On Labor Day, Let’s Remember LGBT People Fired from Catholic Institutions

Labor DayToday is Labor Day in the United States, a time when we stop to celebrate the gifts of all workers in our society.  Labor Day always happens on the first Monday in September, right in the middle of  back-to-school season.

Charles Reid, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, penned an essay for The Huffington Post which combined both of these timely themes by asking Catholic schools and institutions to make a “Back-to-School Resolution: Let’s Stop Firing Gays and Gay-Rights Supporters.”

Noting the long list of firings of LGBT people and their supporters fired from Catholic workplaces over the past year, Reid states:

“It is time, well past time, for Catholic schools to make this back-to-school resolution: No more firings of gays or gay-rights supporters in the new school year.”

His rationale for this suggestion at this point is based on the context of Pope Francis’ summertime statement, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, and specifically rumors about calls to fire Monsignor Battista Ricca, Francis’ overseer at the Vatican Bank, after rumors circulated that Ricca was gay.

Reid suggest that we put Pope Francis’ statement about judging into practice in our Catholic workplaces:

“But if we see this statement as an olive branch, as an effort to accommodate to the Church people with same-sex attractions, then we are entitled to ask Catholic institutions to take the next step: Catholic entities, especially Catholic schools, should stop firing gays and gay-rights supporters.”

Reid says Francis’ example is one that all Catholic leaders can follow:

“Let us remember, once again, that Pope Francis made his statement about not judging gays in circumstances similar to the facts of these cases: Monsignor Ricca, in the pope’s judgment, was just the man to help clean up the mess at the Vatican Bank. And he is gay. And 15 or so years ago, he had taken a lover, or two, or three. And the pope was willing to look past this history, and focus on Ricca’s many fine qualities.”

The rest of the essay examines some of the firings that happened this past year in Catholic schools  (all of which were covered by  Bondings 2.0):  Mike Moroski, Carla Hale, Ken Bencomo.

On this Labor Day, let’s pray for all LGBT workers in Catholic schools and institutions, who serve faithfully.  Let’s remember those who have been fired this past year:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

Ken Bencomo

Let’s also remember those who have had action taken against them in previous years:

Jodi O’Brien
Fr. Owen O’Sullivan, OFM, Cap (see page 5 in link)
Laine Tadlock
And let’s also remember those LGBT people who’ve suffered employment discrimination in many other areas of work, too.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: Following Up on Previous Stories

Here are some items that may be of interest which follow up on stories that we have already posted:

1) Back in April, we posted about Anna Maria College, a Catholic campus in Worcester, Massachusetts, disinvited Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, from speaking at the school’s commencement ceremonies, in part because of her support of marriage equality.  This past week, Anna Maria College welcomed Ms. Kennedy as the keynote speaker at an academic symposium on “Faith and the Public Square: Balancing Religious Beliefs with the Common Good.”  The Worcester Telegram and Gazette article on her speech notes that she received a standing ovation when introduced.

2) In September, we reported that Nigel Studdart, a Catholic high school teacher in New Zealand, was fired from his job because he criticized his principal’s negative remarks about gay parents, and because he supported the students’ protest of the remarks.  Recently, a follow-up story in The New Zealand Herald notes that Mr. Studdart is considering legal action to get his job back.

3) Over the past year, we’ve been following the story of Ontario’s new law which requires state-funded Catholic schools to establish gay-straight alliances, if requested by students.  A possible law suit against the government may be brought by a group who feels that Catholic education rights are being violated by the new law, reports The Globe and Mail.

4) In September, we reported that Catholic organizations were among over 30 religious groups that endorsed the passage of a California bill which would outlaw forcing minors to undergo “conversion therapy” to change their sexual orientations.  The bill was passed into law and signed by California’s Catholic Governor Jerry Brown.  CNN.com reports that in signing the law, Brown hoped that conversion therapy would be consigned “to the dustbin of quackery.”

5) Last week, we reported on Equally Blessed’s report which detailed how the Knights of Columbus are spending millions of dollars to prevent marriage equality from becoming the law of the land.  Today, the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog carries an op-ed essay by Marianne Duddy-Burke, a representative of Equally Blessed and executive director of DignityUSA, which provides some context and analysis for this report.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Fired New Zealand Teacher’s Final and Most Powerful Lesson

Nigel Studdart

A science teacher at a Catholic high school in New Zealand has been fired because of criticizing the school principal’s remarks against gay parents.  Though fired, the teacher has taught his students a remarkable lesson about standing up for one’s beliefs.

