Alum Fighting Discrimination Exemplifies the Best of Catholic Education

200px-blanchetlogoA Catholic high school in Seattle refused to publish an alumna’s same-gender wedding announcement in its magazine, citing archdiocesan prohibitions. But a fellow alum is standing in solidarity against this discriminatory decision and exemplifying the very best of Catholic education.

Bishop Blanchet High School told 1997 alumna Jessie Gifford that “the archdiocese does not permit this type of information to be published in our Catholic school magazine.” Gifford, who was a student leader and homecoming queen in high school, married her wife recently and had submitted an announcement to the alumni magazine.

Criticism of the school administrators’ decision is being led by James Nau, a 1997 graduate who knows the rejected alumna and was homecoming king to Gifford’s queen. Nau posted an open letter to the Archdiocese of Seattle on Facebook. He said that despite his disagreement with church leaders’ opposition to marriage equality, he had a different request:

“I would invite you to consider that a marriage is first and foremost a celebration of love, and while the debates within Christian communities around the question of gay marriage indicate something short of scriptural clarity on the matter, there is another matter upon which scripture is absolutely clear: the value of love. . .

“This policy which prohibits the public acknowledgement of Jessie’s marriage stands behind a faith that you no doubt believe is right, but it does so at the cost of what is greater: love. When there is an opportunity to rejoice in love that exists among the members of your community, you have chosen instead to shut them out, and on this issue Pope Francis has warned, ‘a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission”. . .

“While the Church might persist in its opposition to gay marriage, it would do well not to forgot to rejoice in love where it can be found, especially within its own communities and from a woman who it has been justified in honoring in the past.”

Nau, who is Catholic, wrote about being brought up in the church and said that his education in Seattle’s Catholic schools “made me into the person who writes this letter.” His solidarity with Gifford comes, in part, from an affirmation of the Pauline statement that “if one part is honored, every part rejoices in it.”

Additionally, Nau has been in correspondence with Bishop Blanchet’s President, Antonio DeSapio, who defended the rejection of Gifford’s wedding announcement, despite thanking Nau for being involved in the discussion. Nau raised objections about an inconsistent application of church teaching in the alumni announcement, asking for instances where opposite-gender couples must prove they are not previously divorced. This discrimination has been harmful, as Nau wrote in another Facebook post reporting on the correspondence:

“Personally, I have found this experience to be very alienating, and I can only speculate as to how it must feel for my friend Jessie. . .As a teacher, I keep thinking about what this policy says to your current students, and I hope that you consider what this incident teaches the students in the Archdiocese who might be gay or questioning their sexual identity as well as what it says to their friends, families, and teachers who love and support them. What does it teach students whose parents are gay?”

As he concluded, Nau noted the irony that this experience of exclusion and marginalization has actually rallied the alumni community together and been a cause for former peers to become reacquainted.

Jessie Gifford’s wedding is not the first to be shunned by a Catholic school because it celebrates a same-gender marriage. At least three similar incidents have happened at Marian High School in Omaha, Notre Dame Prep in Baltimore, and Sacred Heart Academy in Amherst, New York. Notre Dame Prep eventually reversed its decision after pressure from alumnae, vowed religious in the sponsoring congregation, and other Catholics. Hopefully, officials at Bishop Blanchet will recognize their bad decision and reverse it.

Either way, those who believe in Catholic education can celebrate James Nau and other former students who stand in solidarity with those marginalized and rejected in our church. Rooting themselves in Catholic teaching, they intelligently and eloquently articulate why discrimination is wrong and how it can be redressed. In brief, they commit to live the Gospels with integrity and that, over all else, is why Catholic education exists.

As National Catholic Schools Week concludes today, there is much work to be done on raising LGBT standards but it is reassuring to know so many alumni learned about true justice and seek it wholeheartedly.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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Seattle PI: Catholic high school: Archdiocese ‘does not permit’ same-sex wedding announcement

0 replies
  1. Larry
    Larry says:

    If these parishes were honest about their motives instead of just homophobic, they would require a litmus test for any announcement in the alum journal. A new baby announcement?..are the parents married, is the child baptized, is one parent of a different faith? A heterosexual marriage….are the parents both Catholic, have either been divorced without death or annulment freeing them? A new job?…. does the employer make munitions, does the hospital allow abortions? Etc etc. Of course this would never happen because the clerics are too smart and would not alienate their heterosexual flock who would tell them that these questions are none of their business.

