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Catholic School in O.C. Limits Gay Parents' Role

St. John the Baptist memo says same-sex couples can't act as a family unit at its events.

June 14, 2005|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County Catholic school that angered some parents by allowing a gay couple to enroll their two boys last year has drafted a policy that would forbid the men to appear as a couple at school functions, according to a memo distributed to teachers.

In January, officials at Costa Mesa's St. John the Baptist School adopted new admission guidelines that require parents to display "appropriate conduct, in order to support the school's mission and provide positive role models to our students."

The May 6 memo, obtained by The Times from a parent at the school, states: "Practically speaking this means: The children adopted by a same-sex couple" may enroll "on the condition that the same-sex couple agree not to present themselves as a couple at school functions."

Calls to school officials and to the conservative Norbertine order that runs it for the diocese were not returned.

Some parents say Sister Mary Vianney, the school's principal for 31 years, has not had her contract renewed after she objected to the new attendance requirements. The parents held a candlelight vigil Saturday and have asked Orange County Diocese Bishop Tod D. Brown to intervene.

"The ball is in the court of the St. John the Baptist parish and the Norbertine community," said Father Joe Fenton, a spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, which has declined in the past to get involved in the controversy at its 550-student school.

Vianney couldn't be reached for comment.

"She has basically dedicated her entire adult life to St. John the Baptist School and the children and families there," said Suzi Brown, the incoming president of the parents auxiliary. "To think that her tenure with the school is coming to an end in this fashion is devastating."

Tensions have flared since the two boys, who just finished kindergarten, enrolled at the school last fall.

Some parents feared that the boys were pawns in a larger campaign by gay and lesbian Catholics to gain acceptance within the church and worried that other children's religious education would suffer if teachers avoided certain teachings to avoid making the boys uncomfortable.

Some parents accused school leaders of defying the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II, who in 2003 condemned marriage and adoption by same-sex couples and urged school officials to require parents to sign a pledge to live by Catholic doctrine, which regards homosexual acts as sinful.

The two boys are the adopted, baptized sons of two Costa Mesa men.

One of the fathers declined to comment Monday, and attempts to reach the other father were unsuccessful.

Lawyer Michael J. Sundstedt, who represented more than 30 parents who questioned the boys' enrollment, said Vianney ought to step down immediately.

"It's sad the nun is leaving, but I also think that it may be the best thing in the long run if she is impeding the teachings of the church," he said.

Instead of praying for Brown's intervention to save Vianney's job, "this parish would be better served if they would have a prayer vigil in support of the teachings of the church," Sundstedt said.

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