After a same-sex couple attempted to enroll their child in a Catholic school in Springfield, Illinois, the city's bishop is requiring all parents to sign an agreement that critics say is designed to drive away the children of same-sex couples and divorced parents.
The agreement requires parents to "agree that our child(ren) will be taught the teachings of the Catholic Church in their fullness even if we are living a way of life that is contrary to those teachings." Those who "do not live in accord with Church teaching" must pledge "to discuss with the pastor of our Catholic parish ways in which we could." Though more than 10 percent of children in archdiocese Catholic schools are not Catholic, parents must also commit to attending mass weekly and to commit to giving at least 8 percent of their income as tithings to their parish.
Here's the form sent to parents. Some schools are reportedly not forcing parents to sign in violation of the bishop's decree.
The policy was officially implemented by Springfield Bishop John Paprocki on July 15, but it was first reported by the local paper, the State Journal-Register, last week, which said the school where the couple tried to enroll their child was Christ the King. The school's principal, Pam Fahey, declined to comment for this story.
LGBT Catholic advocates who spoke to BuzzFeed News call the policy "unprecedented." Several archdioceses have recently imposed policies restricting teachers in Catholic schools from expressing support for marriage equality and several have fired gay and lesbian faculty members who have married. But advocates said they knew of no other archdiocese that required parents of students to sign what they say amounts to a morality agreement.
The new policy comes shortly before Pope Francis is due to visit the United States and attend an event called the World Meeting of Families, and LGBT advocates say this new policy appears to be a direct attack by Paprocki on Francis's more inclusive tone towards LGBT people. There has also been a wave of firings of LGBT faculty from Catholic schools ahead of the pope's visit, including a teacher at a primary school just outside Philadelphia with the blessing of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. The Philadelphia Archdioceses will host the pope's visit to a church-organized World Meeting of Families at the end of September.
"This is clearly the rejection of children of same-sex couples and contradicts the welcome that all should experience in our church," wrote leaders of the LGBT Catholic organization Dignity USA, in a letter protesting the policy to the pope's representative to the United States, Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò. The group noted that the pope has said that baptism should not be denied to the children of same-sex couples and the same logic should dictate welcoming these children into Catholic schools without unreasonable barriers.
Paprocki became infamous among LGBT Catholics after he held an "exorcism" service as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn enacted a marriage equality law in 2013. Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke told BuzzFeed News that Paprocki and the Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput are "choosing their moment to roll [hardline policies] out on the eve of the pope's visit to the U.S." to send a message to the pontiff.
Paprocki's office did not respond to requests for comment. In the letter sent to school officials, Paprocki said that the policy was "prompted by a same-sex 'married' couple seeking to enroll their adopted children into one of our schools." He said the policy "as actually developed will not single out same-sex couples," and that "we are saying that the children are welcome and we will not turn them away."
However, he continued, "it could be that parents will opt not to send their children to a school that will teach their children to a school that will teach their children that their parents are living in an objectively sinful situation if they are not married in the Church," which would also apply to people who had divorced and remarried, a practice the church does not recognize.
While Pope Francis has consistently expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and said that children are harmed when not raised by married, heterosexual parents, he has explicitly called on church leaders to welcome the children of same-sex couples into the church in the name of evangelization.
In a January 2014 interview, the pope explicitly called for training Catholic educators to welcome the children "who live in complex situations, especially family ones." The most important question, he said at the time, was, "How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?"
Driving them away from the church was a mistake, he said. "We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them."
Bishop Paprocki is technically subordinate in the Catholic hierarchy to Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, a moderate appointed last year by Pope Francis, a move widely seen as reflecting Francis's desire to push the American church away from the "culture wars" that prevailed under the last two popes. Cupich appeared to deliver an oblique rebuke to Paprocki in his homily on the Sunday after news of the new policy broke.
"It is clear that the Holy Father is calling the Church to examine our categories of expression about what we believe and be open to new avenues and creativity when it comes to accompanying families," Cupich said in remarks about a highly contentious meeting on family teachings scheduled for October in Rome. "All of this has much to say to us in Chicago, that we not settle for solutions that no longer work, expressions that no longer inspire and ways of working that stifle creativity and collaboration."
Cupich's office did not respond to request for comment.
Here's the full letter from Bishop Paprocki to school officials announcing the policy.
Dear Pastors, Parochial Administrators, Pastoral Facilitators, Deacons and Principals,
The Presbyteral Council at a special meeting last week recommended and I approved the attached Family School Agreement and Policies and Procedures to implement the new Family School Agreement, which is to be used for all new enrolling students, effective today. The consideration of this new policy was prompted by a same-sex "married" couple seeking to enroll their adopted children into one of our schools, but the policy as actually developed will not single out same-sex couples. Rather, it will be used for all parents to indicate that they understand and agree that children in the school will be taught the teachings of the Catholic Church in their fullness. Parent(s)/adoptive parent(s)/legal guardian(s) not living in accord with Church teaching will be expected to discuss with the pastor of their Catholic parish ways in which we hope they could. Special attention is to be given to discussion of moral issues that may be problematic for the parent(s)/adoptive parent(s)/legal guardian(s) prior to signing the Family School Agreement. In this way, we are saying that the children are welcome and we will not turn them away, but it could be that parents will opt not to send their children to a school that will teach their children that their parents are living in an objectively sinful situation if they are not married in the Church. This applies not just to same-sex couples, but also to heterosexual couples cohabiting without marriage, those married civilly but not in the Catholic Church, and those who are divorced and remarried without having obtained an annulment. The implementation of this policy is premised on the hope we have for repentance and turning away from a sinful way of life, even if that may be years down the road.
The adoption of the Family School Agreement is also an opportunity to introduce the concepts of stewardship and discipleship. At the Presbyteral Council meeting, the language we settled on in the introductory bullet point of the Family School Agreement is simply an exhortative aspiration projected to the future: "stewardship . . . obliges each family to try to tithe, as we will be encouraging our parishioners toward the goal of giving at least eight percent of their income to the parish." The language of the agreement itself says, "We further accept a commitment to the stewardship way of life as practiced in our parish." So school parents are being asked to do the same as other parishioners in their parish regarding the practice of stewardship. In some parishes, that may currently be nonexistent, while others are further down the line.
The Pastoral Letter on Growth in the Church that I am writing and hope to have completed by the end of the summer will substantively address discipleship and stewardship. In the months ahead, I will be working with Father Edwards and the Presbyteral Council and will institute a Diocesan Pastoral Council to devise specific plans for embracing discipleship and implementing stewardship in our diocese.
Springfield Archdiocese Director of Catechetical Services Jonathan Sullivan contested the assertion that the policy is unprecedented in an email to BuzzFeed News after publication of this story. "The wording of the agreement was taken almost verbatim, with minimal editing, from the agreement required in the Diocese of Wichita," he wrote.
The State Journal-Register first reported the policy. A previous version of this story misidentified the newspaper.