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.
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.
A 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:
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