Benedictine Monks Sever Ties with Catholic School Over Hiring of LGBTQ Coach

A men’s religious community is severing its relationship with the Catholic school which last fall made a decision to hire a lesbian staff member married to another woman last year.

Although the hiring decision was not mentioned explicitly in the joint statement from leaders of Benet Academy and the Benedictine community of St. Procopius Abbey, both in Lisle, Illinois, the impetus for the decision was referred to as “events in recent months.”  The statemenet,  from Abbot Austin Murphy, who serves as the school’s chancellor, and Dennis Flynn, the school’s board chair, in part:

“Events in recent months have been an occasion for the Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey to examine their future relationship with Benet Academy. After much deliberation, the monks as a community have discerned that they no longer have the resources needed for the governance and oversight of the Academy. Currently, alternatives for the Academy’s governance are being studied. In the meantime, the Abbey will continue its role in the governance of the high school. The goal is that Benet Academy will continue to operate with an emphasis on academy excellence and Catholic identity within the Benedictine tradition.”

In September of 2021, Benet Academy officials rescinded a job offer from lacrosse coach Amanda Kammes when they discovered she was in a same-gender marriage. But, after protests by the school community, those officials reversed their decision and went ahead with hiring Kammes.

This reversal led Abbot Murphy to signal that a change might occur by expressing he was “deeply troubled” and that the abbey was “discerning how to proceed. St. Procopius Abbey founded Benet Academy 120 years ago and remained until now a top donor. Going forward, ABC 7 reported:

“The transition to a new sponsorship is expected to occur in the coming months, Head of School Stephen Marth said in a letter sent Tuesday afternoon to parents, faculty and staff. The abbey will continue its governance role in the meantime.

“Marth on Tuesday noted Benet’s ‘steadfast commitment to ensuring that the Academy will maintain its Catholic identity, in the Benedictine tradition, for years to come.’

“He said a committee that will include representatives from the Diocese of Joliet, the American Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines, the Benet Board of Directors and school administration will collaborate on what the next move will be for the school, which has 1,300 students enrolled.”

The separation of Benet Academy from the abbey which founded it and helped contribute to the school’s identity is a loss for both communities. But Benet Academy has not lost its identity as a Benedictine, Catholic institution. In fact, this identity is even stronger because the school chose the path of justice and hospitality despite the cost of separation.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 6, 2021

5 replies
  1. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    So the Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey have re-examined their relationship with Benet Academy over the school’s hiring of a married lesbian. This takes me back four and five decades to my high school and college years, when as a closeted young gay person I felt terribly isolated despite being surrounded by activity. Looking back, I am grateful that somehow I found the strength to endure those years; but like many others I am determined that younger generations not have to go through it, that the cycle of repression be broken.

    Time and again as an adult gay activist, when I testified before the DC Council for repeal of the law that criminalized gay lovemaking and for recognition of committed gay relationships under civil law, there was a representative of the Archdiocese of Washington testifying on the other side, without so much as a pause to pay lip service to the constitutional separation of church and state.

    I believe in respecting religious differences. I have learned the importance of it over the course of my life. But respect that is not reciprocal is not respect but subjugation. Just as public safety advocates continually run up against intransigence from police unions that effectively insist police must be above the law, dedicated members of the laity driven by their own consciences continually run up against intransigence from bishops and religious orders.

    In both cases, an authoritarian impulse is involved. In the case of police, there is a strong, unacknowledged undercurrent of racism. In the case of right-wing clergy and the Church hierarchy, there is a strong undercurrent of homophobia and transphobia that is treated (like every other rule) as divine diktat, eternal and unchangeable, frozen in amber. If this intransigence drives people away, the attitude is “so be it,” that is just the cost of upholding the faith.

    This is not a healthy relationship.

    How can I respect church officials who expect me to behave like a sheep and ignore the fact that God gave me a human brain? If I were standing before the power and wrath of God Himself, I would have to stand my ground and say that as long as I have the brain He gave me, I have no honorable choice but to use it according to my own conscience, and that if He would condemn me for that then to hell I will go; but if He makes that choice He is not worthy of worship. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that he would prefer hell to a heaven ruled by a homophobic God. I am deeply moved and inspired by his example, and I will never understand why Church officials are so utterly and resolutely unmoved and indeed outraged by my attitude.

    I am sick to death of the entrenched attitude on the part of so many Church leaders that it is obvious that we are dust under God’s feet and must be utterly abject. This reminds me of Moliere’s Tartuffe ostentatiously flagellating himself to display his holiness even as he attempts to cuckold his host. When I was a member of the Villanova Singers in college, one of our signature numbers was “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which was tuneful and dramatic but whose message—from Martin Luther—was entirely disagreeable to me.

    How can I be made in the image and likeness of God and at the same time be dust under His feet? Why must we look at it that way? Why must there be two and only two alternatives, one being blind submission to such infantile, obscurantist nonsense and the other being damnation to eternal hellfire? I can no more accept that than I can accept the phrase “a wretch like me” in the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

    Of course modesty and intellectual humility are appropriate, but not only for the laity; nor should they be weaponized against theologians and other thoughtful voices by bullies in the Magisterium.

    The monks who feel compelled to walk away from the school rather than tolerate the employment of a married lesbian are a disgrace to the faith. How is their intolerance grounded in the teachings of Christ? Religious bullies are always talking about other people’s blasphemy, but what could be more blasphemous than to condemn people for loving the way God made us to love?

    Without an engaged laity, there is no Church. Without an engaged community, there is no school. But the Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey, like all too many others, are so unwilling to accept and embrace this truth that they are prepared to break off a relationship dating back to 1887. If Jesus ever wept, he would surely weep at this.

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    The Benedictine monks have made an unfortunate decision. Perhaps they missed the part when Jesus said ‘Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself’. Maybe they forgot that dusty Gospel story about Jesus talking to the woman at the well. ( Oh! The scandal ! ) I find it odd that celibate men should be upset about anyone’s marriage .

    Reply
  3. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Benedictine Monks Sever Ties with Benet Academy Over Hiring of LGBTQ Coach

    “The separation of Benet Academy from the abbey which founded it and helped contribute to the school’s identity is a loss for both communities.”

    Bob, I would like to respectfully disagree with that statement. If Abbot Austin Murphy insists on looking on the “events in recent months” only through the sexual lens and his clerical attitude toward the LGBTQ community, I say it is a good separation. As for the Head of School, Stephen Marth, and Benet Academy, it is to their credit that they favor the social justice lens. Let us hope the Diocese of Joliet and, the American Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines also favor the social justice lens. What is the history of the Bishop of Joliet on LGBTQ issues?

    Reply
  4. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “After much deliberation, the monks as a community have discerned that they no longer have the resources needed for the governance and oversight of the Academy.”

    Does this mean that they are losing contributions to their monastery over their connection to a school that hired a lesbian woman? Is this a decision on the basis of money?

    Reply
    • Therese Terns
      Therese Terns says:

      I think you hit the nail right on the head. It’s all about the fear of losing funding. That has been happening faster than the pandemic this past year and a half in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Anything that has to do with LGBTQ meetings, Masses, support groups, and parent support groups has been halted if they ever met on property owned by the AOD.

      Reply

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