Another LGBTQ-related employment dispute has made news as the former principal of a Catholic school says he was fired for being gay, a firing which caused at least one other key school official to resign in protest.
In April, Matthew Luttringer was fired as principal of Notre Dame High School in Riverside, California where he had served for eight years. Luttringer said the firing was because he is gay, reported The Press-Enterprise:
“Supporters have rallied behind Principal Matthew Luttringer, who says he was fired for being gay and says he may sue. They accuse the Diocese of San Bernardino — which runs the school — of trying to remake it as a more conservative Catholic institution, at the expense of student diversity, academics and athletics.
“Diocese spokesman John Andrews denies all that, saying the diocese suspects fiscal mismanagement and fired Luttringer for poor performance. . .Andrews said he could not elaborate on the reasons for the firing because state law limits what he can say about a former employee.
“Luttringer said his Office of Catholic Schools supervisors never told him of job performance problems until the end of this year. And he said the area they cited — school finances — wasn’t under his direct control.
“That left Luttringer with only one conclusion: that he was fired for being gay.”
Further details from The Press-Enterprise revealed that Luttringer was placed on leave in late March right after a threat of violence was issued against the school. The diocese’s Superintendent Samuel Torres allegedly criticized the principal for not properly handling the incident, though police spokesperson Officer Ryan Railsback described the school’s response as “an example of Notre Dame’s systems working as they’re supposed to.” The firing then happened in early April.
Following the principal’s firing, the school’s president, Robert Beatty, the director of admissions, and the director of student services all resigned. Beatty specifically identified Luttringer’s firing as the cause of his resignation. A top sports coach was also fired, though without any clear link to the Luttringer dispute.
Luttringer has decried his treatment by Torres and the Office of Catholic Schools, saying “the lesson we’re sending kids is hypocrisy” and that the way he was treated was “completely not in line with Catholic church teachings.”
Enrollment and donor numbers are already dropping at Notre Dame, and many parents as well as Beatty believe Luttringer’s firing is responsible for the attrition:
“Beatty hesitated when asked if he would advise parents to send their child to Notre Dame.
“‘I don’t think I would ever go as far as saying don’t send your kid there, but I would certainly — I can’t say I support the leadership. . .I’m uncertain what school they would be sending their kid to. There’s so much uncertainty.”
“Donors are also taking notice, and in some cases, pulling support. . .donors like Cecilia Cuevas, who with her husband has long given $4,500 a year for Notre Dame scholarships, said they’ll send their money elsewhere.
“‘There are many good Catholic organizations out there,’ Cuevas said. ‘A Catholic school should be Catholic, and the way they treated Matt was not Catholic.'”
The former principal’s lawyer, Eric P. Lampel, told The Press-Enterprise that they have readied a lawsuit if Luttringer is not reinstated as principal. Lampel is ready to challenge the idea that church officials could legally fire Luttringer under the “ministerial exemption.” A crowdfunding effort to help with legal costs has raised nearly $2,000. The organizers of the fundraising wrote, in part:
“We are fed up with the poor treatment of those who have devoted themselves to Catholic Education. We are fed up with the implosion of Catholic Schools in our Diocese, and the subsequent closure of those schools by the neglect the Bishop has shown for Catholic Schools. We are fed up with the blatant non-Christian and non-Catholic manner in which the San Bernardino Diocese and the Office of Catholic Schools treats and then dismisses these individuals. This behavior is nothing new, but this time we would like them to realize that there is no separation of Church and mistreatment by representatives of the Church. We would like to see the Diocese of San Bernardino and the Office of Catholic Schools act as the Catholic Christians they claim themselves to be.”
Luttringer still believes he could return to Notre Dame and repair much of the harm done, but he is not sure time will heal what has happened otherwise. “Students know when we’re not being honest,” he said.
LGBTQ-employment disputes in Catholic education are being given new attention this summer. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has forced at least three LGBTQ church workers out of their jobs and removed a Jesuit school’s “Catholic” designation for refusing to fire a married gay teacher. Nearly 100 church workers have lost their jobs in such disputes since 2007.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page. For New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBTQ issues here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 16, 2019