This column has caused me a lot of grief. It led to a “firestorm” in the media and my talking with radio and TV reporters the day after its publication, and then several angry and probably malicious people have attacked me viciously over it.
I regret the column, not because of the conclusion I argued for, but for my ineptitude in choice of words and strategy of argument. The chief reason for these issues in the column, I shall explain at the end.
But I naively failed to see that a column such as this needs to be written in the way that some people say that laws need to be written–namely, so that it is inevitably interpreted well, even if interpreted by one’s mortal enemy, or by the Devil himself. I should have realized that many readers would not be willing to extend even the slightest grain of salt.
Also, in my naivete, I imagined that Catholic churchmen in the Boston area would be more intent on addressing the reasonable concerns of a Catholic father of a large family than (it must be said) placating and mollifying certain gay activists. (I do not include the Cardinal in this remark.)
If I wrote the column today, I would cast it more in terms of a tension between two aims of the Catholic parochial school system: the aim to provide a sound education for children in families where the faith is practiced seriously and vibrantly, and the aim to offer a better education than the public school system can provide to as many children as possible.
I would begin by saying that the well-being of every child requires that he or she be raised by both a mother and a father, and that Christian charity–do unto others as you would have done unto you–implies that, if you or I have great gratitude for the love of our mother, or the love of our father, then, similarly, we cannot wish of any child that he or she be raised without a mother, or without a father –or, more precisely, we cannot tolerate those who actually say it is just as good that he or she be raised without a mother, or without a father.
No mother to tuck you in at night! No father to hold you in his strong arms and teach you what is upright in the world! I shall speak plainly: anyone who holds it is just fine if a child is not raised by his mother, is promoting evil; anyone who holds it is just fine if a child is not raised by his father, is promoting evil. (And I can say these things as someone who saw first hand what a loss was inflicted on my children when they lost their mother.)
The next thing I would do, is to say clearly that my concerns involve chiefly elementary school children, not young men and women in middle school or high school. I would point out that the purpose of education in those early years is not simply to teach reading and arithmetic, but also to provide children, through the culture of the school and the example that adults set, with a framework for happy family life–which, for parochial school children, includes setting before them the model of the true Catholic family, of husband and wife united in a indissoluble unity and raising their children in a “communion of life and love.”
There would be much to say along these lines, and we might dispute about what the strongest consideration is, and where the emphasis should be placed, but the basic point is that early childhood education is an education of the whole person and involves the teaching and reinforcement of a sound and true model of the family.
A third point I would stress would be that, for a good school–for a correctly run elementary school–there is almost no distinction between admitting a child to the school, and admitting his or her parents to the school, because in a good school parents should be actively participating and helping to teach and reinforce what the teachers are teaching.
I would then point out that, although Catholic parochial schools have a mission to teach all children, in the early years of schooling, there is a tension between this mission and admitting to the school any child whose parents are deliberately living a lifestyle, or mode of family life, at odds with what the school is trying to impart and reinforce. This tension holds to some extent for parents who are divorced or cohabiting, or when one parent has multiple boyfriends or girlfriends, and so on. However, often there is the possibility that those parents not be a scandal to the children in the school, because there is no necessity that their irregular living arrangement become known — after all, cohabiting people don’t wear placards declaring themselves “cohabiting.” Also, in many of those cases, too, the irregular living arrangement is not deliberate: for example, a mother abandoned by her husband.
But with a same-sex couple the arrangement is deliberate, and it is inevitable that the irregular relationship be manifest. Hence, in that case the tension is particularly acute.
It would be difficult to express all these thoughts in 900 words, and, if all of the necessary nuances and qualifications were added — necessary, so that what one says cannot be misinterpreted, even by one’s worst enemy–it would probably not make for a very engaging newspaper column. Also–how could one anticipate and somehow diffuse all of the predictable objections?: “You hold to an image of the family that no one practices any more.” “Parochial schools must adapt to times when the traditional family no longer exists.” Etc. etc. So perhaps here the medium is necessarily the massage, and it is not sensible to try to deal with the topic in a short column.
But now I’ll explain the chief reason for my regretting the column, which is that I penned it in a bad manner.
The evening before it was due, I was casting about for an idea for the column–any writer who owes a column on a regular basis knows the feeling. Then, I made a huge mistake. I had a child who the previous year was in a Catholic parochial school, and his best friend there was being raised by his father and another man. These men had made a big fuss after their child enrolled in the school– hosting pizza parties and so on, buying tables at PTO fundraisers, etc. . It was clear that they had an agenda: they wanted to redefine a “new normal” at the school.
I wasn’t interested in discussing same-sex marriage with my first-grader; I thought that such things should not even be on his radar screen. Several of my friends thought the same, and saw what was going on. I moved out of the area, but I believe all the parents who thought as I did took their children out of that school the following year. So I decided it might be a good idea to write a column conveying something like my actual experience as a Catholic father with this issue — since I had seen that people often debated about it as though it was an abstraction (“equality”), or by thinking only of the men involved, and their “rights”, but not appreciating the consequences for the other children and the teaching mission of the school. So I asked one of those friends something like, “hey, what did we used to say made us unhappy with what was going on at that school last year?”, and my friend mentioned three points, which — in a hurry as I was — I made the three points of my article, supplying some support for each. But that last point was admittedly very weak as stated –given the general explosion of pornography in our society –and that was the point that got nearly all the flack.
Oh well: one should not write an article based on someone else’s thoughts (even if they roughly coincide with one’s own). So all the flack and criticism I got was well deserved, not for the reasons my critics thought, but for this reason. And I learned my lesson.
In any case, the original article is here.