DENVER | Tensions between the Catholic Church and the gay community have erupted in Colorado after a Catholic school’s decision to deny enrollment next year to the children of a lesbian couple.
The decision by Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder, which comes while several Catholic dioceses are trimming their relationships with state agencies over gay marriage, has sparked public protests and criticism over the past few days in Colorado.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput came to the defense of the school, arguing in his weekly column that Catholic schools cannot fulfill their mission if they accept families based on an understanding of marriage contrary to the church’s moral teachings.
“Our schools are meant to be ‘partners in faith’ with parents,” said Archbishop Chaput in his March 8 column. “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.”
The school came under fire last week after administrators informed a lesbian couple that their children would not be admitted for the 2010-11 school year. The couple’s two children, who are enrolled in kindergarten and preschool, will be allowed to finish the current school year, Archbishop Chaput said.
So far the lesbian couple has chosen to remain anonymous and hasn’t made a public statement, but others have rallied on their behalf.
A handful of students from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver held a demonstration Tuesday outside the archdiocese offices, holding a yellow banner that said, “Standing on the side of Love.”
Iliff protest organizer Sarah Raven said she objected to what she described as the church’s double standard. The school admits the children of divorced couples, even though the church frowns on divorce. The school also has children from non-Catholic families.
“They’re setting up a different standard. It’s not being applied equally,” Miss Raven said. “It’s more political than anything. They know they can get a lot more support for that than they can [by excluding] children whose parents are divorced.”
In his column, Archbishop Chaput said that children from divorced and non-Catholic families are welcome “so long as their parents support the Catholic mission of the school and do not offer a serious counter-witness to that mission in their actions.”
Still, critics accused the church of discriminating against homosexual couples and punishing children for the actions of their parents. Boulder Pride, a gay rights group, has received calls from Catholics who disagree with the school’s decision, according to executive director Ailica Lewis.
“I think this is a wake-up call that decisions like this aren’t going to be tolerated,” Ms. Lewis said. “We’re getting a lot of contacts from people who aren’t a part of the GLBT community who are upset by this decision.”
Some parents have reportedly launched a petition drive challenging the school’s actions. A few dozen protesters, including some parents of the school’s children, gathered outside Sacred Heart during Sunday services displaying signs with messages such as, “My Catholicism Does Not Discriminate.”
“I’ve had 16 years of Catholic education, and this just reached the core of my being as completely wrong and against the teachings of Jesus,” Colleen Scanlan Lyons, whose daughter attends Sacred Heart, told KUSA-TV, the local NBC-TV affiliate.
The Rev. Bill Breslin, who oversees the school as priest of the Boulder parish, has not made himself available for interviews in recent days.
But he released a statement on his personal blog stating that the school’s teachings on homosexuality would conflict with what the children are learning at home.
“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,” Father Breslin said. “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.”
He also asked why the lesbian couple would want to put their children in such a position.
“Why would good parents want their children to learn something they don’t believe in?” Father Breslin said. “It doesn’t make any sense. There are so many schools in Boulder that see the meaning of sexuality in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church does. Why not send their children there?”
Neither the Archdiocese of Washington nor the Diocese of Arlington have policies forbidding the children of same-sex couples from attending their Catholic schools, according to their spokeswomen.
The issue hits close to home for the Washington archdiocese, which recently canceled all health-insurance benefits for spouses of its employees so as to avoid having to pay benefits for any employees’ same-sex partners. Their decision to cancel was in response to the city’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, which went into effect this month.
A spokesman for the Baltimore archdiocese did not return requests asking for comment. The Colorado Springs diocese has not released a statement on the issue, according to a spokeswoman.
• Julia Duin contributed to this report.