Catholic Education for Children of Same-Sex Couples?

July-August 2010 By Gail Besse

Gail Besse taught in public and parochial schools for eighteen years. She has worked as a reporter, editor, and bureau chief for Massachusetts daily newspapers, and is currently a freelance writer.

One day after he rescinded the school admission of a boy being raised by two lesbians, Fr. James Rafferty heard from the Associated Press. The women had called the AP claiming discrimination. Forty-eight hours later, television satellite trucks and news crews converged on St. Paul’s Church and Elementary School. Helicopters circled the small town square in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Global publicity enveloped the Archdiocese of Boston, the pastor, and the beleaguered parish, whose parishioners Fr. Rafferty had ministered to for sixteen years as the sex-abuse scandal unraveled, exposing the guilt of four of its former priests, including the infamous John J. Geoghan, who in 2003 was murdered in prison.

The “gay-parent” controversy that hit in May stemmed in part from the particular individuals involved. The women were less than truthful, and key archdiocesan players castigated the pastor in the press days before Sean Cardinal O’Malley finally rose to his defense. Still, the general factors at play here will continue to challenge other Catholic schools. Should they admit children being raised by practicing homosexuals? As it stands, some do and some don’t.

In any case, it would seem reasonable that at least the following four issues should be considered: Church teaching on homosexuality, a school’s mission as defined by the Magisterium, the role of parents as partners in faith, and the consequences of accepting same-sex couples as part of the school community.

Apparently, none of these issues was raised publicly by Boston archdiocesan spokesmen during the first week Fr. Rafferty was pilloried in the media — and sadly by many Catholics — as “punishing the child for having gay parents.”

The women, to whom the AP granted anonymity, told the press they had been forthcoming about their relationship, having written both names as “parents” on the application form when the boy was accepted for third grade in the upcoming 2010-2011 school year.

Actually, they had written the mother’s full name and under “father,” had listed the other woman’s last name and first initial only, according to numerous reliable sources who asked to remain anonymous because Fr. Rafferty, who adamantly guarded the women’s privacy for the child’s sake, chose not to speak publicly about it.

The mother reportedly said that she was not Catholic, but her lesbian partner, whom she referred to as her “husband,” was a fallen-away Catholic. When the pastor scheduled a parental meeting, a normal practice at the small school, he hoped that his offer of spiritual guidance could help them.

It was during this meeting that their lesbian relationship came to light. After prayerful discernment, Fr. Rafferty made the difficult decision to rescind enrollment, a pastoral move that quickly heaped coals upon his head from the Boston chancery and beyond.

The fundraising director of the Catholic Schools Foundation warned that any administrator who followed St. Paul’s “exclusionary admissions policy” could wave tuition grants good-bye.

Power-broker Jack Connors, who had raised $60 million for the schools, told the Boston Globe that the incident was an “unfortunate aberration” that should not “discourage corporate donors.”

Superintendent of Schools Mary Grassa O’Neill issued a statement saying that the Church does not prohibit children of same-sex parents from attending Catholic schools and that the archdiocese will “develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future.” She assured the women that she’d find them another school.

Ironically, while this transpired, Cardinal O’Malley was in Fatima, Portugal, with Pope Benedict XVI, who condemned same-sex “marriage” as a “dangerous and insidious” challenge to society. Yet no such counter-cultural message echoed from the Archdiocese of Boston; and to those acclimatized by moral relativism, the priest’s decision was simply unintelligible.

C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, on the other hand, urged the archdiocese to “vigorously defend” the decision. “The real question here is why two people who radically repudiate the moral teachings of Catholicism would want their child educated in a Catholic school,” Doyle said in a statement.

Eventually, The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, did editorialize on the possibility of “scandal,” and the cardinal did defend Fr. Rafferty in an entry on his blog and in The Pilot. He called the priest “one of our finest pastors,” who has his “full confidence and support.”

O’Malley acknowledged that Fr. Rafferty had “made a decision based on an assessment of what he felt would be in the best interest of the child.” But, unfortunately, the cardinal never clarified the decision’s underlying reasoning. A teaching moment was lost.

The mission of Catholic schools is primarily to educate children in the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. Vatican II’s “Declaration on Christian Education” (Gravis­simum Educationis) states that its goal is to introduce to the baptized the knowledge of the mystery of salvation and help them become aware of the gift of faith. Its purpose is to lead youth “to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23)…and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24)….”

This document, and the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 1977 directive “The Catholic School,” clearly indicates that a Catholic school’s primary mission is to impart the faith. But as the Boston controversy revealed, battles are played out over how this mission is put into practice.

Cardinal O’Malley said on his blog that “the good of the child must always be our primary concern,” but did not address the thorny issue of homosexuality. That issue was likewise skirted in a radio interview the next day by his key advisor, Fr. Bryan Hehir, who is known for stressing social-justice issues over those involving sexuality. “We want to accept all children and their families who want to come,” he said.

