Children of God Without Blemish

A short while ago there was a bit of controversy when a gay teacher was fired from her position as the director of religious education at a Philadelphia Catholic school: some parents found out about the woman’s living in a lesbian relationship and called for her dismissal, which the school obliged. The firing has predictably created a controversy, with the Daily Beast reporting that the teacher is “fighting back against the Catholic Church:”

[Margie] Winters was hired at Waldron Mercy in August 2007, three months after she married her long-time partner, Andrea Vettori.

Same-sex marriage is forbidden under the official teachings of the church, so Winters was transparent with Waldron Principal Nell Stetser about her marriage during the hiring process.

Winters says Stetser encouraged her to be open with the faculty and staff, but warned her to be careful before disclosing her relationship to parents, some of whom were more conservative than others.

There are a few serious problems with this. First and foremost: it’s not that gay marriage is “forbidden” by the Catholic Church; rather, the Church maintains that “gay marriage” is not marriage at all. Claiming that the Church forbids gay marriage is like claiming the Church forbids four-sided triangles: you can’t “forbid” something that doesn’t exist.

More importantly, if Margie Winters is telling the truth—and we have no reason to doubt that she is—then the principal of Waldron Mercy quite possibly deserves to be fired as well. Nell Stetser knowingly hired a religious education director who was actively and willingly going against one of the core teachings of the Church itself. If Winters’s role in the school had been less than what it was, hiring her could perhaps be understood (though maybe not condoned). That Stetser chose a practicing lesbian to teach Catholic religious doctrine goes beyond administrative incompetence or even dereliction of duty; it’s almost an act of subversion against the Church itself.

None of which is to say the situation is an easy one. Winters is presumably a good teacher, and perhaps Nell Stetser felt uncomfortable dismissing someone who was qualified for the position due to a factor that—in this day in age—seems like such a minor issue or even a non-issue. Maybe she was worried about hurting Winters’s feelings or causing her anguish. One could understand the difficulty. Nonetheless, both Winters and Stetser were wrong, the firing was sadly the right thing to do, and Stetser herself should be under investigation by the archdiocese for any other serious violations of Church doctrine that are occurring under her leadership. It is quaintly absurd for an institution to call itself a Catholic school while it tolerates and even apparently encourages the direct contravention of Catholicism itself.

With that said, there is also reason to believe that Winters was not a competent religious education director, and that her dismissal was warranted for more than one reason:

[Winters and her partner] both worry about Catholic children who are struggling with their own sexual identity in school, and the message Winters’ firing sends them.

“It tells them they’re not worthy to teach in a Catholic school because of who they are,” says Vettori. “That they’re less than a full person in the church and therefore less than in the eyes of God. That’s the real horror in all of this…”

No. This is an absolutely disgraceful rendering of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality—and though it comes from Vettori, we can quite justifiably assume that Winters feels the same way. The church very, very clearly teaches the exact opposite of what Andrea Vettori has posited here:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

There is no doubt that church officials have acted less-than-compassionately in the past when it comes to homosexuals and homosexuality. Nonetheless, the times have certainly changed—and in any event the extant, real-world Church teaching is absolutely explicit in its affirmation of the full humanity of gay people and the necessity to treat them with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” That a so-called religious education director would tolerate the twisting of this beautiful doctrine into the drivel seen above is shameful and scandalous. If this is how Winters views the Church, there is no doubt that she is unfit to teach young minds on the critical matter of Catholic faith, and her firing was strictly warranted for that if nothing else.


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  2. Karim D. Ghantous

    I don’t really have a strong opinion on same-sex marriage. I acknowledge that it takes away no rights but confers new ones. But I don’t pretend to have the right answer. I do believe, at the same time, though without 100% certainty, that same-sex marriage is meaningless, especially in a religious context. If it’s harmless it’s also meaningless – that’s my opinion.

    This episode does raise an interesting question. At what point can a non-RC or a non-Christian not teach at a Christian school? The RC Church has for a long time now employed non-Catholics. People who simply don’t believe in either RC teaching, or Christian teaching, or the existence of God.

    So it’s no big deal in my mind that some people disagree with the Church’s views on this or that. So why is the affirmation of same-sex marriage a sackable offence, but disbelief in the authority of Jesus merely a technicality?

    Anyway, your characterisation is in my mind correct: same-sex marriage isn’t banned, it’s just a non-entity. I think that’s fair enough, and I’m outside of any religious institution or tradition.

    And is marriage only about love? No, of course not. That’s why the Clintons are still together. That’s why members of prestigious families marry and have affairs on the side. Didn’t Charles II openly have a mistress, who was painted nude – and wonderfully so – by a court artist?