Catholic school parents upset over decision to kick out lesbians’ child


Several families who have students at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder had their children at home today to protest the Catholic school’s decision to keep the child of a lesbian couple from re-enrolling next fall.

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 today, 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 has talked to members of about 15 other families 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 below.)

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 her second-grader about the situation this morning, 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 are flying as parents decide 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 a prepared statement, the Archdiocese of Denver Schools says 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.”

The release also quotes a section of the schools’ admissions policy: “No person shall be admitted as a student in any Catholic school unless that person and his/her parent(s) subscribe to the school’s philosophy and agree to abide by the educational policies and regulations of the school and Archdiocese.”

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.

“We communicated the policy to the couple at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School as soon as we realized the situation. We discussed the reasons with them and have sought to respond in a way that does not abruptly displace the student but at the same time respects the integrity of the Catholic school’s philosophy.”

In an e-mail exchange, Boulder Weekly asked Jeanette De Melo, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Denver, several questions that have been raised about the decision to keep a lesbian couple’s child from re-enrolling at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder:

Boulder Weekly: How did the school/Archdiocese find out that the student’s parents are lesbians?

Jeanette De Melo: The situation with the parents was discovered during the admission process.

BW: Is the decision being reconsidered? If not, how many students would have to drop out for it to be reconsidered?

JDM: This is an archdiocesan-wide policy for Catholic schools. It is centered on the mission of the schools and on the teachings of the Catholic Church.  

BW: What were the teachers told at the meeting on Tuesday? To not talk to the press? Would any teachers be persecuted if it were known they talked to the press?

JDM: This was no gag order. The teachers were given notice of this sensitive situation. It is a part of the archdiocesan and school employee handbook that media requests and media comments are handled through the Archdiocese. This is standard practice in most organizations.

BW: Were the parents informed of the decision and how?

JDM: The school staff and the pastor have been in discussion with the parents.

BW: How is the school/Archdiocese enforcing this prohibition against children of homosexuals? Is there a form sent home for parents to fill out that asks about their sexual orientation? Would it matter if an aunt or grandparent were homosexual? What if that relative were the primary caregiver?

JDM: This situation came to our awareness through the normal admissions process; it was not sought out.

BW: Is a similar approach being taken for other possible family deviances from traditional Catholic teachings (like a prohibition against students whose parents use birth control, students whose parents are not married but are living together, students who have a parent who is not Catholic, students whose parents don’t observe Lent or go to confession, or students who were conceived via in-vitro fertilization or donor eggs/sperm)?

JDM: This policy holds true to any open discord.

BW: How do you respond to some parents and teachers who say this decision goes against the school’s teachings of love and tolerance? (See answer below.)

BW: How does the decision mesh with mission-statement language and other information on the Archdiocese and school websites referring to “a nurturing community,” “a curriculum that reinforces what is taught at home,” nurturing “the spirituality of each individual,” “each person is created in the image and likeness of God,” giving our “understanding love,” serving with a spirit of forgiveness and building a community of hope and love? (See answer below.)

BW: Even if homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, why punish the child, who had no control over that choice?

JDM: In answer to your last three questions: 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. Love and tolerance are manifested in many ways. As a parent knows, it isn’t love or tolerance to give a child anything they want and not provide them with guidelines for moral behavior. As Catholics we believe that Jesus Christ gave us the Church out of love for us and to help guide us in our lives. Each of us does not have the right to decide for himself what is “Catholic” and what is not. To be Catholic means to submit to the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals.