Saturday 15 January 2011

Catholic School Admissions: Sanity in Boston

Last year, two US dioceses came under fire for decisions to exclude children of lesbian parents. In Boulder, Colorado the decision was widely condemned, but stayed in place. In Boston, the specific decision was rapidly revoked, with accompanying promises to formulate a new formal policy on admissions that would apply to Catholic schools in the diocese. That policy has just been unveiled - and is eminently sensible.  No school will be permitted to discriminate against any child - but prospective parents must understand that "Catholic teaching" is an essential part of the curriculum.

Well, great. "Catholic teaching" includes the well-known and disordered teaching on same sex relationships, but that really is a very small part of the totality of Church teaching. Far more prominent is a consistent emphasis on justice, inclusion of all, and standing up for the oppressed, as Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols pointed out last year.  Michael B. Reardon, executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, which gives millions in scholarships to low-income students, says much the same thing:

“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.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="706" caption="In Boston Catholic Schools, All Now Welcome"][/caption]

There is one qualification: the policy required that decisions should be made "in the best interests of the child". It is at least feasible that some misguided pastors could interpret that as pointing to discrimination and exclusion, but I would think that in practice, that will be increasingly unlikely. Children of divorced and remarried parents, or of unmarried parents, are in exacltly the same position in terms of the family conflict with Chruch teaching - but are never excluded.  The two schools which last year took decisions to exclude  attractive extensiv media attention - but were heavily outweighed by the very many schools which already practice non-discrimination, and accept children from all family backgrounds - but go unreported.  One such school from the Boston diocese is St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers. Thishas 1,250 boys in grades 9 to 12, and selects students based on entrance exams, grades, and teacher recommendations. The school has a policy that prohibits discrimination “based on race, color, national/ethnic origin, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, social class, or economic status.’’ More and more schools will likewise adopted policies which explicitly prohibit discrimination based on orientation.

With just that one reservation, representatives of leading gay and lesbian Catholic organizations welcomed the new policy:

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the gay Catholic organization DignityUSA, praised the archdiocese for banning discrimination but wondered whether pastors and principals would interpret what is in “the best interest of the child’’ evenhandedly for all families.

“As long as the doctrine stands, it makes it really hard for the pastoral and the doctrinal aspects of our faith not to come into a clash,’’ Duddy-Burke said. “The people of the church are changing, and by and large very affirming of gay people, and the hierarchy and the doctrine are lagging decades behind.’’

But Charles G. Martel, cofounder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, said he hopes dioceses around the country will adopt Boston’s guidelines. “It very much conveys the message that children of same-sex couples are welcome to receive a Catholic education,’’ he said.

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