Catholic School Teacher in Italy Loses Job Because of Lesbian Rumors

July 23, 2014

The disturbing trend of firing Catholic school teachers because of LGBT issues has moved overseas, and the reason for firing has become even weaker than usual, compared to the cases here in the United States.

Students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart, Trent, Italy.

In Italy, a state-funded school, L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in the northern city of Trent, did not renew its contract with a teacher because there were rumors that she was a lesbian, which she refused to either confirm or deny. reported that the teacher, who is known only by the pseudonym “Silvia” offered a reaction to the school’s decision:

“ ‘What happened to me is medieval.

“ ‘Maybe I’m a lesbian, maybe I’m not. But asking me about my sexual orientation as a condition for renewing my contract is unacceptable.’

“She also said that Sister Eugenia Libratore, headmistress and Mother Superior, ‘told me she was willing to turn a blind eye if I was willing to “solve the problem.” Homosexuality is a problem?’

” ‘Silvia’ said she had worked at the school for five years and lives with her partner in Trento.”

According to Gazzetta del Sudthe teacher has not provided information if her partner is male or female:

“Silvia told La Repubblica (an Italian newspaper) adding that she is aged between 30 and 40, has been teaching an ‘important and mandatory subject’ at Sacro Cuore for five years, and lives in Trento with someone she loves.”

Gay Star News reported Sister Libratore’s side of the story:

“Eugenia Libratore, the headmistress of Sacro Cuore, reportedly said she decided not to renew the ‘adequate and professional’ teacher’s contract because she ‘has the school’s environment to protect’ and ‘moral ethics’ to preserve. . . .

“Libratore told Corriere (an Italian newspaper) she had heard about the teacher’s sexuality through rumors in the staff room.

” ‘I told her I had heard these rumours and hoped they were false rumors, because I have the school environment to protect,’ she said.

” ‘When choosing teachers for a Catholic school, I also do assessments from the point of view of moral ethics…

” ‘The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.’ “

Italy’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini

Because employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal in Italy since 2003,  and because the school accepts government funding, Italy’s Education Minister, Stefania Giannini, has become involved in the case, after 20 Italian senators requested intervention.  In La Repubblicathe Minister stated:

“Whenever we are faced with a case related to sexual discrimination, we will act with due severity.”

As regular readers of Bondings 2.0  will recognize, most of the firings that have happened in the United States over the last few years have been due to a gay or lesbian teacher becoming legally married.  Only one action from the list of all reported ones since 2008 was due to perceived sexual orientation, that being Tim Nelson in 2013.

This Italian case highlights an attitude on the part of the school’s headmistress that may be important to understanding what motivates administrator’s to react so harshly in such cases. The Italian administrator said:

“The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.”

Granted this rendering comes from a translation, not the original Italian in which it was spoken, but it seems curious that the headmistress sees herself as a “defender” of the faith, which seems to be under siege.  Such a sad attitude, and perhaps it is one which other church leaders share.

LGBT people are not out to destroy Catholicism or religion.  On the contrary, their experience of overcoming hatred, oppression, and fear contains many important elements which bring much life and spirit to faith.

If Church leaders would be able to stop seeing homosexuality as “a problem,” as the headmistress in this story described it, I know that it would be simply a small step for them to start recognizing the spiritual richness that LGBT offer the church community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article “Lesbian teacher fired ‘to protect Catholic school’”

Catholic Schools To Recognize Students’ Chosen Gender Identities

July 18, 2014

Tracey Wilson, the impetus behind the Catholic schools’ transgender-inclusive policy change

In an historic policy, Catholic schools in the Canadian city of Vancouver will recognize transgender students using their preferred gender identity.

CBC News reports the policy, announced by the Archdiocese of Vancouver earlier this week, will allow trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students will be able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create  individualized plans for each student. However, due to official Catholic policy, the schools cannot support students who transition.

The change comes after Tracey Wilson, an 11-year-old transgender girl, filed a complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese for not allowing her to present as a girl. The Catholic school board settled with the Wilsons by implementing this new policy and paying an undisclosed sum to the family. The Wilsons say their children will remain in public schools. Superintendent Doug Lauson, who last year said ‘God doesn’t make mistakes‘ and that Tracey would have to wear the boys’ uniform, seemed pleased with the policy, which he views as a middle ground between supporting students and adhering to Catholic tradition.  Lausen stated:

“We are people of the Catholic faith. Our schools will be as inclusive as we can while still retaining our Catholic identity.”

Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by the government, a history of religious exemption is not present.

CBC News reports that this new policy from a Catholic school board is making history, and there is hope it will impact more religiously-based schools:

” ‘This is, as far as we know, certainly a North American first and probably a world first,’ said the Wilson family’s lawyer, barbara findlay, who spells her name without capital letters.

” ‘Not only is it important for the students in Vancouver who go to Catholic schools, but it will serve as a template for other Catholic school districts everywhere.’ “

Tracey Wilson was one of two transgender students profiled by Canadian television program 16×9 last year, and at the time her mother, Michelle, said:

“They had no intention of letting her be who she wanted to be…Everyone says, ‘Well, what did you expect?’ I expected compassion. I expected a community that talks about love and acceptance to actually show love and acceptance.”

Though not freely chosen by the Vancouver archdiocese, this new policy is a huge step towards making Catholic schools into communities where love and acceptance are hallmarks. Tracey’s courage and her family’s willingness to call Catholic officials to account for their lack of inclusion will now mean Vancouver students who are transgender can be more authentically themselves, as God created them to be.

To view a video of Tracey and her mother talking about this recent victory, visit The Vancouver Sun by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic High Schools Extend Support as LGBT Students Come Out

July 15, 2014

Johann Go

Attending a Catholic high school and identifying openly as LGBT are often seen as mutually exclusive realities for many students, who fear bullying and discrimination from their principals, priests, and peers. Yet, two gay students’ stories reveal the changing landscape in some Catholic schools that will hopefully propel more students to merge these realities and feel comfortable in coming out.

Johann Go waited two years before coming out at St. Patrick’s College Silverstream, New Zealand, fearing the repercussions of doing so at a “conservative, Catholic all-boys’ school.” Go told The Dominion Post:

” ‘I was bracing myself to lose all my friends by coming out. I assumed the worst because I knew of people that had been kicked out of home and expelled from school because of it.’ “

Instead, he found love and support from the school’s principal and his peers. More than 30 LGBT alumni have contacted Go expressing their delight that he had the courage they had not had to come out while at St. Patrick’s. Go, who graduated last spring, used his openly gay status to advance inclusion at the school by speaking about homophobic attitudes present among the students and facilitating an LGBT peer support group.

Go’s parting gift to his alma mater was achieving approval for same-sex prom dates, which he asked rector Gerard Tully for and received “no objection” in what Go described as a “meaningful and remarkable step.” Tully said of the now alum:

” ‘Johann’s a fantastic young man who has made a positive contribution to school life, and we’re all very happy for him . . .’ “

Robert Paque

In New York state, Robert Paque spoke with the Olean Times Herald about being gay at a Catholic high school. The recent graduate thanked administrators during his commencement address for welcoming him, and specifically not expelling him, after he came out.

Paque was Olean, New York’s Archbishop Walsh Academy salutatorian this year and was lauded for his achievements during high school. During this time however, Paque was coming out to himself and feared he would be expelled if his sexual orientation became public. The Times Herald reports:

“[Paque] struggled with accepting his own sexual orientation and taking baby steps to make it public — all the while hearing news of religious schools elsewhere booting out gays — he feared his days were numbered…

“The day that haunted him never arrived. Conversely, Archbishop Walsh Academy administrators were staunchly supportive, he said.

” ‘It was just kind of like, “OK, we have a gay student in our school,”‘ Robert said. ‘Nothing changed. I’m still a student at the school. I didn’t act any different. I didn’t do my school work any different. It was just another fact, and it didn’t really change anything.’ “

He was open with his school because it was exhausting to hide, and faced only one bad incident when a schismatic priest was invited to Spanish class by the teacher and condemned Paque for being gay. That teacher was let go, and Principal Mykal Karl quickly met with the student to let him know he was supported.

