Catholic schools, Catholic associations?

All faith-based schools are voluntary associations and, in terms of the ancient or modern doctrines they advocate, it really doesn't matter if they are liberal schools or traditional schools. A liberal school could, for example, create a doctrinal statement that would be signed by all parents forbidding students from arguing, during school sessions, that Jesus is the only way to salvation or that sexual acts outside of marriage are sin. A Catholic school could create a doctrinal statement that would require parents to assist or affirm the school as it teaches the moral doctrines of the Catholic Church. The school's leaders could ask that parents be practicing Catholics, in terms of sacraments of the faith, including confession. Evangelical schools can create their own doctrinal statements and moral codes and parents are free to send their children to those schools, if they can in good conscience sign these documents.

Voluntary associations -- left and right -- can do things like that.

This brings us to yet another important Catholic story that is emerging at the national level that, yes, appears to be rooted in a collision between religious liberty and gay rights.

But maybe not.

You see, it's hard to tell in the coverage. That's a problem.

Consider, for example, this Associated Press report about events in the Archdiocese of Boston. Here is the top of the story, as it ran in USA Today:

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley ... defended a priest who denied admission to a parish school to a gay couple's child but reiterated that Catholic schools "welcome people from all walks of life."

O'Malley's comments on his blog were his first public remarks about the decision earlier this month by St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham to rescind the boy's acceptance because his parents are lesbians.

A parent of the boy said the Rev. James Rafferty, the parish priest at St. Paul's, said her relationship was "in discord" with church teachings, which sees marriage as only between a man and a woman. She said the principal told her teachers wouldn't be prepared to handle the boy's questions when he realized the church's view of family conflicted with what he saw at home. The parent spoke to The Associated Press but asked not to be named to protect the welfare of the child.

The decision prompted calls for O'Malley to intervene. The Catholic Schools Foundation, which O'Malley chairs, said the decision was at odds with Gospel teaching, and it wouldn't fund schools that made similar decisions.

Now, his is an interesting conflict over scripture and tradition, to say the least. O'Malley has tried to affirm the doctrinal concerns of the pastor, yet has yielded to the Catholic Schools Foundation -- which announced that it would not fund schools that required parents to affirm Catholic moral teachings.

Is this rooted in the fact that the schools accept as many non-Catholic students as Catholics? Perhaps. We do not know.

Do these Boston schools require parents and students to sign any kind of doctrinal or moral statement when they voluntarily -- that's a key word -- enroll their children in these Catholic schools? We do not know.

Do some of Boston's Catholic schools require the signing of these kinds of defining doctrinal documents for their voluntary associations, while others do not? We do not know.

We are, however, told this:

The archdiocese said it is creating a policy to clarify its schools don't bar children with same-sex parents.

"It is true that we welcome people from all walks of life," O'Malley wrote. "But we recognize that, regardless of the circumstances involved, we maintain our responsibility to teach the truths of our faith, including those concerning sexual morality and marriage."

So, these gay parents are consenting to their child being taught that the relationship that defines their home is in conflict with centuries of Catholic moral doctrine? Is that the point? We do not know.

The Boston case, of course, follows a similar standoff in Colorado. However, in that case Archbishop Charles Chaput not only affirmed the pastor's decision, but upheld it. As you would expect, the Denver Post has ruled this as an action that places Chaput on the Catholic right, especially in contrast with O'Malley.

Catholics around the country are comparing two outspoken, theologically conservative Catholic leaders, and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has just passed Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley on the right.

The two archdioceses have reacted very differently to attempts by local parish pastors to exclude the children of gay parents from Catholic schools. ...

The Boulder incident caused Catholic educators across the country to scramble to formulate or review their policies before someone made it an issue in their diocese, said Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.

"Who are Catholic schools for? We need to answer this question. There is some real mission confusion," Weitzel-O'Neill said at a recent conference.

Once again, however, readers are left totally in the dark on the crucial question: What did the parents sign when they voluntarily enrolled their child in the Boulder school? Did the school have a clearly worded statement of its teachings and its expectations for parents and their children?

Again, what did the parents sign? What did they voluntarily affirm, in terms of faith and morals?

I would assume that the content of these documents are being studied -- urgently -- by church leaders (and their legal teams). If reporters want to cover the facts of this story, they need to do likewise. They need to quote the documents that the parents signed and see if it is the parents or the pastors who are keeping their word.

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