Cardinal calls for study of policies on children of gay couples in Catholic schools

Last week, St. Paul School in Hingham rescinded the acceptance of a child of a same-sex couple, a decision drawing both praise and ire in the Catholic community. Pilot file photo/ George Martell, The Catholic Foundation

BRAINTREE -- Following a week-long controversy that erupted following a Hingham parochial school’s decision to rescind its acceptance of a child of a same-sex couple, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said the Archdiocese of Boston should look to the precedent set by another American archdiocese that has already grappled with this issue.

“The Archdiocese of Denver has formulated a policy that calls into question the appropriateness of admitting the children of same-sex couples. It is clear that all of their school policies are intended to foster the welfare of the children and fidelity to the mission of the Church,” Cardinal O’Malley said in a rare mid-week blog post. “Their positions and rationale must be seriously considered.”

Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Denver upheld a Boulder, Colo. school’s decision not to re-enroll a child of a same-sex couple.

Cardinal O’Malley issued his blog on May 19, roughly one week after St. Paul School in Hingham withdrew its acceptance of a lesbian couple’s child. The cardinal was on a pilgrimage to Fatima when the news originally surfaced. The May 19 post is printed in its entirety in this week’s edition of The Pilot.

The blog post went on to defend the school’s decision, as well as the character of its pastor, Father James Rafferty. Cardinal O’Malley said that Father Rafferty’s actions were based on what he thought would be best for the child.

“He made a decision about the admission of the child to St. Paul School based on his pastoral concern for the child. I can attest personally that Father Rafferty would never exclude a child to sanction the child’s parents,” Cardinal O’Malley also said. “After consulting with the school principal, exercising his rights as pastor, he made a decision based on an assessment of what he felt would be in the best interests of the child.”

In a May 18 interview with The Pilot, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the Curia echoed Cardinal O’Malley’s defense of Father Rafferty and the cardinal’s assessment that the priest acted in the interest of the child.

“In this (case), the decision he made had far-reaching consequences,” said Father Richard Erikson.

Father Erikson also defended Father Rafferty’s right to make a decision for his school, citing Canon Law.

While the archdiocese’s schools office is upholding the St. Paul’s decision, they have promised to help the parents find another Catholic school for their child and said the diocese does not prohibit children of same-sex parents from attending Catholic school.

Mary Grassa O’Neill, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools, said in a May 13 statement that she met with St. Paul’s officials about the decision and told the applicant’s parent she would help her find another Catholic school for her son.

“She was gracious and appreciative of the suggestion and indicated that she would look forward to considering some other Catholic schools that would welcome her child for the next academic year,” O’Neill’s statement said in part.

“We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to pursue that dream,” her statement also said. “Our schools welcome children based on their parent’s understanding that the teachings of the Church are an important component of the curriculum and are part of the students’ educational experience.”

Father Erikson said that the archdiocese does not have a specific policy that addresses whether children of homosexual parents should be admitted to Catholic schools. He also expressed appreciation at O’Neill’s leadership in arranging other Catholic schools for the student and in making a commitment to clarify the policy of the archdiocese going forward.

Cardinal O’Malley praised O’Neill’s work with this issue as well.

“She was respectful of all the people involved in this matter and showed leadership in attempting to resolve the matter as was within her responsibilities as Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the archdiocese,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

St. Paul’s decision has also drawn a wide variety of responses from local and national sources.

Father Frank Daley, pastor of Sts. Martha and Mary Parish in Lakeville and a close friend of Father Rafferty, said that the Hingham priest has received numerous phone calls both supporting and criticizing his decision. Since the incident occurred, Father Rafferty has declined media interviews and referred all inquiries to the archdiocese.

“He is very upset by the whole situation. It’s been a tough week and a half,” Father Daley said.

“I think it is a very unfortunate situation,” he also said. “He is trying to run a Catholic school and uphold the teachings of the Church and the morality of the Church.”

Other responses have been generated as well.

The Catholic Schools Foundation (CSF), an independent organization that provides scholarships to students at inner-city Catholic schools, issued a letter clarifying the foundation’s funding requirements. The May 13 letter was signed by CSF executive director Mike Reardon and sent to the administrators of all elementary and high schools in the archdiocese.

Reardon’s letter said the organization will not fund schools that have “an exclusionary admissions policy or practice” and that refuse to admit students of same-sex parents.

“We believe a policy or practice that denies admission to students in such a manner as occurred at St. Paul’s is at odds with our values as a Foundation, the intentions of our donors, and ultimately with Gospel teaching.”

According to Reardon’s letter, this CSF policy has been in effect since its founding in 1983.

The decision to deny the child enrollment is being opposed by national groups as well.

Catholics United, a national Catholic organization that promotes social justice, circulated a petition on its website calling for the archdiocese to allow the applicant to attend St. Paul’s and “allow all children to have access to a Catholic education.”

The group of 42,000 Catholics has collected nearly 5,000 signatures, according to organizing director James Salt. Those signatures were delivered to Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s office via e-mail, the website also said.

However, officials from Cardinal O’Malley’s office said they had not received the electronic petition.

“We humbly ask Cardinal O’Malley to intervene in this matter and allow this child to attend St. Paul Elementary School,” said Chris Korzen, Catholics United’s executive director, said in a May 13 press release. “In making this request, we do not intend to challenge the Church’s teaching on marriage and relationships. Rather, we simply believe that no one should be denied the benefits of a Catholic education on the basis of their parents’ background.”

“We welcome Dr. O’Neill’s statement, and look forward to a final decision regarding this matter,” Korzen added.

However, Catholic Action League of Massachusetts executive director C.J. Doyle called upon the archdiocese to support St. Paul’s, calling the school’s action “entirely appropriate, warranted, and necessary.”

“The admission of a child of a lesbian couple to a Catholic school would only result in self-censorship, and de facto acceptance of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption,” Doyle’s statement said in part. “The archdiocese must support Saint Paul’s.”

Doyle also questioned why a same-sex couple would want to enroll children in Catholic schools.

“A student is admitted to a parochial school with the expectation that the parents will cooperate in imparting Catholic values, a condition which it clearly does not obtain in this case. 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,” he said. “It would seem that they are either looking for an excuse to litigate, or an opportunity to embarrass the Church in the court of public opinion.”

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