On the Hingham school situation

As a young bishop in the West Indies I once celebrated a memorial Mass for a local “madame” who ran a brothel near my Cathedral. It was said she smuggled women in from other islands in oil barrels for her business. Some women suffocated in the crossing. She herself was murdered by her lover.

At the Mass I met the woman’s daughter, a lovely little girl. I asked her what grade she was in. She replied that she didn’t go to school. I sent a stern glance to her grandmother, who said: “Her name is the same as that of the brothel. The other children were so cruel to her, she left the public school.” I told her grandmother, “Take her to the Catholic school tomorrow.”

Catholic schools exist for the good of the children and our admission standards must reflect that. We have never had categories of people who were excluded. We have often given preference to children from a parish where a school is located, siblings of children already enrolled at the school or Catholic children from nearby parishes. Sometimes we might not be able to accept children, because of behavioral problems or other circumstances that would be disruptive to a school community. While there are legitimate reasons that might lead to a decision not to admit a child, I believe all would agree that the good of the child must always be our primary concern.

As you might know, St. Paul School in Hingham has been at the center of a matter that was widely reported on recently, involving a child of same sex parents who wanted their child to attend the school. 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. 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 interest of the child. I have great admiration for Fr. Rafferty; he has my full confidence and support.

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. With that in mind, the essence of what we are looking at is the question of how do we make Catholic schools available to children who come from diverse, often unconventional households, while ensuring the moral theology and teachings of the Church are not compromised? It is true that we welcome people from all walks of life. 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.

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. Their positions and rationale must be seriously considered.

I want to also recognize the work of Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, Secretary for Education. She 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.

Going forward, 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.

52 thoughts on “On the Hingham school situation”

  1. Cardinal Sean,
    I am a freshman at BC High and I’m not sure how I feel about the Hingham School situation. I can understand where this pastor must have been coming from, but I don’t know why the school would totally reject the child’s application. It seems to me that the idea of a Catholic school (being from one myself) is to be open to all people. Having parents in a same sex relationship doesn’t affect the child and shouldn’t affect his right to a Catholic education. Maybe they should have given him a chance and seen what had happened and then assess the situation from there. But I don’t think they should have blatantly refused his application; the church probably lost a potential member from this child in this episode.
    Matt Luongo

  2. When I was a student at a Catholic university, there was uproar because the administration chose to bar a film director to come speak to the media studies department because he had in the past used his own money to fund abortions, and continued to give regularly to Planned Parenthood. This tore the campus in half. Half of the students, myself included, stood behind the President and adminstrators because of the Church’s stance on abortion, and half of the students decided they would write to the President, administration, and the USCCB, if need be, to get the decision reversed. They did not see how his speaking would (negatively) affect the university.

    I engaged in many discussions with people on both sides of the issue. What it comes down to, and what the opposition could not argue against, was the essence of the institution–a Roman Catholic university. Students on campus, whether Catholic or not, or even lapsed catholic, by signing their name and agreeing to attend that university, tacitly, inheretly, and literally agreed to follow all the the Church upholds and teaches…even if they personally disagree.

    The Catholic Church and Her subordinate institutions should not have to change or tailor their beliefs and teachings because non-catholics or lapsed catholics CHOSE OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL AND VOLITION, to attend that University, school, et al.

    That said, will certainly be things that the Catholic Church, University, Institution say and do that goes against the personal beliefs of the few that chose to go there.

    Do you think that an Islamic school or institution would change or water down some tennant they believed because someone not of their faith chose to attend their institution? Of course not. That dissenter would be told, “you chose to come here.”

    Yes, the welfare of the child must be taken into account. It should be first and foremost. But like a few other posters already said, the first step to that welfare should be made by the parents, be they two women, two men, or an husband and wife, at home.

    This couple in Hingham has every right to send their child to the St. Paul’s school. Their son has every right to attend. But in turn, St. Paul’s school has every right–nay, has a mandate and a duty, to teach what the Catholic Church believes.

    If the two mommies don’t want their son hearing that homosexuality is a sin, then they should take the proactive step to place their child elsewhere. If they still choose to send their child to a Catholic institution, then they have forfeited the right to make any complaints about any teaching or practice that the school and by extent, Catholic Church says and does. Let him go to the Catholic school, but when homosexuality comes up…and it will come up, don’t dance around the issue. His parents (should already) know what they signed on for, and by persisting that the Archdiocese help them find a new school, be okay with all that that entails.

    Thank you kindly for your time.

