Catholic Church Must Learn to Deal With Children of Gay Parents.
Last month, there was a brief flurry of outrage when a Boulder Catholic school, under pressure from the parish priest and the local bishop, told a couple of lesbian parents that their children were no longer welcome, and should look for another school elsewhere. Like so many news stories, this one has died down, and for all the full, has been all but forgotten,except for those directly affected. Meanwhile, an Arkansas judge this week ruled that a state ban on adoption which voters approved in November 2008 was invalid; a series of court rulings in Florida have approved three specific applications for adoption by gay parents, in spite of the state’s constitutional ban; and in Argentina, the Lower House of parliament will soon be considering legislation to approve both gay marriage and gay adoption. What the stories from Boulder completely overlooked, is how very many children are already in Catholic schools. That number is sure to rise, as increasing public acceptance around the world encourages more Catholic couples to declare their relationships openly, and as some of those in turn seek to adopt, or to retain custody of their own children. A good proportion of these, like any other Catholic couple, will seek to have their offspring educated in Catholic schools.
Gay Parents, Gay Pride Paris 2007
This is not new. One of the parents who were interviewed by National Catholic Reporter for their series on responses to the exclusion, says that she was herself raised by lesbian mothers, but was educated in a Catholic school without any problems being raised. That was a generation ago. There are assuredly many more such children in Catholic schools today.
In a long and thoughtful piece at dot Commonweal, one lesbian and deeply committed Catholic mother tells of her very different experience in enrolling her children. There are many important features in this piece that I would like to dig into further, but for now I want to focus specifically on the question of her success in having her children accepted by a Catholic school. In particular, I was struck by two parts of the response by the local priest when they went to see him, not about schooling, but just about attendance in church as a family: he asked them if they would be sending their sons to the Catholic school; and that he believed they already had other children with gay parents.
From Dot Commonweal:
We didn’t want that reality just sprung on him, a thoughtful and decent man who, we expected, might get an earful from a few parishioners in the ensuing days and weeks. We asked if our coming to church like that was OK with him. Our priest said he appreciated the heads-up. “Just come, just come,” he insisted, expressing considerable relief that we had nothing else to discuss (“When I saw your names in my appointment book, I was afraid you might be asking me to bless your union”). He then inquired as to the boys’ names and ages and, hearing that the eldest would be almost six, asked, “Will you send him here, then, for school?” My partner and I shot a glance at each other. We said we hadn’t figured that was a possibility. We’d been struggling with the school question a bit. Sending the kids to the village public school in the very rural district where we lived was out of the question. We wanted a more demanding education for them. Sending them to our parish school in the small city in which we worked was, we had thought, equally out of the question. The priest raised both eyebrows. “No, not out of the question. Not at all. Send them here. In fact, I don’t even think you’d be the first same-sex couple to do so.” We’d had no idea. He thought a bit, came up with the family’s name, and said he thought all three of the girls were still enrolled and doing fine.
Was this remarkable, or unusual? Probably not. With the increasing visibility of gay and lesbian couples, and with improving legal and administrative procedures for approving gay adoption and custody applications, there are today many thousands of children being raised by same sex parents, as couples or as single parents. Those children will go to school just as any others, and it is entirely likely that a high proportion of schools will include on their rolls children from such families. There is no reason to suppose that Catholic schools are fundamentally different and entirely free of gay or lesbian parents (although the incidence may well be lower).
Catholic teaching is clear that the Church has a fundamental responsibility to all children who have been baptized and so accepted into its fold, so it is entirely correct that these schools should be accepting these children, whatever Fr Bill in Boulder might believe. I suspect that this is issue of responding appropriately to queer existing queer families is going to be in increasingly important challenge to the Church, as the number of openly gay and lesbian parents continue to grow, in the US and elsewhere around the world. The actions in Boulder got the news, but they were exceptional and in conflict with clear teaching on the responsibility of the Church to the child. As an increasing number of children from queer families are accepted and educated in Catholic schools, so their friends and classmates will grow up knowing at first-hand the reality that diverse family patterns exist. Just as earlier generations of children knew and understood that some children had only one mom and no pop (or the other way around), so a new generation is learning that some kids have two moms. At the same time, kids are coming out themselves at ever earlier ages, and it is widely recognised that today’s children do not have the same hangups about “homosexuality” that their parents did. Already, the majority of US Catholics do not agree that homoerotic relationships are immoral. Young people educated in Catholic schools with friends who openly identify as queer, or whose parents do so, will be even less inclined to simply accept Church teaching.
Garner, Abigail: Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is