The school’s board president, Beth Powers, said expelling Paque for being gay was “never a consideration” and said further:

” ‘Robert is a wonderful person. He is respected by everybody in the school, young and old, teachers, faculty and the kids…He is hard working. He is respectful. He’s honest. He’s got a really upbeat perspective on life.

” ‘From the board perspective … this issue never came up. Nobody expressed any concerns about him being in the school. We think he’s a wonderful person, and it was never a point of discussion to have him leave the school.’ “

Paque, who will be attending George Mason University, Virginia, in the fall, now says of his alma mater:

“ ‘Walsh has done nothing but support. They could easily have not, but they chose to support me…They’ve allowed me to grow as a person how I see fit for myself without trying to sway me any way. They’ve accepted me in their school community, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.’ ”

It will be a wonderful day when every LGBT student who walks across the graduation stage can speak so highly of their Catholic school. Though troubling incidents prove we’re not there yet, stories like Go’s and Paque’s are proof that in some places, students, faculty, and administrators are working hard to make Catholic education a supportive place to come out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

July 13, 2014

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Fired Gay Teacher Files Legal Complaint in a Case Where Ironies Abound

July 11, 2014

The running controversy over LGBT people being fired from jobs in Catholic schools and parishes has mostly quieted down in the last month.  That silence, though, is probably due more to the fact that schools are on break and parishes are in “lite” mode for the summer than because of any moratorium on firings.

Flint Dollar

The topic surfaced again this week with news that one fired teacher is filing an equal opportunity claim against the Catholic school that fired him.

Flint Dollar, who was fired from his job as a music teacher at Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, when it was learned that he intended to marry a man.

Dollar has had a difficult time seeking legal recourse in this situation.  This week, his lawyer announced that they found grounds to make a legal case against the school.  National Public Radio reports:

Since neither federal law nor state law in Georgia expressly forbids employers from discriminating against gays, it initially seemed like there was nothing Dollar could do. But Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which turned 50 this week, does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Dollar’s lawyer, Charles Cox, sees an opening there.

“When you fire somebody because they are engaging in a same-sex marriage, I think that pretty clearly fits with gender discrimination,” Cox says. “You’re being fired because you’re not complying with traditional gender stereotypes, and that’s wrong, and we believe it’s unlawful.”

Though this strategy has been tried before in courts and failed, there is hope in this case because of a legal precedent set in April of this year:

“. . . [A] judge in Washington made a ruling in a lawsuit brought by federal employee Peter TerVeer. TerVeer claims his supervisor at the Library of Congress made his work life miserable because TerVeer is gay.

“LGBT rights attorney Greg Nevins, who is helping with TerVeer’s case, explains how TerVeer sued under Title VII:

” ‘His romantic or intimate interest in men is something that the women workers at the office were not penalized for, but he was,’ Nevins says. ‘He made that claim in federal district court, and the court allowed it to proceed, despite a motion to dismiss by the Department of Justice.’ “

“Now the TerVeer case is giving hope to people like Dollar. He’s filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, alleging sex discrimination.”

The Georgia Voice also notes another precedent that Dollar’s lawyer raised:

“Cox also cites Glenn v. Brumby, the Eleventh Circuit court case from 2011 which found that the Georgia General Assembly fired activist Vandy Beth Glenn due to her being transgender, which was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution that protects against gender discrimination.

“ ‘The same thing applies to same-sex marriage because that’s not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes,’ Cox says.”

The Dollar case has sparked a variety of commentary examining some of the moral questions involved in the action of firing.  Back in June, David Oedel, a law professor, wrote about some of the ironies of the case:

“In its employee handbook and website, the school articulates policies of nondiscrimination as to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,’ ‘marital status’ and ‘any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.’

“Federal law protects the right to travel to other states and avail oneself of the benefits of other states’ laws, so the school apparently accepts Dollar’s right to go to Minnesota, join in a same-sex marriage, and have that marriage honored by federal law. Georgia doesn’t legally have to respect such a marriage, and neither did Mount de Sales — until the school adopted its nondiscrimination policy and made promises to Dollar.

“There’s little ambiguity about Roman Catholic teachings on promise-keeping. The church endorses keeping promises, such as those between church-married partners and, presumably, promises Mount de Sales apparently made to Dollar to hire and retain Dollar despite his sexual orientation, committed relationship and marriage plans.”

The school’s action is surprising to Oedel, given the progressive history of the institution:

“It wouldn’t have been a stretch for Dollar to take the school at its word because the school is known in Macon as a path-breaking institution. Mount de Sales was the first school here publicly to educate those of various faiths, first to integrate and first to embrace such a wide-open nondiscrimination policy. From some national press, though, you’d think the school is a regressive horror-chamber.”

And the contradiction goes even deeper:

“One wonders what St. Francis de Sales, for whom the school is named, would think. Francis famously advocated charity over penance. Where is Christ’s charity in firing Dollar now?”

For comprehensive coverage of all the firings, click on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right-hand column of this page.  You can find a complete list of fired employees on this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues” page. 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:

The Telegraph: “Fired Mount de Sales band director files EEOC claim”

The Telegraph: “Bigotry, prejudice and grace”



Trans Students Celebrate Openly During Catholic Graduations

June 22, 2014

Two moments this graduation season highlighted the positive gains being made in Catholic education for transgender students, forgoing the controversies of past years for moments of celebration instead.

Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, an all-girls institution run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, allowed a transgender young man to graduate using his preferred gender identity. A post in the Facebook group for the class of 1970 includes the following caption for the above picture:

“Meet our alumni brother. This was not an easy decision for the administrators to make, but they did the right thing as Immaculate Heart does. {He] is the first transgender graduate but probably won’t be the last. He loves the school as much as the rest of us and that’s all that matters. ‘Every loyal daughter and son…’ “

Congratulations to this young man and to the Immaculate Heart Class of 2014, as well as the administrators for ensuring every student’s day could be one of celebration! Last year, a controversy at a New Mexico Catholic high school tarred commencement ceremonies when a transgender student was given the choice either to wear attire inconsistent with his gender or skip graduation altogether.  He chose the latter.

At the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, a transgender woman was chosen by her peers to address the graduating class of social workers. Andy Bowen spoke openly to an audience at the US bishops’ national university about her identity as a trans woman engaged to another woman and addressed her fellow students on the social worker’s duty to seek justice. She said, in part:

“Maybe it is because I’m a transgender woman who is engaged to another woman and I’ve had to come out of the closet like three or four times, but I’ve always been attracted to the principle that all human beings have inherent human dignity…

“If you center your moral universe on the idea that all human beings have inherent dignity, you have to work against injustice in all its forms because someone much smarter than me, living many decades ago pointed out how injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Congratulations to Andy and the CUA class of 2014! You can view her full remarks below or by clicking here.

While these two examples show progresss, there is still a lot of work to be done on Catholic campuses concerning transgender people. LGBT advocate and musician Joanna Blackhart recently spoke with HuffPost Live about her isolating experience attending St. Mary’s College in Texas as a transgender woman.

Let’s hope the examples of increased welcome and acceptance for trans inclusivity  on Catholic campuses continue to spread!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: June 18, 2014

June 18, 2014

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Most Holy Redeemer Catholic parish, a largely gay congregation in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, has new pastoral leadership.  A National Catholic Reporter article states that Precious Blood Father Jack McClure is the new pastor, and Precious Blood Father Matthew Link will be the associate pastor.   The Precious Blood Fathers have had a ministry of dialogue, reconciliation and justice with LGBT people since 2007.

2) The Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, has filed a motion to dismiss a suit against them brought by a gay couple charging discrimination, according to The Worcester Telegram.  The newspaper reports that the couple alleges the diocese refused to sell a mansion property to them “because the men were gay and church officials feared they might hold same-sex weddings on the property.”   You can read previous Bondings 2.0 coverage of this case here and here.

3) The parliament of Slovakia has amended the nation’s constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, reports MetroWeekly.  62% of Slovakians are Catholics, the largest of any religious group in this heavily religious nation.

4) Canada’s Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) rejected a resolution which would have opposed the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association’s (OECTA) involvement in Toronto’s World Pride Parade on June 29th, reports   Other school boards have shown similar support for the OECTA’s decision to participate in the parade.  You can read about these other decisions here and here.

