Should St. Ann’s Catholic School admit the child of a same-sex couple?
Prairie Village’s St. Ann Catholic School was within its legal rights to shut its doors on the same-sex parents who tried to enroll their child in kindergarten. But as the repercussions of that decision reverberate among hundreds of families allied with the school and its parent church, leaders who made the call should reflect on the contradictions inherent in their explanation.
Late last month, Father Craig J. Maxim, pastor of the Roman Catholic church just south of Prairie Village Shopping Center, sent a letter to the school’s families and staff addressing numerous conversations he’d held with parishioners and parents who had expressed “strong opinions on this matter.” When he took those concerns to his superiors in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, they counseled him that “same-sex unions are not in conformance with the Church’s teaching on sacramental marriage,” and could not be brought in line. Therefore, the school should decline to admit the child, they determined.
“I am distressed over the division this sensitive and complex issue has caused within our school and church,” Maxim wrote to his congregants. And indeed, that division is deepening. Last Friday, members of his flock submitted a respectful and compassionate letter to Archbishop Joseph Naumann and St. Ann Superintendent Kathy O’Hara, asking them to “prayerfully reconsider” turning away the aspiring kindergartner. They also circulated a petition among Catholics throughout the area. As of Thursday afternoon, it had more than 1,250 signatories, from members of St. Ann to Curé of Ars, to Queen of the Holy Rosary, to across the state line at Saint Thomas More.
The parishioners’ letter poses a pointed and on point question: Why has the archdiocese decided that a gay couple is its line in the sand? Does the school admit the children of parents who aren’t Catholic? Check. What about those who may have had vasectomies, undergone in vitro fertilization, or divorced and remarried without church annulment? Check, check and check.
It’s also just reality that some heterosexual relationships that may appear “traditional” on the surface can be anything but. Who knows whether this male-female couple has an agreement that girl- or boyfriends on the side are A-OK? Or if those couples entered into marriages of convenience for reasons of inheritance, citizenship or social status? The school might see parents’ genders, but it can’t look inside their hearts — or their home lives.
Nobody is suggesting that the Catholic Church should wet its finger and raise it to the winds of public opinion. Yes, two-thirds of Americans now approve of gay marriage, and those numbers have risen fast since the Supreme Court made it the law of the land in 2015. But Catholics look to their leaders for leadership, and the archdiocese’s statement rightly notes that church teachings on the topic are “not altered by the laws of civil society.”
Fair enough. But the statement also justifies turning down the child by saying that if the school admits a student whose home life involves conduct at odds with the church’s religious instruction, it “becomes a source of confusion for the other school children.”
Trust us: Kids of today are not confused by gay adults in the types of loving, mature relationships that lead parents to seek out the academic excellence — and yes, the moral instruction — offered by private Catholic schools. The same-sex parents turned down at St. Ann are thus far anonymous, and it’s quite possible that one or both of them could be lifelong Catholics.
Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually victimized by his priest in Chile, had a private meeting with Pope Francis last year. When he told the pontiff he is gay, Francis replied, “God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.”
Francis’ benevolence to Cruz doesn’t equate to overturning hundreds of years of religious doctrine. The church still considers homosexual activity a sin. But the pope’s acknowledgment of the innate nature of sexual orientation was a beacon of hope to every gay Catholic girl or boy who loves the church and wants to remain a part of it. And as we know from the stories of people who have left straight marriages for same-sex partners, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine there is at least one closeted parent who already has a child enrolled at St. Ann.
A private school can decide whom it wants to do business with. And a church’s members shouldn’t get to steer the ship away from liturgy and doctrine by popular vote. But so long as St. Ann Catholic School isn’t making surprise home checks for sacramental rectitude, how could anyone dispute that with this decision, it’s playing favorites among sinners?