In response to the media firestorm over the Archdiocese of Boston contradicting the decision of a local Catholic elementary school to cancel the admission of the child of a same-sex couple, Cardinal Sean O'Malley condemned criticism of the school's priest who made the initial decision and outlined the need for the archdiocese to “formulate policies” with clearer guidelines.
Last week, St. Paul Catholic elementary school in Hingham, Mass. withdrew admission for the upcoming year to the 8-year-old child of a lesbian couple. Principal Cynthia Duggen and the parish's pastor Fr. James Rafferty told one of the women during a conference call that the boy could not attend because the parents' relationship “was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” which state that marriage can only take place between one man and one woman.
However, in a statement that Thursday, Dr. Mary Grassa O'Neill, superintendent of Catholic schools in Boston, countered St. Paul's decision, saying that the “Archdiocese does not prohibit children of same sex parents from attending Catholic schools.”
Dr. O'Neill issued her statement while Cardinal O'Malley was in Fatima, Portugal for the Holy Father's recent papal trip.
On May 19, the Boston cardinal released a statement defending the priest, saying that one “of the very unfortunate results of the public reporting on the issue was undue criticism of Father James Rafferty who is pastor at St. Paul Parish, and who I consider one of our finest pastors.”
“He made a decision about the admission of the child to St. Paul School based on his pastoral concern for the child,” the cardinal added. “I can attest personally that Father Rafferty would never exclude a child to sanction the child’s parents.”
“After consulting with the school principal, exercising his rights as pastor, he made a decision based on an assessment of what he felt would be in the best interests of the child.”
“I have great admiration for Fr. Rafferty; he has my full confidence and support,” the prelate underscored.
Cardinal O'Malley also expressed a desire to “recognize the work of Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, Secretary for Education,” who, in his opinion, “was respectful of all the people involved in this matter and showed leadership in attempting to resolve the matter as was within her responsibilities as Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese.”
“There were no easy decisions made and all the people involved approached this from the same perspective: the pastoral care and best interests of the child,” he noted.
Referring to a similar situation in Boulder, Colorado, where Archbishop Charles Chaput backed a school's decision to rescind admission to two children with lesbian parents, Cardinal O'Malley said that the Archdiocese of Denver “has formulated a policy that calls into question the appropriateness of admitting the children of same-sex couples.”
“It is clear that all of their school policies are intended to foster the welfare of the children and fidelity to the mission of the Church,” he noted, adding that their “positions and rationale must be seriously considered.”
In his statement, Cardinal O'Malley also stressed the need for clearer archdiocesan policies on admittance of children with same-sex parents. “In Boston we are beginning to formulate policies and practices to deal with these complex pastoral matters. In all of our decision making, our first concern is the welfare of the children involved.”
“It is true that we welcome people from all walks of life,” he explained. “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.”
“We need to present the Church’s teachings courageously and yet in a way that is compassionate and persuasive.”
“Going forward,” Cardinal O'Malley concluded, “we will be consulting on these issues with a wide-range of people including the Presbyteral Council and Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. We will work to develop policies and procedures to guide our faithfully carrying on the mission of our Catholic Schools to serve children and to do so with the heart of Christ.”