5) A leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest Protestant party in the country, has wants to court Catholics to join their organization because he thinks they will be attracted by the party’s opposition to same-gender marriage, among other conservative positions. The Belfast Telegraph reports that Health Minister Edwin Poots, who was joined by other party leaders in stating that Catholics might want to switch political allegiances, said “The doctrines of their church largely coincide with the DUP. So conservative Protestantism and conservative Catholicism have an awful lot in common.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

EXCLUSIVE: Laity & Nuns Cause High School to Reverse Decision Against Lesbian Alumna

June 16, 2014

Sarah Rupert-Sullivan, left, with wife, Molly

Proving that Catholic religious and lay people have  the power to effect change in our Church, a Maryland high school has reversed its decision to deny same-gender couples recognition in the alumnae newsletter.

In January, news broke that Notre Dame Preparatory School, Baltimore, had rejected 2003 alumna Sarah Rupert-Sullivan’s announcement about her marriage to wife, Molly, from the school’s “Class Chatter” notes in the alumnae newsletter. The administrators of Notre Dame Preparatory, which is run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, cited a conflict with Church teaching as the reason for the decision, but over 1,600 people signed a petition in support of Rupert-Sullivan and her wife. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s original coverage of the event by clicking here.

Having learned of the news, alumna Pat Montley, a former School Sister of Notre Dame herself, wrote to the administrators about her own negative experience with the same situation. A decade ago, her own same-gender wedding announcement was rejected, and each class note submitted since has had any reference to her partner expunged. Writing to the Schoo Sisters of Notre Dame’s Mid-Atlantic provincial team, Montley statd, in part:

Patricia Montley, left, with wife, Sally Wall, and granddaughter Alexa

“I am sending the letter to you now in the hope that that you will find it persuasive in reversing this policy.  You would not be alone among local Catholic schools in having a more open policy…

“My teachers at Notre Dame Prep played an immeasurably important role in my life–not just in helping me develop and pursue a life of the mind but in the formation of my conscience and habits of the heart.  I will always be grateful for that training and feel an immense affection for many of those teachers.  Though most are no longer living, I am still in touch with and have visited most who are…and am happy to say they have embraced Sally as my partner/spouse and rejoice in our marriage.  I hope that you can do the same, and that this embrace can be reflected in SSND schools’ publication policy…

“Over the years, I have repeatedly submitted entries to class notes that included a mention of Sally, as schoolmates have done with their spouses…Sadly, each time, her name and any references to her were expunged.  I implore you to try to understand how hurtful this is, what it feels like to have the primary, sustaining relationship in my life rejected and unacknowledged by my alma mater–which, ironically, provided the spiritual values that have made me capable of and desirous of having such a loving and long-lasting relationship in the first place.  It breaks my heart.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, who was a School Sister of Notre Dame before transferring to the Loretto Community, wrote her own letter to the provincial leadership. In it, she stated:

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

“This unfair policy makes me feel sad because SSND supported me in lesbian/gay ministry from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Three SSND General Superiors and three SSND provincial leaders supported this ministry for many decades—at a time when lesbian/gay issues were very unpopular. These leaders believed in the human rights of lesbian and gay people, despite the opposition of some church leaders.

“It is distressing that SSND is now maintaining a reactionary stance in its schools when the tide of public opinion has shifted dramatically. According to a number of recent polls, most U.S. Catholics today now support same-sex marriaege (53% according to the 2014 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute)…

“The basic principle of the Church’s social teaching is that all human beings have dignity and worth and should be treated fairly and equally. In school publications, administrators would not treat males and females differently by publishing information about males, but not females, or vice versa. Administrators would not treat people of color differently by publishing information about white students, but not about Black students. Similarly, administrators need to treat people uniformly, whatever their sexual orientation.

“I urge you to change all SSND policies that discriminate against sexual minorities. To do otherwise is not worthy of us as women religious who profess to follow Jesus’ Gospel of love, service, and care for all God’s people.”

These two missives accompanied letters from many alumnae and community members, who have now been notified of a new policy regarding class notes that respects LGBT people and their relationships. In an email, Sister Patricia McCarron, headmistress, writes:

“After much thoughtful and prayerful discernment regarding concerns expressed about the content of ‘Class Chatter,’ Notre Dame Preparatory School has arrived at a policy which we believe respects individuals and upholds the school’s Catholic identity.

” ‘Class Chatter,’ or information submitted by alumnae of Notre Dame Preparatory School, exists for the purpose of alumnae-to-alumnae communication.

“Publication does not signify endorsement by Perspectives or its sponsoring bodies, Notre Dame Preparatory School and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Notre Dame Preparatory School is an independent, Catholic school for girls which upholds the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

This incident, and the positive outcome that emerged from a poor decision against a lesbian couple, is proof that Catholics, lay and religious united, can indeed respond to school and parish level actions which do not reflect a more inclusive and welcoming tone which even Pope Francis demonstrates. Through sharing personal stories and wisdom with Church officials decisions can be reversed.  This kind of dialogue can help to  build up policies more in keeping with the Catholic tradition of justice and mercy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


When LGBT Church Workers Are Fired, What Are ‘The Ethics of Exit’ ?

June 13, 2014

The most troubling issue of the last few months has been the rash of people fired from Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues. The injustice of these decisions is made even more troubling by the fact that, based on what these institutions have stated publicly, these actions seem to be devoid of any ethical reflection of the complex issues involved.  Part of the reason for this exacerbation of the problem is that no ethical reflection has been done around such situations since they are very new on the church scene.

Donald Trump, on TV’s “The Apprentice” offers his famous line: “You’re fired!”

America magazine, a Jesuit publication, took a stab at beginning the process of ethical reflection on firing church employees, by publishing an essay entitled “The Ethics of Exit” by Daniel J. Daly, associate professor and chair of the theology department at St. Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire.  Daly’s scope in the article is not only LGBT issues, but various “infractions” that have caused people to be fired, such as becoming an unwed mother.  Yet, LGBT issues, particularly the question of what to do when a gay or lesbian teacher marries, are a main focus.

My reaction to this piece is mixed.

What I like about the essay is that it helps to enumerate some of the moral issues involved in such cases.  Daly recognizes that these are not “black and white” situations, but more gray.  For example, at the outset, he offers a re-framing of the issue:

“It does not necessarily follow that because a teacher has violated church teaching, and his or her contract, that he or she should be terminated. Many teachers violate their contracts without being fired. The question is not simply: Did the teacher violate the contract? Instead it should be: Does the violation of the contract disqualify the teacher from educating students in a Catholic context?”

Moreover, Daly sets up some good ideas for decision-making processes in such cases. For example, he recommends that administrators seek opinions and perspectives from a wide diversity of people before making a decision about employment termination, something we have not seen practiced much in the cases reported in the news.

He also recognizes that the impact a firing can have on the formation of students is an important factor that must be taken into consideration.  Similarly, he advocates for administrators to consider the practical effects that firing can have on the employee in question, and that all attempts should be made to mitigate harm.

What I don’t like about the essay is that it skirts a number of the hard questions.  For example, Daly’s discussion of the concept of “scandal” identifies questions, but doesn’t provide answers:

“Scandal is important because it has the potential to malform the conscience and character of young people. But not every immoral action or mistaken belief is scandalous. Unfortunately, it is notoriously difficult to discern what might “give scandal.” Does an unmarried pregnant teacher undermine the church’s teaching on premarital sex in the eyes of students, or does she provide a quiet witness to the value of bringing all children, even those conceived in less-than-ideal situations, into the world? Does the presence of a married gay man on the faculty undermine the church’s teaching on matters of sexual ethics, or is this outweighed by the man’s practices, for example, of love and mercy toward the suffering, the sick and the unborn?  These are some of the difficult but essential questions that administrators must ask and answer.”

In another passage, he advises that while students must be a school’s first priority, faculty and staff rights do have to be considered. Yet, he doesn’t provide enough analysis of  what that consideration should be:

“The rights of faculty and staff are limited by the rights of students to receive a high quality Catholic education. This is not to claim that the rights of faculty and staff are to be ignored but that these rights must be placed in their proper context.”

Daly never explains what the “proper context” is.  It is almost as if he assumes that all readers will know what he means.

Another problem is that Daly doesn’t want to question the bigger moral questions that have prompted these firings.  At the outset, he limits the scope of his article:.

