“Attending a Catholic school is a privilege, not a right.”
So begins a list of six statements the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is requiring the parents of all of its students to sign this year. The six-statement “Memorandum of Understanding” says Philadelphia Catholic schools “are not simply private schools offering a positive moral code” and that every Catholic school has “the responsibility to ensure that Catholic teaching and moral integrity permeate every facet of the school’s life and activity.”
It’s not clear if schools are enforcing the requirement that students’ parents sign the memorandum. One parent Philadelphia magazine spoke with simply declined to respond to the pledge. Students at archdiocesan schools do not need to be Catholic to enroll.
“A ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ has been distributed to all Archdiocese of Philadelphia schools via the Office of Catholic Education,” Kenneth A. Gavin, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, said in a statement to Philadelphia magazine. “The purpose of the memo 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.”
Gavin added that the Archdiocese asked all schools to include this memo in all entrance applications and school handbooks.
Catholic “loyalty pledges” are not new. Many dioceses and independent Catholic schools have required at times some mix of parents, students and teachers to sign similar pledges to the ones in Philadelphia. For example, Saint George Catholic School in Erie has its parents sign virtually the same pledge. The Diocese of Altoona has, in the past, asked parents to pledge to attend mass weekly. Last year, Delone Catholic High School in McSherrytown brought up the memorandum of understanding when enforcing a policy that required the pre-approval of girls’ prom dresses.
Last year, teachers in Cincinnati, Oakland and Hawaii forced teachers to sign similar loyalty oaths. Two Catholic schools, Holy Ghost Prep and Waldron Mercy Academy have fired teachers for being in gay marriages in the last two years.
The archdiocese told the Inquirer the pledges were not in response to the recent controversy over the firing of Margie Winters from Waldron. Both that school and Holy Ghost are independent Catholic schools not under the archdiocesan umbrella. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has praised Waldron’s firing of Winters.
“As a parent/guardian desiring to enroll my child in a Catholic school, I accept this memorandum of understanding,” the memo concludes. “I pledge support for the Catholic identity and mission of this school and by enrolling my child I commit myself to uphold all principles and policies that govern the Catholic School.”
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