A proper course of action

The decision by a parochial school in Hingham to rescind enrollment to the child of a woman who made public to the pastor that she was living in an openly homosexual relation deserves some analysis and should not be dismissed as insensitive or bigoted, as it has been portrayed in some media reports.

Some have gone as far as to say that Father Rafferty’s actions were ultimately contrary to the Gospel. The gravity of that charge cannot be overlooked.

In recent years that type of argument has been an easy path to demonize the actions of the Church or its representatives. Expressions like “What would Jesus do?” or “Where is that in the Gospel?” are put forward to express dissent with Church officials’ actions or even with official positions of the Church, as if they had found the primordial source of knowledge in those “Gospel teachings” separate from the teachings of the Church.

The Church reveres both Scripture and Magisterium as part of God’s revealed truth to humanity. Attempting to dissociate or disavow one by using the other is dangerous and often leads to serious errors of judgment with unintended consequences. The same apostles and disciples who put together the Gospels and the other New Testament texts are the same ones upon whose testimonies and teachings subsequent generations built the Magisterium of the Church.

In any case, there is neither a Gospel teaching nor a magisterial teaching that would prevent Father Rafferty from making a prudential judgment in the case at hand. Indeed, there is a consideration put forward by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a Magisterial teaching intertwined with Gospel teaching that, we submit, will have to be looked at very carefully as new policies and procedures are studied by the appropriate group of educators, moral theologians psychologists and sociologists: The need to avoid scandal and the responsibility of those in authority on this matter.

Despite the way it has come to be used in the wider society, in the Catholic tradition the word scandal is defined as actions that may lead others to separate themselves from the teachings of the Church, that may lead them to do evil, to sin or may lead to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice. For the Church, then, the word scandal does not refer to something that causes shock and disgrace but rather to something that can lead people to believe that something wrong or sinful is actually correct and good.

The Catechism explains that “scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’”

It can be argued that the appearance of normalcy and acceptance of homosexual behavior that would follow from accepting gay parents into the life of a Catholic school -- at parish functions, fundraisers, as chaperones for field trips, etc. -- could lead other children to grave confusion about the nature of marriage as the union between a man and a woman. And, of course, we cannot forget the potential psychological trauma that a young child of such a union may face when the school curriculum on the sacrament of marriage and human sexuality emphasizes the complementarity of the sexes as the plan of God for humankind and describes homosexual acts and relations as contrary to the natural order of creation.

This is not an easy issue and the Church at the local level -- and possibly at the national and universal level -- will come out with principles and guidelines on the matter as the issue evolves.

In the meantime, both the archdiocese’s compassionate and expedient pastoral response to the parent of the child and Father Rafferty’s prudential decision are to be praised and deserve recognition. It is apparent that reasonable people with good intentions may come to different ways to address situations such as this. As far as we know, no one has found a definite “one size fits all” solution. In the end, however, the good of the children involved should always be at the heart of any such decisions.

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