Catholic School Rejects Lesbian Alumna’s Wedding Announcement

January 22, 2014

Sarah Rupert-Sullivan, left, with wife, Molly

Notre Dame Preparatory School, a Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland, has rejected the wedding announcement of a lesbian alumna in their class notes, prompting an outcry from alumnae and supporters of LGBT equality.

Sarah Rupert-Sullivan graduated from the school in 2003 and married her wife, Molly, last August. Around that time, she submitted the announcement for the “Class Chatter” notes through the school’s website. The Baltimore Sun reports further:

“Weeks later, when the Catholic private school’s class notes were posted online, news of Rupert-Sullivan’s nuptials in Maryland was omitted.

“The reason, according to Notre Dame Prep spokeswoman Cami Colarossi, is an editorial policy tied to the school’s identity as a ministry of the Catholic Church. Colarossi is also the publication’s editor.

” ‘We do not print in official school publications information which conflicts … in any way with the totality of the Church’s teachings,’ Colarossi said.”

Rupert-Sullivan spoke with other administrators at Notre Dame Prep, including the headmistress, and was told there are no plans to change policies, but alumnae will now be notified immediately if their announcement is to be rejected. In response, the she started a petition with over 1,505 signatures calling on the school to allow all marriages to be announced in “Class Chatter.” Of this effort, The Baltimore Sun reports:

“Rupert-Sullivan — who doesn’t identify as Catholic and says she was sent to Notre Dame Prep because her parents thought it seemed like ‘a forward-thinking school’ — said the religion-based policy only seems to go so far.

” ‘The weddings that are listed are not Catholic-only…I got a message from a woman on Facebook that was married, divorced and did not have her first marriage annulled. So technically her second marriage is also a sin, and therefore her child was born illegitimately. NDP happily published both of those things.”

” ‘My other goal was to make sure no other student, whether it be current or past, feels like they are the only ones left out…At this point, I can only push on. I can’t just quietly settle down.’ “

This is the latest in a string of anti-LGBT actions by Catholic schools, which have included firing LGBT employees and failing to respect transgender students who are transitioning. You can read more about such incideants by clicking the ‘Schools & Youth‘ category on the right sidebar of this page.

With marriage equality spreading around the nation, there are only going to be more incidents like this one multiplying in Catholic high schools and colleges. As Catholic Schools Week approaches, beginning January 26th, incidents like these highlight the need for Catholic education to raise its standards on LGBT issues and reiterate that forming gay-straight alliances and implementing inclusive non-discrimination policies should be top priorities for 2014.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Another Teacher Is Fired for Marrying; What You Can Do to Stem These Actions

October 19, 2013
Tippi McCullough

Tippi McCullough

Yet another LGBT employee has been fired from a Catholic school, this time in Arksansas. The firing at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock adds yet another victim to anti-equality thinking, which punishes employees in same-gender marriages or those who support marriage equality.

Tippi McCullough, an English teacher with 15 years experience at the high school run by the Sisters of Mercy, received a phone call on her wedding day warning her against marrying long-time partner, Barb Mariani. The couple had traveled to New Mexico to wed, and less than an hour after doing so were told by principal Diane Wolfe that McCullough was terminated. The Daily Mail reports that the school was notified of the marriage by the diocese, although the school is not commenting on the incident.  The news story reports:
“When Mrs McCullough asked how her marriage had violated the clause [which allows for firings based on lifestyles that contradict Church teaching], Wolfe responded by saying she wasn’t going to have a theological debate and that there was nothing else she could do…

“No law protects McCullough from being fired as a religious institution citing church teaching would be exempt from discrimination laws.”

McCullough says the school knew of her relationship with Mariani for years  but only offered her an opportunity to resign when the marriage became known to school officials. As has been the norm with such firings, students and the wider Catholic community are rising to defend McCullough. A petition with almost 1,300 signatures appeared on Friday in support of McCullough, who is still weighing her options.

Jezebel also published email correspondence between an alumna, who is now a teacher herself, and Wolfe. In it, the principal defends the school’s decision:

“While I respect your thoughts and concerns, you really have no clue. This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger…It is not for me to decide, judge or disobey the tenets of the church. I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be…Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church..?”

Sadly, the views expressed by Wolfe indicate not moral courage, but rather a fear too prevalent in Catholic schools when it comes to LGBT issues. Bishops and administrators who are publicly challenged on firings claim it is painful, but necessary and the hierarchy asks lower administrators to enforce this legalism. The pain in Wolfe’s defensive tone is evident.

National Catholic Reporter published an article analyzing this broader trend of firing employees who either are transgender, enter into same-gender marriages, or simply support LGBT rights that notes:

“It’s not news that gay teachers and other employees of Catholic institutions lose their jobs over a same-sex relationship…What’s different in recent years is a growing acceptance of gay marriage among Catholics and gay people’s increasing ability to marry and unwillingness to hide their relationships…

“Such firings, once the private affairs of Catholic schools, whispered about in the teachers’ lounge, now air on the nightly news and circulate on Facebook.”

This discrimination continues, however, because the schools are legally protected due to religious exemptions in non-discrimination laws, even where sexual orientation or gender identity is explicitly protected. They are reminders that even as marriage equality spreads, like in New Jersey this coming Monday, LGBT rights remain unsecured and change is still needed in the Catholic Church.

However, there is hope as Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR:

” ‘What we know, what everyone knows, Catholic and non-Catholic, is that the younger generation is much more supportive of marriage equality than older generations, which is the indicator that it is the future’…

” ‘I’m heartened by it not only because they’re young but because a lot of them have discussed their support for the teacher in terms of Catholic principles…It’s a good case of the church hierarchy undone by their highest ideals.’ “

One way to make an impact is for Catholics to get their local church institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies that protect sexual orientation, marital status, views on marriage, and gender identity.   We need to get our parishes, schools, and other Church-affiliated institutions to live up to their Catholic principles of non-discrimination and justice.  Speaking out for such policies would help spread the word that there is a Catholic tradition which supports and protects LGBT people.  For more information, you can contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Employees Must Be Protected at Catholic Institutions

October 1, 2013
Jim Smith

Jim Smith

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know the shameful trend of LGBT employees at Catholic schools and parishes being terminated for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and support for marriage equality.  Less known are the ways that Catholics are taking action against these discriminatory policies and other steps to make Catholic schools welcoming for LGBT people.  In today’s post, we have news of such actions from Minnesota, Washington State, and California.

Jim Smith, program manager of DignityUSA and a Minnesota resident, recently  authored an article on the trend in The Star Tribune. He begins the essay, written in the name of the Equally Blessed coalition:

“The list keeps getting longer.

“At an accelerating rate, Catholic schools and churches around the country are firing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees who have decided that they can no longer deny who they are and whom they love…

“At a time when even Pope Francis himself is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its ‘obsession’ with sexual issues, Catholic schools and parishes are intensifying the judgmental behavior that the pope urged Catholics to eschew in a recent interview with Jesuit publications.”

Equally Blessed LogoSmith references the dual departures at Totino-Grace High School of William Hudson and then Kristen Ostendorf in his home state as part of the ‘obsession.’ He then asks why the bishops and administrators so quickly terminate LGBT people if their aim is to defend teachings on marriage:

“Catholic parishes don’t fire heterosexual musicians who choose to get married at City Hall rather than in a Catholic Church. Catholic schools don’t check up on heterosexual teachers to determine whether they might have remarried without having their previous marriages annulled, or whether they are using artificial contraception. If the hierarchy were defending what it defines as Catholic principles, it would have to fire individuals in marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental. But it does not.

“When gay, lesbian or transgender people attempt to live openly as the individuals that God created them to be, however, the hierarchy is suddenly zealous to defend its doctrine. This double standard is increasingly obvious both to lay Catholics…and the general public.”

While this hypocrisy is evident, there has been little recourse for terminated employees at religious institutions, although a recent ruling in favor of a transgender educator could be changing this reality. Regardless, Smith admits he cares less about the legality of discriminatory firings and more about Catholic teachings of dignity and equality, alongside the good that LGBT employees provide in the Church’s institutions.

