by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The decision not to admit the child of a non-Catholic same-sex couple to St. Ann Catholic School in Prairie Village has unfortunately garnered quite a bit of local and some national media attention. Not surprisingly, the secular media has been very negative in their portrayal of the decision.
Some St. Ann parishioners, as well as many more non-parishioners from both Missouri and Kansas, have signed a petition urging me to reconsider the decision. I believe most petitioners and many other critics of the decision are well-intentioned. They have a genuine concern for the child and the same-sex couple. I share their concern for the welfare of both the child and the parents, but we disagree about the best way to treat them with both respect and compassion.
I know this issue is troubling for many because it hits close to home. Most of us know someone in our family or among our friends who struggles with same-sex attraction. We love them and desire what is best for them. It is very important to note that experiencing same-sex attraction is not sinful. In fact, some of the most virtuous people I know are individuals with same-sex attraction who choose to live a chaste life.
One of the positive developments of contemporary culture has been to make it unacceptable to ridicule homosexuals. It is offensive to God to make cruel, demeaning remarks about those made in his image, about those for whom Jesus gave his life on Calvary.
At the heart of our Catholic faith is respect for the dignity of every human person who is created in the divine image and is of such worth in the eyes of God that Jesus gave his life on Calvary. In the very first chapter of the Bible, we read: “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Human beings are the masterpiece of God’s creation. Amongst all creation, God gave human beings the freedom to choose to do his will or not.
The primary purpose of our parochial schools is to help Catholic parents form their children in the faith. We assist parents to help their children to discover their God-given dignity. Our schools attempt to help students not just know about God, but actually to encounter God and experience his unique, personal love for them.
We try to assist parents in their efforts to help their children become disciples and friends of Jesus. If we do this part of the mission well, then our students will be motivated to do their very best — not for human honor and praise, but to glorify God who has given them life and entrusted them with their talents and gifts.
An important part of this spiritual formation is helping our students develop the virtues necessary to live a moral life. Part of this virtue formation includes cultivating chastity, helping our students understand the meaning and purpose of their sexuality. Our students are also taught the nature of marriage as a call to heroic, faithful, fruitful and forever love which serves as the foundation of the family.
In the third chapter of Genesis, we find words that are echoed in the marriage ritual: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” Earlier in Genesis, God had given the command to the first human beings to be fertile and multiply, filling the earth and subduing it.
Thus, in the very beginning of the Bible, we find the foundational principles for Christian marriage: 1) between one man and one woman; 2) permanent, never to be divided; and 3) fruitful — open to being co-creators with God of new human life. When Jesus in the Gospel is asked a question about the permissibility of divorce, he cites Genesis to describe God’s intention for marriage.
While the Bible helps Christians understand the purpose of our sexuality and marriage, these same truths are available to us through reason. Without the benefit of biblical revelation, non-Christian societies and cultures have understood marriage to be a permanent commitment between a man and a woman for their benefit and the benefit of the children born from their union.
The very design of our bodies reveals their purpose and the meaning of sexual intimacy — the one flesh union of a man and a woman. This most profound physical expression of human love by its nature is intended to create a permanent and lasting bond between the man and the woman.
This unique and permanent bond of husband and wife creates the ideal environment for the birth of a child. Children benefit from witnessing the love of their father for their mother and vice versa. Similarly, children benefit from receiving the unique love from both their father and mother.
Does this mean that children who grow up in single-parent homes or homes in which they are not raised by one or both of their biological parents are doomed to failure and unhappiness? I hope not, because I was raised in a single-parent family.
However, do these children face additional challenges? Absolutely. These children need additional love and support. Catholic schools strive to provide assistance in many instances when parents in less than ideal circumstances are striving to raise healthy and holy children.
Children learn from excellent classroom instruction, reading the best literature and the wealth of information provided through modern technology. However, the most powerful influence upon a child’s moral formation is the witness and the examples of the significant adults in their lives.
