On Restrictive Employment Policies: ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

April 29, 2014

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s controversial new loyalty oath for Catholic school teachers which requires that they do not express “public support for a homosexual lifestyle,” among other things, has been receiving opposition recently, and has been the subject of scrutiny of several labor and education professionals.

Some of the Cincinnati protesters.

Over 100 Catholic protesters took to the street in front of the archdiocese’s chancery when they delivered 24,000 signatures on a petition which called on Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to re-write the teachers’ contract without the objectionable clauses.

Parents, teachers, and parishioners were among the protestors.  WCPO-TV quoted one teacher who is also a parent of a gay man:

“Molly Shumate says she has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Hamilton County for 14 years. She has a gay son and refused to sign a contract that says she’s can’t publicly support a homosexual lifestyle.

” ‘I would never initial next to a statement saying that I will not support my son who in my eyes my God made perfectly. I will not do that,’ Shumate said.”

WLWT-TV further quoted Shumate about her decision not to sign the contract:

“The main reason I will not sign this contract is my son is gay, and the day he came out to me, the world was lifted off of his shoulder as well as mine, and it was at that moment that I said to myself I will never hide who he is, be embarrassed of who he is and at that point I said I’m going to use this opportunity to make a difference.”

The Human Rights Campaign joined in the protest by sending a letter to Archbishop Schnurr, from which WKRC-TV quoted the following:

“Dozens of LGBT teachers, who have committed their life’s work to their Catholic faith, have already lost their jobs in schools across the country.  HRC calls on Archbishop Schnurr to remove this anti-LGBT police from Cincinnati Catholic schools and ensure that LGBT Catholics no longer have to choose between who they are, who they love and what they believe.”

The Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii, has recently instituted a similar policy to that of Cincinnati.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee has reported on the growing trend in U.S. Catholic dioceses of making teaching contracts more explicit about what types of ideas teachers can support.  One expert quoted notes that the new, stricter policies “are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.”   Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of  Nevada, Las Vegas, stated:

“It’s about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don’t want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay. . . . They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws.”

Rita Schwartz

Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, a labor union for Catholic educators, worries too about other implications of these new policies which seem to try to solidify the ministerial role of a teacher:

“When dioceses start to call their employees ministers, I look at that as a way for a diocese to tell an employee, ‘Well, you’re a minister, you can’t unionize.’

“If that’s what they’re aiming to do, I have serious issue with that.”

Though diocesan officials state that teaching is a ministerial activity, Schwartz doesn’t disagree totally with that notion.  Where she differs is in the detailed, explicit listing of all the things that a teacher cannot support.  For instance, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati morality section expanded from two pages to six.  McElwee reported on her position:

“While she said she understood the need for a morality clause in Catholic teachers’ contracts –’I don’t think you can be a Catholic school teacher without one,’ she said — the organizer called the Cincinnati contract ‘six pages of “thou shalt not.” “

” ‘There’s no reason for that,’ she said. ‘There’s got to be a happy medium here.’ “

McElwee’s reporting expands on these themes with interesting details and perspectives.  For those who want more information about the complexities of these employment situations, I recommend you read his entire article by clicking here.  He closes with a plea from Schwartz for greater organizing on the part of Catholic teachers:

“Most Catholic teachers, she said, ‘have no job security, have no due process. They just work at the pleasure of the employer.’

” ‘They need to stop doing that,’ she said. ‘They need to organize themselves into an association, they need to petition for recognize and collective bargaining. That’s the only way that they’re going to have a say over the conditions under which they work. And the sooner they do it, the better.’

“Griffin suggested that teachers consider consulting with lawyers if they have to sign contracts defining them as ministers. Particularly, she said, those teachers might consider trying to insert language into their contracts that specify that while they are ministers, they still claim their rights to sue for workplace discrimination.

“Ultimately, said Griffin, ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

” ‘The laws won’t change unless people start seeing it more from the employee perspective,’ she said.”

New Ways Ministry has been encouraging Catholics to adopt employment non-discrimination policies for their church institutions.  To find out how to begin the process of implementing one, click here.  New Ways Ministry has also supported DignityUSA’s call to write letters to church leaders protesting restrictive employment policies.  All three efforts can have an impact on our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

Cincinnati.com: Marchers seek change to Catholic teacher contract

 

 


Catholic School Student Told Not to Use Harvey Milk Quotation

February 2, 2014

In Ontario, Canada, there has been an ongoing struggle in state-funded Catholic schools to comply with a law there to allow gay-straight alliances (GSA) to form.   This controversy added a new wrinkle to it recently when a Catholic school in a Toronto suburb refused to allow a student to use a quote from gay-rights leader Harvey Milk on a poster for the GSA.

Christopher Karras holding an image of Harvey Milk

Student Christopher Karras, who attends École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille, part of the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud (Catholic Central South District School Board) in Mississauga, chose a quote from Milk to advertise the existence of the newly-formed student organization.

DailyXtra.com reported:

“The Milk quote — ‘All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential’ — has been deemed to be too controversial, according to an email Karas received from his vice-principal in October.

“ ‘I was told that I can’t have a picture of Harvey Milk or his quote on the posters,’ Karas says. ‘I also had “sexual orientation” written on the posters.’
“But Karas says vice-principal Vicki Marcotte told him to change that to ‘self-expression’ because ‘she felt it was too much about LGBT community and not inclusive of everyone.’ “
In an email, Marcotte said she would not allow the quote because it was “tendentious.”

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay man elected to public office in California when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. He was assassinated by Dan White, another member of the Board of Supervisors.

The earlier controversy over establishing such clubs focused around the Catholic schools board’s wish not to name them “gay-straight alliances,” but “diversity clubs.”   The group in the Mississauga school is not labelled as a GSA, but is called “Porte Ouverte (Open Doors).”
Yet, the struggle for the group’s identity has not ended by simply changing the name.  Karras says there has been other intervention by the school administration.  According to DailyXtra.com:
” . . . he says the school is trying to prevent it from becoming ‘too focused on queer stuff.’
“Karas feels the board and school administrators are censoring and restricting the content of the group and making it difficult for the group to present itself as a GSA.
“Davina Smith, another of the group’s founders, says the posters have caused unnecessary friction between the group and the school’s administration.
“ ‘This gets on my nerves,’ she says, noting that the objection to the poster design gives the impression that the board is homophobic. ‘That’s the impression that I get . . . Harvey Milk is talking about giving youth hope. What’s wrong with that?’ “
Catholic school officials need to learn that opposing discussions of sexual orientation among students is not going to keep students from discussing these topics.  Furthermore, wouldn’t it have been nice if the vice-principal could have seen that what Harvey Milk’s quote was saying is really not very different from their own goals as a Catholic school?  Much education remains to be done.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Students Protest Firings in Seattle and Philly; What You Can Do to Help

December 20, 2013

Students chanting “change the church” at the protest outside Eastside Catholic H.S.

Students and faculty at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Washington, protested yesterday morning when they learned that the school’s vice principal was fired because he married his male partner.

The Seattle Times reported that Mark Zmuda, the fired administrator, met with the students during their protest in front of the school on Thursday, December 19th.  According to one student:

“He told us he had gotten fired because he is gay and married. He told us to grow up, get a job and find true love. He was crying and told us what we were doing meant a lot to him.”

Zmuda’s firing brings to twelve the number of LGBT people fired from Catholic institutions in the U.S. fired this year because of sexual orientation, gender expression, or marital status.

According to a report on KIROTV.com, 400 students from Eastside Catholic, which is in the Seattle metropolitan area, walked out of their classrooms for the protest.

Mark Zmuda

The Seattle Times reported that students at another local Catholic high school, Seattle Preparatory School, staged a protest in solidarity with Zmuda at their school.  The protest ended with continued discussion on a school-wide basis:

“ ‘Diversity Director, Heidi Kim, moderated a discussion with our students,’ according to the statement to Seattle Prep parents. ‘Following that, Principal Maureen Reid asked students to return to class, where they were able to take up the discussion with their classmates and instructors.’ ”

The Seattle demonstrations come only one week after students in the Philadelphia area publicly protested the firing of Michael Griffin, a foreign language teacher, from Holy Ghost Preparatory School because he and his male partner obtained a marriage license.  According to an Associated Press  story:

“Administrators at a Roman Catholic high school suffered a sharp and swift backlash this week after firing a well-liked teacher who sought to marry his same-sex partner.