  3. Wow. What appears to be as a complex issue as any that I can personally remember can be summed up in a matter of a few words.
    “Hot or cold I can take but luke warmness I will vomit from my mouth.” Not my words and I do not know the exact verse and chapter where this is written in Holy Writ. However, it applies here.
    Fr. Rafferty would have been wrong if he favored in the position of the boy’s parents. He realizes he would have had a “Catch 22” on his hands if he allowed this child to be indoctrinated in Catholic teaching during the day and then witness a complete turn around at night. As the child grows, he will see for himself that something is not right here.
    Some of my best friends have embraced this lifestyle. Although as a practicing Catholic who attends Holy Cross Cathedral, I cannot endorse it. I pray for them and I would welcome them into my home as Christ welcomed the Magdeline.
    Cardinal Sean must continue not being lukewarm. Stand steadfast in the teachings of Holy Mother the Church. Remember. It was Adam & Eve and not Adam & Steve.

  4. Dear Cardinal Sean
    I will pray for you and the 8 year old.
    I thank God I am not in either position. The reasons given on both sides are understandable and only God knows what is best.

  5. I don’t understand why everyone is coming down againt the church for not being tolerant and no one says anything about the parents. Why would parents want to put their child in a school that teaches the opposite of what they believe and live. What happens when the children start studying the bible and learn about marriage being between one man and one woman, and what God has to say about homosexuality. How confused is that child going to be and how will the other children respond. I see the writing on the wall – the school will be taken to court for being intolerant and forced to stop this kind of teaching, which is the foundation of their faith.

    I’m not even Catholic, but when I heard this story on the news and heard the thoughtful response of Fr. Rafferty, I understood what he was saying and agreed with it.

  6. Catholic school is a “total package.” It’s foolish to speak about “the good of the child” as if the child is an isolated entity. Catholic schools heavily involve parents in all their activities. and how could a lesbian couple not disrupt the entire school community everytime they showed up or volunteered for an event. Knowing that they do not support the Catholic church’s teaching about marriage, why would they want to expose their child to that environment? In some ways, I agree with the blogger who suggested that this is a subtle or not so subtle way to begin wearing away the Church’s teaching because eventually, for the sake of “tolerance, ” no one would be able to teach that homosexual activity is wrong, and then the gay culture, which already owns the public school curriculum, would have the Catholic school curriculum as well.

  7. Why would the parents do this to their child? Why would the parents, who chose their current lifestyle, opt to place their child in an environment that teaches this sort of lifestyle is immoral? As for the “welfare” of the child – what would happen to this child, being brought up by same sex parents, when this child is taught a moral code, if you will, which conflicts with this child’s own life and environment?

    Personally, this smells like a set-up to me. A same-sex couple opts to send their child to a Catholic school. The couple obviously knows Catholic teaching does not support their lifestyle choice – it’ not a secret, the Catholic school foreseeably denies the child’s admission, the same-sex couple runs to the media to make a stink about the whole ordeal – the Catholic Church is demonized by the press.

    The Church will live on, the parents will continue with their lives, so who suffers most of all? The child, who is now rejected by the school, will be raised to believe that Catholics and the Church are evil bigots and this child will grow up as an atheist, at best as an agnostic, anti-religious, anti-Catholic zealot.

    These people are so predictable. It’s getting old. Thanks be to God for Fr. Rafferty – if you had accepted this child, you may have created a worse situation for this child due to the internal conflict the child may experience from the teachings of the child’s parents and the teachings of the Church.

    The Catholic Church is universal, meaning that anyone can come forward to accept Its teachings, however, “universal” does not mean the Church must please everyone. Stand on your principles. Thanks be to God for Fr. Rafferty.

  8. Cardinal Sean, Your letter of Palanca is proudly hung on the wall of the Catholic Chaplain’s office (MCI Norfolk)for all to see. I was there on Thursday helping to prepare the men who will be confirmed by you on June 21. There will be 10 men receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. Each of them has been drawn back to the Catholic faith/church by the actions of other inmates who have transformed their lives, much like St. Paul, and are leaders in the Catholic community within the walls of prison. I look forward to presenting these men to you for Confirmation. Cursillo is one of many programs that has brought about great conversions among the men in MCI Norfolk. When you meet these 10 men and their sponsors I know you will be as proud of them as I am!

  9. Colleen, Lee, Sue, Rita and Cathyf,

    You first 3 have attested to how difficult it is for the children of divorced parents to hear the truth about church teachings. I understand that. You latter two write that this gay couple should “challenege another faith” (Rita) and that a Catholic school should not “stop being Catholic for you or for your daughter.” (Cathyf). I understand the reasonableness of those statements.