Observers were left with a paradox. How can a Catholic school unambiguously present Church teaching on human sexuality with children of same-sex couples in the classroom?

A few dioceses informally surveyed concluded that for the protection of all involved, it can’t be done.

In response to a question on the policy in the Diocese of Lincoln, chancellor Fr. Daniel Rayer said it would be to “not enroll in our Catholic schools children of parents who are living an active homosexual lifestyle. If the children are to be raised Catholic, then we would allow them to be baptized and attend CCD instruction.”

When a situation strikingly similar to Boston’s occurred in Boulder, Colorado, in March, Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput explained his rationale for supporting Fr. William Breslin, who declined school enrollment of two girls being raised by a lesbian couple. In a column in the archdiocesan Denver Catholic Register titled “Partners in Faith with Parents,” Archbishop Chaput wrote: “The main purpose of Catholic schools is religious; in other words, to form students in Catholic faith, Catholic morality and Catholic social values…. The Church never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education. But the Church can’t change her moral beliefs without undermining her mission and failing to serve the many families who believe in that mission.”

“These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society. The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Chaput continued. “Our schools are meant to be ‘partners in faith’ with parents. 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.”

Others concerned with the welfare of the student body in general and children of gay couples in particular have also concluded that admitting them would cause more harm than good.

“It is reasonable for Catholic elementary schools to explain to same-sex couples that this is not the place for their children,” wrote Dale O’Leary, author of The Gender Agenda, in her essay “Catholic Schools.” “A Catholic school cannot agree to hide the truth…. If schools accept the children, they will either be alienated from their parents, on whom they rely, or alienated from God, who would be seen as condemning their parents’ choices.”

Fr. Roger Landry, in a subsequent editorial in The Anchor, the Fall River diocesan newspaper, concurred on that point: “There is a requirement, for the good of the child, that parents commit to raise the child in a situation that at least does not contradict the values and formation given at the school,” he wrote. “If the child’s education will not be coupled to a way of life consistent with it, the parents and school would be placing the child in a spiritually and morally schizophrenic situation — which is obviously harmful.”

Why none of these reasoned arguments emanated louder than a whisper from the Archdiocese of Boston is a matter of conjecture. One St. Paul parishioner suggested in a letter to the local paper that “chancery spin” deflected attention away from the issue of homosexuality so as not to resurrect in the public eye the parish’s painful history, which included not only Geoghan but also two other suspended or laicized priests and Fr. Rafferty’s predecessor, John R. Hanlon, now serving life in prison.

Certainly court-imposed “gay marriage” has dispirited and confused many over the past six years. That is all the more reason why those who want schools to cling to their Catholic identity and mission are hoping that Cardinal O’Malley regains the strong voice he had in a 2005 letter he issued on homosexuality. “If we tell people that sex outside of marriage is not a sin, we are deceiving people. If they believe this untruth, a life of virtue becomes all but impossible,” he wrote. “We must teach the truths of the Gospel in season and out of season.”

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The decision to not accept children of gay parent(s) is, indeed, a wise and compasionate decision. Religious education is important to the development of the soul and must be consistent – comprehensive education, to coin a popular phrase, including example of the parents. This is not only important to the soul of the individual, but a sound religious education is important to our republican form of government. Many people seem to have forgotten the role of religion was considered an important ingredient by our Founding Fathers. Dr. Skousen points out in his book, 5000 year leap, that one of the principles of the Founding Fathers was that “Without Religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained.” (Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means to education shall forever be encouraged) This country has strayed far from the wisdom of our Founding Fathers and many in the Church have also strayed from Church Teachings, a victim of our materialistic world. This general decline in morality has resulted, not only in a decline in the membership of Christian/Western Churches, but also in an increase in unprincipled, nanny-state, unconstitutinal mindset in our politicians. Otherwise, why would so many radical (and one could argue evil)people be in the Obama administration? A sound Catholic(from our point of view) education is imperative if we are to return to a prosperous, virtuous nation, not to mention, saving souls. Posted by: awunsch
July 19, 2010 01:34 PM EDT
A few years ago there was a similar instance that occurred here with a female religious principal against a number of parents and other parishioners with similar results. Posted by: bbaker
July 19, 2010 02:02 PM EDT
The lesbian couple act like they are actively divorcing the Catholic Church. Placing the child as a pawn to make their points. I think also, to ensnare that Church in a lawsuit. Pushing, pushing to change the Church’s standards to fit their own beliefs. And how many children and people are spiritually harmed by the pushing to make points. Politically correct thinking will not save our souls. Posted by: emanresu
July 19, 2010 07:30 PM EDT

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© 2010 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved. July-August 2010, Volume LXXVII, Number 6.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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