Catholic School: Lesbian Parents "Disqualify Their Children from Enrollment"

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 9, 2010

Facing a firestorm of criticism for refusing to allow the child of a lesbian couple to return to parochial preschool next year, the Denver Archdiocese has responded with a statement to the effect that the child's exclusion is the fault of his mothers--for being a committed same-sex couple.

The decision not to re-admit the student, a 4-year-old pre-schooler at Boulder, Colorado's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, was announced March 5, and sparked an immediate outcry. The Archdiocese claimed that those speaking out against the decision are "people who disagree with the Church's position on homosexuality in general and this decision is an excuse to voice that opposition to Church teaching," reported a March 8 story at Catholic News

The same article quoted from a March 5 statement on the decision that was issued by the Archdiocese of Denver, which said that the "principal reason parents place their children in Archdiocese of Denver Schools is to reinforce the Catholic beliefs and values that the family seeks to live at home." However, the statement went on, "Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment."

The statement also said, "No person shall be admitted as a student in any Catholic school unless that person and his/her parent(s) subscribe to the school's philosophy and agree to abide by the educational policies and regulations of the school and Archdiocese," reported Denver news station and NBC affiliate Channel 9 on March 6. Channel 9 also reported that some members of the staff at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School said the decision not to allow the boy back "disgusted" them, while other parents were mulling withdrawing their own kids.

"This could be one of those moments where the community is holding a mirror up to the church for it to take a look at its policy and reconsider what they've been doing," Pastor Roger Wolsey told the news channel. "They're entitled to do what they want," Wolsey said. "And I would respect them no matter what they decide. I think a lot of churches are doing a lot of soul searching right now."

The church holds that gays are sexually "disordered" people who may not choose their orientation, but whose sexual expressions of intimacy with life partners of the same gender are "inherently evil." The church says that God intends gays and lesbians to forsake family life and lead celibate lives. Moreover, the church has said that it is a form of "violence" for same-sex parents to raise their children, even though they may provide supportive, loving homes.

But the array of voices and perspectives on the issue indicate that those who denounce the decision are not simply opponents of the church's teachings on gays. Some question the church's consistency in applying its standards to families that do not measure up to church teachings. In a March 8 article at the "Get Schooled" section of the website for the newspaper Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reporter Maureen Downey wrote, "As a Catholic school graduate myself, I am surprised only because I had classmates whose parents were divorced, which is also in open discord with church teachings." Added Downey, "The divorce question is not addressed in the story, but I would like to know the archdiocese's position on children of divorce in their schools."

A commentator to the posting added, "Do they admit children of parents who use birth control (also against Catholic teaching)?"

The Public Weighs In

A "man on the street" poll of attitudes posted March 8 at the website of NBC affiliate Channel 11 in Grand Junction, Colorado, revealed more perspectives on the issue. Said Nancy Lowen, "I think it's totally ridiculous. Because a child is due an education and I think it is not just because the parents are gay parents doesn't mean the child should be kicked out of school." Added Lowen, "If the parents are willing to pay, the school should be willing to take them. I don't think that's fair."

"Well, it is a private church school," said Anita Block, "and as far as I know, they have the right to decide who is enrolled in their school and who isn't."

"I'm a little bit in between because I was raised Catholic myself and I do adhere to their values," Helena Young remarked. "But on the other hand, I think as a preschooler, she or he should be allowed to stay in school."

The Channel 11 story said that a group of parents were planning to send a petition to the archdiocese to ask for the student's re-admittance. Others took their message to the church itself, with a reported 30 people gathering on March 7 outside of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church with signs decrying the decision, according to a March 8 Examiner article. Even as the protest was happening outside, the sermon delivered by the priest, Fr. Bill Breslin, touched on the issue. "If a child of gay parents comes to our school, and we teach that gay marriage is against the will of God, then the child will think that we are saying their parents are bad. We don't want to put any child in that tough position," Breslin said.

"It's simply incredible that, in the 21st century, the Catholic Church continues to promote the same kind of intolerance that it has for centuries," Jodell Haws of Americans United for Church and State told the Los Angeles-based author of the Examiner article, Hugh Kramer. "Ethics and morality have advanced and become more inclusive but the Church view hasn't. They're still picking and choosing among Bible verses and emphasizing the ones that best fit their dogmatic outlook." Because the church's preschool program is not administered through the public school system, the article noted, this instance does not in itself reflect an infraction of the separation of church and state.

Letters to the Editor posted March 9 at Daily by Boulder residents also helped fill out the picture. Wrote Dan C. Winters, "Many Catholics, myself included, had celebrated the reforms the second Vatican council, in the 1960s under Pope John, brought to the church. Slowly, but surely, the church has moved backwards." Added Winters, "The current decision by Archbishop Chaput, of the local Catholic Archdiocese, supporting the removal of an innocent child from a local Catholic school is just another step in the retrograde church--sadly this is not a surprise." Winters wrote that he had left the church after six decades, and added, "The choices are clear for parents and parishioners: either continue to work within the church to change this policy via their voices, their letters, their petitions and their withholding of contributions or by leaving the school/church and in the extreme leaving the Catholic faith. To remain silent in the face of injustice is not an option. To remain silent corrodes the soul as surely as it poisons the soul of the perpetrators."

"Ironies Abound" in Archdiocese Decision

Another Boulder resident, John Madsen, wrote in to say, "The demonstrators protesting the acts of the Sacred Heart Catholic School in expelling the child of a lesbian couple have been extremely gentle and sadly tolerant so far. Personally, I left the Christian faith years ago for the kinds of ethical blindness exhibited here." Added Madsen, "Ironies abound: the Catholic Church has protected thousands of pedophiles, and by that protection harmed multiple thousands of children. Yet when it encounters a same-sex couple trying to live a responsible, socially committed life, it swoops down to punish them via whom? Another innocent child." Madsen continued, "The good people working as faculty and staff at Sacred Heart might consider informing the priests that the school's anti-Christian behavior is intolerable. They might even wish to consider whether those who tolerate this kind of cruelty are not in some way complicit in it. That same question could apply to the parents of the other students there. It would be wonderful if the Christian people of Boulder just walked away from that school and let it die a natural death."

The Daily also reported on local GLBT groups' responses in a March 5 article. Boulder Pride's Aicila Lewis cited progress in public schools, and quoted an aphorism, saying, " ''You fall down six times and get up seven.' The movement toward equality is always going to have moments of disappointment."

The executive director of the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, Mindy Barton, called the decision "frustrating and disappointing," but acknowledged that the preschool was within its legal rights to exclude the child based on his parents' sexuality. Added Barton, "Their actions might be legal, but that doesn't make them right."

The father of another pupil at the school said that other students had parents who were not married, or even were not Catholics. "It has seemed, in the past few weeks, that they've taken a super-conservative approach," the father, who was left unnamed at his own request, noted. "They are making sure everyone is on board not just with getting a great education but making sure they are following the Catholic doctrine also."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.