Officials Placed on Leave After Catholic School Fired Lesbian Educator

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President James Vail

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 16, 2016

Top officials at a Catholic high school which fired a lesbian educator have been placed on leave, according to the Archdiocese of Newark, though why this has happened is unclear.

Paramus Catholic High School President James Vail and Principal Stephanie Macaluso were placed on leave Monday amid uncertain circumstances. Archdiocesan spokesperson Jim Goodness only referenced a “personnel matter,” reported NJ.comand said top archdiocesan education officials would be supervising the school for now.

There is speculation, however, that the removal of Vail and Macaluso may be tied to the firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole. The Record reported that some students suggested Vail and Macaluso had supported the educator against the Archdiocese. Drumgoole was fired last January after an estranged family member leaked to school officials photos of the educator’s wedding to her wife, Jaclyn Vanore.

The Archdiocese may have influenced the decision to fire Drumgoole. Archbishop John Myers is on record supporting the dismissal, saying the educator’s marriage could “create confusion and uncertainty in the moral formation” of students. His Vicar General said the couple’s marriage was “odious.”  But Goodness pushed back against this most recent personnel decision and Drumgoole’s firing, saying, “If you try to link everything together it might not be accurate.”

Christine Robert, a parent at Paramus Catholic, said the handling of this incident “shocked and unnerved” her:

” ‘Once again the archdiocese manages to mismanage a situation and create friction with the very people who spiritually and financially support it. . .All we want is a little respect. We know because of privacy laws that they can’t give details, but give us an idea of what’s going on.’ “

The firing became public in August when Drumgoole filed a lawsuit against the school and archdiocese, and an alumni letter supporting her received more than 3,000 signatures in just a day. Later, Fr. Warren Hall was suspended from priestly ministry in part because of his public support for Drumgoole and LGBT Catholics. They are among the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2008.

Like other church worker incidents, the firing at Paramus Catholic has caused divisions in the community and harm to those involved. Commentaries have sharply criticized the school and the archdiocese, pointing out that while the school may be legally exempt from state non-discrimination laws, it is not exempt from the New Testament.

Transparency is a prerequisite for justice and reconciliation to be possible, and placing top administrators on leave without any explanation only hinders that cause. It would be especially tragic if more church workers lose their jobs for defending a peer against unjust discrimination. The Archdiocese of Newark should clearly and publicly explain why President Vail and Principal Macaluso have been placed on leave tor the good of all involved, the Paramus Catholic community, and the credibility of the church.

 

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Counting the Educational Costs of LGBT-Negative Acts

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Jan Buterman

When a Catholic institution expels an employee in an LGBT dispute or refuses to support LGBT students, there often seems to be little consideration about the consequences. Two incidents in Alberta, Canada spotlight some costs to church institutions which LGBT-negative actions and policies can entail.

Legal Costs at $367,188 and Rising

Newly-released documents reveal that the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District has spent at least $367,188 defending its firing of transgender teacher Jan Buterman. Actual costs to the district may be higher as the documents only cover the years 2009-2013, but the legal battle is ongoing.

Fired after he transitioned in 2008, Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission the following year, and has fought for justice since then. Buterman explained to the Edmonton Journal that having these documents made public is important for fiscal transparency and accountability. Institutions which act inappropriately should not, in the legal process, be allowed to “acquire the right to silence anyone from mentioning it ever again.” Buterman said, too, that most people would not consider these high legal costs as “a totally typical expense for a school board.”

Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta which obtained the documents through a public records request, called the school’s legal defense “a waste of taxpayers’ money” [Editor’s Note:  Catholic schools in Canada receive government funding.] Kinney continued:

” ‘We think taxpayers should know how much this 100-per-cent publicly funded school board is spending on a legal case to determine whether they can fire someone for being transgender. . .This is cash that could have gone to teachers and students.’ “

Kristopher Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said the district’s legal costs are a “shocking misuse of funds.” According to the St. Albert GazetteWells questioned this spending:

” ‘How can they possibly justify diverting that money out of the classroom to fund what many people feel is a discriminatory act? . . .Why won’t they allow a transgender teacher to teach in St. Albert schools?’ “

Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools is refusing to comment. Buterman is committed to keep fighting, knowing he is not the only transgender person unjustly fired in Alberta but that not all have the means to challenge such actions.

Church Workers’ Confidence Plunging

In another story, a new survey reported by the Edmonton Journal found that just 60% of employees who work for the Edmonton Catholic Schools Board have confidence in the performance of board trustees and Superintendent Joan Carr.

Employees’ confidence dropped 25% since the 2014 survey, likely attributed to the Board’s treatment of LGBT issues, such as a refusal to adopt transgender supportive policies and a reluctance to accept LGBT student groups. The Board’s October 2015 meeting erupted into a “shouting match” and in December trustees approved a draft policy which would allow “just discrimination” towards some youth. An LGBTQ policy finally approved this spring is currently under review by the Alberta Ministry of Education.

Greg Carabine, union president of Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local 54, said teachers are being asked about this embarrassing situation. He added that the Board’s public disputes “makes it harder for all of us” and imperils student safety.

Board trustees downplayed the survey’s findings in their latest meeting. Chair Marilyn Bergstra said employees have understood the issues “solely through the media,” and trustees should find a way to engage employees directly to help raise confidence.

