A 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