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The School Case in Boston

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Tom Roberts has the report on the main page about the situation in Boston where a student was denied enrollment in a parochial school because his parents are lesbians.

The most important thing about the statement issued by the Archdiocese of Boston was that it focused exclusively on what is best for the child. That is what schools should do, and it is heartening to know that this was the focus of the Archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools, Mary Grassa O’Neil. She did not seek to blame the pastor, she did not castigate the parents, she said what needed to be said: we will help find a good school for this child and our schools are open to all children.

Yes, some look at such instances as an excuse to fight another round in the culture wars. Already some conservative commentators are arguing that the Church must draw the line in the sand and expel the child. But, why should children be expected to fight their parents’ wars? Additionally, by all accounts, the parents in question are not writing letters to the editor of the Globe challenging the Church or protesting outside the chancery. I think it would shock most conservative rabble rousers to know just how homely and traditional many gay and lesbian couples are in making decisions for their children.

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My friend Mark Silk notes how different the response in Boston was from that in Denver a few weeks ago in a similar situation. He suggests Cardinal O’Malley might be “the closest thing to a paladin progressive Catholicism has in the American hierarchy today.” Alas, Cardinal O’Malley is no liberal and he has been forthright about the Church’s defense of traditional marriage. But, he is a pastor, and a pastor knows that his job is to resolve culture wars, not to ignite them, to care about the actual needs of real people, not the ideological banter that characterizes the blogoshpere, and, in this instance, to make a good Catholic education available to anyone who wants it.

The school situation in Boston, of course, has nothing to do with the clergy sex abuse crisis, except in this regard. The people in the Church who shuffled around pedophiles or refused to cooperate with the civil authorities, all did so in the name of some principle, be it the autonomy of the Church or the special paternal relationship between a bishop and his priests or, even, the limitless forgiveness of God. They misapplied these principles to be sure: Yes, God’s mercy is limitless, but that did not mean a bishop should re-assign a pedophile and cover-up his crimes. The most chilling thing about the documents that have come to light is the complete absence of any mention of the victims. All the focus was on the perpetrator. I dare say that if the Church’s leaders had focused on the victims, we never would have had such a mess as we have now. Mutatis mutandi, the same can be said about the different approaches to the issue of the children of same sex parents in Catholics schools coming from Denver and Boston. In Boston, they focus on the kid. In Denver, they focused on culture war. You decide which kind of pastoral approach better models the example of the Good Shepherd.

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July 18-31, 2014

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