Many who echo Smith’s beliefs are acting for change in Catholic institutions. Two examples come from the West Coast in September, and are only the latest in organizing efforts at schools and colleges nationwide to make campuses more LGBT-friendly.

In Seattle, Washington, LGBT and ally students in Catholic high schools are responding to hostile environments by requesting officially-recognized gay-straight alliances. Students have lobbied Archbishop Peter Sartain with a petition, letters, and calls to allow for the formation of these alliances, reports the Ballard News-Tribune.  The story quotes a lesbian student:

“ ‘It’s important to have that support and have that community of people you know you can always go to when you’re having a bad day,’ said Katie, a recent graduate of a high school where she helped found a GSA group. To avoid endangering the school’s accreditation, the Ballard News-Tribune is not naming the school.”

In Glendora, California, silent protesters tried to attend a school board meeting for St. Lucy’s Priory, a Catholic high school. The protesters were there to support fired gay educator of seventeen years Ken Bencomo, but were turned away and the school continues to deny Bencomo was fired for his sexual orientation. Their efforts gained 90,000-strong petition as well, as reported in the Glendora Patch

For full coverage of those employees fired from Catholic institutions, view Bondings 2.0‘s Labor Day post commemorating them.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

August 16, 2013

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators.  With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Another Catholic H.S. Fires a Gay Teacher for Marrying His Partner

August 3, 2013

After the news of the week that Pope Francis seems to be more open to respecting gay priests than his predecessor, it was hard to take in the news that yet another Catholic high school teacher was fired from his job for legally marrying his partner.

Ken Bencomo and Christopher Persky

Ken Bencomo and Christopher Persky at their wedding ceremony.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin broke the story about the teacher at a Southern California school:

“A Rancho Cucamonga man who taught 17 years at a Catholic high school was fired from his job days after he married his gay partner in a San Bernardino civil ceremony.

While school representatives declined comment on the matter, an attorney representing 45-year-old Ken Bencomo says he was fired because of the same-sex ceremony.

“The reason given was that the marriage occurred and the school’s position was that it violated church teachings,” said Chatsworth attorney Patrick McGarrigle.

Bencomo, 45, was head of the English department at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora, but also worked as a yearbook moderator and dance coach.

CBSNews.com reported an excerpt from the school’s statement about Bencomo’s firing:

“As a Benedictine school, St. Lucy’s is a community for those who wish to express Christian values in education and develop person and academic excellence,” the statement said.

“St. Lucy’s wishes to reassure all in our community that upholding its mission to educate students in the tradition of the Catholic faith is of paramount importance.”

The Daily Bulletin noted an interesting policy quirk in the Diocese of San Bernardino where Bencomo lives:

“The Diocese of San Bernardino said its Catholic schools prohibit discrimination against teachers or other school employees based on their lifestyle choices.

” ‘However, if a teacher or school employee makes a public display of behavior that is counter to church teaching – such as homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, having a child outside of marriage – that can impact their employment status,’ said John Andrews, diocese spokesman.

What’s interesting about this policy is that it seems to imply that the diocese is fine with anything, as long as it is not public.  Not a very principled approach, it seems to me.  Additionally the spokesman’s statement that homosexuality is counter to church teaching is not accurate.  A homosexual orientation is accepted by Catholic teaching; homosexual behavior is not.

The Los Angeles Times’ version of the story indicates that photos of Bencomo’s wedding to his partner Christopher Persky were published in a local newspaper.   The Times’  account continued:

“School officials had been aware of his sexual orientation for about 10 of the 17 years Bencomo has been employed by the high school, said Patrick McGarrigle, Bencomo’s attorney.

“School officials specifically mentioned the wedding and the publicity it received during a meeting at which Bencomo was informed that he had been fired, McGarrigle said.”

And the news article indicates that school officials were aware not only that Bencomo was gay, but that he was in a relationship with Persky:

“On multiple occasions over the years, McGarrigle said, Bencomo has introduced Persky as his partner to administrators at school events.”

