Sean Cardinal O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, has now weighed in, at length, on the case of the same-sex couple in Hingham, Mass., whose child was prevented from attending a local Catholic parochial school there, and which I blogged about here. Characteristically, Cardinal O'Malley takes care to respect the offices of Charles Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, who addressed the situation in his diocese differently, to praise the priest in Hingham, whom he calls "one of our finest pastors," and to support the beleaguered couple. But then he weights in firmly on the side of the "good of the children."
Catholic schools exist for the good of the children and our admission standards must reflect that. We have never had categories of people who were excluded. We have often given preference to children from a parish where a school is located, siblings of children already enrolled at the school or Catholic children from nearby parishes. Sometimes we might not be able to accept children, because of behavioral problems or other circumstances that would be disruptive to a school community. While there are legitimate reasons that might lead to a decision not to admit a child, I believe all would agree that the good of the child must always be our primary concern.
As you might know, St. Paul School in Hingham has been at the center of a matter that was widely reported on recently, involving a child of same sex parents who wanted their child to attend the school. One of the very unfortunate results of the public reporting on the issue was undue criticism of Father James Rafferty who is pastor at St. Paul Parish, and who I consider one of our finest pastors. 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. 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 interest of the child. I have great admiration for Fr. Rafferty; he has my full confidence and support.
In Boston we are beginning to formulate policies and practices to deal with these complex pastoral matters. In all of our decision making, our first concern is the welfare of the children involved. With that in mind, the essence of what we are looking at is the question of how do we make Catholic schools available to children who come from diverse, often unconventional households, while ensuring the moral theology and teachings of the Church are not compromised? It is true that we welcome people from all walks of life. But we recognize that, regardless of the circumstances involved, we maintain our responsibility to teach the truths of our faith, including those concerning sexual morality and marriage. We need to present the Church’s teachings courageously and yet in a way that is compassionate and persuasive.
The rest of his post, in which he leads with a personal story, is here. These are hard decisions, and I believe that Cardinal Sean, as his many in Boston call him, continues to make wise, compassionate and pastoral decisions on this matter.
James Martin, SJ