16 March 2010

Colorado Catholic School Controversy? No Divide of Catholic Education and Catholicism

15 MARCH 2010. A firestorm of controversy in the media has erupted form the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic elementary school in Boulder, Colorado. Reportedly, the school has asked a lesbian "couple" to take the two girls they are raising out of the school. Thinking this is a highly sensitive pastoral and personal issue for the two women involved and, most importantly, the two children, I have not given this particular situation much, if any, attention. However, that changed this evening when I noted on Father Z's blog that the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) had run an extensive story on the two women and their situation with the children and the school. Having read the NCR article and other resources, including the statement of Archbishop Chaput, it appears that there are several points that others with thoughts on this, excluding Archbishop Chaput (I will explain his exclusion later in the post), have not thus far articulated.

First, the older of the women's children (each of the women is the mother of one of the two children) was seeking enrollment into Kindergarten from the Pre-K program. Pre-K at Catholic schools is a wonderful curriculum where the basics of the faith are introduced, but the real educational work of Catholic formation begins in Kindergarten. Knowing that, it is not a surprise that this issue for these two women has manifested at this time. (Incidentally, the school knows this too, and should have forewarned these women that this would happen. If the administrators at the school did not anticipate this problem, I would be shocked and quite saddened.)

Second, the two women are leading a life that is in direct opposition to Catholic teaching on a number of fronts. The two women identify themselves as a lesbian couple, so there is no doubt that they are engaged in a conjugal relationship that is against the teachings of the Church and the natural law. It is also reported that the two women were impregnated through artificial insemination, which is also against the natural law and the teachings of the Church; as well, by that medical practice the two women were at least knowingly complicit in a procedure that systematically destroys innocent human life. And, the two women are raising their daughters in a household that is contributing to the peril of their souls by the example set for the children by each of their mother's lifestyles, which is, in itself, scandalous.

Third, the purpose of Catholic teaching is to instill a deep love for Christ in the students and a deep love for the teachings of the Church, the bride of Christ. All other priorities aside, this is the point of Catholic education. Academics, sports, standardized test scores, scholarship opportunities, and further educational placement are all secondary to this primary purpose. As such, Catholic education is necessarily a partnership between the school and the parents. ( I would venture that there have no doubt been situations in other schools where a heterosexual parent's lifestyle or actions were so manifestly contrary to Catholic teaching that the school requested the children be removed to avoid scandal and harm.) There are certainly those everyday regretable situations where parents do not live the faith in their own homes, so the teachings of the faith are not further emphasized and modeled for children outside of the classroom. This, however, should be the exception. Even non-Catholic and non-Christian, parents who send their children to a Catholic school must be willing to partner with the school to live and emphasize the teachings of the Church communicated through religious education in the school.

So, fourth, a parent or guardian that obstinately lives a life that cannot be reconciled to the teachings of Christ and His Church cannot be a faithful partner with the school. The entire purpose of Catholic education is undermined, and not just for the particular child of the obstinate parent(s). Indeed, as all sin is a defacement of the community, the obstinate parent(s) present a grave danger of scandal for the other children and parents at the school. Rooted in the Word of God and the teachings of the Church, Catholic education, as an outgrowth of the Church's ministry in the world, must not promote scandal nor permit scandal to be promoted within it walls.

No matter how our hearts go out to the two little girls involved in the Boulder, Colorado situation, the decision there to not permit the children to continue to Kindergarten is the right one.

Of course, I am only a lay person who can express an opinion as a member of the faithful. I do not have, nor does NCR or any person that is not ordained a bishop, the teaching authority of the Church and the grave and serious duty to exercise that teaching authority in fidelity with the Word. For Boulder, Colorado, that teaching authority resides in Archbishop Chaput, who has spoken eloquently and pastorally on this matter:
The Church never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education.  But the Church can’t change her moral beliefs without undermining her mission and failing to serve the many families who believe in that mission.  If Catholics take their faith seriously, they naturally follow the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals; otherwise they take themselves outside the believing community.

The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are “bad,” or that their children are less loved by God.  Quite the opposite.  But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman.  These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society.  The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The policies of our Catholic school system exist to protect all parties involved, including the children of homosexual couples and the couples themselves.  Our schools are meant to be “partners in faith” with parents.  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.  It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.

Most parents who send their children to Catholic schools want an environment where the Catholic faith is fully taught and practiced.  That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents.  That isn’t fair to anyone—including the wider school community.  Persons who have an understanding of marriage and family life sharply different from Catholic belief are often people of sincerity and good will.  They have other, excellent options for education and should see in them the better course for their children.
What the two women in this situation have done is taken themselves outside of the community of believers by their many actions and their lifestyle that is manifestly contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Church. But, in their obstinance, they want themselves and their actions to be accepted as a part of the faith community, despite their outward opposition to that same community. Indeed, the women call themselves "practicing Catholics" and they claim: "Our kids go to Sunday school." (This quote, however, raises a question in my mind of how engaged in the Church community the two women actually are. Have you ever seen a Catholic Church that offers "Sunday school?") But, a practicing Catholic is one that, despite sin, tries to live a Christian life in obedience to the Church and actively participates in the Sacraments. Given the manifest opposition of the women's lifestyle to Christ and the Church's teaching, it seems apparent that the two do not truly understand Catholic teaching, or they have chosen to ignore it.

A witness to this lack of understanding or ignorance comes at the end of the NCR article. The article reports that the two women are working on a press release, but wanted NCR to go ahead and report their closing sentence: "We will continue to raise our Children with strong Catholic values and hold faith that through our actions, we are doing our part to create a more loving, inclusive world." The problem here is clear. "[S]trong Catholic values" obviously means something to these women that differs from the teachings of the Church.

Not so! At the same time, however, it appears the women are saying they want to raise their children in the same cultural context in which they were raised (i.e., with an apparent veneer of Catholicism, throw in a few sacramentals and maybe the occasional formulaic prayer for good measure, there it is - strong Catholic values (which are opposed, incidentally, to the central teachings of the Church)), but they also want to be free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong - a part of the community, but outside the community all at once. (In fact, the sentence appears to have the audacity to condemn the teachings of the Church as failing in the contemporary all-important virtue of inclusiveness.) This single sentence is even more disparate from the teachings of the Church because the women go on to proclaim their faith in themselves, and their actions, to "create" a world that is more akin to their views. The Church's faith is in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That faith is rooted in Scripture and the teachings that come to us from more than two thousand years of tradition - undivided and apostolic in its proclamation of the truth. Faith in oneself, expressed alone, to "create" the world anew or remake the world is not the Truth of the Gospel. Such a relativistic view of right and wrong is exactly the tyranny of relativism that our Holy Father has repeatedly warned against. Obedience, humility, honesty, contriteness of spirit are the teachings of Christ.

Having said all of this, though, these two women are not struggling with anything that is different from the burden that each of the faithful also struggles with: that is, sin. All of us are sinners. That is the beauty and grandeur of the gift of salvation that we are each offered by Christ. None of us deserves the gift because of our own merit, but because we are the loved creation of God, and because God has been so generous to offer his own Son for our redemption, we are each given the path to live an eternal life in the splendor of the Truth.

I pray for these two women and for their children: may the light of the Holy Spirit dawn upon them and may they see a true path to faithfulness with the community of believers who will welcome them with an authentic love for Christ, as He loved us. May the Mother of God intercede for these poor souls. I commend to Her intercession the protection of the souls of the two children involved and ask that her assistance and protection will never leave them. I also pray for the school involved, the priests, the administrators, the school community and Archbishop Chaput: God bless them and strengthen each in their ministry and mission to promote the teachings of Christ in this age.

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