“Educators said they had no choice, but thousands have protested the move through Facebook groups and petitions demanding that Michael Griffin be rehired at Holy Ghost Preparatory School. Some alumni have pledged to withhold financial support.”

Employment GraphicReligion News Service  story on The Washington Post website noted that a new coalition of Catholic gay and lesbian students in Pennsylvania has formed to protest Griffin’s firing:

Gay and lesbian Catholic students in Pennsylvania are joining alumni and others in pushing a Catholic high school near Philadelphia to reinstate a teacher who was fired after he applied for a marriage license with his partner. . . .

“Michael Griffin did not deserve to be treated in a way that does not clearly reflect Christ and His teachings,” says the letter sponsored by the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition. “He has dedicated his life to the Holy Ghost Community. He is just as much a part of the Holy Ghost family as any other member.”

Since the beginning of 2012, Bondings 2.0 has been reporting and commenting on this disturbing, growing trend of firing LGBT people from Catholic institutions.  (You can read all the stories concerning this topic in by clicking on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right hand column of this blog post.)  This past Sunday, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni commented on this trend in an essay entitled “The Catholics Still in Exile.”   Bruni notes that the message of and spirit of Pope Francis’ outreach to lesbian and gay people is muted by the actions of these institutional administrators:

“Pope Francis has indeed been a revelation, his gentle tone and sustained humility more in touch with the heart of Catholicism than the bitter jeremiads of other Catholic leaders were. But it’s important to note that he hasn’t pledged to revisit doctrine, nor are such revisions likely to happen anytime soon. The world turns at a breathless clip; the church, at a glacial one.

“It’s equally important to note that beyond Rome, the very focus on sexual morality that the pope seems to be waving Catholics away from can still be keen and uncompromising. Examples are made where they needn’t be; punishment is meted out when it doesn’t have to be. And it’s this, as much as anything uttered in Vatican City, that continues to drive a wedge between open-minded Catholics and the church’s hierarchy.”

New Ways Ministry’s response to these dismissals has been to encourage Catholics to work towards getting their schools, parishes, and other institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies which will protect LGBT people from being fired.  You can read our whole list of suggestions by clicking here.  If you need help with organizing to adopt such policies, please call or email our office:  (301)-277-5674; info@NewWaysMinistry.org.  The best way to stop these firings is to prevent them by putting into practice Catholic social principles of equality, human dignity, freedom, and the value of work.

Another way you can help is to spread the word about establishing non-discrimination policies by sharing the Facebook meme pictured above on your social media accounts  You can access it by clicking here.  Let’s make this movement go viral!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Gay Teacher Fired from Catholic Prep School for Applying for Marriage License

December 7, 2013

A teacher at a Catholic prep school in Pennsylvania has been fired from his position of twelve years on the same day that he and his partner applied for a marriage license.

Michael Griffin with his partner, Vincent Gianetto

Michael Griffin, who taught French and Spanish at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, a Philadelphia suburb, had been known to faculty and administrators as gay, but that when administrators questioned him about his upcoming marriage, he was fired.  6ABC.com reported on the process of his firing:

“Michael Griffin says he emailed the principal of Holy Ghost Prep earlier in the week saying he may be late Friday, that he was applying for a marriage license. After an in-service day he says he was called into the office of School President Father James McCloskey, along with Principal Jeffrey Danilak.

“Griffin explains, ‘He said, “It’s not really a secret here that you’re gay.” I said, “Correct.” He said, “I assume this is a same sex marriage.” “Yes.” He said if I go through with it, he had no choice but to terminate my position.’ “

NBCPhiladelphia.com reported that McCloskey made a statement on the matter which included the following:

“At a meeting in my office yesterday, teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he obtained a license to marry his same sex partner. Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

Griffin noted that he is angered by how he was treated:

“The school to me has shown their true colors so I don’t know if I… I certainly don’t want to work there again after I’ve seen how they treated me.”

He also told the press that he believes he was fired because the school enforces a code of conduct for teachers which states in part:

“. . . as employees of a Catholic institution, all teachers are expected to uphold lifestyles compatible with the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will know that this firing is just the latest in a rapidly growing trend of firings from Catholic institutions aimed at LGBT people and others who support marriage equality.   What is amazing about these firings is that while they emphasize the Catholic hierarchy’s position on marriage, they totally ignore the Catholic Church’s teachings on non-discrimination, the dignity of work, and respect for all human beings.  The sexual teachings do not and should not trump the social justice teachings.

