Yes or no: This school has a Catholic doctrinal covenant?

Let’s start with an informal quiz.

Raise your hand if you think it would be acceptable for a Muslim school to fire a teacher who, after years in the classroom, went public with her commitment to Zionism?

Let’s try another: How about a teacher at an Episcopal High School who turned out to be an undercover representative of an evangelical Protestant ex-gay group?

One more: How about a Jewish academy firing a teacher who, in a public ceremony, was ordained by the Southern Baptists as a Messianic Jewish rabbi?

How many hands to we have up in the air, at this point?

Actually, the key to each of these scenarios is whether these faculty members had signed any kind of covenant in which she or he agreed to support (or at the very least, agreed not to publicly oppose) the doctrines advocated by the religious school or the denomination or movement that supports it.

The key word is “covenant.” Religious organizations are allowed to hire and fire people, while advocating their own doctrines.

If you have questions about that, check out that recent U.S. Supreme Court case called Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the one that socked the current Justice Department team with a 9-0 verdict in favor of the church and its school.

With that in mind, let’s look for the crucial piece of information that is missing in this oh-so-familiar story from The Sun in San Bernardino County. The story hook is that a veteran teacher — 17 years in the classroom — was fired by a Catholic school after the public rite in which he married his long-time male partner.

While school representatives declined comment on the matter, an attorney representing 45-year-old Ken Bencomo says he was fired because of the same-sex ceremony.

“The reason given was that the marriage occurred and the school’s position was that it violated church teachings,” said Chatsworth attorney Patrick McGarrigle.

Bencomo, 45, was head of the English department at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora, but also worked as a yearbook moderator and dance coach. Students say they were aware of Bencomo’s sexual orientation.

Note that it is merely the school’s position or opinion that this same-sex marriage commitment violated church teachings — as opposed to sacramental theology repeatedly stated by the Roman Catholic Church for a millennium or two.

There is no doubt, of course, that the rite violated Catholic teachings and doctrine.

But as I stated earlier, this is not the key question in the current legal climate. And what is the key question?

Does this school have a covenant that is signed by, at the very least, faculty and staff? Frequently, these doctrinal and moral covenants would also be signed by students and parents. The whole goal is to define the school as a voluntary association. No one has to teach there. No one has to study there. It’s an association in which people choose to take part in a community that is defined — in writing — as Catholic in a meaningful sense of that word.

Is that the case at St. Lucy’s school? That’s the big question. I see no evidence in the story that anyone asked it. Readers are told:

Sister Helen Dziuk, assistant principal at St. Lucy’s, declined comment and referred inquiries to the school’s attorney, Joseph Stark. St. Lucy’s officials later issued a written statement, saying the school plans to continue educating students “in the tradition of the Catholic faith.”

“As a Benedictine school, St. Lucy’s is a community for those who wish to express Christian values in education and develop person and academic excellence,” the statement said.

The story does a great job of showing that some students and, perhaps, school staff oppose church teachings being defended in this manner. The big issue, in Catholicism, is what the local bishop says in this case. Thus, readers learn:

The Diocese of San Bernardino said its Catholic schools prohibit discrimination against teachers or other school employees based on their lifestyle choices.

“However, if a teacher or school employee makes a public display of behavior that is counter to church teaching — such as homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, having a child outside of marriage — that can impact their employment status,” said John Andrews, diocese spokesman.

School policies outlined by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles say a staff member can be counseled or disciplined if he or she engages in “behavior counter to the moral teachings and standards of the church.”

So, in effect, the diocese has been living with a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on moral theology? There is no doctrinal covenant of any kind being used in this diocese and, thus, at this school?

There are a few holes to fill in this story, methinks.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia B

    It is a Benedictine school. Lots of fuzziness about the local bishop’s authority with schools that are not run by a diocese. Usually it’s Jesuit schools that cause bishops grief – think Georgetown. This case is rather unusual in that the school is more “by the book” than the diocese.

    I don’t think a signed covenant is required. There may be a handbook with the school’s policies. Teachers are deemed to be aware of those policies and subscribe to them by accepting employment. Of course, California law and US SCt opinions trump any of our theorizing.

  • FW Ken

    So he’s been living with the guy for 10 years, and everyone knew about it. When he introduced the guy around, was it as his boyfriend? The story is written as if his situation was open but could it be a matter of “everyone knew” though he still maintained plausible deniability. After reading the story, these were the questions I was asking.

  • Alarms & Discursions

    The long-term goal, as articulated by the president in Ireland a few weeks ago, is to shut down religious schools so that everyone can get the same, secularist education. That “tears down walls” between people, we’re told. The left has never, ever been comfortable with Catholic schools, and it looks like the political and legal climate are ripe for them to make any actually Catholic education quite impossible.

    • tmatt

      What does that have to do with the journalism issues in my post?

  • James Stagg

    Thin story….leaves out too many details and, perhaps, the school does not wish to harm the person’s teaching reputation…..the one who just stuck them in the eye.

    The Church (or this school, evidently) does NOT discriminate against homosexuals; they are accepted as are all people. However, when one decides to live a disordered life (publicly marries his partner), then this becomes a similar situation to a heterosexual who decides to “shack up”……it’s just not a good Catholic example to give impressionable young people. So, you have the good old “morals” clause.

    It would seem like the teacher knew EXACTLY what he was doing. Might we expect this to be run up to the almighty (sometimes called “supreme”) court of this land as an “anti-discrimination” issue? We await with bated breath.

  • wlinden

    “How about a Jewish academy firing a teacher who, in a public ceremony,
    was ordained by the Southern Baptists as a Messianic Jewish rabbi?”

    That’s DIFFERENT, and you’re obsessed with sex!

    • tmatt

      Journalism, please. How does this relate to journalism?

  • steve finnell

    WHY WERE DENOMINATIONS CREATED?

    Were denominations created so the could teach the apostles doctrine? No they were not.

    Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.(NKJV)

    The Roman Catholic denomination was established so it could teach the doctrine of popes, cardinals, the doctrine of the Roman Catholic denomination.

    The Lutheran denomination was formed so they could teach the doctrine of Martin Luther.

    The Baptist denominations were brought into existence so they could teach the doctrine of John Calvin and that of Baptist preachers.

    Denominations were formed so they could teach doctrines contrary the doctrine of the apostles.

    Can you name one denomination that teaches the terms for pardon that the apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost?(Acts 2:22-41 ……40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them,)(NKJV)

    Peter did not preach. .1 Salvation by good works. 2. Salvation by Law keeping. 3. Salvation by grace alone. Salvation by faith only. 5. Salvation by saying the Sinner’s Prayer.

    Peter preached. 1. Faith; John 3:16. 2. Confession; Romans 10:9. 3. Repentance; Acts 2:38. 4. Water Baptism; Acts 2:38.
    Peter preached the apostles doctrine.

    Denominations were created to teach and preach the doctrines of men.

    Mark 7:5-13……”making the word of God of no effect through your traditions which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”(NKJV)

    Denominations were created to teach the traditions of men.

    If all believers in Christ taught the apostles doctrine, found in the New Testament Scriptures, there would be no denominations.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. Google search>>>>steve finnell a christian view

  • UWIR

    “Let’s try another: How about a teacher at an Episcopal High School who turned out to be an undercover representative of an evangelical Protestant ex-gay group?”

    “undercover representative” is an oxymoron.


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