7,000 say they support Kansas archdiocese banning kindergarten child of gay parents

A petition with more than 7,000 signatures urges support for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas on its decision to deny enrollment to the child of a gay couple at a Prairie Village Catholic school.

The petition, created this week on an online platform for “pro-life and pro-family communities,” runs counter to an earlier petition signed by almost 2,000 members of Kansas City-area Catholic parishes asking archdiocese officials to change their minds.

The latest petition does not make clear how many of its signatures are from local Catholics, but it states that it was written by “concerned faithful” in the archdiocese. It called the scrutiny and outrage “attacks” against the church.

“It is clear that the rapid secularization of our society is increasingly causing hostility to the practice of the Catholic faith,” the petition reads. “Unfortunately, the lack of sound catechesis can leave many Catholics to form their consciences on these issues based on the opinions of the world rather than the immutable truths of the Gospel.”

An archdiocese spokeswoman said Thursday she was aware of at least one petition, possibly two, in support of the church’s decision, but neither has been submitted and the archdiocese does not know where they originated.

Local parishioners learned of the decision to bar the kindergartner when the Rev. Craig J. Maxim of St. Ann Catholic Church wrote a letter to parents last month. He told families that St. Ann had sought guidance from the archdiocese, which said the child’s parents cannot “model behaviors and attitudes consistent with the Church’s teachings.”

“This creates a conflict for those children and what is experienced at home,” Maxim wrote in the Feb. 27 letter. “It also could become a source of confusion for other school children.”

More than 1,800 people signed a petition asking the church to reconsider a decision they felt “lacks the compassion and mercy of Christ’s message.” More than 650 people said they are part of St. Ann’s parish, and most other signatures were from local parishes. That petition was addressed to Archbishop Joseph Naumann and school Superintendent Kathy O’Hara.

The most recent petition, created on March 12, offers support directly to Naumann.

“Especially given the activity of many pressure groups in the Church today, we are all the more encouraged by your steadfast decision to uphold the perennial truths of the moral law – for everyone’s good,” the petition reads.

Eva Betts attends St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, a Catholic church in Mission Woods with a traditional Latin Mass. She said she signed the petition because Naumann has become the subject of “animosity” for “simply upholding the Catholic doctrine.”

“It wasn’t about being against people who are gay at all,” Betts said. “It’s about whether they are living their lives in a state of grace in accordance with the mandates of the church. … That goes for anybody, whether they are gay, straight, married or single.”

The controversy indicates a growing schism in Catholicism and other religious groups between those who want to see churches become more inclusive and others who say compassion does not mean compromising on traditional values.

Those who had spoken out against the archdiocese’s decision said that the church was exemplifying a kind of hypocrisy. Their petition questioned why the church would ban a child of gay parents and not children of parents who violated Catholic doctrine by remarrying without annulments or by using fertility treatments or birth control. Catholic schools, they pointed out, also accept children of parents who are not practicing Catholicism at all.

That’s a viewpoint shared by the Rev. James Martin, a secretariat of communications for the pope, who has written about how the church can be more welcoming to LGBTQ people.

On Twitter, he called the archdiocese’s decision “unjust discrimination.”

“In this case, these rules are being applied selectively and used to target LGBT people specifically, as well as punishing the child,” Martin said in a tweet.

Matthew Whitney, who is also a parishioner at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, said that Catholic doctrine cannot be adjusted, even if members of the Catholic hierarchy promote interpretations that counter church teachings or if Catholics choose to ignore certain tenets of their faith.

“There are many Catholics unfortunately that want to change things based on public opinion or to be accepted by others or just to be nice,” Whitney said. “But it’s just not the truth.”

Whitney said he feels that kind of “inconsistency is hurting the church right now,” and he signed the petition to show support for Naumann and the church’s “natural law.”

In defending Naumann, the petition read: “We are saddened to witness such attacks directed against our Mother the Church, and against you personally, in the aftermath of the decision of Saint Ann Catholic School not to admit as a student the child of a same sex ‘couple.’ Although we are all sinners, and we cannot judge the intentions of the persons involved as faith-filled Catholics striving to raise all Catholic children in a hostile world, we know the grave damage that can be done by scandal.”

While the archdiocese decides on the “application of Church doctrine” on its parochial schools and parishes, policies can vary across the country. A Catholic school in South Carolina recently came under fire when a priest denied enrollment to a lesbian couple’s child, while the archdiocese of Boston has a policy that prohibits excluding any “categories of students.”

On the Missouri side, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph does not currently have a policy related to same-sex parents and enrollment, said spokesman Jack Smith.

“In general, we ask all parents to understand and support the fact that our schools teach the fullness of Catholic teaching, including its teaching on marriage and human sexuality,” Smith said.

A Rockhurst High School spokesman sent The Star a copy of its parent-student handbook, but did not address questions whether the enrollment of a child with gay parents would be an issue. According to the handbook, the Jesuit Catholic high school does not discriminate on the basis of color, race, national or ethnic origin. Sexual orientation or gender identity are not included in the policy.

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Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.