New Ways Ministry has called upon Catholics to attempt to institute non-discrimination policies in their church institutions such as parishes, schools, and social service agencies.  You  can learn more about how to work towards establishing such policies by clicking here.  Adopting such policies guarantees that LGBT people and their allies will be protected, and it will insure that Catholic social justice principles are upheld.

You can review all the Bondings 2.0 posts about such firings by clicking on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” section to the right of this post.

Here are the names of people fired over the last two years, with links to more information about their cases:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

Ken Bencomo

Kristen Ostendorf

Tippi McCullough

Nigel Studdart
“John Doe”
Trish Cameron
Michael Fischer
Steav Bates Congdon
Jodi O’Brien
Fr. Owen O’Sullivan, OFM, Cap (see page 5 in link)
Laine Tadlock
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Was Banning the Legion of Mary the Best Possible Response to Their Anti-Gay Message?

December 7, 2013

National University in Galway, Ireland

A state-run university in Ireland has banned a campus chapter of the Legion of Mary from the school after the group posted posters inviting students to become part of the Courage movement, a Catholic ministry to lesbian and gay people which promotes chastity and has been known in some instances to promote reparative therapy to attempt to “change” a person’s sexual orientation.

Officials from the National University in Galway said they made their decision because of the school’s “pluralist ethos” and its policy of “protecting the liberty and equality of all students and does not condone such behaviour” according to The Journal.ie.

RTE.ie reported that the poster’s message invited students with ” ‘same sex attractions’ to ‘develop an interior life of chastity … to move beyond the confines of the homosexual label to a more complete identity in Christ.’ “

The Guardian news report offered some background as to why the university came to its decision:

“The university said it had reviewed the actions of the society in the context of the college’s code of conduct and policies governing harassment. It said this led to the immediate suspension of the Legion of Mary, which is understood to have only a few members in its college society.

“The societies chairperson at the university, Patrick O’Flaherty, said he had been contacted by a number [70] of students who were upset or felt threatened by the content of the poster.

“In a statement, the university said it would not condone the production and dissemination of any material by students that discriminated against other students.”

The Legion of Mary’s response to the university’s action is curious.  On one hand, according to RTE.ie:

“Representatives of the Legion did not respond to an invitation to attend a meeting to consider the issue.”

Yet, on the other hand, the same news story reported:

“However, after the suspension was imposed, a committee member did write to the group apologising for any distress that had been caused.

“She said the content on the document had been taken directly from a website. It was not aimed at attacking any person or group of people and was not intended to hurt or offend.”

Yet, the group also had a bit of a rocky history in regard to its application to become a recognized society on campus, according to RTE.ie:

“The group had applied for status as a college society in September of this year and at one point had around 100 members.

“As part of the application to become a fully-fledged society, its committee was asked to provide information as to its aims and objectives.

“This did not happen. Concerns about the lack of clarification contributed to the decision to suspend the society.”

London’s Telegraph newspaper published an essay on this controversy by Padraig Reidy, a senior writer at the Index on Censorship. While Reidy is not sympathetic with the Legion of Mary’s views on homosexuality, he defends their right to express their views on a campus.  He wrote:

“. . . [W]e are in a curious position where a non-violent, non-intimidatory message from an orthodox Catholic position has been banned from a university campus. Without a trace of irony, the university claims that it is ‘committed to protecting the liberty and equality of all students.’

“The university Legion of Mary has said it was not their intention ‘to offend or upset any person or group of people.’ It probably wasn’t. In their own weird little way they probably genuinely think they’re offering real ‘support’ for gay people.

“But it doesn’t matter whether I, or the university authorities, agree with their idea of support or not. The issue at stake here is that they have peacefully put forward their views, without threat or abuse, and have still been punished, with even evidence of the Legion’s student society status removed from NUI Galway’s website.

“Universities are meant to be places where people learn to argue and find their way as adults. How this can happen when students are “protected” from even the slightest controversy, I really don’t know. Believers in intellectual and religious liberty should start praying for the Towers of Ivory.”

There are a lot of issues in this story which can be seen as black and white.  Was the university correct in banning the group or was this censorship, as Reidy claims?  Did the punishment fit the offense?  Was it LGBT students or Catholic students who were experiencing discrimination?

While I do not condone the message of the Legion of Mary’s posters, I wonder if perhaps there could have been a teachable moment here.  The fact that the Legion of Mary apologized shows there might be some opportunity for discussion with them. Perhaps a meeting between the Legion of Mary students and LGBT students would have helped to develop toleration and respect.  The recent example of Providence College, a Catholic school in Rhode Island, is instructive here.  When that school’s administration cancelled a public lecture by a pro-marriage equality speaker,   students on campus organized an evening of discussion and dialogue about the case, which resulted in a re-invitation to the speaker for the spring semester.

As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, let us remember one of the greatest institutions he established was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up for victims of apartheid to tell their stories, but also to foster healing for that wounded nation.   I think the Catholic community, and all communities that struggle with LGBT issues, such as the National University in Galway, would do well to follow Mandela’s model.

–Francis DeBernardo,

 



Ontario Catholic Schools Trustee Is Chastised for LGBT Support

October 5, 2013

A trustee of the  Waterloo Catholic District School Board in Ontario, Canada, has been punished by his colleagues, in part because of his support for LGBT youth and the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSA) in the religious institutions.

Anthony Piscitelli

Anthony Piscitelli

Anthony Piscitelli is not allowed to attend special committee meetings, though he can attend general board meetings.  This punishment was enacted because board members felt he violated principles in an op-ed that he recently published on Pope Francis’ new openness to LGBT issues and how that relates to Catholic education.  The Record newspaper reported:

“Trustees agreed that fellow trustee Anthony Piscitelli made misleading and inaccurate statements in an opinion piece in The Record last week when he said non-Catholic students are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools.

“Only two trustees — Janek Jagiellowicz and Joyce Anderson — supported Piscitelli on Thursday by voting against the motion, which came as an initial complaint by trustee Peter Reitmeier. . . .

“Reitmeier said Piscitelli’s article, which also referred to gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools and how more needs to be done to support gay and lesbian youth, was ‘undignified, unprofessional or contrary to the preservation and promotion of Catholic values and teachings.’

“Reitmeier said Piscitelli was inaccurate when he wrote that ‘the Ontario Catholic school system was slow to adopt reforms aimed at improving circumstances for gay and lesbian students.’ “

In the op-ed, Piscitelli discussed how statistics show strong support for same-sex marriage among Canadian Catholics, and so it would be likely to assume that they also support GSAs.  Yet, he pointed out:

“Last year, for example, the Ontario Catholic Trustees association aggressively fought the provincial government’s attempts to ensure that gay-straight alliances were available as a student support for every student in this province.

“Instead of fighting gay-straight alliances, school board leaders should have been focused on finding a way to make them work within a Catholic context. The church’s emphasis on loving one another should have made this easy to do.”

In regard to  his claim that non-Catholic students are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools, Piscitelli stated that he made a technical error:

“Piscitelli agreed that he made a minor technical error and apologized for saying non-Catholics are not allowed in the system. However, he did not agree that he had violated the code of conduct.

” ‘I am sorry for any misperception this may have caused in the community,’ he said.”

In fact, allowing non-Catholic students to attend the schools is a complicated matter, reported The Record:

“Waterloo Catholic District School Board policy allows non-Catholic students to attend elementary schools if permission is granted by the education director. There are currently 80 non-Catholic students in elementary schools.

“At least one parent must be Catholic or the child must be baptized in the faith to attend elementary school. Catholic high schools are open to all students, regardless of faith.”

Piscitelli did not back down from his support for GSAs and LGBT people.  According to The Record, :

“I will continue to argue that we need to do more to ensure that our gay and lesbian staff are comfortable being open about their sexuality in our schools . . . because I believe they are the areas where we are failing as a Catholic school system.”

Catholic schools here in the United States need a voice like Piscitelli, who is willing to speak out for justice and equality for LGBT staff and students.

Meanwhile, The Windsor Star reported that Catholic schools in Ontario still are calling the provincially-mandated GSAs “social justice equity clubs,”  so that they do not have to use the word “gay.”  Catholic schools in Ontario receive government funding, and so are subject to provincial laws.

