Students, Alumni, and Commentators Support Fired Catholic H.S. Teacher

Student and alums protest outside the school.

Student and alums protest outside the school.

Los Angeles’ Daily News reported:

“Several hundred students, alumnae and supporters of Ken Bencomo rallied in Glendora on Thursday morning, protesting Bencomo’s firing from St. Lucy’s Priory High School after he married his longtime same-sex partner in July.”

According to Los Angeles.CBSLocal.comBrittany Littleton, an alumna who organized the protest said:

“I believe very strongly in equal rights and in justice, but aside from that, Mr. Bencomo is an amazing teacher.”

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune carried a story

about the protest, which included a comment from an alumna’s mother who jointed the demonstration:

 Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest's the teacher's dismissal.

Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest’s the teacher’s dismissal.

“The school has an obligation to make good choices and to stand up and be courageous, and I don’t think they’re being courageous in this decision,” Terry Monday said. “I think they’re hiding behind Catholic doctrine and not demonstrating the values that they try to teach the girls.”

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

In addition to the protest, the firing has sparked a bit of commentary all over the country.  In a Washington Post “On Faith” essay, Sharon Groves, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, put the firing in the context of Pope Francis’ recent gay-positive comments, and wonders how the school can defend their action in terms of their Catholic faith:

“To be clear, it was an act that contradicted their mission statement’s call to respond compassionately to the needs of the community. Ken’s officials hid behind their “Catholic faith” to justify their position. But there isn’t one way to be Catholic.”

Groves points out the variety of ways that Catholics strongly support LGBT people:

Sharon Groves

Sharon Groves

“Ask the faithful Catholics — who organized as Catholics — in every state where marriage equality had a possibility of passing. Ask my friend Rosa Manriquez, who proudly raised two lesbian daughters and two grandchildren according to the core tenets of Catholic social teaching — to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask the countless Catholics living with the pain of exile but holding a deep longing for the church, as the Catholic hierarchy routinely denies their humanity.”

And, she points out, this support doesn’t stop at the level of the pews:

“And while the true intent of his Pope Francis’ words this week remains unclear, we were offered a morsel of hope. We were offered the possibility of a world where claims of a singular ‘Catholic faith’ aren’t used as an excuse for judgment, shaming and injustice.

“ ‘Do not judge’ is a mantra for us all to embrace, regardless of our faiths. But especially for my Catholic friends who hold St. Francis and Pope Francis so dear, now is the time for a real commitment to these words. We must all do better.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Michael McGough, a columnist questions the church-state issues that this firing raises.  Should churches be allowed to discriminate in employment, he asks.   He explicates the issue this way:

“This would make a good case study for law students. Does the teacher’s right to be free from discrimination trump the school’s right to safeguard its theological convictions about marriage by dismissing a teacher whose life is at odds with that teaching?

“California has a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which may or may not cover a situation in which an employee is dismissed because he has entered a same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the law doesn’t apply to “a religious association or corporation not organized for private profit.”

“Then there’s the 1st Amendment. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran church could fire a ‘called teacher’– one who had received a commission as a ‘minister of religion’ – without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. But it’s not clear whether a lay teacher at a Catholic school would be in the same category.”

Ken Bencomo

Ken Bencomo

McGough concludes:

“With the spread of same-sex marriage,  courts are going to be drawing lots of lines in this area. Maybe they will say that a Catholic school can dismiss a teacher who is in a same-sex marriage because teachers are role models,  but it can’t discriminate against a bus driver or a bookkeeper. Or perhaps a Catholic college that serves adult students from a variety of religious backgrounds belongs in a different category from a parish elementary or high school.”

For Eduardo Moises Peñalver, a blogger at  Commonweal magazine, a Catholic lay journal of opinion, the legal question is not as important as the moral question in this case:

“I want to separate the question whether Catholic institutions have the right to do this sort of thing from the question whether they should, on either moral or prudential grounds.  I am not aware of divorced and remarried teachers getting fired.  The axe always seems to fall on those who are somewhat more easily marginalized:  unmarried pregnant teachers, gay teachers, etc. “

For a related post on the problem that Catholic institutions are encouraging by firing their LGBT employees, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


8 replies
  1. Luke
    Luke says:

    “Routinely denies their humanity” – this is the kind of inaccurate anti-Catholic reporting I have come to expect from the mainstream media.The Catholic Church, unlike most in the world,upholds the humanity of every human being, without exception, from conception to natural death. End of.

    • jono113
      jono113 says:

      Wrong, Luke. When Catholic teaching demands that a human suppress an essential, inseparable, part of human identity because it is disordered, that person’s humanity is denied.

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        Jono has got it exactly right. Biological gender is an “accidental attribute” of one’s human incarnation. Where there is faithfully bonded love, there is the Abiding Presence of God. Luke: what part of this assertion do you disagree with…if fact you do disagree? Please clarify your position for us. You don’t seem like a hateful person at all, but your statement above is unhelpfully ambiguous.

      • Luke
        Luke says:

        To answer Friends below, I am disputing Ms Groves claim that the hierarchy denies he humanity of gay people. The Bishops teach people to love and value everyone without exception, including homosexuals who have to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect.

        Examples of organisations who do not respect the humanity of others are racial supremists,Islamic extremists, criminal justice systems with the death penalty, Euthanasia advocates and Marie Stopes International. No true Christiam church should be liked to such ungodly orgnisations.


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