Newark’s archbishop has endorsed a Catholic high school’s firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole, even as support for her grows.
Today, Bondings 2.0 focuses on the archbishop’s comments and legal case surrounding Drumgoole’s firing. Tomorrow, we will take up reactions to the firing from Catholics and others in the local community.
Archbishop John Myers said in a statement that Drumgoole’s same-gender marriage to Jaclyn Vanore could “create confusion and uncertainty in the moral formation” of students, reported The Record. He affirmed Paramus Catholic High School’s firing of Drumgoole, which he described as “corrective steps” taken to protect the church’s mission and identity.
Drumgoole, a beloved Dean of Guidance and women’s basketball coach at Paramus Catholic, was fired in January after her wife’s estranged sister sent pictures of the couple to school officials. These photos were not public, according to The Record.
Last month, Drumgoole filed a discrimination lawsuit against the high school and the Archdiocese of Newark. A judge denied Paramus Catholic’s motion to dismiss on First Amendment grounds, and the case has now entered a year-long discovery period.
At this point, the case seems to hinge on whether Drumgoole’s work was ministerial in nature , which would exempt the school from state non-discrimination protections. Drumgoole’s lawyers, Eric and Lawrence Kleiner, argue that the educator was not a minister and that Paramus Catholic cannot practice selective portions of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination while dispensing other portions.
To this end, the lawyers will be interviewing school employees whose personal lives contradict church teaching, and yet who have not been fired. This evidence may reveal a “big dichotomy,” they say, showing selective enforcement of church teaching in such a way that discriminates against LGBT people. The Record explained:
” ‘This is a rare case where, in our estimation, based on the paperwork that’s been provided, the defense is not claiming it was a budgetary concern, they replaced somebody because of poor performance. They are openly admitting that same sex led to the determination to terminate her. So this is a direct of discrimination,’ Eric Kleiner said. ‘Which will be attacked directly in discovery.’
“In paperwork filed in the defense motion, a monsignor said he found Drumgoole’s conduct to be ‘odious,’ Eric Kleiner said. ‘Odious is an extremely revolting and repulsive statement. That bespeaks where we’ll be going on discovery.’ “
Eric Kleiner told The Record that Drumgoole’s heroism in seeking justice “will not be muted or diffused or lessened by the extremely harsh and divisive language given by the Archbishop.” Lawrence Kleiner spoke of the division in the Catholic Church on LGBT equality, saying the archbishop was “taking an issue that has already divided its members and turning it into a chasm.” And Drumgoole said the couple was humbled by the support they have received, and that this case was about more than their marriage:
” ‘This is an issue for individuals and families. And not necessarily simply families who have individuals who are gay or who are involved in same-sex marriage. But just individuals who believe in equality and believe that people should be able to love freely — and still be employed where they’re employed.’ “
Many people in the Newark area, and particularly Catholics, have taken interest in this case because of the archbishop’s checkered history.
Mark Crawford, New Jersey state director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told The Record that Myers was “hypocritical” and “backward” because “[h]e’ll protect those clergy he knows abused children yet hold these hard-line positions against people who love each other.”
Alfred P. Doblin, The Record’s editorial page editor, recalled the case of former priest Michael Fugee to sharpen this contrast. Fugee’s conviction of sexually assaulting a child was overturned only because of a judicial error. Under Myer’s leadership, the priest returned to ministry and even had unsupervised contact with children despite signing a memorandum with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid minors.
At the time, Myers said that Fugee’s case had “more grays than black and white,” but Doblin questioned where the grays were and said there was “no consistency in the way Myers has dealt with church employees.” Doblin concluded:
“[Myers] writes, ‘The invitation to join in the life of the Church does not include an invitation to alter or redefine what the Church believes and teaches, nor is it an invitation to allow others to define the identity, mission and message of the Church.’
“How, then, does Myers justify his own past actions? He writes that the church acts only on facts. Only when ‘credible evidence’ comes to the attention of the archdiocese that an employee is violating the tenets of the Catholic faith will there be an investigation and appropriate action. . .
“Myers contorted himself to defend the indefensible: the continued ministry of Michael Fugee when there were more-than-credible allegations that the man was a sexual predator. . .The archbishop’s actions speak louder than his letter.”
The Star-Ledger editorialized further that church leaders who shelter abusive priests are “what really endangers the moral formation of students,” adding:
“Since 75-year-old Myers will not go quietly into the already large, $700,000 weekend house he used $500,000 in church funds to expand into a 7,500 square foot retirement mansion, let’s review the moral foundation it was built on. Not only did Myers refuse to release the names of priests credibly accused of child abuse during his 15-year tenure, like other churches do, he protected some of them personally. . .
“Would Jesus really tell this woman her lifestyle is ‘odious’ because she’s gay, while protecting pedophile priests? If students learn anything from that, it’s bigotry and hypocrisy.”
Myers has a notably negative record on LGBT issues. Last week, he suspended Fr. Warren Hall from priestly ministry, having fired him last year from directing Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University because Hall expressed support for the NOH8 Campaign. Myers released a 2015 memorandum to church ministers saying people in same-gender civil marriages, and even Catholics who support marriage equality, should be denied Communion. He made this same point when New Jersey was debating marriage equality. Thankfully, in both cases, his words were largely ignored.
Tomorrow’s post for Labor Day examine the ways Catholics have responded supportively to the cases of Kate Drumgoole, Fr. Warren Hall, and many other unjustly fired church workers.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry