Two Catholic Schools Approach Employees’ Same-Gender Marriages Very Differently

While Philadelphia becomes a new focal point in the continuing story of lesbian and gay employees in Catholic schools being fired for marrying, a Catholic university in New York City has shown that it is very possible for Catholic institutions to accept, and even celebrate, that a gay employee who recently tied the knot.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

The latest development in the case of Margie Winters, a married lesbian teacher fired from Waldron Mercy Academy in suburban Philadelphia, is that the local leader of the Catholic Church there, Archbishop Charles Chaput, has made a statement praising the school’s leaders for firing the teacher.

In a statement released Monday, and quoted on Philly.comChaput said:

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief. There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty. I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

Yet, in New York City, another Catholic educational institution, Fordham University, was recently faced with a similar situation. The chair of the theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, recently married Patrick Berquist, in an Episcopal ceremony.  The marriage was announced in The New York Times, and several conservative Catholic bloggers jumped on this item, criticizing Fordham for not taking action against Hornbeck or making a statement about the wedding.

Patrick Berquist and J. Patrick Hornbeck

This week, Fordham did make a statement:

“While Catholic teachings do not support same-sex marriage, we wish Professor Hornbeck and his spouse a rich life filled with many blessings on the occasion of their wedding in the Episcopal Church. Professor Hornbeck is a member of the Fordham community, and like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Finally, same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

What a contrast to the statement made by Philadelphia’s archbishop or even the regional head of the Sisters of Mercy, who operate the school from which Margie Winters was fired.  NBC Philadelphia quoted from a statement by Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Mercy Sisters:

” ‘When a school is called to make a decision such as this, it challenges us as a faith community at the deepest levels. . . . The leadership of Waldron Mercy has acted in accord with the school’s fundamental Catholic identity.’

“Vetrano called the decision to let go of Winters ‘final, although very painful’ and said the Sisters respect that not everyone agrees with the firing.”

The Fordham statement, while clearly not sanctioning same-gender marriage, is gracious and life-affirming.  It is not based on laws and rules.  It is a statement that is confident of the institution’s Catholic identity.  It is one that affirms the people involved in the situation and doesn’t shame them.

The statements by Archbishop Chaput and Sister Vetrano are statements based on the logic that the Church’s teaching on marriage is fundamental to an institution’s identity–which it is not.  The teaching on marriage is not at the same level of teaching as the basic principles of faith such as the nature of God, salvation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection.

On the other hand, Fordham’s statement grounds itself in Catholic identity based on respecting  “human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation.”  It is one that recognizes that Hornbeck’s and Berquist’s marriage has a civil dimension to it that is separate from religious identity, that they have exercised “the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

While it is true that Fordham is a nationally recognized university and Waldron Mercy is a small, local elementary school, both institutions value their Catholic identity.  Fordham seems to have done it in a way that does not see that Catholic identity threatened by the changing world, whereas Waldron Mercy seems to think that their school’s Catholic identity is a fragile house of cards that can crumble easily.

In truth, Catholic identity is a big term that encompasses so many facets of an institution’s life.  Narrowing it to accordance with the Church’s teaching on marriage significantly demeans such an identity.  In trying to save their religious identity, the leaders of Waldron Mercy have actually significantly harmed it.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

PhillyVoice.com: “Chaput says ‘nothing controversial’ about dismissal of lesbian teacher”

ABC News: “Archbishop: School That Fired Gay Teacher Showed ‘Character’ “

 

22 thoughts on “Two Catholic Schools Approach Employees’ Same-Gender Marriages Very Differently

  1. Anton July 15, 2015 / 2:31 am

    The issue of marriage has NOTHING to do with FAITH. I see no mention of it in either the Nicene nor the Apostles Creed. During a baptism no one is asked if they believe marriage is only between one man and one woman. The question doesn’t come up as an article of faith according to which anyone is baptized. Eunuchs were excluded from the faith of Israel, but Philip baptized the eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia, so Christians had no problem with that physical quality. Most Roman Catholic priests are emasculated, and that’s no barrier to ordination. (Oops, sorry! If they come from a Protestant tradition with wife and kids they’re not required to divorce the former and renounce the latter.) It appears that being brainless and heartless is also not a handicap for ordination. May all LGBT persons be inspired by the Holy Spirit to pray as Jesus prayed: Father/Mother, forgive them – they know not what they’re doing.