According to New Zealand’s Northern Advocate newspaper:

“Three weeks after being suspended for speaking out against what he called discriminatory comments by the Pompallier Catholic College [high school] principal, science teacher Nigel Studdart has been sacked.

“The school board’s decision to end his tenure came as no surprise to the teacher, who has many students as well as gay rights groups speaking in support of him.”

In August, the principal, Richard Stanton, wrote an essay in the school’s newsletter, decrying efforts in New Zealand to legalize marriage equality, which stated, in part:

“Same sex couples will almost inevitably argue for the ‘right’ to children. Such a voice is heard now and my fear is that we are moving towards a society where children become an ‘entitlement’ or ‘right’ and are therefore commodities, or possessions to be acquired, rather than a gift to be received. I  acknowledge that possessive parents are not exclusively found in same sex relationships, but I contend that such relationships may be more disposed towards such a mind-set.

“Parents who see their children as gifts bring a very different mind-set from those who see children as an entitlement. They tend to be more open to the flowering of their child in whatever direction they venture. This tends to encourage children to be more confident and open to the world around them.”

According to MSN.nz, Studdart criticized the principal’s remarks:

“Mr Studdart said he thought the comments were prejudicial toward gay parents and potentially harmful to gay students or the children of gay people.

“The principal’s inference that gay people were inferior parents was ‘untenable,’ he said.”

Additionally, Studdart supported a student-led protest of the principal’s remarks.

In his comments to the Northern Advocate after learning of the decision, Studdart offered a powerful lesson in the power of conscience:

“I’m not sorry I spoke out. I couldn’t have done anything else. The issue has led to a lot of debate about homosexuality which is irrelevant, really.

“The issue raised in the school newsletter and what I stood up over was discriminatory and prejudicial and has no rightful place in a decent society.

“I slept well last night [after being officially dismissed] with a clear conscience and I will face my tomorrows in the knowledge that I could not in all conscience have acted any differently.”

In firing Studdart, the school board acknowledged his fine teaching record.  So it is no surprise that his students have been strongly supportive of him during this ordeal.   According to the New Zealand Herald:

“Several students have left messages on the popular science teacher’s Facebook page disappointed with the school’s decision.

“i cant believe it, just like that my favourite teacher is gone,” Leshego Mpe wrote.

“There goes the best teacher in the school ='( good luck with whatever you plan to do now,” Nikki Bedford added.

“The whole family is outraged by this. The whole family are supporting you with any decision you make.

Thanks to you I felt so confident in my chem and bio paper today! You were the best teacher!” Zoe Pearse said.
Parents have been equally upset, some threatening to remove their children from the school.  Sharon Teh, a parent, said:
“Pompallier has lost one of the best teachers they have and we are seriously considering moving our son to a different school – we have no faith in Pompallier College at all. As well as a fantastic teacher, you are a wonderful man – you aren’t the one who should be leaving that school.”

Studdart has been praised by other New Zealand religious leaders.  According to GayNZ.com, Rev. Glynn Cardy, of Auckland’s St. Matthew’s-in-the-City Anglican Church, praised the example that Studdart offers students:

“It is this sort of courageous example that our young people need. . . .Your action also sends a wonderfully encouraging message to the many LGBT youth across New Zealand that discrimination is wrong, that some teachers are not prepared to be privately supportive but publically silent, and that there are people of religious faith who believe that the sacrament of marriage should be available to gay and lesbian couples.”

Cardy also offered a word of caution to New Zealand’s Catholic leaders:

“Cardy says he understands the position of New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops on the Marriage Amendment Bill, and that principal Richard Stanton might want to endorse that in his position as the leader of a Catholic school.

“ ‘However by stopping the expression of contrary opinions, and in particular by going to the extraordinary length of dismissing a popular and competent teacher, you are sending out a message that the school is not a place where robust debate can happen, and is not a place that can manage and appreciate diverse views,’ Cardy says.

“ ‘This seeming fear of difference is at odds with the best of Roman Catholicism’s social practice in New Zealand, a practice marked by tolerance and compassion.”

We pray that Cardy’s words will be heeded. And we pray in gratitude for Mr. Studdart’s courageous example.  He has turned what could have been a personal tragedy for him into a powerful teaching moment.

–Francis DeBernardo