    But if the argument to keep this little boy out of St. Paul’s is to protect him from the difficult truth about the church’s teachings on marriage then can I assume that you ALL also oppose admission for the children of divorced persons?

    Or should there be a separate set of rules for the children of gay people?

    Thank you,


  10. Your Eminence: I don’t envy the position in which you have been placed, especially when the pastoral decision making required occurs under a media spotlight. Yet, I am glad to be able to read your analysis and post a comment in response.

    I am from Canada, the Province of Ontario, where we have a publicly funded Catholic school system. I would suggest that you contact some of your brother bishops in Ontario as they grapple with “The Inclusiveness and Education Equity Strategy” recently introduced by the provincial Ministry of Education. It attempts to create a gay rights friendly curriculum throughout all Ontario schools, including the Catholic ones. While the bishops have been somewhat successful in asserting the constitutional rights of the Catholic community to operate a Catholic system, the provincial strategy requires a whole host of measures and programs be met and put in place between 2010 and 2014. For example, the province favors establishing social groups within schools where students with same sex interests can gather. Some of these groups already operate within Catholic schools in Ontario. Are such groups in the best interests of these students? The provincial Ministry of Education certainly seems to think so, as do some Catholic educators.

    My question is this: if “best interests of the child” is what must prevail, how do we define those interests and what are the limits of those interests?

    The provincial strategy attempted to go so far as to introduce the notion of “sexual orientation” into the health and physical education program at the grade 3 level. In response to considerable protest, the Premier of Ontario sent the health and phys. ed. curriculum back to the drawing board; nevertheless, the revised provincial curriculum in all other areas (math, language arts, music, etc…), all of which is subject to the overarching goals of the Inclusiveness and Education Equity Strategy, is being rolled out this September across Ontario.

  11. So much has been in the news lately about bullying and its devastating consequences. I believe this situation provides an opportunity to go beyond the Catholic Church teachings re homosexual, divorced-remarried without annulment, etc., couples. This situation provides an opportunity for all Catholic schools not only to teach The Golden Rule, but also to live by it. How this 8-year old boy and his parents are treated by his teachers, fellow students, and everyone in the school/parish community will say a great deal about the values espoused by the Catholic Church. I hope that this will be a moment of grace for all.

  12. Dearest Cardinal O’Malley,

    My prayers are with you in this teaching moment God gifted you with. This is such an opportunity to teach true love that the students, parents and teachers will not forget. Your charity towards Fr. Rafferty and this innocent child and the way you proceed to present this will demand careful guidelines. Making sure the staff and other students are counseled to include and respect this child without agreeing with his/her parents’ lifestyle. Talking with his same sex parents so they realize you love and welcome them, but won’t tolerate agenda pushing, etc. Love will win them back. God chose you and you are a gift to the Church. Thanks for all you do.

  13. There is a difference between those living in a homosexual relationship and divorced and remarried parents. Both are breaking the commandments, but the heterosexual, divorced/remarried parents can have their marriage convalidated if they seek an annulment. There is no way to “regularize” or convalidate a homosexual living arrangement.

  14. I appreciate the challenge this situation presents to the School, Church and Father Rafferty. Nevertheless, a fundamental value of the School and Church is “welcome all.” It is on the School’s homepage.Exclusion of this child violates that basic tenant. What do we tell children of divorced parents who attend catholic school? What about those children whose parents support the death penalty or birth control?

    If we don’t “welcome all” regardless of circumstances who do we exclude?

  15. People are fooling themselves if they think that same-sex relationships are some unique challenge that the Catholic schools face. Besides the divorced and remarried parents, we’ve got the never-married parents. We’ve got the parents who have cycled through multiple live-in relationships, often with live-ins who have children, and the kids are expected to form and then dissolve “sibling” and “step-parent” relationships for the convenience of the adults over and over. Children of single moms with sperm donors. Children whose parents are alcoholics, drug addicts, drug dealers(!) My Catholic high school, just like a lot of Catholic churches and schools, was built with a not-insignificant amount of mafia money. (One of the math teachers back when I was a student there is the daughter of a somewhat famous, at least in Chicago, mafioso. She is the one who pointed out that a lot of the rich donors to the Church were criminals.)

    As I told the coworker (whose daughter was conceived via sperm donor) that very much wanted to send her daughter to Catholic school when she got to be school aged, “you’ve got to realize that it’s a Catholic school, and they are not going to stop being Catholic for you or for your daughter.”

    If the mother of the child at St. Paul’s expected somehow that the school would change, water down, or avoid teaching that homosexuality is wrong then they were headed for some pretty ugly conflict, and the pastor made the right decision that the child would be the one most harmed by the windmill-tilting. That the parents chose to fight this out in the newspapers is probably a bad sign — not the actions of people who will manage to finesse the problems with discretion, respect for the Church’s teachings and for the other parents and children in the school.

  16. Thanks be to God for Cardinal’s support of his priest. I did not understand by what authority the superintendent could countermand the decision of the priest, and actually still do not. The office of teacher and governing belongs to Cardinal O’Malley and for him to have abdicated his role was mind boggling.

    I can assure you as a parent who spent a lot of time and resources sending children to Catholic Schools I would not allow my children to remain if the Cardinal Archbishop does “man up” and do the right thing. By that I mean prohibiting the parents of open homosexuals from enrolling their children. Let these parents challenge another faith. Let them enroll the children in —let’s say–a Muslim school. I am certain the education will be as complete.

    The Holy Father has just told us abortion and gay “marriage” are among the most insidious and dangerous challenges we face. As Catholics we face stood by and allowed abortion. Through false charity, do we now plan to the same with so called same sex “marriage”?

    For those who equate divorce and remarriage or even the prostitute to “aberrant” relations. I ask you why we point to bad behavior to justify other bad behavior? Further when was the last time you heard a priest or the Cardinal say, from the pulpit, remarriage without decree of nullity is adultery and a mortal sin unless you live as brother and sister?

    At least with marriage—even invalid—I wouldn’t insist the Cardinal conduct a sex education class instructing the children on how these people have relations. If this is allowed to stand I urge every parent to insist upon such a class and perhaps the Cardinal should conduct it.

    Finally, the decision demonstrates inconsistencies between dioceses which in turn cause confusion among the Faithful. The ultimate consequence of uncertainty is disunity in Christ’s Church.

  17. that school does have more than one child attending it and those children deserve consideration also. they deserve a catholic education and environment where they may properly form themselves in the faith and grow strong in it so that they me be the salt and light that is societies only hope. homosexuality is a sin and this child’s parents are living in sin at the risk of their souls.

    the only question is not can the child attend but will the child learn the truth of how God made us to live as man and wife in marriage or will that truth be compromised for the sake of not offending the homosexual couple raising this one child at the expense of compromising the faith of every other child attending that school?

    if we really want to help this child and the homosexual couple raising her then we want children strong in the faith, strong in truth and not compromise with the world. i pray that is what the school system wants for all the children entrusted to them as well.

  18. Dear Cardinal O’Malley,

    I teach at a Catholic school that teaches all subjects with a Catholic perspective, is rooted in strong Catholic principles and identity, and whose very foundation is Catholic doctrine.

    I can personally attest to how hard it is on the children in our school who come from divorced parents to hear that the Church does not condone divorce (and I teach the high school). I cannot imagine how difficult it would be for the child to hear that both the child’s mommies or both the child’s daddies were in a relationship strongly sanctions by Church teaching.

    I suspect the child would at some point suffer some sort of trauma. I cannot believe that any adults would put a child in this position, whether it be parents, educators, or clergy. Father Rafferty is to be commended for his wise decision.

  19. I have been a teacher in a Catholic school for many years. There have been no children of gay *marriages* in our school but we have had many children whose parents are divorced and remarried.
    It is extremely difficult for the child to have to sit in class and hear the teacher explain that people who are divorced and remarried are living in sin as they are engaged in an adulterous relationship.
    Add to that the fact that they are told that if we die with mortal sin on our souls, we will be on a fast track to hell. What child wants to hear that his/her parents are going to hell?
    The teacher cannot beat around the bush, the ten commandments are clear, church teachings are clear, we must tell the children the truth as taught by the church. Cardinal O’Malley has tried to explain the situation from the point of view of the pastor.

  20. I just recalled that when I was in Catholic grammar school on suburban Long Island in the 1970s!! a little girl was enrolled whose parents were (A) a prominent married undertaker in the community and (B) his mistress. He spent the weekdays with his wife and 7 children and weekends at the mistresses house with the mistress and their little girl. He footed the bills for both households.

    Admitting children to catholic schools whose parents have an ongoing sinful relationship is not a novel issue in our church.

  21. (1) The issue is not complex. It is dishonest to say the issue is complex. (2) Brothel madams are not germane to issues involving a couple legally married in Massachusetts. It is insulting to make such an analogy. (3) I am 100% certain that the priest in Hingham does not inquire into the ecclesiastical legitimacy of the marriages of other children in the school.