The identity of these clubs was highlighted recently by a study which points out that schools which have GSAs in them report significantly less binge-drinking among students.  CBC.ca reported:

“In schools with gay-straight alliance clubs, heterosexual teen boys are 45 per cent less likely to have had an episode of binge drinking in the past month. Heterosexual teen girls are 62 per cent less likely to binge drink.

“It benefits LGBTQ students too. Lesbian students, for example, are 50 per cent less likely to drink five or fewer drinks at one time.”

A prominent LGBT Canadian activist explained the importance of the student organizations having a more accurate, specific name:

Deirdre PIke

Deirdre PIke

“Deirdre Pike, a Hamilton LGBTQ activist, was vocal last year about  the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s refusal to allow issue-specific gay-straight clubs.

“This is evidence that they benefit all students, she said. And it’s another reason why the Catholic board needs to reconsider its practice of only allowing generic anti-bullying clubs.

” ‘The Catholic school board really needs to pick up the pace and the integrity in terms of naming these groups, and be intentional about naming them for what they are,’ she said. ‘ “Diversity club” is not going to cut it.’ “

Catholic schools in the United States can learn a lot from the courage of Anthony Piscitelli and the Canadian experience about how to establish welcoming environments.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Cambridge Times: Catholic board trustee broke policies – banned from special committee meetings”

 

 

 


Fired Minnesota Teacher Speaks Out on the Danger of Silence

September 13, 2013
Kristen Ostendorf

Kristen Ostendorf

“I don’t feel like telling the truth should cost me my job.”

Those are the words of Kristen Ostendorf, reacting to being fired from a Minnesota Catholic high school after she publicly revealed that she was a lesbian and involved in a relationship with another woman.

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports that officials at Totino-Grace H.S., in Fridley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, have been tight-lipped about their response to the firing.  MPR states:

“The school released a statement saying the matter is a private one between employer and employee.

” ‘Like all Catholic schools and organizations, Totino-Grace follows the teachings of the church and the employment policies of the Archdiocese,’ it said in part.”

Interestingly, this is the second case this year of a Totino-Grace staff member leaving the school because of revealing involvement in a same-sex relationship.  William Hudson voluntarily stepped down as school president when he disclosed to school board members his long-term commitment to another man.  Ostendorf taught English, religion, and was a campus minister and swimming and lacrosse coach.

The silence of the school officials contrasts strikingly with Ostendorf’s claim about telling the truth. In a MinnPost interview, Ostendorf spoke eloquently about the destructive power of silence:

“I’m not a big fan of silence. I’m not a fan of leaving the unnamed elephant in the room. I think silence is a huge problem. There’s been criticism of Bill [William Hudson] for having ‘kept a secret.’ And I think, really? He was doing a job he was called to do. But let’s say he was keeping a secret, and I chose to not keep a secret. We’re both gone. And the sad story is, I’d like to be the last person to be fired for who I loved, or for the gender of the person I love. But I won’t be, probably, and the silence around it terrifies me.

“The truth is, there are 800 kids who started school two weeks ago. They have a job to do, and they have to do it well, and they will. They have to press on. Still, I’m gone, and my desk is empty, and everybody knows it, and nobody’s talking about it. That’s something I wake up at night thinking about: the silence. Silence is the undoing of lots of good things, and I would err on the side of truth. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

In the same interview, Ostendorf comments about another form of silence in the church:

“As far as I can surmise, the rule I broke was saying out loud that I am in a relationship with a woman. It is OK in the church to be gay, though one would really not say that aloud.”

MPR also reported on another Totino-Grace staff person, Chad O’Leary, a youth minister, who resigned in 2010 after telling school administrators that he was gay.   They also describe these types of departures as part of a national trend:

“Firings at Catholic schools over same-sex relationships appear to be on the rise nationally, according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates for LGBT employees in Catholic institutions.

” ‘In 2011 there was maybe two or three cases like this. In 2012 there was probably six. And now [this year] we’ve had well over a dozen,’ he said.

“DeBernardo says that’s in part because gay marriage has become legal in more states, like Minnesota, and that has gay employees of Catholic schools speaking up about their relationships.

” ‘The arrival of public affirmation of their relationships is going to bring out more and more of these cases,’ he said.”

For a listing of the known dismissals of church workers because of LGBT issues over the past few years, click here.

