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Boston Catholic schools will not “discriminate against or exclude any categories of students’’

That is the word out from the Archdiocese, following up on a story that we discussed here and here last year, when the child of a lesbian couple was rejected from a parochial school. Via the Boston Globe, there is apparently no guarantee, however, that the child or another boy or girl in a similar situation would not be excluded:

[T]he policy, which was distributed to pastors, parishes, and school administrators by e-mail, said school parents must accept and understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are an essential and required part of the curriculum.The new guidelines were developed by a panel of clergy and lay school administrators at the direction of Cardinal Sean P. OMalley in response to a widely publicized incident last year in which St. Paul School in Hingham rescinded the admissions offer to the 8-year-old boy. The archdiocese helped place the boy in a different Catholic school.The Hingham episode drew sharp criticism from prominent funders of Catholic education in Boston. The Catholic Schools Foundation, which gives millions in scholarships to low-income students, said it would not subsidize tuition at any school with a discriminatory admissions policy. Michael B. Reardon, executive director of the foundation, said yesterday his organization is pleased with the new policys clear message of inclusiveness.From the perspective of the foundation, the key part of this is that it does not exclude any group of students, and it promotes what is essential to Catholic education, which is inclusivity, he said.Because the new policy said admissions decisions should be based in part on the best interest of the child, it remains uncertain whether the Hingham episode would have occurred had the new policy been in place. The specifics of that case remain unclear because the pastor involved, the Rev. James F. Rafferty, has declined interviews.The situation at St. Pauls in Hingham may have taken a different route, but it might have come to the same conclusion, said the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Boston. Father Rafferty still today has the authority to make these decisions as the pastor. But the expectations of the diocese and the guidance the diocese gives in those judgment calls is clearer today than it was then.He added that the archdiocese stands ready to work hand-in-hand with the pastors and principals when there are judgment calls.Rafferty was among those who participated in the drafting of the new policy. In a statement through the archdiocese yesterday, he said: I welcome the fact that we now have a clear policy to guide us in the important work of Catholic education.

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I applaud these guidelines.I will admit that this statement: From the perspective of the foundation, the key part of this is that it does not exclude any group of students, and it promotes what is essential to Catholic education, which is inclusivity, - caused by eyebrows to elevate a bit. Foundations are entitled to their opinions (of course), and this opinion, expressed as it is by a foundation, surprises nobody, but ... 'inclusivity' as being essential to Catholic education, or even Catholicism, would make for an interesting discussion.

I guess it might be said they have pledged not to engage in "unjust discrimination," but they reserve the right to engage in "just discrimination." The new policy, which was formulated because of complaints about a specific incident, does not rule out a future similar incident. It sounds a lot like PR to please the Catholic Schools Foundation with its millions of scholarship dollars.

Ambiguity as clarity???????

David N - I agree with your analysis. I think it raises a number of interesting questions:* Who gets to determine the criteria for admission to a Catholic school in the Boston Archdiocese? The bishop? The local pastor? A foundation?* What are those criteria? You point to "unjust discrimination" vs. "just discrimination". The foundation points to "inclusivity". The archdiocese states that it will not "discriminate against or exclude any categories of students". Are those criteria reconcilable?* What does it mean to say that a Catholic school is inclusive? Does that mean that it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation? What about religious affiliation? What about ability to pay tuition? What about children with disabilities or other special needs?* Ultimately, of course, the pressing question is, Who is admitted? And who is denied admittance?

It appears that the Foundation supports the poor. The 'poor' schools are being closed all over the country. The Foundation is taking the 'preferential option for the poor' seriously. i.e. Money where the mouth is... Maybe more Foundation and less silent pastor is the ticket. all over the country too!

