Non-Discrimination in Boston

The Archdiocese of Boston released a new non-discrimination policy for Catholic schools last week.

The Boston Globe reports:


The Archdiocese of Boston, under fire from all sides after a parochial school withdrew an admissions offer to the child of a lesbian couple, yesterday released a new Catholic schools admissions policy that said parochial schools will not “discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.’’

However, the policy, which was distributed to pastors, parishes, and school administrators by e-mail, said school parents “must accept and understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are an essential and required part of the curriculum.’’

The new guidelines were developed by a panel of clergy and lay school administrators at the direction of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley in response to a widely publicized incident last year in which St. Paul School in Hingham rescinded the admissions offer to the 8-year-old boy. The archdiocese helped place the boy in a different Catholic school.

Particularly noteworthy is the role that Catholic philanthropists may have played in the creation of this policy:

The Hingham episode drew sharp criticism from prominent funders of Catholic education in Boston. The Catholic Schools Foundation, which gives millions in scholarships to low-income students, said it would not subsidize tuition at any school with a discriminatory admissions policy. Michael B. Reardon, executive director of the foundation, said yesterday his organization is pleased with the new policy’s “clear message of inclusiveness.’'

“From the perspective of the foundation, the key part of this is that it does not exclude any group of students, and it promotes what is essential to Catholic education, which is inclusivity,’’ he said.

Predictably, some right-wing blogs are lamenting the policy (here and here), while gay Catholic groups are expressing cautious optimism. The Archdiocese, for its part, seems to be trying to strike a compromise in the center, in the face of real-world challenges.

The Boston Pilot, the Archdiocese's newspaper, quotes Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Father Richard Erikson, who said, "Catholic education is a treasure of the Church and we want to share that as broadly as we can. We will not exclude any category of child from our schools and we expect pastors will be in conformity with the decision." Further, Secretary for Education Mary Grassa O'Neill said, "Our schools welcome, and they don't discriminate against any categories of students. It covers all categories of students."

Passions are sure to be ignited on both sides of this difficult issue, and the Archdiocese seems to have struck a seemingly common sense compromise. The consternation of some Catholics who see this policy as further eroding the church's moral clarity is puzzling, as the policy states that all those who send children to Catholic schools must understand that the church will continue to teach its faith and morals to all students. And those who wish to see the church become more inclusive to gay and lesbian people are right to see this policy as only a small step forward, as church teaching regarding sexuality remains unchanged. The adoption of the policy, which still leaves admission choices to individual schools and therefore respecting the principle of subsidiarity, seems to be but a recognition that abstract policies and teachings must be lived out in a messy and complicated world, where real lives are affected by words on a page. The Archdiocese of Boston deserves commendation for attempting to live out the gospel message in a more compassionate and welcoming manner.   

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Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
You jumped to the conclusion that the child was being used as a tool.  There is no reason to believe that the lesbian parents want anything but the best for their child. 
Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
Michael, even though you address Abe, I would like to comment.  First, no Catholic school that my children ever attended were Catholic in name only.  They made it clear to every family that students would be participating in Mass, praying to Jesus, and being taught the Catholic version of Christianity.  Second, the Muslim God is, in fact, the exact same God as the God of Moses.  The God of Moses is the same God in whom Christians believe.  The point of difference is the divinity of Jesus.  However, Muslims revere Jesus as one of their great prophets.  I am not sure about Jews and Jesus, but I would think that praying to Jesus would be far more problematic for a Jewish person than a Muslim.  I am not sure how Jewish families handle this, but I would say that it probably indicates religious tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others.
Kang Dole
8 years ago
I second (third, I guess) Vince-don't be a jerk, David. And Michael, I know Jews and Musims with kids in Catholic schools.

Actually, from what I've seen with respect to that, having to be at a Catholic school is one of the more successful sources of solidarity between Jews and Muslims.
William Kurtz
8 years ago
"Decreasing church attendance is the tradeoff for fighting the scourge of secularism."
Why does that remind me of that Gospel passage about the Pharisee praying to God giving thanks he's not like the sinner he sees?
As a practical matter, how does one fight with smaller forces?  
Alessandro Bresba
8 years ago
Vince brings up a point very often forgotten in the expansive conversation about homosexuality and the Catholic Church. So often we speak about gays and lesbians in a way that presumes that they are an oppositional force standing against the Church. While some may be, we forget that many gays and lesbians are within the Church, praying beside you at mass and participating fully in the cultural, liturgical, social, and sacramental life of the church.

Having taught religion for several years in a Catholic secondary school myself, I can assure you that there were parents, students and faculty alike that identified as gay or lesbian. None of them were there for politically subversive reasons. Rather they were there in order to be part of a school community that was intentionally faithful and loving.

Marie Rehbein
8 years ago
I know several Muslims who send their children to Catholic school even though the public school is good.  Does that invalidate your point, Michael?
8 years ago
I agree with the view some espouse elsewhere that the policy is mainly to have parishes check in with the central office so that no event that would cause bad publicity would arise.
I did think that the conservative links given here were extreme and destructive of what  the Church  should be avaoiding and that  they would think of themselves as "real Catholics" represent the worst kind of self serving approach that destroys unity/
8 years ago
Abe, I'm curious what kind of Catholic education your Jewish and Muslim acquaintances are receiving.  I have many Jewish friends and I cannot think of even one of the least religious of them who would even consider a Catholic school for their children.  Muslims have a different God from the Christian God, no? 

What this and other comments suggest to me is that today's Catholic schools are "Catholic" in name only; a form of secular charter school for those who live in an area of undesireable public schools.  So what's the point of the Catholic label, a tax deduction?  Might as well just call them charter schools, and let the lesbians' adopted children, and all of the other non-Catholic believers attend.  That would end the controversy, no?  That's pretty much what seems to be happening with the "Catholic" colleges (see my link in my earlier post).
PJ Johnston
8 years ago
If I had children and the money to do so, I would almost certainly send them to a Catholic school (preference:  of the liberal Jesuit variety), despite the clash of ethical conviction on a few issues.

Catholic schools are generally the best schools in the area, a handful of them still teach Latin, and they are generally much more humanistic (in the proper Renaissance sense) than the public schools.  In maintaining the tradition of liberal arts scholarship in a sea of mass-market pre-vocational education and a society that sends people to college simply to get job qualifications rather than to become well-rounded citizens, they're performing a vital cultural role and win hands down.  Catholic schools seem to have at least some idea of what education is supposed to be about.

I really wanted to attend Dowling (the local Catholic high school) but grew up on welfare and we just couldn't afford it.  I had to move in with my grandmother in another school district to get into a public high school that offered Latin and debate.  It wasn't the worst school out there, but for an aspiring humanities scholar a Catholic school would have been much better.
8 years ago
I'm inclined to agree with David that this a political decision on the part of the parents; consider what would be said if a Jewish or Muslim couple enrolled their child in the school.

On the other hand, the state of the other local schools in the area should figure into the analysis; that is, if the public schools are violent and non-productive, then I could see where the safety and better educational environment of a Catholic school would trump any concerns of religious disagreement.

In the latter case, however, the parents know what they are getting themselves and their child into.  No one is forcing them to live where they live.  They should either accept whatever the school teaches, find another school,  engage themselves with the public school officials to provide a better opportunity for their child, or move.  Parents are faced with the decision all the time; nothing's more common than a family moving to a better school district at the time their children reach school age. 

A recent court decision  in which a catholic college (Manhatten College) was held to not be religious enough for a religious exemption from union laws, suggests that Catholic k-12 schools need to take a look at their curricula to make sure that they not only don't further secularize on such things as sex education and homosexuality, but increase and emphasize uniquely Catholic teaching throughout.  This should serve the purposes of securing whatever government religious exemptions are available, assuring that the students are getting a uniquely Catholic education, and discouraging those who refuse to comply with Church teaching from enrolling.  This might further reduce Catholic school enrollments, but that, like decreasing church attendance, is the trade-off for fighting the scourge of secularism.
Vince Killoran
8 years ago
It's amazing how David and Michael can access the minds of lesbians who are parents and get right to their motivations.  You guys should take your show on the road!

BTW, I know of two couples-friends of mine- who are gay and send their kids to Catholic school. The reason: they're Catholic and want their children to benefit from a Catholic education.


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