Michael Bayly, a prominent Catholic LGBT  Twin Cities’ advocate, put these firings into spiritual context in his blog post at The Wild Reed:

“I’ve followed a number of cases where LGBT people have either resigned or been fired from Catholic institutions. And as difficult as the situation was initially for these folks, they’ve actually moved on to a much better place in their lives. For one thing, they’re no longer closeted. And, let’s be honest, why would we want anyone to remain in a situation where they can’t be their true and full selves? That’s a terrible way to live. I know as I lived it for many years. Oh, to be sure, we can justify it by saying something like, it’s better to be ‘on the inside’ doing what we can to help others.

“Well, let me tell you, that only lasts so long. Ultimately, the best way we can help others, say, for example, young people at a Catholic school, is to live a life of honesty and integrity. That’s what Kristen Ostendorf has chosen to do after eighteen years of being in a work environment that, as she says, required her to ‘hide and compromise and deny who I am.’

“I’m happy that Kristen is out of such an unhealthy environment. I’m sad that such environments still exist – especially within a faith community that claims inspiration from the life and message of Jesus. There’s a major disconnect there, to be sure. “

Silence is unhealthy and secrecy breeds many negative consequences.  Instead of castigating those who speak with honesty and clarity, our church should be honoring these people for helping us as a community to move closer to the truth.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

Star-Tribune:  Gay teacher no longer employed at Totino-Grace

MinnPost:  Fired after she came out to colleagues, Totino-Grace teacher leaves dissonance and silence behind

The Wild Reed: Thoughts on the Firing of Kristen Ostendorf

Huffington Post: Kristen Ostendorf, Minnesota Catholic School Teacher, Allegedly Fired For Being Gay

Pioneer Press: Another gay educator out at Totino-Grace High School

Minnesota Public Radio: How Totino-Grace discovered, then fired gay veteran teacher


On Labor Day, Let’s Remember LGBT People Fired from Catholic Institutions

September 2, 2013

Labor DayToday is Labor Day in the United States, a time when we stop to celebrate the gifts of all workers in our society.  Labor Day always happens on the first Monday in September, right in the middle of  back-to-school season.

Charles Reid, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, penned an essay for The Huffington Post which combined both of these timely themes by asking Catholic schools and institutions to make a “Back-to-School Resolution: Let’s Stop Firing Gays and Gay-Rights Supporters.”

Noting the long list of firings of LGBT people and their supporters fired from Catholic workplaces over the past year, Reid states:

“It is time, well past time, for Catholic schools to make this back-to-school resolution: No more firings of gays or gay-rights supporters in the new school year.”

His rationale for this suggestion at this point is based on the context of Pope Francis’ summertime statement, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, and specifically rumors about calls to fire Monsignor Battista Ricca, Francis’ overseer at the Vatican Bank, after rumors circulated that Ricca was gay.

Reid suggest that we put Pope Francis’ statement about judging into practice in our Catholic workplaces:

“But if we see this statement as an olive branch, as an effort to accommodate to the Church people with same-sex attractions, then we are entitled to ask Catholic institutions to take the next step: Catholic entities, especially Catholic schools, should stop firing gays and gay-rights supporters.”

Reid says Francis’ example is one that all Catholic leaders can follow:

“Let us remember, once again, that Pope Francis made his statement about not judging gays in circumstances similar to the facts of these cases: Monsignor Ricca, in the pope’s judgment, was just the man to help clean up the mess at the Vatican Bank. And he is gay. And 15 or so years ago, he had taken a lover, or two, or three. And the pope was willing to look past this history, and focus on Ricca’s many fine qualities.”

The rest of the essay examines some of the firings that happened this past year in Catholic schools  (all of which were covered by  Bondings 2.0):  Mike Moroski, Carla Hale, Ken Bencomo.

On this Labor Day, let’s pray for all LGBT workers in Catholic schools and institutions, who serve faithfully.  Let’s remember those who have been fired this past year:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

Ken Bencomo

Let’s also remember those who have had action taken against them in previous years:

Nigel Studdart
“John Doe”
Trish Cameron
Michael Fischer
Steav Bates Congdon
Jodi O’Brien
Fr. Owen O’Sullivan, OFM, Cap (see page 5 in link)
Laine Tadlock
And let’s also remember those LGBT people who’ve suffered employment discrimination in many other areas of work, too.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Students, Alumni, and Commentators Support Fired Catholic H.S. Teacher

August 10, 2013
Student and alums protest outside the school.

