It’s an inflammatory decision, for sure. In his weekly column, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver reaffirmed the Diocesan decision not to allow a lesbian couple to re-enroll their two children in a parish school. (One of the children would be in kindergarten, the other in preschool, at Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder.) While he acknowledged the “human side of a painful situation,” the Archbishop stated that letting the children attend would compromise the school’s mission and its ability to offer coherent moral teaching; it would create untenable stress for the children, the lesbian couple, the staff, and parents of other students as well.
Was it the right decision? His critics include Catholic parents plus the expected contingent of gay rights supporters. They’ve not been kind, hurling harsh accusations towards the Archbishop and the Church in general. Some see the decision as hypocritical, given the sexual disorder in the Church’s own clerical households. Others question how the Diocese can distinguish between parents who disregard Church teachings on contraception and divorce (and whose children remain enrolled) and a lesbian couple in violation of Church teachings on chastity and marriage (whose children were rejected for admission). They frame the issue as one of sexual privacy, casting the specter of sexual inquisitions before parents can enroll their children in Catholic school. (One cynic mocked Archbishop Chaput’s decision saying, “I think in the interest of consistency, they should have someone stationed at the church doors doing cavity checks to determine if contraceptive devices are being used by the parents.” And many, many goodhearted people worry that the “sins of the parents” are being visited upon the children, inflicting a “punishment” that the children do not deserve.
While my heart goes out to the children, the lesbian partners, not Archbishop Chaput, have created this difficulty. The Archbishop notes that the school’s Catholic mission, which it shares with parents, is to provide “an education shaped by Catholic faith and moral formation.” He points out that there’s nothing ambiguous about the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality: “[S]exual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong… marriage is a sacramental covenant [that] 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 Catechism of the Catholic Church gets more specific: sexual expression and marriage depend on “physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity.” Citing Scripture and tradition, the Church insists that, “‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.…Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
The lesbian couple’s mere presence in the school community creates ambiguity about moral truth and risks silencing the Church’s voice—within that community–on marriage and sexuality. The lesbians expect to be treated just like the married parents of other children–showing up together at school assemblies, helping on the lunch line, or visiting the classroom, a situation sure to create confusion among other children. What should a teacher say when a student asks why the lesbians’ child has two mommies but everyone else has only one? No one wants to offend the twosome or hurt their feelings or the children’s. And teachers and parents certainly don’t want to explain lesbian coupling before they have to, either. Yet saying nothing and pretending that this couple is just like any other set of parents sends an erroneous message to the entire school community: it suggests that their sexual relationship is normal, moral, and equivalent to marriage. The Church teaches otherwise.
A silent Church is a Church unfaithful to its mission. School officials and the Archbishop acknowledge the problem, saying that kind-hearted teachers will not feel free to teach the truth if they “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.” Archbishop Chaput’s gutsy decision to refuse enrollment to the children takes the muzzle off his teachers and “protect[s] all parties involved, including the children of homosexual couples and the couples themselves.”
What about the suggestion that gay couples are singled out for exclusion while contracepting or divorced couples are not? Here’s the difference as I see it. It’s likely that other parents at the school have failed to live up to their marriage vows (and the Church’s teachings) in some way or another. They may be divorced and remarried outside the Church, contracepting or sterilized, perusing pornography or having an affair. And certainly most of them—all of us in fact–are at times self-centered, unforgiving, unkind, lazy or irresponsible in our family duties. We can fail to live the truth of marriage in endless ways. But however much we fall short, we are still attempting to live marriage as the Church understands it. Not so with the lesbian couple. Gay sexual relationships, lived publicly and asserting a moral equivalence with marriage, turn the truth about marriage on its head. They attempt to rebrand a disordered sexual relationship as “marriage” and themselves as otherwise-typical parents. As such, they are a “serious counter-witness” to the Church’s mission to educate in light of the truths of Catholic faith and morality.
Archbishop Chaput was right. Enrolling the children elsewhere is the best solution for all concerned.