The Times  also includes another excerpt from the school’s statement, which contains reference to the San Bernardino Diocese’s policy mentioned above:

“ ‘While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values,’ the statement reads. ‘These values are incorporated into the contractual obligations of each of our instructors and other employees.’ ”

One has to simply wonder what values the school is upholding with this kind of policy.  It seems that their highest value is secrecy.

change.org petition in support of Bencomo being reinstated to his teaching position has been started by a St. Lucy’s alumna, Brittany Littleton.  The petition states, in part:

“Ken Bencomo has been teaching at St. Lucy’s for 17 years. He is a beloved mentor, confidant, and educator. His passion for teaching, as well as his witty personality, have made him a favorite teacher among many students. He is extremely active at St. Lucy’s; he teaches multiple subjects along with taking on various leadership positions including Yearbook moderator, dance coach, and head of the English Department. . . .

“I am joined by many students and alumnae in saying that we believe this is a fight for love and equality, and as such we wish to display love and kindness, even while feeling hurt and shock. Please communicate with St. Lucy’s in a respectful manner so that our voices will be heard.”

This firing makes the eighth time that we know of  that a Catholic institution’s workers or ministers have been fired or let go because of LGBT issues since the beginning of 2013.  There was almost an equal amount in 2012. A shameful record, and one that our Church needs to start addressing more seriously to prevent future incidents.  The other individuals are listed here, and linked to the first Bondings 2.0 post about them:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

As an article on Jobs.AOL.com stated:

“Being gay and working as a teacher at a Catholic school has proven to be a volatile combination.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Resignation of Gay President from Catholic H.S. Highlights Dilemma

July 7, 2013

Dr. William Hudson

The president of a prominent Catholic high school in Minnesota has resigned because of his committed  same-gender relationship, in a non-adversarial and yet negative moment for Catholic education.

Board members Mark Motzel and Mary Wilcox wrote a letter to the Totino-Grace High School community explaining the resignation of Dr. William Hudson. The former president headed the school for nine years, and was spoken highly of in the letter:

“Bill served the Totino-Grace community well during his nine years at the school. He has an excellent record of accomplishment and provided strong academic and financial stewardship at Totino-Grace during his tenure…We thank Bill for his years of service to our community and wish him well as he explores new professional opportunities.”

Dr. Hudson released a statement expressing optimism in the future, and saying this resignation comes after a period of discernment. KARE 11 reported the statement, which included:

” ‘Though heartbreaking and painful, I must say that it is freeing to be open about the most important thing in my life and to live an authentic life…For over 20 years, I have placed service of the Catholic Church ahead of my family. I am excited to now be able focus on my two children and my partner of 18 years as my first priority…’

” ‘I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to meet some amazing people, to touch hearts and to have been blessed by so many…’ “

Daily Mail Online reports that Dr. Hudson previously headed up the National Catholic Educational Association’s secondary schools department and has classroom and administrative experience in Catholic schools.

By all accounts, the resignation came as the result of dialogue between Dr. Hudson, who wanted to openly acknowledge his family, and the high school’s board members, who felt adherence to Catholic teaching on same-gender relationships was the priority.Though this case proceeded peacefully, unlike the recent harsh firings of LGBT Catholic school educators like Carla Hale, Christa Dias, Tim Nelson, and Mark Krolikowski, the case still highlights the dilemma that LGBT employees of Catholic institutions face. Even though Dr. Hudson resigned peacefully and is seeking new opportunities,  the fact is that he did not feel he could both work in a Catholic setting and remain open about his identity, his partner of 18 years and his two children.  No one should be faced with such a choice

Catholic education is a source of pride in the Church, and to remain so will require high-quality educators to teach and administrate. Anti-LGBT policies are instead resulting in the lossof good educators, staff, and students over personal matters unrelated to one’s performance. Perhaps Totino-Grance student, Kathleen Leuty, said it best:

“I recognize that I do go to a Catholic school and it does go against Catholic teachings, but I mean it had absolutely no effect as far as I could see on his job performance so that is a little saddening…”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Administrator Affirms Anti-Lesbian Firing, As Support Continues to Grow for Carla Hale

June 14, 2013

Carla Hale

Ohio’s Columbus Catholic schools office upheld a decision last week to fire teacher Carla Hale, whose same-gender partner became public in her mother’s obituary earlier this year. This most recent act comes after the Catholic teachers’ union refused to back Hale, but grassroots support grows as friends, family, and supporters nationwide speak out.

