I’m sure that by now most readers of this blog would have heard of how a child within the Archdiocese of Denver has had his or her enrollment in a Catholic school terminated due to having a lesbian couple as parents. According to a statement from the archdiocese, the “homosexual relationship [of the child’s parents] violates the school’s beliefs and policy.”
According to teachers at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, a meeting was held Tuesday to discuss the issue. The staff was told a student would not be allowed to re-enroll because of his or her parents’ sexual orientation. The staff members were also told not to talk to the media.
. . . Because this student’s parents are homosexual, the Archdiocese says they were in clear violation of the school’s policy.
School staff members, who asked to remain anonymous, say they are disgusted by the Archdiocese’s decision. One employee said she could not believe a student will have to suffer because of his or her parents’ sexual orientation.
The Archdiocese also told 9NEWS, “Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment.”
Staff members said they were not allowed to discuss the decision after it was made. Some of them said they were disheartened to work at a school that preaches peace and love, but also makes this decision.
As outrageous as the actions of the archdiocese are, I’m actually not that surprised. Why? Well, first the Archdiocese of Denver is headed by Charles Chaput, a notorious reactionary. Don’t think for a minute that there are not thousands of students with same-gender parents attending Catholic schools across the U.S. Yet, it takes an individual of Chaput’s rigidity to actually penalize these students. Thankfully, we haven’t seen a mass purging of children and young people from their school communities in any other part of the country. It could well happen, however, as the clerical leadership of the U.S. church is unhealthily and thus dangerously fixated on the gay issue. Sadly, the unhealthiest of these men are the ones being promoted. Also, such a dysfunctional fixation is encouraged and taught among the (albeit dwindling) ranks of seminarians, i.e., the future clerical leaders. Thus the dysfunction, the sin, will continue.
This “sin” isn’t homosexuality, despite what the clerical leadership would have us believe. No, as I’ve noted previously, it’s to do with the fact that many (perhaps even a majority) of bishops and priests are closeted (and psycho-sexually stunted) gay men who do not want healthy, well-adjusted gay people in their midst. Why? Because such well-adjusted people pose a highly uncomfortable challenge to all forms of unhealthy and dysfunctional expressions of sexuality. In a similar way, the vast majority of male clerics have a stunted and dysfunctional connection with women – so much so that they fear them gaining any kind of equality in ministry.
In short, most men in positions of power within Roman Catholicism fear relating with anyone who has grown beyond the dysfunction that, in large measure, justifies and sustains the entire clerical, celibate caste system within which men are prevented from growing, changing . . . and, yes, loving in a truly Christ-like way.
Author James Baldwin says it best:
I think the inability to love is the central problem, because the inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And, if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed. And if you can’t be changed, you can’t be alive. The great difficulty is to say YES to life. The difficult quest is to be oneself, to be true, to say YES with courage – to accept one’s sexuality, one’s race, one’s bittersweet contradictions.*
Think about the church’s prohibition against any type of sexual connecting outside of procreative sex within heterosexual marriage sanctioned by the church – a prohibition that even includes masturbation. At it’s most basic level, it’s a prohibition against touch – human touch that can potentially lead to greater self-awareness, personal development, and fullness of life.
I think centuries ago, church leaders recognized and began to fear the power of sexual touch. Such touch is transforming; it has the potential, yes, for harm, but also for liberation and empowerment. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the strict sexual prohibitions within the Christian church came about during what Harvey Cox has termed the “Age of Belief,” that time when Christianity “curdled into a top-heavy edifice defined by obligatory beliefs enforced by a hierarchy.”
Cox maintains that, in contrast, early Christians allowed for multiple understandings and expressions of the faith, so much so, I’d add, that even the “gay saints” Sergius and Bacchus were acknowledged and accepted. Yet once Christianity moved from being “a loose network of local congregations, with varied forms of leadership” into a “rigid class structure with a privileged clerical caste at the top ruling over an increasingly disenfranchised laity on the bottom,” all kinds of changes began to take place. And women, along with those whom we now understand as gay, where no doubt the first to be “pushed to the underside and the edges.”
We’ve inherited quite a problem, haven’t we?
Still, our God is a God of transformation. People – and institutions – can and do change. Life remains a precious gift – full, it’s true, of “bittersweet contradictions,” of joy and suffering, pleasure and pain. It’s both “tree of life” and “cross of death.” So when a gay person is unlucky in love, when he/she experiences, for instance, heartache over a failed relationship, it’s wrong to blame his/her sexual orientation. It’s erroneous to imply that the homosexual orientation guarantees such unhappiness and failure; that a homosexual orientation is the mark of a broken sexuality. Yet these types of things are exactly what the clerical leadership of the Church says. It says that as gay people we can never be fulfilled and happy; we can never experience God’s sanctifying love in our sexual relationships, we can never be good parents. These are all lies. If you take nothing else, dear reader, from this commentary, take this: Those types of statements, that type of thinking . . . lies, all lies.
And the average Catholic in the pew knows it – as do the vast majority of folks within the wider society. Accordingly, the response to the decision of the Denver Archdiocese to deny re-enrollment to this particular child has been overwhelmingly critical and therefore, from my perspective, encouraging. First, it’s ensured some hard-hitting yet legitimate statements from everyday folks like the comment below, left on the website of 9News.com
I think that those fierce defenders of the Catholic School’s action are missing the point. If they agree that the 5-year-old should be excluded because his/her parents are living in “dissonance” with Catholic dogma, then it stands to reason that children of ALL couples living in “dissonance” with Catholic dogma (e.g. divorced parents, single parents, parents living out of wedlock, parents who practice birth control, etc, etc, etc) should be excluded from attending the school. To not do this is rank hypocrisy on the part of the church and school. The fact that only an innocent child from a same-sex home is discriminated against in this way shows quite clearly the bigotry and hatred of the Catholic Church. However, my question is why would ANY parent want to put their child in the care of the biggest organized pedophile ring in the history of the world, thus making them fair game for sexual molestation?
I must also admit a certain satisfaction in viewing the results of the poll conducted by the Denver Post. “Do you agree with the Archdiocese of Denver’s policy that bars children who have lesbian parents from enrolling in Catholic schools?”, the newspaper asked. At the time of writing this post, over 1500 people had responded. Sixty-five percent of these have answered “No” they do not agree with the policy of the Denver Archdiocese. An additional 15% percent have answered “No, and I’m Catholic.” Ten percent have answered “Yes” they do agree. And another 10%, “Yes, and I’m Catholic.” Such responses correlate with the findings of a Pew survey of October 2009 which clearly show that the clerical leadership of the church does not represent the views of ordinary Catholics, many of whom do not see homosexuality per se as a moral issue, and who subsequently support either civil unions or full marriage rights for gay people – something the official church vigorously opposes (yes, that fixation again!).
These figures are quite telling, and represent for many Catholics the work of God’s spirit of compassion and justice – the sensus fidelium – within and throughout the people of God. May this spirit continue to “blow where it will,” regardless of how uncomfortable, fearful, and reactionary such a holy activity may make some members of the Roman Catholic clerical leadership.
* James Baldwin, from an interview first published in The Advocate and excerpted in the Utne Reader, July/August 2002, p. 100.