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O’Malley post cites ‘good of the child’

Cardinal backs Hingham Catholic school decision, offers to help gay couple

Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s post frustrated gay rights backers. Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s post frustrated gay rights backers.
By Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / May 20, 2010

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Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, commenting for the first time on a Hingham Catholic school’s decision to revoke admission of the 8-year-old son of a lesbian couple, said yesterday that “the good of the child’’ must be the church’s primary concern and recalled that he once invited the daughter of a brothel manager to attend a Catholic school.

“Catholic schools exist for the good of the children, and our admission policies must reflect that,’’ he wrote in a post on his blog. “We have never had categories of people who were excluded.’’

O’Malley’s aides have offered to help find the lesbian couple another local Catholic school in which to enroll their son, and the Catholic Schools Foundation, which O’Malley chairs, has said it will not financially support Catholic schools that “promote an exclusionary admissions policy or practice.’’

But O’Malley’s post on his blog praised the Rev. James Rafferty, the pastor of St. Paul’s Church, saying his decision to exclude the boy was made “based on his pastoral concern for the child.’’

O’Malley also pointed out that the Archdiocese of Denver has questioned admitting children of gay couples to Catholic schools, and said that “their positions and rationale must be seriously considered’’ by the Archdiocese of Boston as it seeks to develop a policy to address this issue.

By offering support for both children in nontraditional families and church officials who have barred those children, O’Malleys post was a disappointment to gay rights advocates and some consolation to conservatives who support Rafferty’s decision to exclude the boy.

“I think it’s . . . not quite the slam-dunk that some of our more liberal Catholic friends thought it would be,’’ said C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. Doyle had urged the archdiocese to support Rafferty and had questioned why couples whose lives are at odds with church teaching would want to send their children to Catholic school.

Marianne Duddy-Burke — executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics — said O’Malley’s post was disheartening.

“In every case where doctrine comes up against pastoral care, concerns about pastoral care lose out in the hierarchy’s hands,’’ she said. “It’s so sad.’’

But the Rev. James Martin — a Jesuit priest and culture editor of America magazine, a national Catholic weekly — said the cardinal’s statement is a diplomatic effort to convey an understanding of the “complexities of the human condition’’ and compassion for the family involved, without offending other church leaders.

“Like a good Christian, he is trying to respect the decisions of the Archdiocese of Denver, and, like a good bishop, he is supporting his priest,’’ Martin said. “At the same time, he is also trying to support the parents and the child as far as he can.’’

In his blog post yesterday, O’Malley recalled that as a young bishop in the West Indies, he celebrated a memorial Mass for a madam who had been murdered by her lover. When informed that her child, “a lovely little girl,’’ was not attending public school because other children were mean to her, O’Malley wrote, “I told her grandmother, ‘Take her to the Catholic school tomorrow.’ ’’

O’Malley said there were permissible reasons — behavioral problems, for example — for keeping a child from Catholic school, but “the good of the child must always be our primary concern.’’

The cardinal lamented that the Hingham controversy had provoked criticism of Rafferty, whom O’Malley called “one of our finest pastors.’’ He said the priest had his full support.

As the archdiocese prepares a policy for all its schools to follow, O’Malley said, it will have to grapple with “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 the teachings of the church are not compromised?’’

The Catholic Church teaches that the practice of homosexuality is immoral, but that gay people should be treated kindly and provided with pastoral care.

“It is true that we welcome people from all walks of life,’’ he wrote. “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.’’

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lwangsness@globe.com.

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