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Why the Boston Archdiocese's new "no-discrimination" schools policy might not change anything

Posted by Jesse Singal  January 14, 2011 03:40 PM

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At first glance, the Boston Archdiocese's Wednesday release of "a new Catholic schools admissions policy that said parochial schools will not 'discriminate against or exclude any categories of students'" is good news. Coming in the wake of the controversy over a Hingham Catholic school's decision to rescind a third-grader's admission last spring because his parents are lesbians, it certainly seems like a step in the right direction.

But a closer look reveals that there's much less here than meets the eye.

For one thing, the Archdiocese didn't cede merely because of the public outrcy. What was at stake was more tangible than simple public goodwill:

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 policy’s “clear message of inclusiveness.’’
So the Archdiocese would have been putting its schools in a very difficult financial situation if it had not taken steps to clarify its policies in the aftermath of the Hingham controversy.

Moreover, the new policy simply isn't, as the name suggests, unreservedly opposed to discrimination, and leaves a loophole that would allow schools discretion to turn away students:

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.

In other words, in any case officials determined that it would not be in the "best interest of the child" to get a formal Catholic education while living in a situation the Catholic Church frowns upon very much, then the doors to the school would still be closed to that child. Rev. Richard M. Erikson, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Boston, told the Globe that under the new policy the 8-year-old in Hingham might still have been excluded. "The situation at St. Paul’s in Hingham may have taken a different route, but it might have come to the same conclusion,’’ Erikson said. “Father Rafferty still today has the authority to make these decisions as the pastor."

This controversy gets at a common divide: the things that are very important to the Catholic Church as an institution are increasingly much less important to lay Catholics, including, in this case, funders of Catholic education. To the Church, though, homosexuality remains a very big deal.

So it isn't shocking that this would be the end result of the Hingham episode. This newly announced policy addresses the public outcry — but gives the Church more than enough room to continue its staunchly anti-gay policies.
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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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