San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has issued a statement which indicates that he will not oppose the Sisters of Mercy’s decision to continue to employ a transgender teacher at Mercy H.S. in that city.
The National Catholic Reporter said they received a statement from the archdiocese which said Cordileone sees that the decision is within the “legitimate range of prudential judgment.”
The newspaper quoted other sections from the archbishop’s statement:
“In his May 12 statement, Cordileone said he was ‘grateful that leadership of the Mercy Sisters spoke to me in advance and explained their reasoning and their plan on how to address the situation. In so doing the sisters strongly affirmed our Catholic beliefs and values and that they and the school do not advocate for policies or causes that contradict these values and beliefs.’
“Cordileone continued, ‘Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one’s life. In this particular personnel matter I am thankful to the sisters for seeking a response consistent with mercy and Gospel values and the corporate identity of the school as a Catholic institution of secondary education.’ “
Yesterday, New Ways Ministry congratulated and thanked the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy H.S., and Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer (the transgender teacher) for their courage in handling this situation so justly and faithfully. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement here.
Today, we invite Bondings 2.0 readers and all New Ways Ministry supporters to send letters of support to the Sisters, the high school, and the teacher, so that they know Catholics appreciate what they have done not only for their school, but for the entire Church. Send a copy of your letter(s) to Archbishop Cordileone so that he knows that Catholics are glad that he has not intervened in the Sisters’ faith-based decision-making process. (All addresses are listed below.) Please consider sharing parts of your letters with other Bondings 2.0 readers by posting excerpts from what you write in the “Comments” section of this post.
In writing your letter, you may use some of the ideas from New Ways Ministry’s statement and make them your own. Write from your heart, and tell your personal reaction to this decision. Your heart-felt and faith-filled message will be very powerful. Short letters are very effective. Honest, plain language will be most powerful. Thank you!
Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, President
Sisters of Mercy, West-Midwest Region
7262 Mercy Road
Omaha, NE 68124
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (assistant)
Diane Lawrence, Board Chair
Mercy High School
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: email@example.com (office manager)
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
Archdiocese of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109
The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director
New Ways Ministry congratulates and thanks the Sisters of Mercy and the administrators of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, for their Gospel-based decision to continue employment of one of their teachers who identifies as a transgender man. This decision stands as a beacon of hope in the midst of the terrible darkness of the recent trend of firing LGBT employees from Catholic institutions. The decision was announced in a letter to parents of students, which, after describing the teacher’s situation, stated:
“This afternoon, we informed students, faculty and staff about our resolve to support the dignity of each person—regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification.”
We applaud, too, the courage of English Department chair and teacher Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer for honoring his gender identity, as well to his commitment to educate students in the Mercy tradition. His personal example will be a most powerful lesson to all in the school’s community, especially because his decision involved a large degree of risk.
This story reflects a true Catholic commitment to respecting the dignity of LGBT people—a principle which is shared by millions of Catholics across the U.S. The experience of this school will help our Church to heal from the pain of too many past negative decisions regarding LGBT people. Our Catholic Church will only be strengthened by this decision.
The Sisters of Mercy offer a courageous example of inclusion and equality that could be replicated by so many other Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies when they learn of an employee’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. This example can be a turning point in what has been a dark chapter of the U.S. Catholic Church, when over 60 faithful employees have lost their church jobs because of LGBT issues.
Their process included wide consultation, reflection, and prayer. As the letter described:
“. . . we collaborated with the Board Chair Diane Lawrence and a team of key administrators while we studied how to respond in a manner consistent with Mercy and Gospel values and your School’s Catholic Identity. We prayed for guidance. We also consulted trusted advisors as we applied these principles to this circumstance.”
Furthermore, the Sisters showed their commitment to caring for the entire school community by having counselors available for anyone–student, parent, staff–to discuss their questions and concerns.
The Sisters of Mercy grounded their decision in the principles of Mercy which form the charism of their community. These same principles of mercy are promoted by Pope Francis, particularly in this year which he declared as a Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis’ message of acceptance and encounter with the LGBT community have been given flesh and blood by the Sisters’ decision to continue the teacher’s employment.
New Ways Ministry calls on other Catholic religious communities of Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters–and indeed, all Catholic administrators—to rejoice in the Sisters of Mercy’s example, and to honor it by following it as a way to end employment discrimination against LGBT church employees.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
The New York Daily News reported that Andrea Vettori sent a letter to the pontiff in which she appealed to him to reinstate her wife, Margie, to the job she held at Waldron Mercy Academy for eight years. The news article quoted excerpts from the letter:
“I ask you, I beg you, I implore you to ask God to reveal to you the next steps. Not just for Margie and myself, but for the injustices that have been done in the name of our faith against gay and lesbian members of the Church throughout the United States and the world whose only ‘sin’ was to be true to the love God placed within them.”
The entire text of Vettori’s three-page letter can be found at the end of the Daily News article. In it, she describes the couple’s faith life, relational commitment, and community involvement, noting that one is a lay Associate and one is a Companion of the Sisters of Mercy who operate the school. Indeed, the letter states that it was their involvement with the Mercy Sisters where
“we fell in love–with God, with our sisters, with one another.”
Vettori pleaded with Pope Francis
“to intervene on our behalf and countless other faithful Catholics so that we may not be condemned to live a life exiled from a Church that we so love and want to serve.”
In conclusion, she asked for the pope to allow the couple to meet with him when he visits Philadelphia at the end of September for the closing of the World Meeting of Families.
Philly.comreported that more than 200 parents from the school met this past week to show support and gratitude for Winters and to discuss ways to respond effectively. The news article also states that it was a disagreement with a parent about whether to teach Pope John Paul’s “Theology of the Body” to the elementary school students. While the parent proposed this work, Winters felt that it was too mature for younger children, and in fact the principal agreed with her.
Weighing in on the firing was Benjamin Brenkert, who last year resigned from the Jesuits to protest the unjust firings of LGBT people from Catholic institutions. In a Daily Beast essay which explores some of the philosophical assumptions of magisterial teaching on sexuality, Brenkert said that in firing Winters, the school was
“unequivocally informing LGBTQ persons that they cannot under any circumstances contribute to the spiritual or intellectual formation of children.”
“We call on the school to reinstate Margie Winters, and look to the day when Catholic leaders like [Archbishop] Chaput have the strength and courage to embrace our lives, to allow us to earn an honest living, and to participate in the education of our children.For guidance, [Archbishop] Chaput should look to the pews, where there’s more support for LGBT non-discrimination laws and marriage equality than even among the general public.”
As these cases multiply and become more frequent, church leaders will soon have to see how, just on a practical level, this policy is unsustainable. Instead of increasing love and justice, these firings cause people to become further alienated from Catholic Church structures.
In their efforts to promote a narrow vision of church teaching, focused solely on sexuality, Catholic leaders are forgetting the wider picture of the love and justice which the church should be promoting.
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.
Jezebelalso 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.
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:
“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, 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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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”