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


Support for Sister Margaret Farley Continues to Flood In

June 5, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley, RSM

Yesterday’s news that the Vatican has censured Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, the groundbreaking theological work of Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, a retired professor at Yale Divinity School, has evoked numerous responses in support of this theologian.

Grant Gallicho

Perhaps the most telling response came in a tweet from Commonweal magazine’s Grant Gallicho, who posted the following message on Twitter yesterday:

“And now the Vatican-condemned book by Sr. Margaret Farley has reached 138 on Amazon’s bestseller list. Up from 147,982 just a few hours ago.”

According to another one of his tweets, the book eventually reached the #21 position.

 

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) carried an article about the confidential letter (which they received from several anonymous sources) that Sister Patricia McDermott, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, sent out to Mercy nuns.  The text of the letter is compassionately supportive of Sister Farley.  NCR reports:

Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM

“Acknowledging that many will be ‘deeply saddened’ by Monday’s announcement of the Vatican’s criticism of Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the head of the global Mercy order has asked her sisters for their ‘careful and compassionate accompanying’ of those discouraged by the move.

” ‘I am sure that some of you will be angered and frustrated by this news and I totally understand your feelings and thoughts,’ writes Sr. Patricia McDermott, the president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in a letter addressed to all Mercy sisters and lay associates.

” ‘I have no doubt that many in our Church — including theologians, ethicists, pastoral ministers and concerned laity — will also be distressed with the public statement by [the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.]

” ‘I ask for your careful and compassionate accompanying of Margaret during this time as well as for those who will be saddened and discouraged by this announcement.’ “

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL

Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and someone personally familiar with Vatican censure, offered this response to the news:

“The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) may have determined that Sister Margaret Farley’s book, Just Love, is a source of confusion to the Catholic faithful, but my 40 years of pastoral experience in working with lesbian and gay Catholics and their families contradicts this judgment. This book and Sister Margaret’s other writings and presentations have brought common sense and balance to a world in which sexuality is treated either too casually or too rigorously. Farley’s work has put sex in the human context of relationship, instead of hedonism or narrow functionalism.

“What a pity that Vatican II did not complete its work of reform of the Roman curia. The CDF could serve the Church as an international body that would draw together the world’s leading theologians to discuss pressing social and ethical issues. How tragic that its power is being wasted and abused.”

Jamie Manson

NCR columnist Jamie Manson, who served as Sister Farley’s research assistant for two years at Yale, has published an essay which gives an excellent and thorough explication of the theologian’s method and positions in Just Love.  For those interested in learning more about Sister Farley’s thought, this piece is an excellent introduction.  Manson concludes with the statements:

“It is tragic that the bishops cannot accept the spirit in which Margaret Farley wrote Just Love. The book addresses moral questions that affect not only all members of the faithful, but the ethical dilemmas that affect members of the hierarchy themselves.

“If members of the CDF had the courage to read book with an open, honest understanding of their own human reality, they might recognize that Farley’s intention was not sow seeds of dissent, but to offer the fruits of love and justice to those seeking a fuller integration of their bodies and spirits.”

Equally Blessed, a coalition of faithful Catholics who support justice and equality for LGBT people (comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) issued the following statement:

“We are saddened, but not surprised that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has found fault with the valuable work of yet another female theologian.

“The Vatican’s legalistic parsing of Sister Margaret Farley’s work will only enhance her well-deserved reputation as a gifted scholar. Rome’s attempt to steer Catholics away from Just Love will serve instead as a recommendation for all those who seek a sexual ethic rooted in justice and mutuality, rather than in platitudes and abstractions.  The positions Sr. Margaret articulates resonates with many Catholics, who seek to live out the values of our faith in the context of real life.

“We applaud particularly Sister Margaret’s understanding that “same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships.” As always, when differing with the hierarchy she makes it clear that this is purely her personal opinion. Yet the scholarly care with which she reaches it will be persuasive to Catholic readers who do not believe the Vatican’s claim that intellectual inquiry is unnecessary because the truth is what the Vatican says it is.

“We are hopeful that Sister Margaret’s strong body of work will inspire and encourage other Catholic theologians to continue this kind of research.”

Michael Peppard

In a blog post on the dotCommonweal blog, Michael Peppard, a professor of early Christianity, offers a good chronology of the investigation of Sister Farley’s work and also a critique of the Vatican’s comments on it.  His conclusion:

“If even the Pope — whose every word and move is watched globally — is permitted to step out of his office and write as a spiritual seeker and theologian, what about a woman religious with a Ph.D. and forty years’ experience in the classroom? The Pope draws from contemporary philosophical currents (historical criticism derived from an Enlightenment consciousness) and contemporary experience (of anti-Semitism and its horrific effects) in the course of his presentation of Jesus. Just as with the Pope’s books on Jesus, attentive readers of Sr. Farley’s book on ethics know that she clearly states when she is speaking her own opinion about the principles of just relationships. It’s hard to imagine how Catholic readers would be in danger of mistaking her assessments for those of the Catechism. And after over forty years as a professor at a prominent seminary, Sr. Farley knows that she is not giving the faithful questions that they don’t already have.  The faithful know what the Catechism says, and if we don’t, it’s easy to find out.  But the faithful also have close, personal experiences with faithful Christians who, for example: divorced a spouse because the relationship was unjust and causing grave harm; or lived in a relationship of vastly unequal power and wanted to end it but couldn’t; or were raised from childhood to be men or women of stalwart faith and morality by their faithful parents, who happened to be of the same sex. Sr. Farley’s book results from years of study and witness to the questions raised by men and women who tried to live their Christian lives with faithfulness and righteousness.”

James Martin, SJ

On America magazine’s In All Things blog, Fr. James Martin, SJ, writes the following praise of Sister Farley in his most recent post:

“Margaret Farley is an immensely well respected theologian and scholar, and is a revered mentor for many Catholic theologians.  It would be difficult to overstate her influence in the field of sexual ethics, or the esteem in which she is held by her colleagues.  With this stinging critique, the Vatican has again signaled its concern about theologians writing about sexual morality. This Notification will certainly sadden Sister Margaret’s many colleagues, her generations of students, and those many Catholics who have profited by her decades of reflection on the faith.  It will also, inevitably, raise strong emotions among those who already feel buffeted by the Vatican’s Apostolic Visitation of Catholic sisters in the US, and its intervention into the LCWR”

These recent statements supporting Sister Farley join the chorus of theologians who responded yesterday as the news broke.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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