Hingham is an affluent town on Boston's moneyed "South Shore," whose Main Street, dotted with handsome white-clapboard houses, was called by Eleanor Roosevelt the prettiest street in the country. At Christmastime, all the houses, by mutual agreement, set out white Christmas lights in their windows -- rather than the (apparently) tackier multicolored ones. Hingham is an attractive town.
Recently, however, Hingham has been the focus of some not-so-attractive goings-on.
In the Catholic parish of St. Paul, the Rev. James Rafferty decided that an eight-year-old boy could not attend St. Paul's parochial school because his parents are lesbians. David Gibson at Politics Daily provided an overview of what quickly became a controversial decision.
The case echoed the one in Boulder, Colorado, in which Charles Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, upheld the decision of a local parish to similarly reject a young girl whose parents were lesbians. "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," Chaput said.
In Hingham, the couple was told that their union was "in discord with the teachings of the Catholic church."
"I'm accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman," the mother told the AP. "But I didn't expect it against my child."
But the Archdiocese of Boston is handling this matter quite differently -- that is, more wisely -- than Denver did. Dr. Mary Grassa O'Neill, the superintendent of Catholic schools of the archdiocese, issued a statement in which she declared (with the approval of Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, I am told by a credible source) the following:
The Archdiocese does not prohibit children of same sex parents from attending Catholic schools. We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future.
Since the issue involving St. Paul School in Hingham was brought to our attention on Tuesday of this week, we have met with the pastor and principal to learn more about their decision. Earlier today I contacted the student's parent and expressed my concern for the welfare of her child. I offered to help enroll her child in another Catholic school in the Archdiocese. She was gracious and appreciative of the suggestion and indicated that she would look forward to considering some other Catholic schools that would welcome her child for the next academic year.
The Boston Globe has quoted Cardinal O'Malley, in a letter on behalf of the Catholic Schools Foundation, as saying, "We believe a policy that denies admission to students in such a manner ... is at odds with our values as a Foundation ... and ultimately with Gospel teaching." (The letter came from the Foundation, which the cardinal chairs.) The quote was highlighted in a column entitled "Good call by the archdiocese."
I greatly admire Cardinal O'Malley. To me, he is a wise, generous, and pastoral priest and bishop. So you'll have to take my comments with that in mind. Nonetheless, even if I weren't an admirer, I would admire the archdiocese's decision here.
One oddity, though: the archdiocese seems to be saying that it doesn't have any power to influence the parish, or the pastor, in Hingham. That's odd, to say the least. Why couldn't they have asked the pastor to accept the child into the parish school? If this had been something regarding a liturgical abuse -- that is, something against the official rubrics of the Mass -- I doubt there would have been such leniency. I doubt that the archdiocese would have recommended that a parishioner complaining about a serious liturgical abuse move to another parish. Rather, the archdiocese would have most likely exercised the authority that it has over any of its parishes.
Overall, though, the archdiocese has taken a wise approach to a question that will increasingly face Catholic schools where children come from all sorts of marriages and unions. Does one punish a child for what the child's parents have done? Jesus seemed to have answered that question a long time ago, when he was asked, "Lord, who sinned, this man or his parents, the he was born blind?" (John 9).
"No one sinned," says Jesus.
The archdiocese's decision is not only pastoral, but sensible -- even practical. How can one adequately determine if the parents of a child "respect the beliefs" of the church? Many of the parents of children in parochial schools in this country aren't even Catholic. How many of them are divorced and remarried? How many believe in everything that the church teaches on important matters? How many even know what the church teaches on important matters? Likewise, how many funerals of less-than-devout Catholics are celebrated? How many couples with little interest in the faith are married in Catholic churches?
Singling out children of same-sex couples smacks of targeting one particular group.
The Boston decision stands in contrast to the heated language coming from church leaders on the topic of same-sex marriage. Pope Benedict XVI's comments last week in Fatima, Portugal, in which he stated that abortion and same-sex marriage were "some of today's most insidious and dangerous threats" to the common good seemed discordant.
The equation of abortion, something that is about a threat to life, with same-sex marriage, which, no matter how you look at it, does not mean that anyone is going to die, is bizarre. A good friend of mine, who is gay, recently resigned from his position at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Washington, D.C., where he said, with great dismay, that "abortionsamesexmarriage" had become one polysyllabic word among some of his bosses.
Why has same-sex marriage been equated with abortion? Are they really equivalent "threats" to life? If you're looking for a life issue with stakes as high as abortion, why not something that actually threatens life? Like war? Or the death penalty? Or the kind of poverty that leads to death? Why aren't "abortion and war" the most "insidious and dangerous" threats to the common good? Or "war and the death penalty"? Or "war and poverty?"
The great danger is that this increasingly popular equation will seem to many as having less to do with any moral equivalency and more to do with a simple dislike, or even hatred, of gays and lesbians. And that goes against the Catechism's desire that gays and lesbians be treated with "respect, compassion and sensitivity."
This essay is adapted from a post on "In All Things," which can be found here: http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=2889.
Follow Rev. James Martin, S.J. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JamesMartinSJ