Counting the Costs

These two incidents reveal a larger truth about the steep costs which LGBT-negative approaches inflict on Catholic education. Acknowledging these costs is not diverting attention from the harm done to fired church workers and their families or to LGBTQ youth who suffer at non-affirming Catholic schools; it only adds to that harm.

First, school officials’ decisions to defend discrimination in costly legal fights steals already limited funds from the students who should be receiving them. In Alberta, there are specific questions about what public funding of religious education should mean. Canadian taxpayers don’t seem to be in agreement that they should fund discrimination against transgender educators.

Even in locations where Catholic education is privately funded, such as in the U.S., parents, alumni, and local communities should similarly question school officials’ priorities in firing decisions.

Second,  resistance to LGBT-supportive policies–whether it is school boards or bishops or educators themselves– undercuts the mission of Catholic education. Institutions claim such actions are about advancing Catholic identity, but the opposite is true. Church workers’ gifts are lost, and performance may suffer from those workers who remain. Time and again, when Catholic institutions act unjustly on LGBT matters, the communities react swiftly and critically. Unjust actions also put LGBTQ youth at greater risk. Opportunities to proclaim the Good News are severely limited, weakened by charges of hypocrisy. Pain and fallout abound.

With nearly $400,000 spent on a single church firing alone and church worker confidence plummeting, Alberta’s Catholic school officials should ponder whether their fight against LGBT equality is really righteous and really worth the costs. These incidents in Alberta should cause Catholic officials everywhere else to reflect similarly.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fired Church Worker Reaches Settlement with Montana Diocese; Other Employment Updates

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Shaela Evenson

Fired Teacher Settles Lawsuit in Montana

Fired teacher Shaela Evenson settled her lawsuit against the Diocese of Helena, Montana, and Butte Central Catholic Schools  just weeks before the case went to trial. The parties have reached a private agreement.

Evenson, a lesbian woman who was fired in 2014 for becoming pregnant outside of marriage (although she is in a committed relationship with a woman), was suing for pregnancy and sex discrimination, as well as breach of contract. A trial was scheduled to begin in April, but will be avoided if a judge approves the settlement, reported Crux. Evenson’s lawyer did not comment, but Butte Central Catholic Schools Superintendent Tim Uhl said Bishop George Leo Thomas had instructed him to end the incident “because there has been a lot of hurt and harm.” Uhl acknowledged the intense pain this firing caused to Evenson specifically and to the Butte Central community.

To find out more about settled and pending legal cases involving church workers who lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes, click here.

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Colin Collette

Terminated Music Director Files Lawsuit in Chicago

Fired church worker Colin Collette has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago and Holy Family Catholic Church, Inverness, reported the Cook County Record.

Collette was terminated in 2014 after seventeen years as the parish’s music director when he announced an engagement to his male partner on Facebook. Fifteen months after filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Collette received permission from the federal agency to proceed with this lawsuit. Collette’s suit claims the Archdiocese and parish violated federal, state, and county civil rights protections. He is seeking to return to his job and  to receive lost pay and monetary damages.

Teacher Contracts Flare in Indiana

The next round of church worker firings may happen in Indiana. Educators in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are expressing their concerns about new mission documents released ahead of new teaching contracts to be signed in April.

“Jane Doe,” pseudonym for a teacher interviewed, spoke to WNDU 16 about a troubling secondary document “read aloud point by point” during a staff meeting. Titled “Mission of Our Catholic Schools and the Importance of Authentic Witness of School Employees,” the seven-page text features sixteen points related to mission including some expectations for employee’s behavior beyond school walls. Describing church workers as “privileged participants in this ministry,” the document states:

“Respecting and upholding this teaching in their words and behavior, Catholic school educators are not to publicly promote, condone, or support so-called ‘same-sex marriages’, adultery, or other offenses against the truth and dignity of marriage. . .”

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“Jane Doe,” as she appeared in the television interview

Doe said church officials explained that support includes acts like displaying a same-gender couple’s photograph or attending a same-gender wedding. Similar bans are included against abortion, artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, and surrogate parenthood. Employees are also expected to support the bishop.

The diocese denied the new document is a change, saying it communicates “longstanding expectations,” but a number of employees believe this move is an inappropriate intrusion into their lives. Doe said church workers were made to understand they would be signing onto this mission document if they signed the new contract, although the text of the mission document is not included in the contract text. Doe explained:

” ‘What I do with my private life should be between me and my family. . .the Church is something that I go to, to look for faith. . .So telling me who I can and can’t be social with, basically with same sex marriage, even within my family or friends, it’s not right. . .

” ‘It hurts. . .We all carry ourselves in a professional manner and as Catholics—everybody sins in the world—no one is perfect out there. I don’t know how you could find one person who could follow that entire doctrine and have enough people to employ in one school, let alone 10, 15 schools.’ “

Doe said she would not sign the new mission document even if it risked her job, and she said many colleagues were weighing their options because they disagree sharply with the document’s intrusive language. Similar new changes in other dioceses have caused many teachers in Catholic schools to lose their jobs in the last couple years. Contractual shifts have been reported in at least six dioceses.  Before releasing the new contracts in April, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend should be cautious about whether a demand for explicit assent to micro-managed morality is worth losing highly committed and qualified church workers.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these stories, 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 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry