Archbishop Steps In : Pregnant Girl Can Attend Graduation

Times Staff Writer

Emphasizing that the church considers abortion an “unacceptable” option for pregnant teen-agers, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony announced Friday that a pregnant 17-year-old honor student at Mary Star of the Sea High School in San Pedro can participate in the school’s commencement Friday.

Lisa Martinez, a straight-A student and vice president of the student body, had been barred from graduation by the private Roman Catholic school because she is 6 1/2 months pregnant and unmarried.

In announcing his decision, which came just one day after he set up a committee to look into the situation, Mahony praised the girl for “resisting the pressure to conform to the unacceptable ‘abortion option.’ ” Mahony said the church needs to assist--not alienate--pregnant girls like Lisa.

“She has chosen to respect the dignity of the human life she now carries and nurtures,” Mahony said. “She is now a participant with God in the creation of a new and a unique human person.”

Students at the high school applauded, screamed and jumped out of their seats when the archbishop’s statement was read to them during a special assembly at the adjacent Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church. Students from all four grades at the school--380 of them in all--attended the assembly.


‘Just Really Happy’

“Everyone was just really happy,” said Nicole Scandaliato, 16, a junior. “Everyone wanted her to graduate. No one thought it was right that she went to school here the whole time and then couldn’t go to graduation.”

Lisa, who has not been in school since last week, has been in Canada on vacation with her family, friends said. She was unavailable for comment Friday, but in an earlier interview she expressed faith in the church and its handling of the situation.

“I have been going to Catholic school since the first grade,” she said. “I have nothing against the Catholic church. I am sure if Jesus were here, he would let me graduate. They’ve always taught us that forgiveness is very important.”

School officials said Principal Carolyn Quijano, who originally decided to exclude Lisa from the graduation services, was not available for comment Friday. Msgr. Patrick Gallagher, head of the Mary Star of the Sea Parish, did not return phone calls.

In his statement, Mahony said Quijano and Gallagher “were following in total good faith” the guidelines of the archdiocese when they decided to bar Lisa from graduation. The archbishop, however, called the guidelines “inadequate” for young people today and asked that the archdiocese and its school board formulate new ones by the end of the summer.

In choosing to permit Lisa to participate in the graduation ceremonies, Mahony said he was not condoning premarital sex, which is forbidden by the church, but rather recognizing that “wounded human nature is vulnerable to failure and to sinfulness.”

“Each one of us is a sinner,” he said. “Each one of us has gone to our merciful Lord often seeking both his pardon and his healing in our lives.”

Organizers of a demonstration planned for Sunday outside the Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church cancelled the demonstration Friday.