The Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, has issued a set of guidelines which encourage its Catholic schools to be open to accepting students from “non-traditional” families, including those with LGBT members. At the same time, the guidelines require all parents to make a pledge of loyalty to church doctrine.
In what may be the first set of such policies in the U.S. church which stress conversation, the Jefferson City diocese has established the guideline that “Wherever possible, enrollment is the goal,” according to a news report in The Fulton Sun.
The guidelines were issued by Sister Elizabeth Youngs, diocesan superintendent of schools, and were approved by Bishop John Gaydos, the diocesan bishop.
While the guidelines emphasize conversation and acceptance, they also offer the requirement of parents signing a “Covenant of Trust,” which the news report describes as enumerating:
“. . . a school’s expectations regarding how parents are to validate the church’s teachings at home.
” ‘We are not going to change what it is that we teach in compliance with our church to make somebody else comfortable, Youngs said.
Another goal of the guidelines is to emphasize evaluation of the situation. The guidelines offer the following recommendations:
” . . . ‘[S]pecial needs’ of students — which include being a member of the LGBT community or having parents who are — are to be evaluated in the same manner as learning, physical and psychiatric disabilities: A Catholic school is willing to make accommodations up to a point, but past that, students from non-traditional families are probably better served elsewhere. The documents provide frameworks for pastors and principals to lead those conversations with parents.”
If it is found that a parent has violated the “Covenant of Trust,” then the student may be expelled from the school. The newspaper reported:
“If it becomes clear through a student’s conduct that the partnership parents agreed to in the covenant is not going to work out, Youngs said, schools may ask parents to withdraw their student. The same is already true of discipline issues and of students outgrowing the resources a school is able to provide for needs like learning disabilities.”
The good news here is that the Diocese of Jefferson City appears to be willing to dialogue with parents, rather than rejecting students outright because of LGBT issues. Dialogue and conversation are always beneficial. It is interesting to note that The Fulton Sun reported that some critics of the policy would like an outright ban on LGBT students or students whose parents are LGBT. The diocese has not chosen to do this, so the new policy is at least a first step.
In fact, one diocesan administrator sees that dialogue will be important not even for working with nontraditional families, but with the Catholics who oppose support for non-traditional families. The news article stated:
“[Associate Superintendent of Schools Sister Julie] Brandt said any bridges that can be built with opponents of the diocese’s guidance can use the same processes the documents lay out: encouragement of dialogue and conversations about questions.
” ‘By being able to engage in some civil conversation, and not just accusatory conversation, I think we all grow,’ she said.
” ‘I really believe the Holy Spirit is active in our church,’ she added. Through prayer, ‘the Spirit is guiding us in this, even in the midst of what at times seems to be challenges and disagreements.’ “
The bad news is that asking parents to sign a “Covenant of Trust” already singles them out as people who are suspect, treating them as people who are accepted only under certain conditions. Will other families whose lives, beliefs, and actions violate other areas of church teaching face the same penalties as non-traditional families or are only sexual and gender matters singled out?
Another negative is that it seems that school officials will be monitoring students from nontraditional families to see if the parents are violating the “Covenant of Trust.” The news article reported:
“As for fears of whether parents will abide by the agreements they sign on to, ‘how can we monitor anything that we ask parents to do?’ Youngs said.
” ‘We’re not living in the houses with families,’ Brandt said. They do make observations of the students’ actions, though, like a student saying, “‘Well, my mom says this isn’t right.'” “
The Diocese of Jefferson City’s policies have value as a transitional step toward full acceptance of families with LGBT members. It is a step forward, much better than the more draconian policies instituted in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2015.
The Jefferson City policy can be successful if it is used as a genuine tool of welcome, instead of a tool for suspicion. Perhaps the experience of conversations with so many families of very different compositions will help to move towards a new policy where all will truly be welcome.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 15, 2017
Jefferson City News Tribune: “Diocese schools get advice on ‘non-traditional’ families”