We will not exclude any category of child from our schools and we expect pastors will be in conformity with the decision.”

Reaction among gay Catholics has been positive but skeptical.

Charles Martel, co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, said he was pleased with the new policy and hopes other dioceses across the country follow Boston’s example.

“The painful circumstances of denying a child a parochial education only because their parents are a same sex couple, has finally been rectified by the new archdiocesan policy welcoming all children,” Martel said.  “This policy recognizes that there already exists a great diversity of families in which children are being raised, and the priority should always be about the children.”

Martel added, “An archdiocesan policy that welcomes all children to receive a parochial education is a step forward, implicit that the children of same sex parents will not be denied equal access.  Single parents, parents who are not Catholic, parents who have divorced, and yes, same sex parents, all need to feel able to fully participate in the education of their children.”

The Catholic Church defines marriage as a heterosexual union.  The catechism says homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered’’ and calls divorce “a grave offense against the natural law.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic organization DignityUSA, while praising the archdiocese for banning discrimination, wondered how pastors and principals would interpret what is in “the best interest of the child’.

As she explained, “My major issue with the guidelines is the same issue I have with everything about the official church and LGBT issues: When pastoral practice bumps up against doctrine that says gay and lesbian people are ‘disordered’ and ‘evil,’ doctrine almost always wins out.”

Duddy-Burke is also a parent. “ I still wonder what would happen if my kids were in Catholic school, and someone went to the principal or pastor upset that a married lesbian couple’s children were enrolled,” she explained.  “Would the school leaders really stand up for my daughters, for our family? Would archdiocesan officials back them up if they did?
Would they say that judgment and exclusion are not Catholic values, and that we all need to work together to create community? I hope so, I really do, but I don’t feel ready to risk it yet.”