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A Catholic high school in New Jersey placed a teacher on administrative leave last week after her anti-gay comments on social media became public and drew criticism from celebrities and alumni alike.
Patricia Jannuzzi, a religion teacher at Immaculata High School, Somerville, wrote on her Facebook page that gay people “want to reengineer western civ (sic) into a slow extinction” and should not be afforded 14th Amendment protections, an idea which she called “bologna.”
Administrators at the school released a letter on Friday announcing that Jannuzzi was now on leave and she had deleted her Facebook account at their request. Msgr. Sean Brennan, pastor, and Jean Kline, principal, said the comments were “completely inconsistent with our policy and position as a Catholic Christian community.” MyCentralNewJersey.com reports the letter continued:
“Immaculata ‘is a community that follows the example of Jesus Christ in welcoming all people.’
” ‘We will do everything we can in this trying time to make clear that the philosophy of Immaculata High School is one of inclusion rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ…taking every necessary step to reinforce established guidelines and promote a clear understanding of acceptable use of social media and to refresh sensitivity awareness consistent with Christ’s teachings.’ “
This reaction comes after more than 1,000 alumni signed a petition asking Immaculata to address “the systemic problem of homophobic undertones.” Petitioners included Scott Lyon, the gay nephew of actress Susan Sarandon, and Greg Bennett, a 2004 alum who starred in television’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
Sharing a letter from Lyons, Sarandon said, “High school is a tough time anyway…Students don’t need teachers making it even more difficult.” Lyons’ letter to Jannuzzi said, in part according to MyCentralNewJersey.com:
” ‘You have a responsibility as a teacher to lead by example and the words that you have been throwing out there are detrimental to the well being and health of the youth that you inspire…I am certain that the pope himself would take issue with your extreme point of view on homosexuality.’ “
Meanwhile, anti-LGBT activists are rallying around Jannuzzi who they claim is a victim whose religious liberty is violated by the school’s censure. In reality, LGBT youth are particularly at risk for mental health issues, self-harm, and suicide in the vulnerable teenage years, and the church’s educational efforts should provide a welcoming, affirming place for students to mature and live into the people God calls them to be.
Immaculata administrators made a decision in the best interests of their students, faculty, staff, and parish community by standing up to prejudiced and uninformed remarks. It is important to recall last Sunday’s Gospel though, which calls all of us to love everyone, including those who oppose LGBT equality. Though justice is being enacted, it is essential for this also to be a moment of reconciliation which can hopefully educate Jannuzzi, the Immaculata community, and all those affected in a positive manner.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry