A lesbian woman in Michigan has been forced to resign after her Catholic employer and the local diocese expressed concern about her upcoming marriage to her partner.
In a February 23rd Facebook post, Kristen Nelson described the situation surrounding her resignation, writing that news of her upcoming wedding had started an “unpleasant conversation” between herself and the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Nelson wrote, in part:
“It has been made clear to me through conversations I have had with the leadership at West Catholic, that both they and the Diocese ‘teach a single view of marriage’ and that if I were to continue with my and [partner] Maria’s decisions to get married, I would not be able to continue coaching at West Catholic High School. . .
“Since graduating from West Catholic High School in 2008, I always wanted and intended to give back to the community I came from, a community my family and I have always loved and supported. Although I feel, and believe you would agree, that my sexual orientation has never conflicted or hindered my ability to perform my coaching duties, unfortunately, leadership does not agree with such, and I no longer feel welcome to continue coaching at West Catholic High School.”
Nelson, who had been a softball coach at West Catholic for five years, said she was “hurt and mostly disappointed” by having to resign. She hoped students, families, and the community would understand why she could not remain in “an environment that refuses to support me.”
An initial statement from the school posted to Facebook has since been deleted, but Nelson posted a screenshot of it on her own Facebook post. That statement said, in part:
“Kristen is a dear member of our community and we hope she remains a close member. We care for her very deeply, and we cannot imagine the immense amount of pain she is feeling right now. . .The public act of same-sex marriage, not her same-sex attraction, is the focus of Church teaching. It is not only people who experience same-sex attraction who are called to live chastely, but all of us. No one is excluded from the call of Christ. The teachings of the Church are written for happiness. Unfortunately, society today offers false hope in secular ideas of happiness.”
The statement also said Nelson is still welcome in the school community, but could not remain as a coach because she could not “fulfill [her] primary mission to lead by example” in sharing the Catholic faith with students.
The school later posted an updated statement with an introduction that apologized “for the hurt and betrayal that was felt by our previous post.” That updated statement removed Nelson’s name and included only references to a female coach. It also omitted the paragraph about Nelson being a “dear member” of the school community, and deleted a line about same-gender being part of a “false hope in secular ideas.” Parents, members of the softball steam, and school officials met Monday night to discuss the resignation, according to WZZM 13.
Annalise Laumeyer, spokesperson for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, said in a statement that Bishop David Walkowiak was “grateful” for West Catholic administrators’ actions that led to Nelson’s resignation. Laumeyer added that educators and staff who “persist in public acts that are contrary to Catholic teachings disqualify themselves from the opportunity to continue in their leadership role within a Catholic school.”
Nelson’s partner, Maria Roberts, also weighed in through a Facebook post. She wrote:
“This is unacceptable, this is wrong this is not how God would treat someone. Love and acceptance does not come in this form of dismissal. Who are they to judge? Bishop Walkowiak should be ashamed of himself. The ‘leadership’ of West Catholic should be ashamed of themselves. Your students will remember this, their parents will remember this. The players will remember how you pushed away their coach, how you ripped a role model from their lives, how you made it clear that you may preach love but contradict yourself time and time again.”
Roberts is accurate when she wrote that the school’s actions forcing Nelson to resign reveal a sharp contradiction between teaching and action. Sadly, church officials have done the direct opposite of offering a compelling witness for why students should form themselves in and affirm the Catholic faith. In freely choosing to discriminate against Kristen Nelson, church officials are not respecting the Gospel’s core message of loving one another.
Yet, Nelson has proved to be the very person of integrity that church officials claim she could not be for students. She is living authentically, without apology for her identity or her commitment to love. She refused to be a second-class employee when the school and the diocese could not respect her. Though coaching softball is not about religious instruction, Kristen Nelson has offered her players and the students of West Catholic High School a valuable lesson that is entirely consistent with the Catholic faith.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 28, 2018
The Huffington Post, “Catholic School Forces Queer Coach to Resign After Diocese Learns of Marriage Plans”