A 46-year old Catholic school teacher in Moorehead, Minnesota, has lost her job because of her personal conviction in favor of marriage equality.
Trish Cameron, who taught at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, says she is now praying for a healthier dialogue in the church on the issue of marriage.
“After 11 years teaching fifth graders at St. Joseph’s Catholic school in Moorhead, the same-sex marriage issue was on Cameron’s mind as she filled out her annual self-evaluation form this spring.
“Part of the evaluation asked teachers to rate how well they support the teachings of the church. In the comment box, Cameron wrote, ‘I do not agree with all church teachings on a personal level, but I do not bring my own opinions into religion classes.’
“That comment led to a meeting with her principal and superintendent where she explained her break with the church on the issue of same-sex marriage. One week later, they asked her to resign.
” ‘I don’t think there was any hiding my feelings, but along the way at the moments of dialogue was I thinking, “gee I’m jeopardizing my employment?” No,’ she said. ‘That never crossed my mind.’ “
Her decision to express her views privately through the teacher evaluation process resulted from the fact that during a visit to her fifth-grade class last year, Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Crookston diocese directed students to urge their parents to vote for the upcoming constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. MPR reports:
” ‘When he came to talk to my fifth graders this year this was the topic, gay marriage and the Minnesota Marriage Amendment,’ she recalled. ‘And it ended with a direct call to “talk to your parents”‘ kind of “tell them how to vote and make sure — this is important for the church.” And I was really troubled by that, I was very uncomfortable with that.’
“Cameron said she felt a fifth grade classroom was not the appropriate place for a political discussion of the marriage amendment, which would change Minnesota’s Constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman. Cameron said she can’t remember another instance in 11 years where a bishop expressed political views in the classroom.”
Cameron, who has a teaching position in nearby Fargo, North Dakota, for the fall, holds no bitterness, but does hold a hope that the Catholic church can discuss important issues like marriage equality more openly:
“Cameron believes she represents a segment of the Catholic Church no longer willing to simply accept what the church leaders say without discussion. Cameron said she has heard from many Catholics who tell her they are also struggling with the same-sex marriage issue.
” ‘We want to talk. This matters in our life. To some of us it’s extraordinarily painful. To some of us it’s really confusing,’ she said. ‘I have teenagers with close friends that are openly gay and those friends matter to them.’
“Cameron also said that she and other parents are afraid that the battle over same-sex marriage will alienate their children from the church.
” ‘After generations of being planted and rooted in the Catholic faith, we’re afraid we can’t hand this faith comfortably to them,’ she said.
“Cameron said she is not asking the church to sanctify same sex-marriage. But she does want church officials to talk about the issue. She worries they have slammed the door on dialogue.
” ‘If that is what the church chooses to say in the end — divine revelation and no more dialogue, then I guess for me even my own future as a Catholic which matters a lot to me, that part of it I don’t know yet,’ she said. ‘It really does matter how the church responds to this.’
“Cameron said her faith is strong and she won’t turn away from the Catholic Church in the near future. But she said if the church continues to ignore the plea to talk about difficult questions like same-sex marriage, she will have no choice but to find a more open and accepting place to worship.”
If the hierarchy does not find a more productive way of dealing with cases like Cameron’s, our church should brace itself for a downward spiral of firings and resignations. What is troublesome in this case is that it was not public dissent, but private conviction which caused the firing. Job performance and duty to the church and its religion curriculum were not at issue. Our prayers are with Trish Cameron–prayers of support during this challenging time and prayers of gratitude for her faithful, grace-filled witness.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry