Another Catholic H.S. Fires a Gay Teacher for Marrying His Partner

After the news of the week that Pope Francis seems to be more open to respecting gay priests than his predecessor, it was hard to take in the news that yet another Catholic high school teacher was fired from his job for legally marrying his partner.

Ken Bencomo and Christopher Persky

Ken Bencomo and Christopher Persky at their wedding ceremony.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin broke the story about the teacher at a Southern California school:

“A Rancho Cucamonga man who taught 17 years at a Catholic high school was fired from his job days after he married his gay partner in a San Bernardino civil ceremony.

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.

CBSNews.com reported an excerpt from the school’s statement about Bencomo’s firing:

“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.

“St. Lucy’s wishes to reassure all in our community that upholding its mission to educate students in the tradition of the Catholic faith is of paramount importance.”

The Daily Bulletin noted an interesting policy quirk in the Diocese of San Bernardino where Bencomo lives:

“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.

What’s interesting about this policy is that it seems to imply that the diocese is fine with anything, as long as it is not public.  Not a very principled approach, it seems to me.  Additionally the spokesman’s statement that homosexuality is counter to church teaching is not accurate.  A homosexual orientation is accepted by Catholic teaching; homosexual behavior is not.

The Los Angeles Times’ version of the story indicates that photos of Bencomo’s wedding to his partner Christopher Persky were published in a local newspaper.   The Times’  account continued:

“School officials had been aware of his sexual orientation for about 10 of the 17 years Bencomo has been employed by the high school, said Patrick McGarrigle, Bencomo’s attorney.

“School officials specifically mentioned the wedding and the publicity it received during a meeting at which Bencomo was informed that he had been fired, McGarrigle said.”

And the news article indicates that school officials were aware not only that Bencomo was gay, but that he was in a relationship with Persky:

“On multiple occasions over the years, McGarrigle said, Bencomo has introduced Persky as his partner to administrators at school events.”

The Times  also includes another excerpt from the school’s statement, which contains reference to the San Bernardino Diocese’s policy mentioned above:

“ ‘While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values,’ the statement reads. ‘These values are incorporated into the contractual obligations of each of our instructors and other employees.’ ”

One has to simply wonder what values the school is upholding with this kind of policy.  It seems that their highest value is secrecy.

change.org petition in support of Bencomo being reinstated to his teaching position has been started by a St. Lucy’s alumna, Brittany Littleton.  The petition states, in part:

“Ken Bencomo has been teaching at St. Lucy’s for 17 years. He is a beloved mentor, confidant, and educator. His passion for teaching, as well as his witty personality, have made him a favorite teacher among many students. He is extremely active at St. Lucy’s; he teaches multiple subjects along with taking on various leadership positions including Yearbook moderator, dance coach, and head of the English Department. . . .

“I am joined by many students and alumnae in saying that we believe this is a fight for love and equality, and as such we wish to display love and kindness, even while feeling hurt and shock. Please communicate with St. Lucy’s in a respectful manner so that our voices will be heard.”

This firing makes the eighth time that we know of  that a Catholic institution’s workers or ministers have been fired or let go because of LGBT issues since the beginning of 2013.  There was almost an equal amount in 2012. A shameful record, and one that our Church needs to start addressing more seriously to prevent future incidents.  The other individuals are listed here, and linked to the first Bondings 2.0 post about them:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

As an article on Jobs.AOL.com stated:

“Being gay and working as a teacher at a Catholic school has proven to be a volatile combination.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

15 replies
  1. John Derren
    John Derren says:

    Just a correction for you, St. Lucy’s does not operate in any Diocese. They are affiliated with the Los Angeles Arch Diocese but not a member. The are run by the Benedictine Sisters and thus are independent.

    Reply
    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Thank you for the correction. I looked up the geography, and St Lucy’s, in Glendora, California, is located in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Ken Bencomo lives in nearby Rancho Cucamonga, which is in the San Bernardino diocese. I had originally used information supplied to me by the newspaper accounts, which do not always relate all the fine points. Thanks, again!

      Reply
  2. duckman44625
    duckman44625 says:

    Unfortunate as these firings are…they are quite legal under current civil law. Yet the Church is hypocritical…invoking civil law when it is advantageous to them (e.g. in these circumstances as they are private schools, in avoiding prosecution of pedophile priests when the statute of limitations has run out protect finances, the case of Cardinal Law fleeing to the Vatican prosecution to avoid prosecution, and so on). The Church acts as a political lobbyist in funding anti-marriage equality campaigns, publicly pointing out political candidates from the pulpit who should be shunned (a violation of civil and Canon Law). I do not hold out much hope the Church will change policy when same sex marriage occurs. This in some cases reached absurdity when the teachers were not involved in instructing in the Faith (gym and music teacher) or were not even Catholic (so how could they support Catholic teaching except by silence in the matter which two did). It appears that these persons living in same sex marriages are example of the infamous (and absurd) “inherently disordered state” which even Francis I has not to date invoked. Bishops and priests who have there ladies on the side – a violation of their vows and Church teaching live on unimpeded – and there have been many within my own diocese (known to the people as well as bishop) and others. Of course, they are “ordained” MEN in the great MEN’S CLUB known as CLERGY who guard each other’s backs – “holy” men – untouchable unless publicly outed.

    Reply
  3. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    We only continue to cry over this……we mothers who know that even if we do not immediately have homosexual children in the family, who knows what the future may bring. Many of my friends have homosexual children who they continue to love and expects the Catholic church to continue to do and give them complete rights. I wonder how Jesus would respond to this kind of situation.

    Reply
    • duckman44625
      duckman44625 says:

      No doubt in my mind how Jesus would respond. The only “righteous anger” recorded in Scripture was in dealing with the money changers/Pharisees of the Temple Cult…He drove them out of the Temple with a lash. The Pharisees – He despised their hypocrisy while still loving them. The Hierarchy of our Church (not all) are contemporaneous Pharisees – He would be indignant at their lack of love and compassion.

      Reply
  4. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    I am not surprised by the firing, although disappointed. I graduated from Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus Ohio. Carla Hale was fired for listing her partner’s name in an obituary for Carla’s mother. The church speaks words of compassion, but when given the opportunity to demonstrate this compassion, the church refuses. The Roman Church is hypocritical!

    Reply
  5. Barbara Karamon
    Barbara Karamon says:

    I am so sympathetic to your cause. And, it is indeed sad that a quality teacher with such valued experience is lost to St. Lucy. However, bear in mind that the teacher knows fully well what he’s dealing with in the Catholic Church (especially after 17 yrs), and by being honest about his marriage, knew what the outcome would be. It was a given. They do have their laws, which they truly believe in — just a fact of life. Try to be sympathetic to this as well. I attended Catholic grade, high and college. I have a gay cousin who just lost his spouse to death so gay marriage is a reality to all of us, and it is respected. But, when you’re dealing with the hierarchy and the many-times lack of sensitivity to fellow human issues, one has to step back and realize they still do have the right to expect a teacher to ‘follow the rules’. We, as students, all had to, whether we agreed with them or not. I know you must be thinking how hypocritical is the hierarchy with all the terrible scandal of child abuse, money laundering and corruption in the Vatican. And, they fire this man due to his sexual orientation and subsequent gay marriage, nothing else. And, I agree, very hypocritical. So, I’m on your side, but just realize he did bend THEIR rules knowing full well the outcome.

    Reply
  6. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    It’s a giant game. Sympathetic priests have helped individuals find ways to remain in the church by, yes, bending the rules for years. How many of us received solace from priests who understood that one more pregnancy would take us over the edge physically, emotionally, and financially. I say I cry over this because I have voiced my opinion in words and in print whenever I could ever since Vatican II and Bety Friedan made their appearances and I understood my true worth. I am all-Catholic educated also, but we were taught that we could always question…now the church is trying to muzzle us and threaten us by withholding communion or “excommunicating” us. As a professional writer, I refuse to be silenced, but I am 80 years old and time is running out for me to witness the changes we have worked and prayed for so long. Who wouldn’t cry?

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […]  The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported that Ken Bencomo, who was fired from his teaching position at St. Lucy’s Priory H.S. in Glendora, California, […]

  2. […] The rest of the essay examines some of the firings that happened this past year in Catholic schools  (all of which were covered by  Bondings 2.0):  Mike Moroski, Carla Hale, Ken Bencomo. […]

  3. […] Bondings 2.0 reported on the firing when news broke last week.  You can read the report here. […]

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