JIm Pauweis asks "what does it mean to say that a Catholic school is inclusive?"The Boston Globe quotes the policy from a Boston area school:Some schools already have such policies in place. St. Johns Preparatory School in Danvers, which has 1,250 boys in grades 9 to 12, selects students based on entrance exams, grades, and teacher recommendations. The school has a policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national/ethnic origin, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, social class, or economic status.About 20 percent of students at St. Johns are not Catholic, about the same proportion as in archdiocesan schools generally. Principal Edward P. Hardiman said the question of whether to admit the children of gay parents hasnt been an issue for us at all, but he praised the new policy yesterday.

What does it mean to say that a Catholic school is inclusive? Does that mean that it doesnt discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation? What about religious affiliation? What about ability to pay tuition? What about children with disabilities or other special needs?I HOPE that it means this:"For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendant, heirs according to the promise. "Gal 3:26-29However, we are dealing with prudential Catholicism that, when it wants, will declare up to be down, in to be out, and black to be white, so I dont expect too much.Blessed are those from whom you expect nothing: you shall not be disappointed.

The school has a policy that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national/ethnic origin, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, social class, or economic status.Why would a Catholic school not discriminate on the basis of religion? I thought the approach in general was to accept all Catholic students, and if there was any space left over, to accept non-Catholics. That, I think, is one of the few cases of "just discrimination" I can think of. Perhaps it means that when they accept non-Catholic students, they don't discriminate on the basis of religion?

David Nickol write: "I thought the approach in general was to accept all Catholic students, and if there was any space left over, to accept non-Catholics."Sort of. The full text of the statement and policy is on the archdiocesan website at:http://www.bostoncatholic.org/Utility/News-And-Press/Content.aspx?id=192... says:"Students are considered academically qualified if they meet a schools written academic criteria for admission. Academically qualified Catholic students may be given priority for admission to Catholic Schools."

...and if you do read the full text, and understand as I do the way private educaitonal facilities work (including Catholic ones, which, like their secular counterparts, prefer and discirminate by their nature), you will get it that this is about allowing each of the local schools to set its own standards. What it's really saying is, We know that they would not engage in any discrimination that we would not approve of.This is not a criticism on my part, merely a revelation shared.

Georgina, thanks.FWIW - my sense is that very few schools in the Boston Archdiocese would do what happened in Hingham, and this statement by the Archdiocese is a helpful signal to them that they won't be called on the carpet for being generous in their admissions criteria.

Probably the most important line for pastors and principals is"Pastors and principals should consult the Catholic Schools Office with any questions pertaining to admissions or the policy."Which I translate as "We don't want to learn from an article in the Globe that you've rejected a child because of its parents. If you're thinking of doing that, talk to us first."I expect that some pretty intensive counseling would follow. Catholic Schools Office: http://www.abcso.org/mission.html

Jim, and John: Not my sense, although I think the statement was cleverly worded to imply that to the public. I think the bottom line is closer to what John said that the diocese wants to be communicated with first, but I think there's no indication necessarily that they will not support the local school(s). They just don't want, ever, another PR fiasco. They want everyone to be On Message in Unison next time. But the implication to the public is that the diocese will be permissive; yet I don't think that's what's truly going on here. (Again, part of this is my experience in public & private education, and how the higher-ups operate.)

I think Georgina understands it correctly.The last revelation caused a big stir that IMO any beauracracy, never mind the Boston Archdioces, would like to avoid.

What are the details of "the policy"? Without the details, how exactly does one determine if the policy is consistent with Catholic Education?

Nancy asks: "What are the details of the policy?"There is a link to the complete text of the policy in one of my earlier posts. From the archdiocesan newspaper"The new Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Admission Policy says that schools "do not discriminate against or exclude any categories of students." The policy does not define what is considered a category."Our schools welcome, and they don't discriminate against any categories of students," said Secretary for Education Mary Grassa O'Neill. "It covers all categories of students." Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Father Richard Erikson said, "Catholic education is a treasure of the Church and we want to share that as broadly as we can.""We will not exclude any category of child from our schools and we expect pastors will be in conformity with the decision," he added."http://www.thebostonpilot.com/article.asp?ID=12840

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.