Catholic Schools and Discrimination

By:  Jack Kenny

Lesbian partners want their child to attend Catholic SchoolThe archdiocese of Boston has no policy of excluding children of same-sex couples from Catholic schools, a spokesman said, following reports that a parish school in Hingham, Mass. turned away a third grade student because his parents are lesbians, drawing cries of discrimination from people in Massachusetts and other parts of the country. Tony Donilon said the decision by Saint Paul Elementary School was that of the parish and school and was not based on any diocesan rules or guidelines.

“We want kids to come to Catholic schools,’’ Donilon told The Boston Globe. The diocese has declined further comment until it has reviewed the matter and talked with all parties involved, the Globe reported this morning.

A woman who identified herself as one of the parents of the eight-year-old boy told the Associated Press that he had been accepted by the school for enrollment in the third grade in the fall, but the admission was later rescinded because of the same-sex relationship between the woman and her partner. The woman spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern that the publicity would be harmful to the child.

The Rev. James Rafferty, pastor of St. Paul parish, and Cynthia Duggan, the school’s principal, did not respond to requests for an interview, the Globe reported. An adviser to the school’s PTO Executive Committee referred all questions to the archdiocese.

Catholic moral doctrine holds that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is a serious sin and that marriage is a sacramental covenant between a man and a woman. Though same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004, the woman told the AP she is not married to her partner. She said they put their names on the school application form where it asked for the names of “parents.” They attended an open house at the school together in February.

“We weren’t hiding,” she said.

They paid their deposit and got their order forms for school uniforms but when she paid a visit to the pastor last week to discuss the boy’s religious education, the woman said, Father Rafferty began asking questions about her relationship with her partner. A few days later Rafferty and the school’s principal called her and told her the boy would not be admitted. The pastor told her the relationship "was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church," the woman said.

Attorney Shawn Gaylord, of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, told the Globe the private school is not covered by a Massachusetts anti-discrimination law. But Eliza Byard, the organization’s executive director, said the decision was wrong, legal or not.

“There’s one family being singled out,” said Byard adding there are likely other students in the school whose parents are “living in discord of the [teachings of the] Catholic Church.’’ State Rep. Garrett J. Bradley, a Hingham Democrat who grew up in the parish, suggested that the pressure of public opinion within the community should be brought on the school to change its decision.

“Shame on St. Paul’s and shame on us as a community if we allow it,” he said.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a Boston-based advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, said she receives three to four calls a year from parents across the country in similar situations. She wants church officials to require a nondiscrimination statement covering sexual orientation in each school’s handbook.

But in an interview with, C. Joseph Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, defended the school’s decision and criticized the archdiocese for not doing the same.

“The real issue is why these two individuals who radically repudiate the moral code of Catholicism want their child educated in a Catholic school. It seems they’re looking for an excuse to litigate or an opportunity to embarrass the church in the media.” That the archdiocese appears to be distancing itself from the school’s decision is “typical of the kind of cowardice that has characterized the episcopate of Sean O’Malley in Boston,” Doyle said. He recalled that when Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 told Catholic agencies to stop placing children with same-sex couples, Catholic Charities of Boston announced it would drop the adoption service it had been running for more than a century.  Following the ban would bring the agency into conflict with the state’s licensing requirements and its anti-discrimination law, church officials said.

“They could have fought that,” Doyle said. “The other side never fired a shot.”

The archdiocese of Denver, Colorado earlier this year defended a decision by a Catholic school in Boulder to prohibit children of a lesbian couple to stay in the school beyond kindergarten.

“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,” the archdiocese said in a written statement. “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.”

“Our schools are meant to be partners in faith with parents,” wrote Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in a column in the Denver Catholic Register.  “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.”

Jack Kenny is a freelance writer living in New Hampshire. Send him an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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