  2. Beth Kelly
    Beth Kelly says:

    And this is why I , a heterosexual graduate of Catholic schools and the mother of aCatholic high school and college graduate, want nothing to do with the Catholic Church. Yes, they do good–but so do other organizations –and without the condemnation. Who can believe in a God that does not celebrate love and diversity? I can’t.

  3. Thom
    Thom says:

    My feeling is that if you really want to start a movement, then become involved; SAY SOMETHING. The link below is to the contact page of the Seattle Archdiocese. The page includes a physical mailing address. Send your own message expressing your disappointment, and your prayers for a more affirming and “catholic” Catholic school policy. If Notre Dame Prep was able to change its policy as a result of alumni and public outcry, there is no reason Blanchet can’t do the same. BE FIRM, BUT BE RESPECTFUL. Take a lesson from James Nau’s correspondence. BE VOCAL. Let Archbishop Sartain know how exclusion has caused so much hurt in the world. Tell your stories. Express the change you want to see in the world.

    Bishop Sartain was also the US envoy for the investigation by the Office of the Doctrine of the Faith under Benedict XVI trying to instigate “reform” upon the Leadership Conference of Women Religious . He is also the archbishop to uphold the termination of Eastside Catholic High School vice principal Mark Zmuda for marrying his same-sex partner. In both cases, there was a huge public outcry and protests that reached national levels. Button pins were distributed to congregants at all other Catholic churches in the city which read “I stand with the sisters,” in flagrant distain for Sartain’s involvement. They were worn proudly by Catholics throughout the city. (Fortunately the investigation was closed and dismissed by Pope Françis.) And, the students at Eastside Catholic High School walked out of classes and disrupted the school calendar system for over a week marching and protesting against their own school.

    Sartain is an intelligent bishop, but has chosen to support curia orthodoxy throughout his career. He sits in the archbishop’s chair once held by Archbishop Hunthausen who was censored by the vatican for his progressive stance and protest against war. (This has been seen as somewhat of a snub of Hunthausen’s previous priorities while archbishop. However, Hunthausen continues to remain close to the hearts of Pacific Northwestern catholics.) There’s also this:

    “Cardinal Josef Ratzinger rebuked Hunthausen for allowing the gay Catholic group Dignity to use St. James Cathedral. The Seattle archbishop replied by evoking John 8:11 in which the Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery and demand that she be stoned to death. Fireworks follow:

    “Hunthausen was recounting the Gospel story when Ratzinger, his voice full of wrath, interrupted him. ‘Are you presuming to lecture me?’” he demanded.

    “The archbishop paused, caught his breath and quietly continued. In regard to Dignity, he explained, ‘I tried to do what I thought Jesus would do. Jesus didn’t wait until people changed before he talked to them. He began a dialogue and I think that’s what the church ought to do with the gay community.’

    “Infuriated, Ratzinger silenced him again. ‘Don’t preach to me,’” he said.

    You can read more about Arhbishop Hunthuasen in John McCoy’s excellent book, “A Still and Quiet Conscience: The Archbishop Who Challenged a Pope, a President and a Church” (Orbis Books).

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      One begins to suspect that Ratzinger/Benedict experienced a personal obsession involving the specter of gay or lesbian Catholics — as if the very concept were a demonic oxymoron concocted by Satan! With so much genuine evil in the world — genocide, millions living and dying in hunger and in homelessness on a planetary scale — you gotta wonder why THAT particular issue disturbed Ratzinger so vehemently. Hmmm… can draw your own personal inferences. I know where mine have led me.

  4. Phil Little
    Phil Little says:

    First congratulations to Jessie and her partner! As a married Catholic priest (obviously in early retirement) I still have my license to officiate weddings. I have assisted at a same sex marriage and it was my great joy to be able to share in this event. I am surprised that anyone would be surprised at the response of a Catholic school or its publication. Catholic schools are institutions which by definition are discriminatory and exclusive. To demonstrate the inclusiveness of Jesus, Catholic schools would need to challenge the local church and obviously would lose before even beginning. Why waste time with the school and then get the expected but still unfortunate rejection. Nobody needs more rejections. Invite your friends from the old school, but in choosing to get married it is also time to move on and shake the dust from your sandals. Those left behind are not worthy of your attention or concern.


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