Superintendent Lucia McQuaide sent Hale a letter reaffirming the discriminatory firing, the contents of which were reported on by LGBTQ Nation. The “40-word, one paragraph letter” simply upheld the high school’s firing without acknowledging the surrounding controversy and was released by Hale’s lawyer to the media.

That lawyer, Thomas Tooley, called the superintendent’s letter just another step as Hale’s firing moves along in the legal system. Although LGBT employees are not protected under federal or state law, the City of Columbus does include a non-discrimination law for them and Hale has filed a complaint with the Community Relations Commission.

Hale’s daughter and partner spoke to The Columbus Dispatch, offering hope-filled words that justice will win out for this 19-year veteran educator:

“[Daughter Courtney] Hale said she and her two older brothers, along with the rest of their blended family, are standing behind their mom…

“ ‘I think it’s important for the public to see all of the support that she’s getting…hopefully, a change will come about with this, even if it’s not somebody changing their mind, just becoming more accepting and understanding.”

“[Hale's] partner, Julie Uncapher, said she, too, hopes Hale’s fight brings about change — in Catholic-school contracts, for students and for other teachers in a similar situation. She said the Catholic school should ‘be able to open up, to accept and love thy neighbor like they state.’ “

Carla Hale with daughter, Courtney, and partner, Julie

With more than 130,00 signatures on the Change.org petition and an active #HaleStormOhio campaign, Hale has supporters outside Columbus too. One alum from Bishop Watterson High School wrote in to The New York Times that he mailed back his diploma over Hale’s firing.

His letter was a response to Frank Bruni’s column in The New York Times that speaks to the crux of this matter:

“No one at the Catholic high school that fired Carla Hale in March claimed that she was anything less than a terrific physical education teacher and coach, devoted to the kids and adored by many of them…

“And at a kitchen table here in central Ohio, a typically cheerful woman dabbed her eyes and wondered aloud what she’d done wrong.

“The answer is in one sense simple: she made a life with another woman.”

Meanwhile, The Columbus Dispatch also reported that an Ohio labor group is calling for the Columbus bishop to dialogue about work issues:

“The AFL-CIO in central Ohio has partnered with a grass-roots advocacy group to ask the Roman Catholic bishop of Columbus to participate in a panel discussion on the rights of gay people in workplaces, specifically faith-based workplaces.

“The union organization’s Pride @ Work Ohio constituency group and #halestormOhio made the request to Bishop Frederick Campbell yesterday in response to the Columbus diocese’s refusal to reinstate Carla Hale, a lesbian teacher who was fired from Bishop Watterson High School in Clintonville.”

The diocesan spokesperson said he had not seen the invitation, and was non-committal about a possible response from the bishop.

Developments in the case of Carla Hale case are more interesting now that an Ohio court rewarded a lesbian teacher fired in Cincinnati $170,000 for being unjustly fired from a Catholic high school there. Experts already speculated that Hale’s case would raise many questions about Church and State relations around employees. Closer to home, the Diocese of Columbus is in another controversy after asking a local politician to skip his commencement address at a local graduation because of his public support for marriage equality.

To read more about Bondings 2.0 reporting on Carla Hale, see the links below:

May 20, 2013: Ohio Catholic Teachers’ Union Denies Support to Fired Lesbian Woman

May 8, 2013: Carla Hale’s Firing Raises Questions of Law and Church Policy

April 26, 2013: In the Wake of Discrimination, Carla Hale Hopes Students See Love and Support

April 24, 2013: Fired Lesbian Teacher Offers Hope Through Vulnerability

April 22, 2013: Support for Fired Lesbian Teacher Grows Rapidly As She Speaks Out

April 17, 2013: Lesbian Teacher Fired For Listing Her Partner’s Name In Her Mother’s Obituary

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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