Parents are the first teachers of their children, especially as regards faith and virtue. Our schools enter into a partnership with parents. We require our parents to commit to the best of their ability to model in their home life the moral formation their children receive in our Catholic schools.
There are many ways in which we can rebel against the design of our human bodies. Sexual sins include adultery, fornication, masturbation, pornography, homosexual acts, promiscuity in all its forms, etc. Whenever we rebel against God’s plan and design, there are always serious and inevitable negative consequences resulting from our choices.
With our fractured human nature, these sins have always existed. However, what is different in our post-sexual revolution society is that virtues such as purity, modesty and chastity are subject to ridicule by the secular culture.
At the same time, there is strong cultural support to choose to deny such a fundamental reality as the nature of marriage. Our cultural morals are no longer based on reason and understanding the innate purpose of an institution as fundamental as marriage; rather, marriage is now whatever we want it to be, declare it to be.
Some have posed the question: Why not admit a child of a same-sex couple, when there are other school parents not living in a manner consistent with Catholic moral teaching? I am not sure how those posing the question know the intimate details of other parents’ lives or how they propose the church should acquire such knowledge.
However, let us consider the case of a heterosexual couple where one of the spouses has a previous marriage that has not received a decree of nullity. In such a case, the pastor would normally request that they seek an annulment. It is possible that their situation can be brought into conformity with church teaching.
However, even if it cannot, it does not engender a similar confusion occasioned by the same-sex couple, because their invalid marriage does not contradict a fundamental component of the nature of marriage.
Marriage by its nature is a public commitment. Homosexuals advocated for same-sex marriage because they wanted their relationships to be given societal recognition. They chose to be part of an effort to redefine marriage. They disagree publicly with an essential component of Christian marriage — namely, the one flesh union of a man and a woman.
Similarly, marriage by its nature gives a couple a right to sexual intimacy. Once again, the decision of the same-sex couple to enter into marriage publicly contradicts Catholic moral teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual acts and is part of an effort to normalize immoral actions.
Frankly, I fail to see how admitting a child of same-sex parents to one of our schools is merciful or helpful to the child.
Recently, I read the comments of a gay rights leader who was upset by the policy of another diocese that actually held open the possibility of admitting children with same-sex parents. The parents had to be interviewed by the pastor and, if the pastor accepted them, they were required to sign a promise that they would uphold Catholic teaching.
This gay rights activist first questioned why any same-sex couple would want their child in a school that taught homosexual acts were immoral. Secondly, he said that the church — by requiring same-sex couples to sign these promises to publicly support Catholic teaching — was actually encouraging them to lie.
In a culture that celebrates same-sex marriage as cultural progress and encourages gays to be proud of their lifestyle, our church needs to uphold moral truth.
Of course, to sin, we must know an action is sinful and freely choose to do it anyway. Pope Francis is right. While we can judge the objective moral nature of a certain action, it is not our place to judge the disposition of someone else’s heart. Certainly, the moral confusion and chaos in our society impacts the culpability of individuals.
Nevertheless, there are real life and death consequences when we use our bodies in a manner for which they were not designed. There is a reason that the life expectancy of gay men is much shorter than for heterosexual men.
We know the path to authentic happiness and abiding joy is to do the will of God and live a virtuous life. This is why the church must proclaim moral truths with clarity and love.
Those with same-sex attraction can live very happy and fruitful lives. They can enjoy beautiful chaste friendships. They have much to contribute to society and the church. This is not to say living a chaste life is easy, but Our Lord does not promise an easy life to any of his disciples.
However, Jesus does promise an abundant life and complete joy to those who are willing to follow him on the path of authentic love.
I suggest to anyone struggling with issues involving same-sex attraction to contact our local Courage chapter. Similarly, I encourage everyone to attend Christopher West’s “Made for More Event” on the evening of April 4 at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. It will help you understand much better than this article the beauty of our Christian understanding of our sexuality.