As a young bishop in the West Indies I once celebrated a memorial Mass for a local “madame” who ran a brothel near my Cathedral. It was said she smuggled women in from other islands in oil barrels for her business. Some women suffocated in the crossing. She herself was murdered by her lover.
At the Mass I met the woman’s daughter, a lovely little girl. I asked her what grade she was in. She replied that she didn’t go to school. I sent a stern glance to her grandmother, who said: “Her name is the same as that of the brothel. The other children were so cruel to her, she left the public school.” I told her grandmother, “Take her to the Catholic school tomorrow.”
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 Archdiocese of Denver has formulated a policy that calls into question the appropriateness of admitting the children of same-sex couples. It is clear that all of their school policies are intended to foster the welfare of the children and fidelity to the mission of the Church. Their positions and rationale must be seriously considered.
I want to also recognize the work of Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, Secretary for Education. She was respectful of all the people involved in this matter and showed leadership in attempting to resolve the matter as was within her responsibilities as Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese.
There were no easy decisions made and all the people involved approached this from the same perspective: the pastoral care and best interests of the child.
Going forward, we will be consulting on these issues with a wide-range of people including the Presbyteral Council and Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. We will work to develop policies and procedures to guide our faithfully carrying on the mission of our Catholic Schools to serve children and to do so with the heart of Christ.