  22. Dear Paul,

    You asked me a question regarding how I would handle teaching teens about marriage and divorce. You asked: “What do you tell the students in your classes who have parents that are divorced (not annulled) and then remarried outside of the church? Are they told that their parent’s marriage is invalid under church law (but we do at least recognize it as a civil marriage)?”

    The answer to your question is “Yes.” I was hired to do a job and that job is to teach the Truth about our Catholic faith. To do anything less would be a disservice to my students. I am always very open with my teens and often sympathetic to their family/home lives. Just because they come from a background that doesn’t live up to Church teachings, am I supposed to lie to them? Why should they be denied the truth of the Church teachings? More often than not, when young people are given the honest to goodness truth and the reasons behind that truth, then they begin to understand, accept and ultimately respect where the Church is coming from.

    My job is to compassionately spread the Gospel of Christ and to challenge young people to lead a moral life…despite the contrary message that our world so often teaches. I was not asked to ‘change’ that Truth depending on my audience and the fact that they may be offended or because it is not ‘politically correct.’ It is not my job to follow my students through life to make sure they are being good Catholics/Christians. My job is to simply plant a seed (the Truth) and pray that it grows.

    I understand the parallel you are making with children of divorced parents in Catholic schools and the situation at St. Paul’s. Having been in a classroom and forced to deal with both scenarios, I must say that it is extremely difficult for the teachers, the other students and their families…and I am speaking from a perspective of a HS teacher. I can’t imagine having to be in that delicate situation with a young child. There is a huge difference in their capability to understand Church teaching and the reasons behind. A young child doesn’t have the capacity to understand all of this so why would anyone want to put him/her in a situation that may hurt them or cause them to question? And it also places the parents of the other children in the class/school in a very difficult position.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Fr. Rafferty and truly believe his decision was in the best interest of ALL the children and staff involved. It in no way means that I don’t think that someday this child deserves to know the truth of the Church teachings (assuming the child is raised in the faith) but I do believe at this point that it would do nothing but harm.

    No one ever promised that being Catholic would be easy! But I am confident in my Church and her teachings and I will defend them compassionately and sensitively until my last breath. My only hope and prayer is that others, like Fr. Rafferty, will continue to do the same!


  23. Dear Cardinal O’Malley,
    I once had a good friend who thought it best to send her children to private school because the education was better. I asked her if she and her husband were prepared to support the values taught at the school? She wasn’t sure so I lobbied against the decision. If the parents cannot support the values being taught in the school regardless of what that is and don’t live the values at home it causes immense pain and confusion for the children in question.

  24. Thanks goodness the Archdiocese finally showed its support for Father Rafferty, albeit support that can only be called anemic. None of us really know what went on between these parents, Father Raffterty, or the principal, but we do know what an outstanding pastor Father Rafferty has been for many years. I was here before he came, when we had an aging and crumbling church, a substandard, tiny school and a since-convicted rapist at the helm of our parish. Father Rafferty rebuilt the church and completely transformed the school, saving even routine maintenance on his personal living space for last. But most importantly, he understood the devestating impact the sex abuse scandal had on this church almost more than any other. He couldn’t dissove the permanent scars, but he won’t stop trying. For the past year, Father Rafferty has walked with a cane and suffers chronic pain — and yet he continues to be everywhere ministering to the parishioners of St. Paul’s.

    Without being in the room and hearing the discussion, it’s impossible for anyone to fairly judge what happened here. It may well be that Father Rafferty’s judgement was inappropriate in this instance, although knowing him like I do, I believe his contention that he was trying to act in the best interest of the child. But the fact that it took Sean O’Malley over a week to offer faint praise to this tireless man is a disgrace, and to me the most upsetting part of this entire episode.

  25. I am very grateful to Father Rafferty for doing the right thing. He is a wonderful man who has devoted his life to the church and I am so proud to say that I am a parishioner of St. Paul’s. The first thought that came to my mind when I heard of this story was why would a couple want to put their child in a school where they don’t support/believe in their union? Like someone else said, this child will be taught that the church does not recognize this type of union and I believe this is why Father Rafferty said he was looking out for the welfare of the child. I have been away from the church for quite some time and have just been back for five years now and it is really because of Fr. Rafferty that I have confidence in the church again, so thank you Fr. Rafferty.

