As a nation, we Americans are keenly sensitive to even the slightest hint of unjust discrimination. 

That probably helps explain the level of furor, including in Catholic circles, over the widely publicized decision by two Catholic schools this enrollment season to decline admittance to the children of same-sex couples (see story, Page 4). 

Some Catholic critics saw the decisions as demonstrating a circle-the-wagons mentality, and noted Jesus’ own example of hating the sin but loving the sinner. Others saw fatal inconsistency in denying children of same-sex couples but admitting those whose parents are unmarried, are divorced and remarried outside the Church, or, for that matter, not even Catholic at all. Others attributed the decisions to the Church’s supposed knee-jerk bias against homosexuals. 

As self-analysis, these critiques make for valid reflection. But they overlook fundamental points outlined in statements by the archbishops of Denver and Boston, the dioceses where the cases occurred. Although some reports played up differences in response between the two — in Boston, the superintendent of Catholic schools said she’d offered to place the child in another Catholic school while the archdiocese develops a policy — both prelates underscore the primary concern of children’s welfare and fidelity to the mission of Catholic education. 

The main purpose of Catholic schools, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput noted, is religious: to form students in Catholic faith, Catholic morality and Catholic social values. While the Church “never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education,” it needs to have discretion to create an environment conducive to its aims. 

“Our schools are meant to be ‘partners in faith’ with parents,” Archbishop Chaput said. “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. It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.” 

No Catholic parents are perfect. But if they publicly contradict Church teaching — whether by their lives, or by announcements, or by slogans on T-shirts at school events — they contradict the mission of Catholic schooling itself. That is not fair to their children, to teachers who risk alienating children from their parents or to the wider school community. 

Unlike for couples divorced and remarried outside the Church, same-sex couples don’t need to say anything to demonstrate they don’t support the Church’s teaching on sexual morality; their very presence together at school events testifies to it in a way that is impossible to mistake. 

That said, pastors always have some pastoral latitude to help draw people to a fuller embrace of the Church’s teachings. Take, for example, a same-sex couple that truly wants, for the best of reasons, a Catholic education for the child, and is willing to avoid manifesting publicly any sign of disagreement with the Church. That may be a teaching moment not only for the child but for the parents; that the Church is uncompromising on truth but, like Christ, meets people where they are. 

The more countercultural Church teachings become, the more likely Catholic schools will be drawn into human dramas like these two cases. But by remaining true to their Catholic identity, they will be forming students who then can engage the world with courage and Gospel compassion.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor