Parents of children attending Archdiocese of Philadelphia schools are now being required to sign a document pledging support for the schools' "Catholic identity" and recognizing that in all questions involving church law, "the final determination rests with the archbishop."
The archdiocese is asking all its schools to include the one-page "Memorandum of Understanding" in entrance applications and school handbooks, said spokesman Ken Gavin.
The purpose "is to simply inform parents that we are Catholic schools, that we will teach the doctrine of the church, and have them sign that they understand and are in agreement," he said.
The document requires parents or guardians "to uphold all principles and policies that govern the Catholic school."
Archdiocesan schools opened Tuesday.
The document is "not unprecedented" or "groundbreaking," Gavin said. He added that he did not know if the archdiocese ever had such a requirement before. Many other Catholic dioceses have similar documents, some with almost identical wording.
Gavin said the memo had nothing to do with the upheaval at Waldron Mercy Academy, a private Main Line Catholic school, after the firing of a gay married teacher. He said it was developed well before the June dismissal of Margie Winters, the director of religious studies.
"Waldron is not under the administrative purview of the archdiocese," Gavin said.
Winters and her supporters say the administration knew she was married to a woman when she was hired eight years ago, and it was not until a parent complained to the archdiocese that she was fired.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has applauded the firing at the kindergarten through eighth-grade school, which is run by the Sisters of Mercy.
In addition to its pledge of support, the document notes that Catholic schooling is "a privilege, not a right," and its primary purpose is to strengthen faith. It said schools exist "to advance the faith mission" of the parish, archdiocese, or Catholic religious community; that their "priority is fidelity to Catholic teaching and identity"; that schools and administrators have a responsibility to ensure that Catholic teaching and "moral integrity permeate every facet of the school's life and activity"; and that the archbishop determines all matters of teaching, morals, and law.
Cathy Davis, who withdrew her youngest daughter from Waldron Mercy to protest Winters's firing and now sends her to Our Mother of Consolation, a parish school in Chestnut Hill, said she had not yet received the memo but would sign it if she has to.
As long as the school enforces all Catholic teachings, including those against divorce and contraception, "I'm good with it," said Davis, who sent three girls to Waldron Mercy. "The anger can't be selective on what they are going to accept and not accept."
She said her children were taught by divorced and other gay teachers at Waldron Mercy. While her 13-year-old isn't happy about switching schools for her last year of elementary school, she said her daughters all admired Winters and "knew what a beautiful person she was, and I couldn't let them see she got fired because of her orientation."