The lesbian couple whose child was recently denied re-enrollment at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder is apparently not the first lesbian couple that had a child enrolled at the Catholic school.
But it may be the last.
Boulder resident Michelle Theall told Boulder Weekly that she and her partner had their son enrolled in preschool there until late last summer, when they withdrew the child after arranging a “closet baptism.”
Theall says the refusal to admit the children of a homosexual couple is a recent policy change, because church and school officials previously had no problem with it. She says she knows of a third lesbian couple that had their child enrolled there as well.
“This is definitely not the first time lesbian parents have had children at this school,” Theall says. “The problem is that their rule is new. … They all know that gay parents have had kids at that school.”
According to Theall, before enrolling her son at Sacred Heart, she asked school officials whether a child having “two mommies” would be a problem. They said no.
And when she and her partner decided to have their child baptized, they asked the same question of the person running the baptism classes. That person checked on it, she says, and came back with the same reply.
But last July, as the date of the baptism approached, and after Theall’s Catholic parents and sister had booked flights from Texas to attend the baptism, Theall says she was contacted by Bill Breslin, pastor at Sacred Heart, who wanted to speak with her in person about his concerns about the baptism.
“I was hoping it was about the fact that I didn’t attend Mass regularly,” Theall says. “He said, ‘I don’t understand how you can look at this as following the teachings of the church.’ I replied, ‘Because it exists. These are his parents. If you think I’m going to tell him that having two mommies is wrong, you are mistaken.’”
Theall says Breslin then informed her that there were discussions under way about no longer allowing children of homosexuals to attend the school, and he asked whether she intended to re-enroll her son. “I said, ‘After a conversation like this, no.’”
In a letter submitted to Boulder Weekly, she says Breslin asked her how the church or school should respond when children and parents question a child having two same-sex parents.
Theall told him, “I can answer that with a true story, because it already happened at your school.” She wrote that the director of Sacred Heart had a child in her son’s class who asked her, in front of the other pre-schoolers and a teacher, “Why does your son have two mommies?” According to Theall, the teacher quipped, “Because he’s lucky!” Theall then jumped in and said, “Well, there are all different kinds of families. Some kids are raised by a grandmother or a mom or just a dad or sometimes both a mom and dad, and sometimes two mommies or two daddies.” She says the little girl then responded, “My daddy doesn’t live with us anymore.” And Theall said, “I’m sure he loves you very much.”
She says she told Breslin “it’s a fact that different types of families exist in our world. Acceptance of this does not need to equal approval. The two are not synonymous.”
She told Boulder Weekly that Breslin agreed to continue with the planned baptism, but told Theall that he’d have to find a priest who would do it, because he would be out of town and his regular replacement might say something untoward during the ceremony, like “What do we have here? Two mommies?”
Theall says Breslin found a priest at Naropa University who would do the baptism, but it was rescheduled from a regular church service at 10:30 a.m. to later that Sunday, at 4:30 p.m. When Theall told another lesbian parent at Sacred Heart about the rescheduled time, that parent replied, “Oh, we had a closet baptism, too.”
So Theall says she e-mailed Breslin and said, “I think you should stop having closet baptisms.” She says his reply was that private baptisms are typically arranged only at the parents’ request.
Breslin referred a request for comment to Archdiocese of Denver spokesperson Jeanette De Melo, who did not respond by press time.
Theall says she and her partner went through with the baptism, primarily for the sake of her parents, who have been understanding about their daughter’s sexual orientation, despite being Catholic. “It’s what I can give to them,” she says of her parents. “They’ve come a long way in accepting us, with this grandchild.”
But since the events of last summer, Theall says she no longer considers herself Catholic. She and her partner now attend another church in Boulder, and their son is at a different school.
Still, Theall says she appreciates Breslin being upfront about his concerns, and that the school itself is great. “The teachers there were wonderful,” she says. “I just can’t stand the hypocrisy. Don’t say this is for those who are in ‘open discord’ with the Catholic Church, because guess what? You’re going to lose your whole enrollment.”
What makes her story even more interesting, Theall says, is that she is from Dallas, Texas, and attended one of the churches there where altar boys — her schoolmates at the time — were among the first to bring claims of sexual abuse against a Catholic priest, Rudolph Kos, who they said molested them in the 1980s. One of those altar boys later committed suicide.
The Catholic Church was forced to pay damages of more than $120 million to those young men after a jury trial in 1997, an award that at the time was the largest judgment ever made against the Catholic Church, according to The New York Times.
As for the situation at Sacred Heart, Theall says she decided to speak out because she is tired of the dishonesty.
“People have a right to believe what they want to believe, but they don’t have a right to hurt my child,” she says. “Stop the lying about it.”