  26. In light of the example that was given by Archbishop Chapeau in Denver, not allowing a child into the Catholic School is more of an act of Mercy. Did the parents not know that their child could become confused by the teaching of church doctrine in reference to homosexuality? Was it cruel on their part to begin with to expose their child to this kind of conflict. If they believe in the teachings of the church, their child would not be stuck in this position. The Catholic Church can not surpress the teaching laid down by Christ. If the Church did it then it would be a betrail of Jesus himself.

  27. Archbishop Chaput showed clear moral leadership in addressing this issue. Father Rafferty was thrown under the bus for implementing Catholic teaching. Now, after a relativistic message was sent by the Archdiocese, it is time to “study” the issue. This is not leadership.

    With all due respect, the Cardinal’s colorful example involving the child of the brothel madam, is not analogous. The madam did not seek to receive an imprimatur on her “lifestyle” by having her child admitted to a public or Catholic school. The homosexual couple seek to further their “lifestyle” by undermining Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality. The child, tragically, is a means to this end.

  28. Shame on you and the faithful that support your stance on the admission denial to that young child. The motto should be “What would Jesus do”??? I think he would be all inclusive, just because the child attends the parish school, that does not insinuate the Church condones the life style or behavior of the parents. You wonder why the there is a decline in the attendance at church and the decline in contributions at the offeratory, just look at the poor decisions made by the clergy in the past 20 or so years since the sexual abuse scandal erupted.

  29. Please explain why your support of the decision at St. Paul’s does not extend to the entire Catholic School system. Why is the boy welcome somewhere else, but not there? Why aren’t policies consistent?

    Would Jesus accept this boy anywhere? I think so.

  30. Your Eminence,
    I have to admit that at first I was very disappointed 🙁 by your initial response to this issue that you flipped-flopped on, but I thank you for this post. Fr. Rafferty was correct in his decision. Thank you, Fr. Rafferty! 🙂
    Anyway, how can you teach a classroom full of children that homosexuality in the Catholic Church is 100% wrong and have a student sitting there whose 1 parent and partner are homosexuals? How do you think the teacher and student would feel? Wouldn’t this be a little awkward? I keep asking myself why these people chose a Catholic School anyway? If you don’t follow the churches teachings then why would you bother sending your child there! They wanted their child to get a good education, OH PLEASE………..Another thought… maybe these people were just trying to see how far they could push the Archdiocese! Remember what JESUS said Cardinal Sean, BE NOT AFRAID!!!!! I’ll keep praying for you!

  31. Dear Cardinal O”Malley,

    The Church, the diocese and St. Paul’s parish have missed a fine opportunity to “do the difficult yet right thing.” You and Father Rafferty had a chance to teach tolerance and Christian love and acceptance in this case. I am not convinced that your decision to confirm the rescission is much more than a statement of support for an effective pastor: Child accepted; acceptance rescinded when family situation discovered; rescission becomes public; Archdiocese confirms that because Cardinal O’Malley considers Father Rafferty “one of our finest pastors” the decision should stand. The rescission is based on “what [Fr. Rafferty] felt would be the best interest of the child.” I would really like to understand the logic and what you and Father Rafferty consider this child’s best interest. Catholic schools offer a strong academic curriculum with moral teaching, and this young boy has to seek this elsewhere. Can’t the teachers and staff at St. Paul’s protect someone who is different from his classmates? Your decision saddens me, especially since a decision in support of the child’s re-acceptance would truly represent kindness and love, rather than intolerance.

    Respectfully yours,
    Pat Sinnott
    Holy Family Parish, Concord

  32. With all due respect your Eminence, while I see the point you are trying to make with your story, it has absolutely no bearing or similarity to this situation.

    First and foremost, this is not a situation where this child has no alternatives. You are incorrect when you say that the best interests of THE child must prevail. The best interests of ALL the children and their families must be taken into account. This is what Fr Rafferty was trying to do. Unlike your story, this is not a case where this family cannot find a welcoming atmosphere anywhere else. If anything, it is families that are trying to live and teach their children in a manner consonant with the Catholic faith that are under assault, and need a place of refuge. They are the ones, like the child in your story, who must bear the taunts and barbs and cruelty of a society that has rejected them and their lifestyles.

    You are plainly ignoring the social context of this problem. As a parent who has been raising children in that context and as a former catechist who has dealt with this issue with young teens, I can tell you that this is not a situation where the Church’s moral teachings are ignored or even defied. The Church’s teaching on this issue is under active assault both from within and without. What will happen, when in a few short years, this child is exposed to chastity education – that has been approved and even mandated by the archdiocese – that plainly and truthfully describes homosexual behavior as sinful? I guarantee you it will not be acquiescence. When parents like these and others who agree with them that the Church’s plain and truthful moral teaching should be rejected and that teaching it to their children is harmful and bigoted, where will you stand then

  33. I have yet to speak directly with Father Rafferty but from my perspective he faced an extraordinarily difficult and complex issue. Several factors disturb me greatly. First is the lesbian parent’s decision to go to the media with the issue of denial of admission to St. Paul’s. This act alone requires scrutiny as to their intent and leads me to question why a parent would put their loved one in the crucible of such a passionate debate. I find it particularly noxious that a parent would expose the fragile mind and ego of a child in such a manner. It should not be construed that the community of St. Paul’s is an intolerant and loveless community, quite the contrary, it is a very loving and supportive parish, however it is undeniable that a child raised in a homosexual home inevitably will realize that his or her “family” is very different than the rest of the community. Many do not realize how profound an impact this difference is; and how it is internalized in a young child.

    Secondly, I find it deeply disturbing that the Archdiocese chose to distance itself from Father Rafferty after a prominent donor’s opinion was published in a local newspaper. If in fact the Archdiocese did not have an official policy regarding the admission of children in this circumstance then it is to be concluded that Father Rafferty’s decision was well within his purview and was due the courtesy of support.

    I would speculate if Jesus was in Father Rafferty’s position he would love and admit the child to St. Paul’s, chastise the Archdiocese for abandoning a loyal servant under the duress of several pieces of silver and admonish the lesbians for their behavior.

    Hypocrisy was and is not limited to the Catholic Church in this affair.

  34. Do the parents believe they are living in a state of sin? If not, why would they want to send their child to a school that specifically teaches that they are living in a state of sin?

    It is probable that the parents were using their own child as a pawn in a passive aggressive attack against the Catholic Church. In which case, the Father made an excellent decision.

  35. We often forget that the Vatican social teachings are meant to offer guidance to an ever-increasingly diverse and global population. We are charged with the complicated and challenging tasks of informing our conscience and making moral decisions for ourselves that reflect our needs and the needs of our communities. As Catholic educators it is our job to participate in dialogue with our communities about what Vatican teaches and why it teaches it. The Holy Spirit guides our Church, a word not synonymous with Vatican, which has time and again, despite the sincere and dedicated devotion of holy men has made profound mistakes. I’m not now claiming the teachings on homosexuality are wrong – I’m saying there is a context to the Vatican teachings, (Ontic Evil is an occasionally useful standard!) and it is up to the Church and the individuals to determine the morality of any given situation, and we must all acknowledge that moral are largely personal and contextual.

  36. Your Eminence,

    God is no respecter of persons, and neither should we be. We should not prioritize the welfare, and, yes, the salvation of a child at the expense of two souls, namely the child’s “parents”. That is not spiritually economical.

    This part of your blog sounds confusing:

    “In all of our decision making, our first concern is the welfare of the children involved.”

    Then, immediately following:

    “With that in mind, the essence […] is […] how do we make Catholic schools available to children who come from diverse, often unconventional households, while ensuring the moral theology and teachings of the Church are not compromised?”

    Two of the three purposes mentioned above – 1) not compromising moral theology and 2) the welfare of the child – equate with each other and are in agreement. And not just to the benefit of the welfare of the child, but of the school and of every family involved with the school.

    The third purpose sandwiched in between the other two, however, actually undermines both. We don’t have to figure out a way to “make Catholic schools available, etc. etc.” They already are available to anyone who lives a Catholic life faithfully. To focus on availability takes the focus off of theology, and subsequently off of people’s welfare.

    What the pastors and administrators of the schools might try to “make available” is themselves to meet with the “parents” and take the opportunity of their interest in the school to witness to them about their lifestyle and its danger to their salvation instead of cowering in fear and trying to make this whole debacle about the “welfare of the child”. It was never about the child. It is about the welfare of the endangered souls of the “parents”.

    God Bless.

  37. With all due respect, Cardinal Sean, I find it hard to believe that a pastor–as well-intentioned as he may be–has a greater claim to having a child’s best interest at heart than do the parents. In light of the recent scandals, for pastor and bishop to claim to have a child’s best intention in mind when making a decision contrary to the parents’ wishes strikes me as the embodiment of arrogance. I thought that Abp. Chaput was wrong in Denver and I think that you are wrong now. You have no way of knowing if the child’s parents are in a sexually active relationship. They can certainly live together, perhaps even profess love for each other, without being in a sexually active relationship.

