Catholic School Teacher Fired Over Same-Gender Engagement

Mary Kate Curry recently resigned under duress as a theology teacher at Father Lopez Catholic High School (FLCHS), Daytona Beach, Florida. Curry was asked to resign when her engagement to a female partner became public. School administrators have said of Curry, “We all knew she was gay, all she had to do was be quiet.” Today’s post is an edited conglomeration of Curry’s Facebook posts written over the past month. To take action in support of Curry, please see the bottom of this post.

Mary Kate Curry

I have ruminated long and hard about raising my voice. I’ve considered outlets through which I could speak and I’ve considered silence. For a while, I favored silence, in that perhaps behind-the-scenes discussion could be possible if I didn’t make a public deal out of leaving.

I have struggled mightily not to let my anger get the best of me. To handle this challenge with grace and with dignity—to not lash out against the FLCHS administration and to not speak with bitterness about the Diocese. I wanted to encourage others to follow in the same vein of charity and mercy first, to be an example for students first and foremost that the Church is a good and a worthy place, and even when things seem irreconcilable, justice and mercy come through.

It was my genuine hope that this strategy would aid discussion and perhaps allow students a chance to engage in a real dialogue about the mission of and their place within the Catholic Church. I have absolutely put the students first in my decisions thus far, and that continues with my decision to fight this now.

Events of the past week have made it impossible for me to continue without a fight.

Beyond firing me from my teaching position, the Diocese of Orlando made the decision to bar me from assistant coaching the FLCHS girls’ basketball team. Their logic for this decision was that I had chosen to resign from teaching, therefore breaking a contract, which makes me unemployable ad infinitum in the Diocese (assistant coaching is a paid position). Whether I choose to leave or not, I cannot be paid by the Diocese to do anything.

If I could not be paid to coach, I was willing to volunteer. However, when my willingness to volunteer was brought up, FLCHS Principal Mrs. Leigh Svajko was informed that the Diocese “did not like people volunteering for positions they had previously been paid for.” This policy appears to be brand new, and it has never been applied nor mentioned elsewhere, according to the athletics administration. Because I was once paid for the position, I cannot even volunteer now.

I am a good coach. I am a more than capable and effective mentor. I have given my time, sweat, and heart towards helping these girls achieve more than they thought possible. I believe so deeply in their God-given ability, and I have never been as proud of anything I’ve been a part of before. Out of season, 4 to 5 times a week, I showed up before and after school (unpaid!) to be there to support and challenge them to be the persons God created them to be, because I believe these student-athletes to be critical parts of the Church.

[In regard to coaching, the school should either name the policy for what it is—discrimination based on sexual orientation–or allow me to volunteer. Straddling the middle and offering a half-thought and nebulous ‘policy’ is disingenuous and cowardly. Hiding behind a shield of bureaucratic paper is sad and immature. This path is made even worse by the very nature of the establishment itself.Taking me away from this group of student-athletes is an absolute disservice, and puts our students and the Church’s mission at risk.

The mission of the Diocese of Orlando is: “…We are called to teach and live the Light of Christ toward Goodness, Righteousness and Truth. We respond to this call by enkindling a deeper faith in the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters; forming leaders in Christ; and harmonizing ministries to the mission of the Catholic Church.”

When the Diocese discriminates against LGBT church workers, how is this mission fulfilled? Is it truly the Body of Christ that is speaking and acting?

What are we teaching students when we respond defensively with knee-jerk reactions and summarily dismiss those around them without care? We fail our students and our mission when we teach them to hide things and to shame and silence. They deserve more.

These past weeks have been the heaviest and hardest of my adult life. I went into Catholic education in full awareness of what has happened to other LGBTQ educators, and with a more than vague worry that this might happen to me. Knowing something is true and living that something are two very different things. And so, I was quite unprepared for this experience of profound loss and grief. The happiest day of my adult self–getting engaged to the true love of my life–was followed by the absolutely paralyzing knowledge that this commitment to a full and true marriage would also be what took me away from ministering, educating, and supporting an incredible group of students.

I am mourning that to love authentically, I have to leave my position teaching, and most likely coaching. What a damning place to be in. That a life-giving love, which knits me closer to the God who is Love, is the thing that necessitates my removal as an unfit moral guide.

My students and colleagues have been occasions of grace, and my time with my students has contained some of my greatest moments. I have learned to love better having been their teacher. And I hope that in some small measure, they have learned some of why the Catholic faith has so much of worth and value–and why those who have been cast out or marginalized still yet crave a sacramental life. .

Today, I am not asking to be reinstated as an educator of theology.I am asking why the Diocese is willing to harm student-athletes in what appears to be a punitive decision which they refuse to name for what it is.

If you feel this discrimination isn’t right, I implore you to speak out and reach out. We can do better as a church.

 

To communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with church officials in Orlando about Curry’s resignation, please use the following contact information:

Bishop John Noonan
Diocese of Orlando
PO Box 1800
Orlando, FL 32802-1800
Phone (407) 246-4800
Email: info@orlandodiocese.org

President Pat LaMorte
Father Lopez Catholic HS
plamorte@fatherlopez.org

 

Mary Kate Curry, October 23, 2017

17 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “School administrators have said of Curry, ‘We all knew she was gay, all she had to do was be quiet.’” In other words: “All she had to do was lie.”

