Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, has written for the first time about the incident in which a parish priest refused to allow the child of a lesbian couple into St. Paul Elementary School. He wrote on his blog yesterday, “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.”
The analogy Cardinal O’Malley uses to demonstrate that? The meeting he had with the daughter of a brothel owner back when he was a bishop in the West Indies. The mother used to smuggle women in oil barrels for her business. Some of them died en route. When the woman was murdered by her lover (gender unknown; presumably male or O’Malley would have said), O’Malley held a funeral mass for her. When he was told the daughter had left public school after being harassed about her mother, he directed the grandmother to take her to the Catholic school.
In and of itself, it’s a touching story about a welcoming school. But as a parallel to the story of a girl with lesbian moms, it falls flat. Yes, both prostitution and homosexuality may go against Catholic principles. But to compare a human trafficker with respectable citizens? It’s insulting.
At the same time, I did pause to reflect on O’Malley’s comments about Father James Rafferty, the pastor at St. Paul Parish, where the school is based. O’Malley says, “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.”
I, like many people, had a knee-jerk reaction when I heard the news about the school. Here was an institution, which, like the Boy Scouts, was kicking out a child because his or her parents were lesbians. It was appalling.
Could it be, however, that Fr. Rafferty was in fact doing the right thing for the child? That he wasn’t excluding the child because of personal bias, but because he knew the bias within the Catholic Church as an institution meant that a Catholic school wasn’t the best environment for the child? Being told one’s parents are in constant violation of Catholic morality could indeed be damaging to a child’s sense of worth.
O’Malley himself says, “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.”
Still, we need to be very careful here. The “best interests of the child” argument could easily be used to hide personal bias and homophobia.
We should also ask who gets to make the final call about the child’s best interests: the priest or the parents? I would argue that if the parents feel that the good their child will get from a Catholic education outweighs the risk of exposure to homophobia, that is their decision to make.
O’Malley adds, “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’s a good question. But comparing their parents to human traffickers isn’t a good start.
Photo credit: Adam Lenhardt, Wikimedia Commons