Student and alums protest outside the school.

Los Angeles’ Daily News reported:

“Several hundred students, alumnae and supporters of Ken Bencomo rallied in Glendora on Thursday morning, protesting Bencomo’s firing from St. Lucy’s Priory High School after he married his longtime same-sex partner in July.”

According to Los Angeles.CBSLocal.comBrittany Littleton, an alumna who organized the protest said:

“I believe very strongly in equal rights and in justice, but aside from that, Mr. Bencomo is an amazing teacher.”

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune carried a story

about the protest, which included a comment from an alumna’s mother who jointed the demonstration:

 Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest's the teacher's dismissal.

Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest’s the teacher’s dismissal.

“The school has an obligation to make good choices and to stand up and be courageous, and I don’t think they’re being courageous in this decision,” Terry Monday said. “I think they’re hiding behind Catholic doctrine and not demonstrating the values that they try to teach the girls.”

Bondings 2.0 reported on the firing when news broke last week.  You can read the report here.

In addition to the protest, the firing has sparked a bit of commentary all over the country.  In a Washington Post “On Faith” essay, Sharon Groves, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, put the firing in the context of Pope Francis’ recent gay-positive comments, and wonders how the school can defend their action in terms of their Catholic faith:

“To be clear, it was an act that contradicted their mission statement’s call to respond compassionately to the needs of the community. Ken’s officials hid behind their “Catholic faith” to justify their position. But there isn’t one way to be Catholic.”

Groves points out the variety of ways that Catholics strongly support LGBT people:

Sharon Groves

Sharon Groves

“Ask the faithful Catholics — who organized as Catholics — in every state where marriage equality had a possibility of passing. Ask my friend Rosa Manriquez, who proudly raised two lesbian daughters and two grandchildren according to the core tenets of Catholic social teaching — to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask the countless Catholics living with the pain of exile but holding a deep longing for the church, as the Catholic hierarchy routinely denies their humanity.”

And, she points out, this support doesn’t stop at the level of the pews:

“And while the true intent of his Pope Francis’ words this week remains unclear, we were offered a morsel of hope. We were offered the possibility of a world where claims of a singular ‘Catholic faith’ aren’t used as an excuse for judgment, shaming and injustice.

“ ‘Do not judge’ is a mantra for us all to embrace, regardless of our faiths. But especially for my Catholic friends who hold St. Francis and Pope Francis so dear, now is the time for a real commitment to these words. We must all do better.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Michael McGough, a columnist questions the church-state issues that this firing raises.  Should churches be allowed to discriminate in employment, he asks.   He explicates the issue this way:

“This would make a good case study for law students. Does the teacher’s right to be free from discrimination trump the school’s right to safeguard its theological convictions about marriage by dismissing a teacher whose life is at odds with that teaching?

“California has a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which may or may not cover a situation in which an employee is dismissed because he has entered a same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the law doesn’t apply to “a religious association or corporation not organized for private profit.”

“Then there’s the 1st Amendment. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran church could fire a ‘called teacher’– one who had received a commission as a ‘minister of religion’ – without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. But it’s not clear whether a lay teacher at a Catholic school would be in the same category.”

Ken Bencomo

Ken Bencomo

McGough concludes:

“With the spread of same-sex marriage,  courts are going to be drawing lots of lines in this area. Maybe they will say that a Catholic school can dismiss a teacher who is in a same-sex marriage because teachers are role models,  but it can’t discriminate against a bus driver or a bookkeeper. Or perhaps a Catholic college that serves adult students from a variety of religious backgrounds belongs in a different category from a parish elementary or high school.”

For Eduardo Moises Peñalver, a blogger at  Commonweal magazine, a Catholic lay journal of opinion, the legal question is not as important as the moral question in this case:

“I want to separate the question whether Catholic institutions have the right to do this sort of thing from the question whether they should, on either moral or prudential grounds.  I am not aware of divorced and remarried teachers getting fired.  The axe always seems to fall on those who are somewhat more easily marginalized:  unmarried pregnant teachers, gay teachers, etc. “

For a related post on the problem that Catholic institutions are encouraging by firing their LGBT employees, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 963 other followers