    Kind of makes a farce of this assertion: “The mission of the Diocese of Orlando is: ‘…We are called to teach and live the Light of Christ toward Goodness, Righteousness and Truth.'”

    Reply
    • Loretta
      Loretta says:

      “All she had to do was lie.” There it is, for me, the heart of the matter. The admin forced her resignation as teacher and coach so as to defend her teaching on homosexuality. I don’t think the letters from adults are needed, rather, letters from her students and athletes sharing what they are thinking, feeling and deciding. Perhaps then the hierarchical church will see the scandal they are causing. Thank you.

      Reply
  2. Miriam
    Miriam says:

    Infuriating. I didn’t lose a paying position but the ability to serve in any public manner in the parish. It breaks my heart. After reading this article I wonder if our public school administration has refused to consider my application for paid or volunteer work due to obvious transgender identity in my Facebook page.

    Reply
  3. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    As a gay rights activist of four decades, I am entirely in sympathy with Mary Kate Curry at a personal level. Her anguish stirs old memories of my own as a son of the Church. But as with other such cases, I am honestly confused about what exactly is being fought in cases involving employment at Church-affiliated schools.

    First, some of my relevant background. I left the Church 47 years ago at age 14 over theological differences, yet I subsequently attended Villanova University for the sake of my education. While I was an Augustinian-related scholar, I organized and held a gay rights debate on the campus in my capacity as treasurer of the Villanova Political Union. Our guest speaker at that debate was gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny; our nod to the outraged dean of student activities was to invite a priest on the moral theology faculty as a guest speaker on the other side, though we were debating a resolution about non-discrimination as public policy, not church doctrine. I spoke in agreement with Kameny at the debate, but did not come out. I came out publicly a few years later after I had a job and financial independence from my parents.

    Ms. Curry was a theology teacher and an assistant basketball coach. The Diocese of Orlando plainly acted within its constitutional rights in pressing her to resign after her engagement to her female partner. I disagree with the Church’s theology, but church-state separation under the First Amendment compels me to respect its right to promulgate its teachings as it sees fit, including in its decisions as to who shall do that teaching.

    The basketball coaching position is murkier at a legal level. I am not aware of a Catholic or non-Catholic way of playing basketball. When the Villanova Wildcats won their second NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball championship in 2016, the most Catholic thing about it was the blue and white of the school colors. Here in DC, the spire of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, by special permission of the FAA, has a blue light at the top rather than a red one because red would be wrong for the Blessed Virgin. Some church-state interactions are handled as amicably as that.

    As for Rome, the pope’s ministerial compassion for gay people, displayed on multiple occasions, and his statement “Who am I to judge?” have not been accompanied by the slightest budge on doctrine regarding homosexuality by the teaching authority, notwithstanding the suggestion by Francis that churchmen should not obsess on such matters to the detriment of other concerns of the Church.

    As a theology teacher, Ms. Curry was doubtless aware of the Church’s teaching and history on the subject. That history hardly reflects the compassion we have seen from this pope at a personal level, though that is not surprising given the three-plus decades during which John Paul II and Benedict XVI filled the ranks of bishops and cardinals to their liking. Nor do pastoral care and personal friendship imply a more liberal doctrinal impulse by His Holiness.

    So what is the fight about, exactly? What are we to say to Bishop Noonan? The preface to the article quotes school administrators saying, “We all knew she was gay, all she had to do was be quiet.” That conspiracy of silence is more than pathetic given the Church’s history of destructive silences. But it reflects a massive institutional inertia of policy and practice centered on denial and resting on a static view of doctrine.

    Is Curry going to sue the high school for discrimination in its sports staffing? I doubt Florida law would be of much help there, aside from the deference typically given when the Church is involved. Or are we just writing letters expressing disappointment? This whole situation is sad and miserable. At the same time, I have long wondered why gay Catholics stay where they are not wanted. I respect their having made a different choice than mine, and I wish the men of the Church were more receptive. But given the extent of church dependance on gay folk in teaching, music ministry and volunteer work, a mass exodus might make a more powerful statement. What is not in prospect any time soon is open service by gay people in diocesan schools. The Church shrinks in the West, clinging to its medieval mindset and its authoritarian habits, and driving people away.

    This morning I am to meet with a Catholic University student to discuss LGBTQ organizing for a social science term paper she is writing. I was interviewed by another CUA student last week. They are members of an unofficial club called CUAllies which seeks recognition. They have more allies on campus than an outsider might think. I admire them. As an aging activist, I am happy to share my experiences and insights, as I do with public and private school students. These students will graduate soon enough, and I hope they will pursue what they love in their jobs and volunteer work. Most will do so entirely beyond the control of the Church. That seems to me a good thing. But I recently attended the Catholic funeral and burial of a 90-something cousin, and despite my own estrangement I sympathize with the desire to maintain old ties. My sympathy, indeed, is greater than that of the institutional Church. And therein lies the problem. It is a continuing open wound at the heart of the Church. If only that urge to control would be moderated. If only the bossy old men doing the controlling would pay greater heed to the evidence of God’s rich and diverse creation.

    But life is for the living. Ms. Curry appears to be strong, gifted and thoughtful. I suspect she will land on her feet and have a thriving marriage and career. It is the school and the Church that will be worse off, along with the students. Judging by my own experience, many of them are likely already drifting away. Their expectations are so much greater than mine were at their age. It is hard to conquer that.

    Reply
    • Jay C.
      Jay C. says:

      Sad, but insightfuly presented. Oh my, what complications when love should be so simple, clear and divinely human! kudos to Ms. Curry for her strength and rightness in position, stance and purpose. Praise to the Above cited author for the clarity in which he presents the problem the entire church must face In union with Ms Curry and the LBGTQ community. We are after all, one body in church & one body in Christ.

      Reply
  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    The admonition when early representatives of the faith found they were not welcome was to leave the city and shake its dust from their feet. Similarly while and where the Church denies the goodness of same sex equality, then everyone who participates in the system should leave, withdraw financial support, and volunteer for other organizations that have accepted the grace of God. This is hard to do at first, but in the end it is much healthier and honors the path God has provided for us.

    Reply
  5. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    I am sorry about your situation. I am glad that you spoke up. I am not gay but I am a strong supporter of LGBT persons. I wish that more clergy were knowledgeable, understanding and conscious about homosexuality. Through the years, I have known many gay women and men and I have ordained and consecrated quite a few. Peace and all good, +Carlos

    Reply
  6. John Bartelloni
    John Bartelloni says:

    I am a former student at Father Lopez Catholic High School who left before my class graduated in 1970.

    Of the many schools I have attended, Lopez is my favorite.

    I do not like to use labels, but for purposes of this conversation should be considered heterosexual.

    On Sept. 30, 2017 I attended a lecture by James Martin, S.J., author of BUILDING A BRIDGE: HOW THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY CAN ENTER INTO A RELATIONSHIP OF RESPECT, COMPASSION, AND SENSITIVITY.

    Afterwards I purchased three copies of the book and waited nearly 90 minutes to get them signed.

    I was the last person in line.

    Somehow I suspect the folks at Lopez haven’t read the book.

    I’ll reluctantly donate my copy.

    To whom at Lopez should I send it?

    Reply
  7. Kevin Welbes Godin
    Kevin Welbes Godin says:

    It is sad to see another dedicated Catholic teacher dismissed because of love. I can only think that the people responsible for her firing are fanatics for the letter of the law. You might reserve the word fanatics for someone more harsh or violent, but the systematic firing, lack of reason, and display of false Christian love in favor of the letter of the law is violent and vicious wrapped in the disguise of Catholicism. It’s a weak Catholic leader who is probably forced into saying and then acting on , “all she had to do was be quiet.” A more noble and authentic leadership response would have embraced her and fully welcomed her into the community she already was a big part of. Mary Kate seemed to respond with grace while under fire. This is an act of love. And yet, she continued to be barraged with senseless and defensive statements that don’t engage her as a fellow human being, but in their eyes, a breaker of the law to be punished and banished. What a cruel and twisted system. I understand Mary Kate’s need to now fight, and for people everywhere to stand by her in the true sense of solidarity.

    Reply
  8. Catherine Bush
    Catherine Bush says:

    I emailed both Mr. LaPorte and Bishop Noonan, registering my disappointment and prayers for enlightenment. It was the least I could do. So frustrating. Those poor students.

    Reply
    • Kevin Welbes Godin
      Kevin Welbes Godin says:

      I called the Bishop’s office. Totally knew they wouldn’t let me talk to him. I was told I’d have to write him to have a phone call. You know, the all accessible clergy…(sarcasm intended). For a diocese in the town that has gotten a lot of national attention visa vie it’s lgbtq communities, I’m left wondering about the pastoral care coming out of the Bishop’s office. The handling of this teacher is not a good testiment. I’m also wondering why such dedicated, loving, overly committed Catholic teachers like Mary Kate are reduced to scandal by a Church proclaiming itself as inclusive, loving, welcoming? I’m left with one word….hypocritical.

      Reply
  9. Connie
    Connie says:

    Brave Mary Kate!
    Be true and the truth will set you free.
    RCC doesn’t deserve to exist and will crumble because of its wrongs!
    Every best wish

    Reply
  10. Mike Shay
    Mike Shay says:

    This sickens me. I am a graduate of Father Lopez (Class of ’69), where I was a jock and an overachiever and, dare I say it, Mr. Catholic of 1969. I have tried to live the gospel of social justice, despite all the hatred of The Other that issues from the church. My wife of 35 years (also Catholic) and I worked like the devil to remain Catholic, but church policies made it impossible. While I am a fan of Pope Francis (“Who am I to judge?”), we can no longer countenance the waves of prejudice and hypocrisy that roll down from the altars of the American church.

    Reply
    • Patrick McCollum
      Patrick McCollum says:

      Class of ’70 graduate here, in strong agreement with schoolmates Mike and John above. What a senseless loss for everybody involved!

      Reply

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