Back to school this fall has meant more LGBT church worker firings, bringing to 19 the number of employment issues in 2014 alone. The latest action happened at a Missouri Catholic school which fired two lesbian women, a teacher and a coach, after their relationship became public via a mortgage application.
Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro both worked at Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls high school in St. Louis, before being asked to resign and then fired in July. Reichert and Gambaro were in a relationship unknown to co-workers or students and attained a civil union earlier this year in New York.
LGBTQ Nation reports that Cor Jesu Academy administrators received a copy of the couple’s mortgage application and decided to fire the two women for violating a so-called ‘morality clause’ in their contracts that requires church workers to abide by the hierarchy’s teachings. Though sexual orientation is not a protected class under Missouri law, Reichert and Gambaro are claiming discrimination, saying in a statement:
“We understand that, as a Catholic institution, Cor Jesu has an obligation to ensure that its employees serve as Christian role models…However, because they do not enforce the witness statement in any other way, this is a blatant case of discrimination.”
The two educators are ready to move on, however, and spoke positively about the school community, saying many school associates had privately expressed their discontent to the administration through letters and the withholding of donations before the story went public. Vital Voice reports:
“Gambaro says students and parents have sent many supportive messages and have congratulated her and her partner on their marriage. She also says that not going public was a tough decision.
” ‘When it came down to it, we still have to find new jobs, support ourselves and essentially start over…The stress of any negative responses to our story would have made moving on that much harder. And when it was all finished, the impact would have been minimal to say the least. The law is not on our side, nor is the church, so we have no ground to stand on. If we seriously thought it would make a difference, we would have taken a different approach.’ “
The school has refused to comment, saying it is a personnel matter.
Meanwhile, the wider Cor Jesu community, specifically alumnae, continue expressing their outrage over the firings and are seeking constructive responses. A private Facebook group has gained more than 2,000 members, and at least one alumna has expressed concern for LGBT students who may read the message they are not welcomed at the school. Another alumna, Mary Mcdetmott Benoist, invoking Pope Francis‘ message of mercy and inclusion, told Vital Voice:
” ‘I am sad to learn of CJA’s decision in light of what our Catholic leader, the Pope, teaches us about acceptance of all people…We need to hire teaches who are great at their jobs and set aside their personal lives.’ “
Perhaps most hopeful is the thought being circulated that alumnae and benefactors may withhold contributions to the school’s “One Heart, One Spirit, One Vision” capital campaign because of the firing of Reichert and Gambaro. The latter said of this effort:
” ‘You might not think this is much, but it has made enough of an impact that the administration has had to address the dip in support. That, to us, is a victory.’ “
In addition, Missouri State Representative Genise Montecillo, whose district includes Cor Jesu Academy, hopes to use the firings as a jumping off point for non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation.
Gambaro, who noted there is no recourse under Missouri or canon law to challenge these firings, also expressed that terminating talented and committed educators over their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or political views defies God’s law. In just the last few weeks, Bondings 2.0 has covered:
- the firing of at least two lesbian women let go for becoming pregnant outside of marriages, even though they cannot legally attain marriages or have Catholic institutions recognize them;
- a former Jesuit’s letter to Pope Francis pleading for help to save his vocation and create more LGBT inclusion for religious communities;
- the firing of a Chicago-area parish’s beloved gay music director after he became engaged.
Though every firing of an LGBT church worker is a tragedy, this story out of Missouri is heartbreaking because the couple remained quiet as best they could and still ended up being fired.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry