Catholic School Admits It Withdrew Contract Over Teacher’s Same-Gender Engagement

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Lauren White reported that Dominican-sponsored Sacred Heart-Griffin High School (SHG) in Springfield, Illinois had withdrawn her new contract after finding out, on the same day the contract was signed, that White was engaged to a woman.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

3 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    This reminds me of the story of the pharisee who judged Jesus for allowing “that woman” to wash and kiss his feet as he sat at the pharisee’s dinner table. Turned out that Jesus PRAISED the woman for her faith and not the pharisee for his self-righteousness. This contemporary story and those like it are lived out examples of the gospel.

    Reply
  2. Clyde Christofferson
    Clyde Christofferson says:

    Very good suggestion at the end of the article. The statement of the school recognizes the need for deeper understanding. This may be a good opportunity to address a long standing problem: how to handle in a loving and Christ-like way the time period during which an unjust policy is still on the books.

    Galileo and Cardinal Bellarmine had an understanding of this kind of problem in 1615. They both agreed with St. Augustine that God’s “book of nature” would prevail in the end. Bellarmine’s point was that a) the evidence did not yet clearly establish the Copernican theory and b) the Church should not adopt a new theory that might soon be replaced by a better theory. In 1615 this was a very sensible approach. Even the Copernican theory assumed circular orbits. A better theoretical understanding did not come until Isaac Newton in 1687.

    Unfortunately, the Church did not follow through on Bellarmine’s sensible approach. It was an opportunity to set a good precedent for how Church teaching — poor interpretations that conflict with the love that is “all the law and the prophets” — must change to be more just and loving. Galileo was arrogant in pushing his ideas and the friend who supported him (and then became pope) took offense when his own ideas were ridiculed by Galileo’s “Dialogue on the Two Worlds”.

    The situation at SHG high school is an opportunity to get right what the Church and Galileo got wrong. Perhaps Bishop Paprocki is not the best hope for doing this, but it’s worth a careful and considered effort. Furthermore, given the injustice to the teacher, if the bishop shows himself to be obstinate, those who pursue this in support of the teacher could use the procedures in the June 6, 2016 document “As of Loving Mother” of Pope Francis to call the bishop to account.

    Reply
  3. Evita Perennista
    Evita Perennista says:

    I can understand that the school was in an awkward position, but Paprocki (or whoever’s speaking on his behalf) is wrong. As usual. This isn’t how we do things in the Catholic Church. I can’t believe I have to tell them this, but you do not have to be Catholic to be employed by a Catholic institution. Nor do you have to be one to be considered a minister, which refers to the government’s meaning of the term, being considerably different from that of the Church where it’s typically reserved for the clergy and specifically the ministerial priesthood. The IRS’ definition is so broad as to basically apply to anyone who works for a religious organization. And if that’s the sticking point, it’s not like she has to be considered a minister anyway, which has no theological implications, but is only concerned with how you file your taxes. They want to make it out to be like a “minister” means a Catholic evangelist. I don’t think that’s the position she was interviewing for.

    To illustrate this relationship of mutual cooperation in the Church between the religious and secular spheres, or those bound by canon law and those who aren’t (or we should rather say, those who are loosed from it), it can be likened to the manner in which monks and nuns of enclosed religious orders have been assisted by lay brethren, most commonly taking the form of tertiaries and oblates. I earnestly anticipate that the parties involved in all these labor disputes will honestly uphold Church teaching rather than showing favoritism, because if it were up to some of these bishoprics they wouldn’t be able to work anywhere.

    Reply

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