The petition over St. Ann Catholic School on Mission Road is addressed to Archbishop Joseph Naumann and school Superintendent Kathy O’Hara. About half of the people who signed it are members of St. Ann.
“Respectfully, we believe that the decision to deny a child of God access to such a wonderful community and education, based on the notion that his or her parent’s union is not in accordance with the Church’s teaching in Sacramental marriage, lacks the compassion and mercy of Christ’s message,” the petition reads.
But in a statement to The Kansas City Star on Wednesday, O’Hara said the “Church’s teaching on marriage is clear and is not altered by the laws of civil society.” Catholic doctrine recognizes marriage “as a sacrament entered into between a man and woman.”
“The Church teaches that individuals with same sex attraction should be treated with dignity,” the statement read. “However, the challenge regarding same sex couples and our Catholic schools is that same sex parents cannot model behaviors and attitudes regarding marriage and sexual morality consistent with essential components of the Church’s teachings.”
Many parents learned of the decision last month, when St. Ann’s pastor, the Rev. Craig J. Maxim, sent a letter home to families.
Maxim told them he had sought guidance from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas when the same-sex couple asked to enroll their child in kindergarten this year. He wrote that the school must adhere to the archdiocese on the “application of Church doctrine.”
The archdiocese advised against accepting the child, he said, because the parents could not “model behaviors and attitudes consistent with the Church’s teachings.”
“This creates a conflict for those children and what is experienced at home,” Maxim wrote. “It also could become a source of confusion for other school children.”
While some dioceses across the country allow children of same-sex parents, the local archdiocese’s stance applies to all of its schools.
The petition against the decision, which was written and circulated this month by another couple, points out that the school already accepts students who are not Catholic. It also asked the archdiocese to consider the many ways — including divorce, vasectomies, remarriage without annulment and fertility treatment — that “modern marriages may be inconsistent with the Church’s teaching.”
Maxim directed requests for comment to O’Hara. But he wrote to parishioners and school families that he had been “distressed over the division this sensitive and complex issue has caused within our school and church.”
“These parishioners and I plan to continue dialog with each other and the Archdiocese,” Maxim wrote. “This is not an attempt to undermine Church doctrine but to find common understanding to meet the ever-changing landscape of our society.”
Nationwide, other Catholic dioceses have grappled with questions over how much — if at all — they should adapt to changing attitudes about gay marriage and gay clergy.
Last year, a priest on Hilton Head Island would not allow the children of a married lesbian couple to enroll in Catholic school, prompting backlash from other parents and calls of discrimination. That diocese, based in Charleston, S.C., did not have a policy for children of same-sex couples and left enrollment decisions up to individual priests.
In Massachusetts after a similar incident, the Archdiocese of Boston ultimately approved a policy saying Catholic schools would not exclude “any categories of students.”
Pope Francis has also signaled a willingness for the church to expand the conversation on LGBTQ members, even as it opposes gay marriage.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he famously said in 2013.
The news from St. Ann comes one week after another denomination, the United Methodist Church, found itself divided over religious doctrine and the drive to become more inclusive.
That church voted at a worldwide conference to strengthen its ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy. The decision led several Kansas City-area church leaders — including Adam Hamilton of Leawood’s Church of the Resurrection, the largest Methodist church in the country — to talk of breaking off from the group.
Presbyterian and Episcopal church leaders have faced similar divisions.
The archdiocese’s statement said it “respects that some may disagree with essential elements of our moral teaching,” and indicated that it would remain firm in its stance.
“We do not feel it is respectful of such individuals, nor is it fair, loving or compassionate to place their children in an education environment where the values of the parents and the core principles of the school conflict,” it read. “For these reasons, the Archdiocese has advised against the admission into our Catholic schools of children of same sex unions.”