Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston says the children of same-sex couples should be welcomed at any church schools in the archdiocese, a position different from that of at least one other prominent bishop in the American hierarchy.
"We have never had categories of people who were excluded," O'Malley wrote in a blog post
. "While there are legitimate reasons that might lead to a decision not to admit a child" -- he cited behavioral issues and similar problems -- "I believe all would agree that the good of the child must always be our primary concern."
O'Malley was in Portugal last week with Pope Benedict XVI at the shrine at Fatima when news broke that back home in Massachusetts a parish school had barred an 8-year-old boy
from entering the third grade in the fall because the pastor discovered that the boy's parents are lesbians. On Wednesday, having returned to Boston, O'Malley reaffirmed the decision of archdiocesan officials to welcome the boy to another Catholic school.
O'Malley opened his column -- and made his approach clear -- with a poignant recollection from his time as a Franciscan missionary bishop in poor areas in the Caribbean islands. One day he celebrated a funeral for a local "madame" who ran a brothel near O'Malley's cathedral. The woman had been murdered by her lover, and she had reportedly smuggled women in for the sex trade, sponsoring dangerous journeys that sometimes led to the death of the women.
"At the [funeral] Mass I met the woman's daughter, a lovely little girl," O'Malley wrote. "I asked her what grade she was in. She replied that she didn't go to school. I sent a stern glance to her grandmother, who said: 'Her name is the same as that of the brothel. The other children were so cruel to her, she left the public school.' I told her grandmother, 'Take her to the Catholic school tomorrow.' "
While O'Malley's attitude was clear, his blog post also showed that he is in a difficult position in navigating the neuralgic issue of church policies and homosexuality.
For example, he went out of his way to praise the pastor who oversees St. Paul's School, in the Boston suburb of Hingham, Father James Rafferty, who made the decision to rescind the boy's enrollment because of the parents' relationship. O'Malley said he considers Rafferty "one of our finest pastors" and said he can "attest personally that Father Rafferty would never exclude a child to sanction the child's parents." The priest, O'Malley said, "made a decision based on an assessment of what he felt would be in the best interests of the child," and he said Rafferty has "my full confidence and support."
O'Malley is also in an awkward spot because in March his counterpart in Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput, made exactly the opposite call
when he supported the pastor of a Boulder parish who said two grade school girls could not return to the school because the priest and school administrators had discovered the girls' parents are lesbians. That seemed to set up two competing interpretations of what seen as a cut-and-dried church position.
O'Malley said Chaput and Denver church officials also had "the welfare of the children and fidelity to the mission of the Church" in mind, and said, "Their positions and rationale must be seriously considered."
The Boston cardinal said he would continue to formulate and clarify his own policy to avoid future misunderstandings, but in the end, O'Malley clearly staked out a different position from Chaput on an increasingly controversial -- and complex -- issue.