“First, ethics is done well when it asks and answers the right questions. We begin, therefore, by setting aside a question that is often asked but that is irrelevant to this article: ‘Is the church’s official teaching correct regarding the morally illicit nature of gay marriage?’ That is an important question that should be discussed and debated in Catholic households, parishes, colleges and universities. But it is a not a question to be asked by Catholic school administrators in their role as administrators. While individuals within institutions have the right to dissent from church teaching as individuals, they do not have the right to unilaterally alter an institution’s values and conscience.”

This limitation, however, stunts the moral reflection which Daly seems to want to inspire.  If we can’t ask if the official Catholic teaching on gay marriage is right or not, then how can we evaluate whether or not a violation of that teaching is grounds for firing? How can we evaluate whether a violation of the teaching is scandalous or not?  The bigger questions have to be involved in the discussion because not all violations of church teaching are considered as grounds to fire someone.  Obviously, there is some hierarchizing of teachings involved in the decision-making, and it seems that violating sexual teachings are considered the most egregious.

Daly’s limitation of scope also works to support the influence that administrators have in defining what teachings are more important than others. For example, he defends the controversial new contract clauses that dioceses have instituted.  His defense is that the new clauses satisfy the condition of letting an employee know beforehand what restrictions might be:

“. . . [I]f certain offenses are worthy of termination they should be promulgated as such in the teacher’s contract or handbook. The Diocese of Cleveland recently released a revised teacher contract listing prohibited behaviors in detail, like procuring or supporting abortion, having sex outside of marriage and drug use. While one can debate the substance of the morality clause, schools owe teachers this level of disclosure so that they can make informed decisions regarding their employment.”

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it ignores the many good teachers who have made significant contributions to schools and who now find that new contract clauses violate their consciences and faith lives.  The story of Molly Shumate is perhaps the most poignant example of someone caught in this new dilemma because the clauses have been changed.   Shumate is the teacher who refused to sign the new contract because she has a gay son, and she felt that the new restrictions on publicly supporting gay equality would mean disrespecting her son.   A case like this shows that it is not enough for the employer to simply disclose new obligations.   The substance of  the new obligations defined by such morality clauses also must be examined and debated.

Daly and America magazine have done a service by getting the conversation started on the ethics of these employment decisions. Unfortunately, his examination is only a starting point, Many more questions and answers need to be raised. Catholic teaching on employment and human dignity, as well as a more complex analysis of the moral conundrums that firings and new restrictive polices cause, need to included in the discussion.  Daly’s analysis is a good first word, but it is certainly not, nor should it be, the last.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

June 10, 2014:  March in Local Pride Parades to Support LGBT & Ally Church Employees

May 27, 2014:  Exploring the What & Why of Church Worker Firings, and Asking ‘What’s Next?’

Resource Page:  Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues

March in Local Pride Parades to Support LGBT & Ally Church Employees

June 10, 2014

June is Pride month across the U.S. and in many areas of the globe. Parades, festivals, and other programs fill this month’s calendar, as people, gay and straight, take a moment or two to celebrate and affirm LGBT people.  Many parishes have taken part in these events (see “Related posts” at the end of this essay for links), as a witness to Catholic support for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people.  And some have done so in the face of ecclesial pressure not to participate.

This year, the inspiring story of Catholic participation comes from Ontario, Canada, where an educators’ union, the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA), has decided to march in Toronto’s World Pride parade.  As we have already reported, the group seeks to show support for LGBT students, teachers, and others, even while they have been criticized for their plans.

Their example brings to mind what is probably the top story these days in the United States concerning Catholic LGBT issues:  the unjust firings of LGBT people and allies from Catholic schools and parishes and the adoption of restrictive employment contracts which forbid any public support of same-gender couples.

Many Catholics have felt helpless in the face of these repressive measures, and they have longed for a way to show their support for these fired workers.   U.S. Catholics should follow their Canadian brothers and sisters and take to the streets by marching in their local Pride celebrations in support of Catholic LGBT and ally employees.

