2 views on excluding lesbians’ son

Archdiocese distances self from school ruling

By Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / May 13, 2010

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The Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday that administrators of a small Catholic elementary school in Hingham were not following archdiocesan policy when they rescinded admission of a prospective student after learning that his parents are lesbians.

Spokesman Terry Donilon said the archdiocese has no prohibition against same-sex couples sending their children to Catholic schools.

“We want kids to come to Catholic schools,’’ he said.

St. Paul Elementary School admitted an 8-year-old boy earlier this year but recently withdrew the acceptance after learning that his parents are lesbians, the archdiocese confirmed yesterday. Donilon said the archdiocese would have no further comment until it had finished reviewing the matter and speaking with all parties involved.

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

The decision incensed state Representative Garrett J. Bradley, a Democrat from Hingham who grew up in St. Paul parish.

“These parents thought enough of St. Paul’s to want to send their child there; St. Paul’s thought enough of their child to admit him. For the school to then discriminate against him and withdraw his acceptance because of his parents’ sexual orientation is not only inappropriate, but mind-blowing,’’ he said in a phone interview last night. “Shame on St. Paul’s, and shame on us as a community if we allow it.’’

Christine Smith, a member of the Hingham School Committee and a St. Paul’s parishioner, said last night that she would have no immediate comment because she did not know enough about the school’s decision.

Although Catholic schools integrate church teachings into their curriculum and ethos, they also accept students of any religious background, as well as children whose parents are divorced, even though the church forbids divorce and remarriage.

Homosexuality has been an issue elsewhere in the Catholic Church recently.

In Boulder, Colo., in March, a Catholic school refused to allow a student in prekindergarten to reenroll after discovering the child’s parents were lesbians. Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput defended the decision, writing in the Denver Catholic Register newspaper that the church does not condemn gays and lesbians or their children, but does define marriage as a heterosexual union. He said families with other views “have other, excellent options for education.’’

Attorney Shawn Gaylord, public policy director for the New York-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, an advocacy group for gay students, said the Massachusetts law barring discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation applies only to public schools.

But that does not mean St. Paul’s made the right decision, said Eliza Byard, executive director of the group.

“There’s one family being singled out when I would venture to guess that there are other families [in the school] living in discord of the [teachings of the] Catholic Church,’’ Byard said.

The Boston Archdiocese has been aggressively recruiting students as it seeks to strengthen the struggling network of Catholic schools. On Tuesday, leaders of the Campaign for Catholic Schools trumpeted a pair of $1 million corporate donations, which brought them closer to their $85 million goal for consolidating and rebuilding schools in Brockton, Gloucester, Dorchester, Mattapan, and South Boston.

The Associated Press, which first reported the story yesterday, said the Hingham student’s parents had planned to send him to third grade in the fall. One of the boy’s mothers, who was granted anonymity because of their concerns that publicity would harm their child, told the AP they knew of the church’s opposition to homosexual relationships but wrote both their names on the admission forms.

“We weren’t hiding,’’ she said.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a Boston-based advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, said that the St. Paul case was not isolated and that she receives three to four calls a year from parents across the country in similar situations.

Duddy-Burke said she was pleased to hear the archdiocese has no official policy excluding children of same-sex couples from Catholic schools, but she would like to see church officials go further and include a nondiscrimination statement that covers sexual orientation in each school’s handbook.

In any case, she said, gay and lesbian parents considering Catholic schools for their children often face a dilemma over whether the merits of the school outweigh the possibility their child may hear messages about the church’s teachings on homosexuality and gay marriage that could be painful.

“It’s a complex situation,’’ she said.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, late editions of this story incorrectly described School Committee member Christine Smith as the chairwoman.

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