Planned Parenthood sticker causes divide
GREENWICH — A controversy over a Planned Parenthood sticker at Sacred Heart Greenwich has drawn sharp reaction in the community and divided the school from many of its alumnae.
Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport stood by Sacred Heart’s decision to tell a student she cannot return to the school next year if keeps the sticker on her laptop.
“The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is almost universally understood, as is its consistent pro-life ethic, which defends the right to life of all those among us, particularly the most vulnerable in our society,” the Diocese said in a statement Thursday evening. “As such the diocese fully supports the commitment of Head of School Pamela Hayes to affirm the Church’s teaching, while also recognizing and respecting the right of students to question and challenge as they grow in the learning process and prepare to address the important moral and ethical issues they will face in their lives.”
The all-girls Catholic school in northwest Greenwich is not a diocesan school. However, the diocese confirmed that Caggiano spoke to Hayes before she gave her decision to sophomore Kate Murray Tuesday.
The sticker states “I stand with Planned Parenthood” and is one of many on Murray’s laptop.
“When he was made aware of the situation, (the Bishop’s) immediate response was that the student should be respected and that the issue was an opportunity for a teaching moment,” the Diocese said through Communications Director Brian Wallace. “Pamela Hayes fully agreed and has been working to affirm Catholic teaching and the school’s mission, while reaching a positive resolution for the student and her family.”
As of Friday, Murray had not made a public decision about whether she will finish the school year or her high school education at Sacred Heart Greenwich.
Her parents, Brian and Tracy Murray, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The diocese was not the only organization connected to the controversy to weigh in this week.
Planned Parenthood has said it stands with Murray.
President and CEO of Planned Parenthood for Southern New England Amanda Skinner attended Newton Country Day School in Newton, Massachusetts, an all-girls Catholic school that is part of the Sacred Heart Network, of which Sacred Heart Greenwich is a member.
“This comes very close to home for me,” she said in an interview Friday. “In my Sacred heart education, I learned to use my voice. ... This particular situation strikes me as in contrast to lifting up young women and encouraging them to use their voices.”
Skinner was baptized Catholic, she said, and attended her Catholic school for four years, before graduating in 1988. Both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church share values of community service, she said.
“Planned Parenthood stands for people who want to control their own reproductive lives, whatever that means to the individual,” she said. “We are so much more than we are often reduced to as an organization.”
On Thursday, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards tweeted her encouragement to Kate.
“Kate, Planned Parenthood is so proud to count you as a supporter,” she wrote. “Keep fighting for what you believe in. #IstandwithKateMurray.”
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England has 17 health centers in Connecticut — three in Fairfield County — and serves nearly 65,000 patients a year. The organization said 90 percent of its services are preventive health services, including routine gynecological care, breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and pregnancy testing and STD/STI testing and treatment. It also provides abortion services.
The sticker dispute has sparked debate online, where Kate Murray has gained strong support from many Sacred Heart Greenwich alumnae and others.
As of Friday evening, more than 2,200 people had signed an online petition called “I Stand With Kate Murray.” The petition states, “Unless Kate is allowed her freedom of speech, all of my future donations that would have been allocated to Sacred Heart Greenwich will now and forever be donated to Planned Parenthood.”
The petition was started by Stephanie Viola, a close friend of the Murray family who graduated from Sacred Heart Greenwich in 2012.
Other online commenters have supported the school’s decision, saying Sacred Heart, as a private insititution, can set restrictions on student expression and behavior on its grounds. Moreover, some wrote Murray could choose not to attend if she does not agree with the school’s decision.
“I feel that attending a school like sacred heart is a privilege not a right,” Sacred Heart alumna Colby Gargano Summers wrote on Facebook. “To attend a place like SH you must follow rules. If stickers are frowned upon then use your voice in the classroom.”
The bishop has urged “all involved to work toward a resolution that conforms to Catholic teaching while being respectful of the diverse views within the school community,” according to the Diocese’s statement. “At a time when discourse in our society is often angry and divisive, it is the bishop’s hope that Catholic schools continue to be a refuge for young people, a safe space where they can explore difficult issues, become steeped in the values of the Church, and go on to serve their families and communities.”
Julie Byrne, a professor of Catholic Studies at Hofstra University who has written about the Church and reproductive rights in her book “The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion,” said the debate over the sticker exemplifies the divide between the Church’s policies on abortion and artificial contraception and many American Catholics, who have loosened their views on these issues.
“A lot of Christians, including Catholics, would say the Church has to balance a whole lot of complicated life claims and when you are talking about women’s own lives and the life of the whole human community and the life of a family, there are really hard decisions that make artificial birth control and the possibility of terminating birth safely something they can look into,” she said. “Poll data shows that American Catholics are not very different from most Americans (on these issues).”
To the Church, abortion and artificial contraception threaten foundational beliefs that God is the one who should determine life and death.
“The development in modern life of medical technology to prevent birth and terminate pregnancy was deeply unsettling to a lot of religious people, not just Roman Catholics,” said Byrne. “Artifical birth control is seen as intervening in the divine movement aiding conception of a new baby and future human being and child. In so far as abortion is seen as intervening in life, it is an unconscionable transgression of one of the 10 Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”
Surveys combined by the Pew Research Center from 2011 through 2013 showed 53 percent of white Catholics said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. Among Hispanic Catholics, 43 percent said it should be legal in all or most cases, while 42 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases.
According to a Pew Research Center 2015 survey, roughly half of U.S. Catholics say using contraceptives is not a sin.
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