Thursday, March 18, 2010

Boulder Pastor Defends Decision to Exclude Girls from Catholic School: It's All about Catholic Freedom

As a follow-up to Tom Fox’s interview with the two women whose daughters have been put out of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic elementary school in Boulder, Colorado, which National Catholic Reporter published earlier this week, Tom Fox published an interview with the pastor of Sacred Heart yesterday.  In this interview (and on his blog, cited below), Father William Breslin defends his decision to exclude the three-year and five-year old girls from the school, because their mothers are a lesbian couple.

Here’s what strikes me as I read Fr. Breslin’s comments to Tom Fox, and his defense of his decision on his blog.  Fr. Breslin tells Fox,

Let me tell you clearly. This whole matter is about having the freedom to uphold the teachings of our faith. It’s about preserving that freedom when a secular society doesn’t want us to have it. The same thing is happening in Washington, D.C., where government is dictating to the church.

“The whole matter is about having the freedom to uphold the teachings of our faith”: this is an assertion Fr. Breslin makes as well in his initial blog posting defending his decision to exclude the two girls from his school.  There, Fr. Breslin states,

The core issue for us Catholics on this question is our freedom and our obligation to teach about marriage and family life as our Faith teaches.

What’s fascinating about this defense of the actions Fr. Breslin has chosen to take in this case is how it utterly turns the tables on the facts regarding what happens.  The defense implies that someone had approached Sacred Heart of Jesus school as an aggressor, seeking to take away from the school its freedom and its right to teach what the Catholic church teaches about marriage.

Following Fr. Breslin’s initial posting about his decision to remove the girls from his school (the posting asks why parents would want to send their children to a Catholic school if they don’t believe or practice Catholic teaching on marriage), chatter began to build in the right-wing Catholic blogsphere about aggressive lesbians uninterested in Catholicism wanting to force their children on a Catholic school.  To make a point.

But we now know both from the press release of the two women whose children have been put out of the school and from Tom Fox’s interview with the two mothers that this portrayal of the situation was wildly inaccurate.  Far from being in-your-face anti-Catholic lesbian activists trying to prove a point, these are lifelong Catholic women who attend Mass weekly in the parish, and whose daughters had already been quietly and happily attending the school with no fanfare on the part of their mothers until, out of the blue, the school’s principal told the mothers that their children were no longer accepted in the school.

If those facts are accurate—and I have no reason to doubt them—there is only one aggressor in this story.  That’s Fr. Breslin himself.

Out of the blue, unprovoked, the pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Boulder has apparently decided to declare war, as it were, on same-sex couples in his parish, and on their children in his school.  To prove a point, it appears.

To demonstrate that the church is under attack, that its freedom to act and teach as it wishes are being constrained by the government.

And yet no such attack has occurred, nothing at all to warrant Fr. Breslin’s unprovoked act of aggression on innocent children and their mothers.  His defense of his decision completely—and in an exceptionally ugly way, in my view—twists what has happened in order to portray himself and his church (the version of church in which he believes) as the victim of this story.  When he is the aggressor, the agent who declared war against two women and their children, as they were simply minding their business, doing what Catholic families always try to do in the parish context, going to church, building a family, pursuing education.

There’s something exceedingly rotten in this story, and the rottenness emanates, in my humble opinion, from the headquarters of the Denver archdiocese, from its outspoken, bellicose, politically aggressive archbishop Charles J. Chaput.  Whose defense of Fr. Breslin’s actions is as astonishingly twisted as Breslin’s is.

As Tom Fox reports, Archbishop Chaput has published a defense of Fr. Breslin in which he seeks to argue that Fr. Breslin undertook his action to put these two girls out of his parish school in order to protect the girls!  From hearing teaching about the family that would be hurtful to them, given that their mothers are a lesbian couple . . . .

An act of unprovoked hostility towards two little girls, on the part of a Catholic pastor, is now presented by that pastor’s bishop as an act undertaken to protect the two little girls being denied a place in a Catholic school.  Whose mothers are being humiliated in a very public way.  Whose lives are now subject to scrutiny that was simply not there, before Fr. Breslin chose to act.

What Fr. Breslin did recently by declaring war on two little Catholic girls and their Catholic mothers is, of course, entirely consistent with everything that his archbishop has been saying about the relationship of the church to the public square, in recent days.  Read, for instance, Archbishop Chaput’s acceptance speech when he was presented with the Envoy of the Year Award by the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College last October. 

It’s all about war, about an embattled church on which a maleficent secular state (“Caesar”) has now declared war against the church.  The freedom of the church is being encroached on.  The ability of the church to pursue its goals and teach what it believes in peace is being strangled by restrictions of the state which want to undermine the religious freedom of the church.

It’s time to fight back.  It’s time to do battle with those battling against us, Chaput shouts.

And yet the only aggressor anyone has succeeded in showing me and many others in the Boulder story is a priest who reports to Archbishop Chaput, Fr. William Breslin, who has suddenly decided, it seems, to make a point about embattled Catholic teachings and embattled Catholic religious freedom by declaring war on two little girls.  And their mothers.

Out of the blue.  For no reason at all.  Except to prove a point.  When no one was attacking his parish, his school, or his church, in the little family he has chosen to target.  As a representative of Jesus, the good shepherd.

In such circumstances, the attempt of church officials to try to convince us that they are the victims and not the aggressors stinks to high heavens, as does the smarmy, disingenuous statement of Archbishop Chaput about how this attack on two little Catholic girls is all for their own good.

In this story, we’re seeing some of the rotten fruits being borne by the dumbing down of the priesthood and episcopacy in the church of John Paul II and Benedict, as well as the rottenness produced in the Catholic church in the U.S. due to the alliance those ill-educated and exceedingly unreflective pastors and bishops have made with the evangelical right.  From the religious right, ideas entirely antithetical to everything the Catholic tradition stands for are flowing into the Catholic church of the U.S.

And its leaders, men like Fr. Breslin and Archbishop Chaput, lack the intellectual acumen (and let’s face it, the heart, the sound catholic instinct) to recognize that the ideas they are promoting derive from theological presuppositions and a worldview at odds with Catholic values.