We are getting mixed requests from our readers in the past few days—some want us to keep digging in on the fracas over the new direction for fund-raising and development, while some want us to address what they view as time-critical situations.
After prayerful consideration, today we take a big chance by dipping our toe in the water in an area we have stayed away from up to now. That is the Catholic Schools Admission Policy whose draft is undergoing final review. We are focusing not on the policy itself but rather on whether the general pattern of diocesan deception we have been reporting on previously might, coincidentally, happen to apply in the setting of this policy as well. If so, perhaps a better policy will emerge if any content in the policy that is even perceived as misleading is modified.
Some readers who appreciate that we have stayed away from such topics might have issues with today’s post. We provide you with the facts and two points where it appears that people reading this draft policy might be misled or deceived. You will need to decide.
Background and Facts
As many readers may recall, almost six months ago to the day, St. Paul School in Hingham made national news for deciding to deny admission at their Catholic elementary school to the son of a lesbian couple. Choose your media venue if you need a recap—here is the story from the Boston Globe, USA Today, AOL News, and The Boston Pilot. While Cardinal O’Malley was away in Portugal with the real Holy Father, Jack Connors (dubbed the “pope of Boston’s Catholic power-brokers” by the Globe) jumped into the fracas declaring this was a bad move, as can be seen by Connors’ photo and quotes that highlight these pieces in the Globe and Herald (coincidentally entitled, “Church’s balance of power shifting”). After Cardinal O’Malley returned to the U.S, he said on his May 19 blog post that the matter would be studied further and a policy developed. That policy is close to being finalized and seeing the light of day via public promulgation, and is the subject of today’s post.
The Draft Policy
As anonymous bloggers who promise confidentiality to our readers, it should not surprise anyone that we often get anonymous emails, and several readers sent along this Draft Catholic Schools Admission Policy as of September 16, 2010. You will note that it is marked “confidential,” which we assume means “for Catholics only.” And, since the archdiocese has shared this fairly broadly with clergy, schools staff and lay advisory boards already and has promised transparency as being important towards rebuilding trust with the people of this Archdiocese, we assume it is OK to share, in confidence, with just the limited group of Catholics who read this blog. Just do not share it broadly. If anyone from the archdiocese objects to this draft being posted in the interest of helping make a better policy for Catholics in this generation and generations to come, please let us know.
The crux of the policy is the following:
Our schools welcome as qualified students whose parent(s)/guardian(s) accept and understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are an essential and required part of the curriculum. We count on our parents to partner with our principals and faculty in the student’s educational experience. We do not discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.
The purpose of this post (and hopefully any comments you offer) is not to discuss the pros and cons of that draft policy position, but rather to highlight two things in the draft that are potentially misleading or deceptive.
Two Misleading or Deceptive Aspects of the Policy Draft
1) Holy Father’s quote. The document opens by saying, “In creating this policy we are guided by the words of the Holy Father, by Canon Law and by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops”
“No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.” Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Catholic Educators in Washington DC. April 17, 2008.
There is one concern with that quote–it is missing the context of the entire paragraph or two immediately preceding it. Here is a link to Holy Father’s actual address to Catholic University of America, and the quote in-context:
The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation….Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.
This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.
It seems to this writer that the context in which the Holy Father spoke was very different from the context in which that one selective phrase has been used, absent all context, in this draft document. We are giving you the factual information. You should decide for yourself how you feel.
Without debating the underlying position or principles of the policy, are we the only ones who find the absence of context for the Holy Father’s words a tad misleading?
2. Principle of subsidiarity. Is it maintained by this draft policy, or is it negated?
In Catholic teaching, this means the Church usually assumes that problems are best defined and resolved by those most closely affected by them. Here are excerpts from an interesting piece from the Phoenix Diocesan Newspaper on the topic of subsidiarity.
The principle of subsidiarity is a basic tenet of Church law. Under this principle, authorities at higher levels of the organization discern what responsibilities and tasks lower level authorities are capable of fulfilling, based on Church law and the particular definition of the given role of those lower level authorities.
This allocation of responsibilities can be seen at every level of the Church. The pope appoints a bishop to lead a particular diocese, just as a bishop appoints a certain priest to lead a particular parish, just as pastors appoint parishioners to lead particular ministries, according to each individual’s gifts and ability to fulfill their defined role.
By entrusting a pastor to care for the people of his parish, and by empowering a pastor to make certain decisions on behalf of his parish, the bishop is exercising the principle of subsidiarity.
“A parish has the freedom to meet the local needs of their area according to the gifts of the parish,” said Fr. Chris Fraser, judicial vicar and canon law expert.
“The diocesan bishop isn’t going to determine that one parish will have an outreach for the poor while another has a ministry for immigrants,” he said. “Each parish must evaluate its gifts and resources and reach out to the local community in ways it feels called.”
If you look at the draft policy for the Archdiocese of Boston, it says the following:
Pastors, principals, advisory and/or governing boards may develop specific admission policies for their school provided they are in conformity with the Archdiocesan Admission Policy.
In other words, the archdiocese wrote in the words that they still endorse the concept of subsidiarity–but only as long as you, the pastors and parishes, do what the Archdiocese directs you to do from the top-down. We asked a canon lawyer friend about this one, and were told the archdiocese is treading on canonical “thin ice” with this provision as worded.
We know some people will pounce on us for this post. The archdiocese will claim a confidential draft document has been “leaked” and will claim it is still undergoing revisions. Some people will inaccurately believe we are opining on the policy. In reality, we had enough emails from parents and clergy asking us to cover this that we decided to put this out in the open.
A friend of the blog commented this morning that regardless of the end good which may be intended by a particular effort or initiative, it is always best to ensure that honesty and integrity are maintained through all of the means of attaining that end. That is the reason behind our posts about possible deception, and indeed, it is a motivator behind this blog.
Once again, readers, this post is not about the position articulated in the policy draft. There are no doubt better venues for that to be discussed. If you want to tell the Archdiocese what you think of the policy, we suggest you contact the Vicar General (Vicar_General@rcab.org), his assistant Fr. Bryan Parrish, and superintendent of schools, Mary Grassa O’Neill. (We can give emails for them separately if you want them).
We are simply raising questions about how the policy is being “sold” to key constituencies and whether there are aspects of this draft document that are seen as misleading. We have just been deceived about an open search for the head of development. Is this a pattern of behavior? Do the means justify the ends? Please keep comments focused in those areas so we do not need to moderate.