“If parents don’t respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible..”
Catholic schools: Partners in faith with parents
by Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput
Denver news media have reported in recent days on the case of two children of a lesbian couple in Boulder. The couple was informed by Sacred Heart of Jesus parish school that the older child, whom they were enrolling in kindergarten for next year, would be allowed to attend kindergarten but would not be able to continue into first grade the year after. Their younger child would be welcome to finish preschool, but not continue into kindergarten. Many have wondered why. Sacred Heart of Jesus parish has borne the difficult publicity surrounding this issue, but archdiocesan policy was followed faithfully in this matter, and the policy applies to all Archdiocese of Denver schools.
Some background is important. Then we’ll turn to the human realities involved.
Catholic schools began in this country in the early 19th century. Catholics started them as an alternative to the public schools of the day, which taught a curriculum often hostile to Catholic belief. In many ways times have changed, but the mission of Catholic schools has not. The main purpose of Catholic schools is religious; in other words, to form students in Catholic faith, Catholic morality and Catholic social values.
We take great pride in the academic excellence of our schools as well. The reason is simple. A strong, well-rounded academic education helps to create mature citizens who contribute to the wider community. It’s also true that some of our schools exist as a service outreach in largely non-Catholic communities. Many of our schools also accept students of other faiths and no faith, and from single parent and divorced parent families. These students are always welcome so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.
Our schools, however, exist primarily to serve Catholic families with an education shaped by Catholic faith and moral formation. This is common sense. Other religious traditions do the same according to their beliefs, and at a heavy sacrifice. We need to remember that Catholic families pay twice for a Catholic education: through their taxes, they fund public education; then they pay again to send their children to a Catholic school. The idea that Catholic schools should require support for Catholic teaching for admission, and a serious effort from school families to live their Catholic identity faithfully, is reasonable and just.
That’s the background. Now to the human side of a painful situation. The Church never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education. But the Church can’t change her moral beliefs without undermining her mission and failing to serve the many families who believe in that mission. If Catholics take their faith seriously, they naturally follow the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals; otherwise they take themselves outside the believing community.
The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are “bad,” or that their children are less loved by God. Quite the opposite. But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society. The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The policies of our Catholic school system exist to protect all parties involved, including the children of homosexual couples and the couples themselves. Our schools are meant to be “partners in faith” with parents. If parents don’t respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible. It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.
Most parents who send their children to Catholic schools want an environment where the Catholic faith is fully taught and practiced. That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents. That isn’t fair to anyone—including the wider school community. Persons who have an understanding of marriage and family life sharply different from Catholic belief are often people of sincerity and good will. They have other, excellent options for education and should see in them the better course for their children.
Editor’s note: Please see the comments of Father Bill Breslin, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish at http://www.archden.org for additional perspective.