The Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School in Denver declined to re-enroll an unidentified preschooler because his parents are lesbians. School officials say that their decision was at the direction of the Archdiocese of Denver, which based its decision on their faith in the following statement:
To preserve the mission of our schools, and to respect the faith of the wider Catholic community, we expect all families who enroll students to live in accord with Catholic teaching. Our admission policy states clearly, “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.”
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. To allow children in these circumstances to continue in our school would be a cause of confusion for the student in that what they are being taught in school conflicts with what they experience in the home.
The church also takes issue with parents who’ve divorced and remarried without going through the Catholic annulment procedure, those who use artificial birth control or have created families using fertility treatments like IVF, couples who live together out of wedlock and single mothers who have given birth out of wedlock – and that’s the short list.
I have some personal reasons for concern about these issues. One of the reasons I am no longer a practicing Catholic has to do with the fact that my daughter is a product of IVF. Invitro-fertilization is expressly forbidden by the church and by undergoing the procedure to conceive my daughter – I sinned. As an unrepentant “sinner” (and who would be repentant over the conception and birth of their child anyway) I am technically not allowed to take communion. It’s their rule, and I abide by it. Yet I know many couples who’ve remarried after divorce without seeking a Catholic annulment and who go to communion though they are technically barred. I’ve never seen one turned away by a priest, nor were their children barred from attending Catholic school.
The sins of the fathers and mothers are unevenly visited upon children and much of the time the application seems arbitrary and personal.
My older nephew, who is now sixteen, attended Catholic school through grade eight. His mother, my youngest sister, left the church long ago, but she allowed our parents to send her son to their parish school where he was welcomed with open arms.
Their trouble began in grade two when the children began to prepare for their First Communion. Catholics believe the Eucharist is the embodiment of Christ. It is not symbolic, but God made flesh. It’s a big deal, and there are certain steps necessary in the preparation to receive holy communion. One of the biggest steps is being baptized. My nephew had not been, and therefore he was excluded from religion class while his classmates got ready for their First Communion.
My parents approached the pastor of the church and asked to have Zach baptized but Father refused. He saw this as an opportunity to force my sister back to mass and made it the condition for Zach’s baptism. A long story shortened, my father threatened to stop tithing and Father relented, allowing the parish’s deacon to baptize my nephew.
It’s one thing to have rules and religious institutions which are bound by their faith. What point is there to a religious based education if it doesn’t honor its own teachings and teach them to its students? But it’s another thing to be selective in applying these rules or to use faith coercively by targeting innocent children in an attempt to change the behavior or beliefs of their adult parents.
Catholic schools in Canada, where I live now, are taxpayer funded and are called “separate” schools. The only qualification a child needs to meet in order to attend a separate school is that one of his/her parents is Catholic. The marital status of a child’s parents is not taken into consideration. It would be problematic to do so in any case, as common law and same sex marriage are legal, protected rights. In fact, in Quebec, which considers itself a very Catholic province, not only are common law marriages the rule, but also actual church attendance is lower than in any other province in the country. Even so, separate schools are well attended.
Institutions like the Catholic Church are not served by ignoring their own tenets or overlooking the fact that their followers are being selective in the practice of their faith, but religions are made up of people who have individual circumstances and needs that are not one size fits all. They can’t be stuffed into round holes by force, and children should never be the square pegs. It’s wrong to use a child in such a callous manner.
Unless the Archdiocese of Denver has plans to purge its schools of all children whose parents do not conform to its marriage ideals, perhaps they should not wonder at the uproar this incident has provoked or the fact that their actions in this case have made them hypocrites. However, parents need to realize that when they choose to put their children in religious schools, they open themselves up to being held to standards they might not personally believe in and therefore should weigh the consequences before subjecting their children to teachings that don’t square with those beliefs.
The loser in this scenario is a little boy. He’s being forced out of a school where he undoubtedly has friends and staff who care about him, over an issue that is no issue to him at all.