  2. Friends July 15, 2015 / 4:55 am

    Once again, Fordham shows itself to be a very high-class academic actor — and kudos to the school for its ethical integrity. I happen to know Dr. Ken Schneck, former Dean of Students at Marlboro College in Vermont, who now teaches at another college in Ohio. His Ph.D. thesis at Fordham was titled, “This Thesis Is So Gay!” — and it examined some of the social dynamics of sexual identity formation. Ken also hosts a syndicated weekly radio program called, “This Show Is So Gay!” — which you can find online by Googling the title. If one prominent Catholic institution can triumph in its appreciation of basic tenets of social justice, why can’t more of the others follow along?

  3. Ken Lovasik July 15, 2015 / 6:10 am

    Regarding Archbishop Chaput, “There is no one so blind as he who will not see!”

  4. Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA July 15, 2015 / 8:50 am

    What a great article, Francis. It gives me hope that there is a way forward in this controversy. Thank you and Fordham for showing us how.

  5. Drew Conneen July 15, 2015 / 9:27 am

    Beautifully stated but sad comparison.

    It’s so easy to pick on the obvious gay employees while letting the divorcees, contracepting and other sinners, according to some hierarchy, hide in
    their heterosexually.

  6. pjnugent July 15, 2015 / 9:32 am

    Some days it just feels good to be a Jesuit “product”.

  7. tom shea July 15, 2015 / 10:27 am

    VIVA Fordham!!!!..Hopefully other catholic institutions will follow their example of love and compassion and justice like jesus!!

  8. Deacon Raymond Moon Sr. July 17, 2015 / 1:57 am

    The issue of marriage has nothing to do with faith? It is a SACRAMENT, it is part of our faith. While not discriminating against anyone, we are called to live a holy and chaste life. Doesn’t anybody read what the Church teaches anymore? Or are we just going to do what is right in our own eyes? My moral ethics teacher said, just today in class, just because it is LEGAL, doesn’t make it MORAL.

    • Anton July 17, 2015 / 11:53 am

      Thanks, Deacon, but remember “Deus non alligatur sacramentis.” God works beyond the 7 and in many spectacular ways, has more sacraments than we allow. Jesus worked beyond the religious laws of his time sharing time with prostitutes, publicans – even calling them to share his ministry, lepers and even called Pharisees – like Saul of Tarsus. He did things that were not “legal” and considered immoral. “Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate,” love erases a multitude of sins. Fr. Thomas Gilbey, OP and expert in St. Thomas once taught a course at The Catholic University of America entitled RELATIVE ABSOLUTES IN MORAL THEOLOGY. So many Vatican prelates from popes to priests seem to have lived and live by those. Is everyone else required to something more stringent? Just raising the question.

      • Theresa Haggerty July 23, 2015 / 7:15 pm

        But how does the gay married teacher teach that the sacrament of marriage is between a man and a woman? And do it honestly?

  9. Anton July 17, 2015 / 11:57 am

    Oh and what’s more! The woman at the well had a string of husbands, according to the story, but Jesus didn’t stop HER from running into town to preach the GOOD NEWS and convince the townspeople who shunned her from believing in him and even inviting him to stay with them. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells his followers to stay away from the Samaritans and in John he doesn’t follow his own rules! I guess that makes Jesus immoral, too, according to some peoples’ standards.

    • jono113 July 24, 2015 / 1:45 am

      Theresa – the gay married teacher teaches that marriage is between two persons who love and cherish each other. No problem.

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