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Edward Peters



In Light of the Law: A Canon Lawyer's Blog



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Jimmy Akin


Domenico Bettinelli, Jr.


Mark Brumley

Canon Law Articles & Reviews


Admitting children of same-sex couples to Catholic elementary schools:

thinking beyond the clichés


By Dr. Edward Peters



Original News Article


6 January 2004 EWTNews Brief 52609




COSTA MESA, CALIF., USA, Jan. 06, 2005 (CNA) - Parents in the Diocese of Orange County have threatened to pull their children from a Catholic school and to seek the Vatican’s intervention after school officials have refused to meet their demands.


Some parents have accused the diocese of violating Church teaching by allowing a homosexual couple to enroll their two children in a Catholic school. They say the boys’ attendance in the kindergarten of St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa is part of the homosexual community’s efforts to change the Church, reported the Los Angeles Times.


The group demanded that the school only accept children of families that follow Catholic teachings. But school officials rejected the demand. Superintendent Fr. Gerald M. Horan said the parents’ demand is a “slippery slope” that would lead to the expulsion and ban of children whose parents divorced, used birth control or married outside the Church, he said.


Catholic League president William Donohue agreed with Fr. Horan, adding that the most important element to consider is the spiritual well-being of the children in question. “On a prudential level, it makes no sense to single out kids for retribution whose parents are gay,” said Donohue. “What should be done about kids who were born out-of-wedlock? Should we expel kids whose parents are cohabiting or are known adulterers?


“Priests have often been asked by morally delinquent parents to baptize their children, and in most instances the priests have rightfully obliged,” he continued. “Now just as the priest is in no way condoning the moral delinquency of the parents, school officials at St. John the Baptist are in no way condoning the lifestyle of the gay parents. And in both cases, the spiritual well-being of the kids is, or should be, the paramount concern.”




Opinion / Analysis


As the moral fabric of Western society continues to unravel, novel problems such as those facing parents, teachers, and Church officials in the Diocese of Orange—namely, how Catholic schools should handle requests to admit children of same-sex couples—will continue to arise. Moreover, as the pace of social disintegration quickens, these new problems will be both more numerous and more complex. Just ten years ago, did parents paying for their children to attend a Catholic kindergarten really have to worry about explaining (assuming it is explainable) to their own youngsters why some of their classmates have two mommies or two daddies?


From the outset, let's recognize that neither the opposition parents nor school officials wanted this conflict to arise. Who needs another fight these days? But arise it has, and it must be considered carefully. I do not know what the best response to this latest manifestation of social disorientation should be but, knowing of the situation only what the above article tells us, I doubt that the best answer has been hit upon yet by either side in this debate.


The solution proposed by the “anti-admission parents” (basically, that Catholic schools should admit only children from families that live in accord with Church teaching) is, at first glance certainly, too vague to be enforced and too severe if it could be enforced. The Church is full of sinners, and Fr. Gerald Horan is right to fear stepping onto such slippery slopes. But that does not mean that “pro-admission” voices like his and William Donohue’s are correct in their reasoning; indeed, I think some of their rhetoric introduces its own problems and makes slippery slope concessions that might be very difficult to take back in other cases.


Fr. Horan, for example, claims that barring children of homosexual parents from Catholic schools would lead to banning children whose parents are divorced, use birth control, or are married outside the Church. Oh, really?


Civil divorce is a bane built largely on sin, but divorced persons, as such, are not barred from any participation in Catholic life whatsoever. (Are there still Catholics in positions of influence who don't know this?) Why, then, use the specter of expelling children whose parents are simply divorced as an example of frightful consequences, unless one has a taste for red herring?


Contraception, too, is a very serious matter, but it is addressed by moral and pastoral theology, not by canon law and ecclesiastical governance. Thus parental contraception, though objectively sinful, provides no basis for consequences upon children in the external forum. (I’m assuming that contracepting parents don’t drop their kids off at Catholic school in sports cars blazoned with bumpers stickers proclaiming “Contracepting and Proud!”). Ironically, the acceptance of contraception by large numbers of Catholic laity, to say nothing of overwhelming numbers of non-Catholics, is the tap root for the gross caricature of marriage that same-sex weddings represent. On that, read experts such as Pope Paul VI or Dr. Janet Smith.