  38. I, too, am wondering if the school would deny education to a child whose parents have divorced (not annulled) and remarried outside the church (as Pete describes above)?

    Clearly, those relationships are “in discord” with church teachings as well.

    If the rule is not applied equally in that situation, then the pastor is being both discriminatory and hypocritical.

    Something to think about in future discussions.

  39. Colleen,

    May I ask you a question as someone who teaches moral theology to high school students? What do you tell the students in your classes who have parents that are divorced (not annulled) and then remarried outside of the church? Are they told that their parent’s marriage is invalid under church law (but we do at least recognize it as a civil marriage)? I see a parallel to the St. Paul’s issue. And can you please comment on the fact that at St. Paul’s, such children would be denied access to your teachings because of their parents’ marriage status?

    And sincere congrats to you for trying to balance compassion and pastoral care.


  40. Cardinal Sean, I have been reading your blog since the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy and I have enjoyed it each and every time. You usually have a paragraph or two on state or regional politics, but more focusing on what you are doing and what your office is doing.

    As I read this post, I had no idea what was going on in Hingham. I found the article and I fully support the Church and the school stance. As a resident of Maine, same-sex couples and marriage has been a very hot topic. The passage of same-sex marriage and the repeal in 2009 has hit the state hard. I can see how this could be hard for Fr. Rafferty and the local parish.

    God Bless you Cardinal Sean and your office. Keep up the good work.

    Brian Knox

  41. You state: “In Boston we are beginning to formulate policies and practices to deal with these complex pastoral matters.” BEGINNING? You should have had a coherent unambiguous policy in place a long time ago. Why are you dragging your feet?

  42. Cardinal Sean: All I can say is Amen! Thank you so much for saying what we already knew and wanted the world to know. We are blessed to have Fr. Rafferty as our pastor. He is a man of deep and genuine faith who held his hand out to help mend the hearts of a parish devastated by the abuse scandal. We know that he would not intentionally discriminate or hurt anyone and we are so glad that you stated in unequivocally.

  43. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    Thank you for making this thoughtful post on your blog. After reading last week’s story in the newspaper, I was struck with a deep respect for Fr. Rafferty and his courageous stance on this issue. It was very clear to me that he carefully made his decision based on the pastoral care of all of the children involved. As a moral theology teacher for high school students, I thank you, Cardinal Sean, and applaud your efforts for beginning to develop policies/procedures to guide us in better serving our children in God’s name.

    The teens that I encounter on a daily basis are never shy about attempting to understand the Church’s teachings on any subject, but especially the teachings on marriage and sexual morality. It is a very delicate subject to teach and compassion and pastoral care are key!
    I have found that when these issues are presented to young people (or anyone for that matter) with a direct, thoughtful, and truthful approach that doesn’t water down the beauty of the teaching, then they are more apt to accept them or at the very least respect where the Church is coming from instead of instantly criticizing, as so many do.

    Again, my thanks to you Cardinal Sean and all who have the courage to uphold the teachings of our Catholic faith! May God continue to bless you and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide our teachers!

    Colleen M. Donohoe

  44. You’re right, the top priority must be the welfare of the child.

    But what about the welfare of the other children in the school? Young kids don’t need to be taught, by example, that the gay lifestyle is morally ok. I hope that the Reverend Rafferty’s pastoral approach will at least include some counseling for the parents.

  45. I’d like to know on what grounds Fr. Rafferty decided that being denied admission to the school was in the child’s best interests.

  46. With all due respect, Cardinal Sean, I find it hard to believe that a pastor–as well-intentioned as he may be–has a greater claim to having a child’s best interest at heart than do the parents. In light of the recent scandals, for pastor and bishop to claim to have a child’s best intention in mind when making a decision contrary to the parents’ wishes strikes me as the embodiment of arrogance. I thought that Abp. Chaput was wrong in Denver and I think that you are wrong now. You have no way of knowing if the child’s parents are in a sexually active relationship. They can certainly live together, perhaps even profess love for each other, without being in a sexually active relationship.

    While I know that you are theologically conservative (Ave Maria University would never have given an honorary degree to Cardinal Bernadin), I have always found you through your blog to be a kind, and loving shepherd. I must say that this situation is making me reassess my appraisal. Not living in your diocese of province, I don’t have a dog in this fight. But as a parent albeit in a traditional marriage–I find Fr. Rafferty’s decision and your approbation of it very disheartening. I hope and respectfully request that you will reconsider this decision.

Comments are closed.

May 2010