THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Yvonne Abraham

Good call by archdiocese

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / May 16, 2010

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Here’s a sentence I wasn’t expecting to write: The Archdiocese of Boston did something exactly right last week.

After a Hingham Catholic school revoked its acceptance of an 8-year-old because his parents are lesbians, the Catholic Schools Foundation, chaired by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, sent out a gorgeous letter making it clear that that kind of cruelty is not what the church is about.

“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,’’ it read. The archdiocese will formalize an inclusive policy in coming weeks.

This is a hallelujah moment, not just for gay and lesbian parents who send their kids to Catholic schools, but also for what it says about the local leaders of the church, and their determination to practice the kind of compassionate acceptance for which the man who started it all — that would be Jesus Christ — was pretty well known.

That’s not the no-brainer it seems. When a Catholic school rejected the children of a lesbian couple in Colorado earlier this year, the archbishop of Denver leapt to the school’s defense. He conceded his schools educate other kids whose parents don’t share the beliefs of the church, including non-Catholics. But he singled out gay parents for offering “a serious counter-witness’’ to Catholic teachings.

“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,’’ Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote.

Bless the Boston Archdiocese for seeing the wrong-headedness and moral timidity of that approach.

And for being practical enough to understand that if you exclude the children of some parents who depart from Catholic orthodoxy, you run the risk of excluding many more — those with Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and non-religious parents, who make up 16 percent of students, and those whose parents are divorced, using birth control, or in favor of abortion rights or the death penalty.

Those men and women send their kids to Catholic schools for the same reasons gay and lesbian parents do: to give them a solid education, discipline, and good values.

Usually, they find warm welcomes. In a meeting with administrators at her local Catholic elementary school, Marianne Duddy-Burke made it clear she and her partner were lesbians. They assured her the main message of the school’s religious instruction was God’s love. She knew Emily might hear about the church’s opposition to gay marriage in school when she got older, but that would not exactly be news to her.

As executive director of DignityUSA, a Boston-based advocacy group for gay Catholics, Duddy-Burke hears from plenty of gay and lesbian parents who have had similar positive experiences.

But she also gets several calls each year from parents who run into trouble — not with the schools, but with other parents.

“Usually, somebody raises an issue with the priest,’’ she said. “ ‘Why is this gay or lesbian couple allowed to be in this school? If you don’t act on this, I’ll take it to the bishop.’ Then the parents are called in by the principal or the pastor and they unenroll the child.’’

She took Emily out of her Catholic school after a year, worrying that her prominent role in the gay rights cause would put her child at the center of just such a scenario.

The archdiocese has now made that far less likely.

Some Catholics will see this as a bad thing, believing the church is weakened when it embraces those who depart from its orthodoxy.

But millions disagree with some church teachings and still love being Catholic. And their ranks are swelling.

Welcoming them is the only way the church will survive.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.

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