But, as for admitting into Catholic schools the children of those who are married outside the Church (or, while we’re at it, of couples simply cohabiting), that’s a somewhat different matter. Maybe it is time to reconsider the practice of tacit tolerance that Catholic institutions have shown on this point over the years, at least where such tolerance is being used as a wedge to widen the sore gap between Catholic principles and Catholic life in the crucial context of Catholic education. Homosexual behavior is objectively more disordered than modernity's version of concubinage, but decades of accommodating the latter have dulled our senses to its intrinsic gravity, leaving us in a weaker position to uphold marriage as Christ and His Church proclaim it.


Horan’s remarks are enlarged by Mr. Donohue. Leaving aside his prejudicial use of the word “retribution” (who wants to be in favor of that?), Donohue seems to have overlooked that the Church herself distinguishes between sinful actions, even grave ones, and sinful lifestyles. Sinful actions are usually treated in sacramental confession upon showing sorrow for the deed and exhibiting a firm purpose of amendment; sinful lifestyles, however, precisely because of their public nature and their persistent and defiant attitudes, can indeed provoke public consequences.


Moreover, surely Donohue acknowledges that Catholic schools are committed to a holistic educational approach, believing as they do that that the entire environment of a religious school contributes to the proper formation of the child. Are we suddenly to hold that, when faced with this prong of the homosexual agenda, the Church’s interest in defending the free exercise of religion within her own schools falters outside the catechism class? Are Catholic institutions so powerless over their own governance policies that surely any restriction they might wish to establish in this matter will “make no sense”? Donohue correctly points out that the children of homosexual couples have real rights, but then, do not also the children of families recognized by Christian (nay, every religious) tradition? How is it that the concerns of traditional parents are so obviously and completely wrong while those of same-sex couples are so obviously and completely right?


As for Donohue’s worry about what should be done with kids born out of wedlock, the answer is simple: nothing, if only because such a condition, of itself, says nothing about the lifestyle of the parents today. Donohue asks further, should we expel children whose parents are cohabiting? But, as I suggested above, while there might come a time when school practices on this point will need to be rethought, for now, the situation in Orange is more about admitting kids into elementary schools rather than expelling ones already enrolled. In other words, the problem before us is complex enough; let’s not complicate it prematurely.


Finally, Donohue’s baptism analogy is quite weak. For starters, the “baptize-anybody-who-asks” days are drawing to a close. Deo gratias. Such a practice is clearly at odds with the 1983 Code of Canon Law, requiring, as it does for the licit baptism of a child, a “founded hope” that the child will actually be raised Catholic (see 1983 CIC 868, and its predecessor 1917 CIC 750 suggesting the same point). Slothful clerical attitudes toward baptism and the demands of Christian living have simply enabled negligent pastors to pass along problems (invariably aggravated over time) to more conscientious persons, instead of dealing with them from the outset--and we all know where that sorry mindset has gotten us in other areas of Church life. In any case, it escapes me how Christ’s mandate to baptize all nations (Mt 28:19) and the unparalleled eschatological consequences of the sacrament of baptism are so easily parleyed into an admissions requirement for Catholic grade schools.


What I am suggesting is simply this: The issues raised by admitting into Catholic grade schools children from same-sex households are much deeper than implied by the statements offered so far in favor of or in opposition to such admission. Catholic schools are dogged by the impression that they are basically refuges for the rich fleeing failed public education. I think that view is unfair, but when parental contempt for the fundamental goals of Catholic education is so flagrant, how do Church officials escape the charge that one’s willingness to pay tuition is more important than one’s own willingness to live by and cooperate in the transmission of the vital values being taught? Certainly a Catholic child’s right to a Catholic education is of great importance (1983 CIC 217, 229, 793-795). But since when does this particular right become the prime directive before which all other considerations yield (1983 CIC 223)?


I urge that much more consideration be given to all of the demands that are made on students, parents, teachers, and administrators as the legitimate consequences of a Catholic school's very identity. +++


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