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Thursday, March 11,2010

Catholics defend, decry Sacred Heart decision

By Jefferson Dodge

As more details emerge about the circumstances surrounding child of the lesbian couple who was denied re-enrollment at the Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder, local gay-rights advocates say they have been encouraged by the support they have received — especially from Catholics.

“It’s an upsetting experience, but also an opportunity to have a dialogue and affirm liberal people of faith,” Boulder Pride Executive Director Aicila Lewis told Boulder Weekly. “It’s telling that we’ve gotten to a place in this society where these acts won’t go unchallenged, and it’s not just members of our community who are out there and speaking against it. … This doesn’t have to be all negative. There are opportunities to make it a positive situation, by recognizing that this is an opportunity for connection and being grateful that we live in a community that will rally.”

And Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput revealed this week that the lesbian couple actually has two children enrolled at the school, and one will be allowed to continue at the school one more year. “The couple was informed by Sacred Heart of Jesus parish school that the older child, whom they were enrolling in kindergarten for next year, would be allowed to attend kindergarten but would not be able to continue into first grade the year after,” he says in a column posted online on March 9. “Their younger child would be welcome to finish preschool, but not continue into kindergarten.”

Lewis says that heterosexual Catholics have been among the most vocal critics of the decision. “They are incredibly upset about the action taken at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School,” Lewis says. “The real outcry has come from the straight Catholic community.”

She told Boulder Weekly that the lesbian couple is declining to talk to the media, because their main priority right now is taking care of their children. “It’s a big deal,” Lewis says. “It’s become their whole world.”

Several families who have students at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder had their children at home on March 6 to protest the Catholic school’s decision.

Pauli Sieben, who has two children currently enrolled at the school (and two who attended from kindergarten through eighth grade), says she kept her children home, and she knows of at least six other families who did the same — or pulled their kids out of school early — because of their unhappiness with the decision.

She says she talked to members of about 15 other families that day who have children at the school, which is governed by the Archdiocese of Denver. “I have not heard of one family that has agreed with the policy,” she says. “I don’t want to be associated with this. Everyone I’ve talked to feels the same way.”

Sieben adds that while she does not know the lesbian couple personally, “they seem to be loving parents who wanted to raise their child in the Catholic faith and have their child baptized, only to be rejected by the homophobic hierarchy. … They’re punishing these children for the church’s perception of their parents.”

Jeanette De Melo, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Denver, told Boulder Weekly, “This isn’t a punishment to the children. To allow children in these circumstances to continue in our school would be a cause of confusion for the children themselves, in that what they are being taught in school conflicts with what they experience in the home. It isn’t in the best interest of the child that they are subjected to these mixed messages.” (See full Q&A with De Melo at left.)

But Sieben says the policy is not consistent with the mindset of the school community. “We value all of the families there, traditional and nontraditional,” she says. “It’s never been an issue. … It’s not a closed-minded community. It’s not judgmental.”

Sieben adds that she talked to her seventh-grader and second-grader about the situation that day, and both decided to write letters to their principal and priest with their questions and concerns.

She explained to her second-grader that sometimes two people of the same gender love each other. “Your parents could be aliens, or have purple skin, or be two moms, what do we care?” Sieben says. “I said, ‘Do you think Jesus or God would say that you can’t love each other?’” She adds that she hasn’t decided yet whether to pull her children out of the school completely: “I need to do some soul-searching.”

In the meantime, Sieben says, the e-mails were flying last week, as unhappy parents discussed their next course of action. “It’s just like standing up to a bully,” she told Boulder Weekly. “This is a policy that is not reflective of the school community.”

In his March 10 column, (www.archden.org), Chaput says, “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.”

He continues, “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.”

Bill Breslin, pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus, wrote in a March 5 address, “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.”

He also writes, “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. If parents see the cultural interpretation of what tolerance has become as more important than the teachings of Jesus, then we become unfaithful to the Lord and we lose the meaning of the beatitude, ‘Blessed are you when they insult you for My sake, for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours.’ Many of Jesus’ teachings were not popular. In fact, He was crucified for His teachings.”

In a prepared statement, the Archdiocese of Denver Schools said on March 6 that one of the main reasons families place their kids in their schools is to “reinforce the Catholic beliefs and values that the family seeks to live at home. To preserve the mission of our schools, and to respect the faith of wider Catholic community, we expect all families who enroll students to live in accord with Catholic teaching.”

In addition, the release states, “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.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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