Lesbian Softball Coach’s Forced Resignation Reveals Contradiction at Catholic School

Kristen Nelson, right, and her partner, Maria Roberts

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

Related Articles

The Huffington Post,Catholic School Forces Queer Coach to Resign After Diocese Learns of Marriage Plans

MLive, “Grand Rapids West Catholic High School, softball coach sever ties over conflicting views on marriage

7 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    As usual, and as always, the principal antagonist here is a hard-core right-wing diocesan bishop, who was somewhat surprisingly appointed by Pope Francis, rather than by Pope Benedict. One assumes that this was a “rubber-stamp” appointment by Pope Francis, who would seem in no way to share personally this man’s hard-core anti-GLBT ideology. Here’s his bio from Wikipedia:


    Until the problem of appointing bishops who harbor a deep personal animus against GLBTQ Catholics can be rectified, this sort of atrocity will continue to occur. And the collateral damage is that a whole generation of high school and college students, who were born and raised as Catholics, will decide never again to have anything to do with a Church which behaves in such a genuinely hateful and anti-Christian manner.

  2. Cheryl Rogers
    Cheryl Rogers says:

    You go Girls!!!!!!! LOVE, yours, IS stronger then hate……..and yes, this is NOT the way God would like it, that I am sure of.

  3. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    While I do not agree with her firing, what gay person does not know the Church’s position on employment ? You agree to conduct yourself in accordance with the guidelines. Granted, in a strictly contractual way, she violated the agreement. The Diocese is still wrong here, as they are in every other instance of firing someone because they love someone. This won’t change soon or ever,perhaps. But, the Church needs to consider what they really mean by walking with someone “pastorally”. So far, they’re not very good at it.

  4. Chris
    Chris says:

    There is no Catholic teaching against getting a same sex marriage. None. Nada. Nil. Zilch. This is just prejudice.

    Many blessings

  5. Matt
    Matt says:

    She wasn’t fired, she resigned, and it was a breach of contract on her end. Kristen was well aware of the consequences had she pursued Marriage with her partner. The school never had a problem with her partnership until she defied the churches teaches seeking out marriage. Kristen is a great person, and I’ve known her since elementary school. I hope she finds peace of mind, lives life to the fullest and continues her coaching career.


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