We’ve seen petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and protests, and these have been wonderful ways of creating awareness.  Marching in Pride parades provides one more possible way to keep this issue alive in people’s minds.  Such displays of support would likely garner media attention, which would put the message of non-discrimination in front of the Catholic leaders in a local area.  Even if your area has not witnessed repressive employment actions yet, it is important to make your views known to the public and to church leaders so that all will know that not all Catholics are okay with these decisions.  In situations like this, prevention is truly the best intervention.

James Ryan

Take heart from the example of these Canadian teachers.  The criticism of their decision continues, according to The National Post, but they have stayed firm. OECTA’s President, James Ryan, met with Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins and St. Catharines’ Bishop Gerard Paul Bergie, both of whom expressed displeasure at the teachers’ union’s plans.  A petition by some parents has been circulated to get the teachers to withdraw.  Yet, the teachers are still resolute in their decision to march.

The teachers’ attitude was summed up nicely in The National Post article:

“The fact the union still plans to participate in the parade despite criticisms ‘says to me that these people have the courage of their convictions and that they are true supporters and allies of the diversity in our city, including sexual diversity,’ said Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Pride Toronto, which is organizing the World Pride parade. ‘It’s a wonderful message of acceptance and love and welcome.’ ”

Exactly.  The teachers’ message is a message of acceptance and love and welcome which is entirely consistent with Catholic principles.  And if U.S. Catholics marched in support of fired church employees, they can express that same very Catholic message.

Bishop Fred Colli of the Diocese of Thunder Bay told the newspaper that he thought that the parade marchers would “cause confustion” among Catholics.  This seems unlikely.  What most people find confusing is the fact that Catholic leaders seem to have an obstinate refusal to showing any support for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people.

Similar to Bishop Colli, Cardinal Collins expressed dismay that the teachers would be marching in a parade where there have sometimes been been displays of nudity and distribution of condoms.  The newspaper quoted him:

Cardinal Thomas Collins

“ ‘I find it very troubling and strange that [the union] would choose this particular event as a way of expressing that, when it seems to be going completely against what we believe in many ways,’ said the cardinal. ‘That’s the point at which I would say, “Really? What are you thinking’” ‘ “

His remark seems to echo those in the Gospel who challenged Jesus’ authenticity because he associated with tax collectors and prostitutes.  The Church should never restrain itself from showing love and acceptance just because some of those to whom they are extending a hand do not conform to all values we may hold.

And as for “going completely against what we believe in many ways,” I think the cardinal is forgetting some of the other ways that Catholics believe concerning LGBT people:  that they should be affirmed and respected.

I’m not the only one who thinks the OECTA is right in their decision to march.  Catholic school boards in Ontario were asked to issue statements of reprimand to the union, and to apply heavy penalties if they continued to march.   So far, the response has been less than enthusiastic to penalize them:

“One such motion failed at Halton’s Catholic school board May 20 because it could not get a seconder. Another, simply asking the union to withdraw, was passed at York Region’s Catholic school board April 29. Waterloo’s Catholic board passed a motion May 26 stating it respects the union’s right to make its own decision on how to show support for the gay community.”

I hope that this outstanding example of Catholic support for LGBT people that the teachers are demonstrating will be emulated by many Catholics in the U.S. who want to show support for fired church employees.   Just think of the message it would send to LGBT youth, as well.  What a witness of faith it would be if Catholics showed up in numbers to support our LGBT siblings!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

(For all posts concerning firings, click on “Employment Issues” under “Categories” in the right hand column of this page.)

June 16, 2013: “Catholic Parish Marches in Portland Pride Parade Despite Archbishop’s Prohibition”

June 22, 2013: “Catholic Communities Featured Prominently in Two Pride Parades”

July 14, 2013: “Catholic Pastor Explains Why He Marched in Pride Parade”

October 25, 2013: “How to Establish LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Policies in Catholic Institutions”

March 24, 2014: “Catholic League’s Publicity Stunt Helps No One, Harms Many”  (see photo of parish marching in New York Pride Parade)

April 5. 2014: “How Can Ordinary Catholics Respond to the Firing of LGBT Church Employees?”

May 24, 2014: “Brazilian Bishops Endorse Legal Equality, Promise to Accompany LGBT Community”  (see section on Sao Paulo Pride March)

June 6, 2014: “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”






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