H/T to Deacon Greg Kandra for pointing out the most recent case of a Catholic school teacher being fired after parents found out about her same-sex civil wedding. Let me remind you right now that I hold 100% with the teachings of the Catholic faith. I succeed at following them about 2% of the time, but that’s a problem with getting me to behave, not a problem with the ideals themselves.
After eight years on the job, Margie Winters was fired as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy outside Philadelphia not because she just married her wife, but because some parents just found out that she’s been married for all eight years.
Principal Nell Stetser sent an email to parents that Winters had been fired but didn’t specify why, though the reason seems obvious enough. “In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings,” she wrote, “but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings.” Stetser had counseled her after she started the job that she could be open about her marriage to other faculty, but should avoid discussing it families.
Winters described the concealment as “hard,” but maintained the necessary low profile all this time. But then parents of at least two students found out about her marriage and complained to both the school and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. When asked to resign, Winters refused and was fired on June 22.
In other words: Waldron Mercy Academy has never had any particular concern about following the Catholic faith. Ms. Winters was hired as the director of religious education despite the fact that the principal knew she was in a same-sex civil marriage — and apparently it was understood that none of the faculty of this Catholic school saw this as a problem.
So why, eight years later, does Ms. Winters get to be the one who takes the hit for the team? Because it’s all about keeping up that Catholic brand identity. That’s why Ms. Winters was told to keep her situation hush-hush — might upset the parents shelling out $13K a year in tuition for a “Catholic” education. That’s why Ms. Winters has to go now, because the diocese rightly thinks that Catholic schools ought to teach and model the Catholic faith, and Mercy Waldron needs to not be spun off, because Catholic-brand sells.
The Mercy Waldron case is not complicated: The administration doesn’t give a hoot about the faith, and doesn’t care who it hurts in the process.
This is not the Catholic way.
So let’s talk briefly about the challenge facing those of us who strive to follow the teachings of the Church.
1. Unjust discrimination against persons with same-sex attraction is right out. That’s a point of the faith.
2. A theme that permeates all of Catholicism is the way that we seek to be united with all men inasmuch as possible. You see this in the way we acknowledge the sacraments of non-Catholic Christians. Typically a Catholic school will not require students to sign a statement of faith — and that’s different from what happens in certain protestant circles. Our general approach is to invite others to participate as much as they can in good conscience, even if they are not yet fully on board with the all the teachings of the faith.
3. We realize that everyone sins, and so we tend to shift focus away from expecting perfection. Rather, we often ask: Does this person’s besetting sin make him incapable of or unsuitable for the task before him? If so, then we must regretfully steer the person towards more suitable avenues. If not, then we tend to breathe a sigh of relief and happily take one more on board.
4. Because we distinguish between disordered passions (which everyone is prone to in some fashion or another) and disordered actions, back to #1, we charitably assume that a person is seeking to live up to the ideals of the faith if they say that they are and the evidence supports that claim. If you seem to be living chastely and you say that you are, we assume you aren’t engaging in an illicit affair.
Because we believe in repentance and forgiveness, we can even imagine a situation in which, say, a formerly chaste employee was secretly carrying on an illicit affair, the matter reached a point where the facts were undeniable, and then the employee was shown the error of his ways, made amends, got back on the narrow road, took precautions to prevent a recurrence, and everyone left the past in the past and moved forward. Chastity’s not about your past, it’s about your future.
[Obviously the virtue of prudence must be applied in deciding how to move forward. But move forward we can, one way or another.]
Thus in making hiring decisions in parishes and Catholic schools, the faith offers wide latitude in which prudence must operate. But regardless, good, merciful Catholics don’t assign a whipping boy to bear the brunt of our own serious sins. Ms. Winters obviously has significant culpability, as a religion teacher who was blatantly failing to follow the religion she was tasked with teaching. Simple incompetence suffices as grounds for her termination.
But the school administration bears an even greater responsibility: They hired her to teach the faith, knowing full well she wasn’t practicing it. They encouraged her to live a double life.
The administration at Mercy Waldron actively set a standard at the school that the Catholic faith was not to be taken seriously, mere lip service was the order of the day.
I’m not sure whether we can say that there was in fact discrimination based on sexual orientation, or merely based on, “Who can we shove off as the sacrificial victim to get the diocese off our back?” but the case is not looking so great for Mercy Waldron. If you fire only the openly-dissenting person who just happens to be in a same-sex relationship, and let all the other dissenters stand around smugly talking about their “Mercy spirit,” that’s not looking like mercy or justice.
Be hot or cold to the faith, but quit drowning people in your lukewarm mush.
Artwork: On Lukewarm Water [Public Domain] via Wikimedia.