A Catholic school that withdrew a new teacher’s contract has acknowledged it did so because of the teacher’s same-gender engagement, a move the local diocese has said was the “right decision.”
Earlier this month, Lauren White reported that Dominican-sponsored Sacred Heart-Griffin High School (SHG) in Springfield, Illinois had withdrawn her new contract after finding out, on the same day the contract was signed, that White was engaged to a woman. News Channel 20 reported that a statement from SHG confirms this account:
“On August 5, Mrs. [Kara] Rapacz, Principal of SHG, interviewed a candidate for a teaching position within the foreign language department. The interview went very well and the job was offered. In the process of signing the contract, it was discovered that the candidate has a fiancé of the same sex. In keeping with Roman Catholic teaching on same sex marriage, we were unable to complete the hiring process. We recognize the difficulty of this situation and see this as a complex issue.”
The statement added that the school and the church at large are “standing face to face with this reality that deserves more theological reflection, growing understanding and deeper conversation,” but said the school remained bound to church teachings and a “morality clause” in contracts. SHG leaders said that the decision to withdraw White’s contract does not change the school’s mission “to educate, form, love and support all of our students.”
The Diocese of Springfield, led by the highly LGBTQ-negative Bishop Thomas Paprocki, issued its own statement supporting SHG officials. It defined all teachers in Catholic schools as ministers, and continued:
“As such, they sign a contract to publicly uphold Catholic church teaching. While personnel decisions at SHG are the responsibility of the school administration, SHG made the right decision.”
But LGBTQ advocates have pushed back against the contract withdrawal. Jonna Cooley, head of Phoenix Center which serves the LGBTQ community in central Illinois, released a statement mentioning an interesting contradiction:
“There is gay straight alliance (GSA) at SHG. This is a group for LGBT students and allies. What is the message to these students? You can go to school here but when you are looking for a job, don’t come calling? Or perhaps the message is that because you identify as LGB and/or T that you are somehow less than and clearly you cannot be a role model. That doesn’t seem like a message you should get from any school, regardless.”
Two state representatives, Anna Moeller and Kelly Cassidy, agreed that White’s termination was unfortunate, even if legal, particularly for students, reported Fox 17. Moeller said Illinois law may need to reconsider how wide the religious exemption in employment law is so as “not to allow discrimination for positions that are secular in nature or that do not include direct religious worship or practices.”
The school’s statement said that employees in same-gender relationships are a “complex issue.” School officials correctly perceive that the church needs “more theological reflection, growing understanding and deeper conversation” on LGBTQ issues. Yet, the issue really is not as complex as they claim. Withdrawing Lauren White’s job over her same-gender engagement was a patently unjust act, and it cuts off possibilities for the understanding and conversation that are needed. But the injustice here does not need to be final. Kara Rapacz and the SHG administration could seek reconciliation with White and begin a school dialogue about where they went wrong and how they can make it right. Such a course would be a most worthwhile lesson for students indeed.
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, August 31, 2019