BOSTON — The Archdiocese of Boston has decreed that children of same-sex couples can enroll in its parochial schools, reversing a controversial 2010 decision at the parish level refusing one such admission.
The decision, very different from one made by the Archdiocese of Denver last year, drew a mixed reaction from Catholics, but won the swift endorsement of Michael Reardon, executive director of Boston’s Catholic Education Foundation, an independent organization that funds school construction and repair as well as scholarships. The foundation had announced in the wake of last year’s rejection of a same-sex couple’s child that it would provide no scholarships to schools that discriminated in this way.
“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,” Reardon said.
The Jan. 12 statement from the Catholic Schools Office of the archdiocese cited a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI to an assembly of American Catholic education officials in 2008 that said, “No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of the nation.” The schools office also states that “Parent(s)/guardian(s) of students in Catholic schools must accept and understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are essential and are a required part of the curriculum.”
In contrast, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput strongly supported Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder, Colo., last March, when it told a lesbian couple their child could not enroll for first grade.
As the archbishop explained at that time, Catholic schools are committed to working with parents in teaching the Catholic faith. But “if parents don’t respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible. It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.”
Noting that “most parents who send their children to Catholic schools want an environment where the Catholic faith is fully taught and practiced,” Archbishop Chaput argued, “That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents. That isn’t fair to anyone — including the wider school community.”
The archbishop said that children of non-Catholics and of divorced parents are allowed to attend Catholic schools “as long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.”
He also noted that Catholic parents pay twice for education, once through taxes supporting the public system and a second time through tuition for the Catholic schools. They should be able to count on getting what they paid for, he argued: a Catholic education and not the education they might expect elsewhere.
However, Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia, former secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome, said via e-mail that the children of same-sex couples would not automatically be excluded in his archdiocese: “A child of same-sex parents would not be treated any differently than any other child.”
He added, “All families must complete a ‘Family Statement of Commitment’ that they will work with school and parish to provide an environment where faith and learning go hand in hand.”
Archdiocesan spokesman Paul Schratz said that unmarried parents would face the same challenge as same-sex parents signing the commitment and convincing the school admissions committee, which includes the pastor, that they could honor the commitment. “It would be a teaching opportunity for the pastor with the parents.”
Schratz said several same-sex couples had been presented with the commitment document, but he was not aware of any children of same-sex couples presently enrolled.
Sending a Signal
Women for Faith and Family’s president, Helen Hitchcock, said she found Archbishop Chaput’s arguments compelling. She finds plausibility in an argument for inclusiveness — “that exposure to Catholic teaching would have a good effect even if the parents were 100% opposed to some elements of it.”
But given that many who call themselves Catholic openly disagree with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, she said, admitting the children of homosexual couples “would send a signal that this behavior is all right. If the Church sees no problem with the children, then it looks like it doesn’t care about what the parents are up to.”
Hitchcock also raised the question of the parents’ motivation: “Why would they want to send their children to a Catholic school when they don’t agree with its teaching? Do they just want to make problems?”
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.