Does the Apostle Paul help us understand what’s going on in Denver? You might ask, what’s going on in Denver? Two children, preschoolers, whose parents are lesbians, are not going to be able to continue their education in the Catholic school at Sacred Heart of Jesus parish. The reasons offered by the Parish priest, Fr. Bill Breslin, and Archbishop Chaput are found here and here. I will offer a few excerpts. The first two are from the letter of Fr. Bill Breslin:
"If a child of gay parents comes to our school, and we teach that gay marriage is against the will of God, then the child will think that we are saying their parents are bad. We don't want to put any child in that tough position-nor do we want to put the parents, or the teachers, at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Why would good parents want their children to learn something they don't believe in? It doesn't make sense. There are so many schools in Boulder that see the meaning of sexuality in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church does. Why not send their child there?"
"The core issue for us Catholics on this question is our freedom and our obligation to teach about marriage and family life as our Faith teaches…Glossing over differences on essential matters, and pretending that crucial issues are irrelevant, is not tolerance. It is relativism, meaning that nothing is important anymore and everyone can have their own interpretation of what is goodness and truth…The Catholic Church invests in parish schools so as to assist children in becoming disciples of Christ and to stand as a light shining in the darkness that has rejected Christianity and the truth of being human, including the meaning of human sexuality."
The following excerpts are from the letter of Archbishop Chaput:
"It’s also true that some of our schools exist as a service outreach in largely non-Catholic communities. Many of our schools also accept students of other faiths and no faith, and from single parent and divorced parent families. These students are always welcome so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.
Our schools, however, exist primarily to serve Catholic families with an education shaped by Catholic faith and moral formation. This is common sense. Other religious traditions do the same according to their beliefs, and at a heavy sacrifice."
"The idea that Catholic schools should require support for Catholic teaching for admission, and a serious effort from school families to live their Catholic identity faithfully, is reasonable and just. That’s the background. Now to the human side of a painful situation. The Church never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education. But the Church can’t change her moral beliefs without undermining her mission and failing to serve the many families who believe in that mission. If Catholics take their faith seriously, they naturally follow the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals; otherwise they take themselves outside the believing community."
"The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are “bad,” or that their children are less loved by God. Quite the opposite. But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. These beliefs are central to a Catholic understanding of human nature, family and happiness, and the organization of society. The Church cannot change these teachings because, in the faith of Catholics, they are the teachings of Jesus Christ."
"Our schools are meant to be “partners in faith” with parents. If parents don’t respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible. It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.
Most parents who send their children to Catholic schools want an environment where the Catholic faith is fully taught and practiced. That simply can’t be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents. That isn’t fair to anyone—including the wider school community. Persons who have an understanding of marriage and family life sharply different from Catholic belief are often people of sincerity and good will. They have other, excellent options for education and should see in them the better course for their children."
If I understand the reasons offered, both Father Breslin and Archbishop Chaput think that the presence of a child or children whose parents’ lives run quite openly and publicly counter to the mission and teaching of the Church will undermine that mission. It will do this, it seems, in two ways: the children of the parents will be confused, hurt and alienated because the Church’s teaching is in opposition to the life the parents are living, which might confuse other students as well; and the school might feel constrained in teaching the whole truth, which it is necessary to do, because they do not want to hurt the feelings of these children. There may be a larger reason also, namely, that the teaching of the Church in general will be diluted in the eyes of the wider community. You can see some of the discussion regarding these decisions here, and here, and here. Be warned, they are lengthy discussions.
What I have not yet seen invoked is a relevant passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter five. I think that the whole chapter is relevant, so in an already lengthy blog post, let me give you the whole chapter and encourage you to read it in full:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13 God will judge those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."
Is this passage motivating the decision in Denver? I am speculating, of course, as no reference has been made to it, but it does influence, obviously, the Church’s broader teaching on excommunication (CCC 1463). If it is not influencing the decision in Denver, it ought to, and as we consider the decision in Denver, we ought to consider this passage. Our consideration of Paul’s passage immediately brings up any number of issues, most of which I cannot answer in specific.
Are the parents of the children who are being denied a place in the Catholic school members of the Church? Or were they members of the Church who have been excommunicated? Paul’s passage refers to excommunication of those who engage in sinful behavior not the children of these adults, yet, if the adults have not been excommunicated from the Church, why would their children not be allowed to participate in a Catholic education, a sort of de facto excommunication of the very young? Keep in mind, also, that the purpose of excommunication is “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Would children being educated in a Catholic school be more likely to draw their parents back to the Church or keep them involved? Or will the decision to exclude the children draw their parents back to the faith or keep them involved? Does it mean the Church is giving up on these parents? Or is this decision intended to have them reconsider their lives?
Paul states that one should not “associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.” This sort of thinking seems to be driving the decision by the school and the support of the Archbishop but, again, the little children are not accused of any sin themselves. Why should they suffer? The greater question, though, is can we truly achieve Paul’s standard in this day and age of large parishes, are we committed to applying the standard evenly, and do we really want to give it a try? Paul gives us a general biblical basis for this decision, though, again, the application is for those who sin not the children. Yet, let's go forward with this decision. Okay, let’s exclude from our schools the children of homosexual parents, but we cannot stop there. How about those parents who commit adultery, or who have remarried without an annulment, or those who use contraception, or those who view pornography? How about the greedy? A drunkard? We could even find drunkards at Church sponsored activities! More than that, what if we excluded those who were not actively participating in the mission of the Church? Archbishop Chaput says that “these students are always welcome so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.” Put your hands up, parents of Catholic schoolchildren, who know of parents, perhaps even yourselves, who use the Catholic school as a form of private school and are not engaged in any way with the mission of the Church. How many Catholic schools take evidence of support of mission as a $10,000.00 check? If we take Paul's admonitions seriously, then let us start applying them to all sinners and not the very few, their children be damned.
Paul says, “Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’” One of the great, unanswered questions in this day and age is how the Church at even the parish level can come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, as the family of God, due to the size of parishes, the lack of community, and the lack of desire to know anyone’s lives. Are the only people, therefore, who are at risk of being “wicked” those who will be open about their lives? Are we willing to place this same standard on all those in our parish community? Who in my parish knows anything about me except what I show them for a few hours a week? Nobody expects the Coloradan Inquisition, but should it start?
I have sympathy for Fr. Breslin and Archbishop Chaput for I believe they are trying to put into practice a serious sense of what it means to be a follower of Christ, as Paul himself encourages us to do. It matters how we live our lives and there should be much at stake. Unless we want simply to define away 1 Corinthians 5 as the rantings of a 1st century shame and honor Apostle, our behavior, sexual and otherwise, has an impact on the whole Church. Their concern, however, is misplaced by a degree or two. Take on all the parents of Catholic schoolchildren, person by person, in the whole Archdiocese, challenging them to be formed by the Gospel, and not to form themselves in their own image, or according to their own desires, and this will mean challenging the greedy, the drunks, the country-club Christians, the mean-spirited, the lukewarm, and those who could care less about Christianity but like the football program at the Catholic school. It means coming after everyone, not in a spirit of hatred, but in a spirit of love, of calling us all to be pure, to aim for the Kingdom of God. It does not mean coming after the children, for “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’” (Matthew 19:14). And we should not turn away these women from bringing their children to Jesus, for just as the Syro-Phoenician woman was challenged by Jesus and responded with faith, a faith which healed her daughter, who knows what faith is motivating these parents to place their children in a Catholic school?
John W. Martens