A church worker has claimed she was fired from a Catholic school over her same-gender marriage, even while she had been assured the marriage would not be a problem.
Sue Fustin was hired last fall to teach science at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School (OLOL) in Decatur, Illinois. In March, she was fired reportedly over her same-gender marriage. WAND reported further:
“Fustin said at the time she inquired to the hiring principal, Theresa Bowser, asking if teaching would be an issue because of her marriage.
“‘And Mrs. Bowser again, very professionally, is like “I don’t care. I need a teacher,”‘ said Fustin.
“Fustin signed a contract to teach at the Catholic school.
“But then, the 62-year-old said a parent found her wedding picture online and sent it to OLOL Priest, Father Friedel. She was first asked not to come back next school year, then brought in two school days later and told her termination was effective immediately.
“‘I said, “Well does this have to do because I’m married to Deb?” And father shook his head. And the counsel said this is due to your marital status,’ Fustin said.”
The Diocese of Springfield, headed by Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who has a strong anti-LGBTQ record, refused to comment on the firing beyond saying that employees at Catholic schools are considered ministers and required to sign contracts that include a morality clause.
Fustin called the firing a clear incident of discrimination, commenting:
“‘I have never felt so demeaned, I’ve never felt my dignity ripped from me professionally like this.’ . . .
“‘I don’t understand all that much more about the Catholic Doctrine, but if people are divorced, but yet still work there. If people are living with other people and have children out of wedlock, but they still work there. I don’t understand why me being gay is any different then [sic] those things.'”
The fired teacher is now consulting with legal counsel to figure out next steps.
Fustin joins the more than 120 church workers who lost jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes that became public in the last decade. The Diocese of Springfield has witnessed many incidents opposing LGBTQ equality. In 2019, another church worker, Lauren White, was terminated from a Catholic school in the diocese over her same-gender marriage. Bishop Paprocki has previously threatened to exclude transgender church workers and students at Catholic schools, sought to deny funerals to people in same-gender marriages, and has been adamant that LGBTQ people and certain allies should not present themselves for Communion. In 2013, he performed an exorcism when Illinois legislators passed marriage equality.
What the case of Sue Fustin highlights is a dynamic too often present in church employment disputes: officials in middle management, like school principals, have no problem hiring LGBTQ employees. Fortunately, this incident also exhibits another, more positive dynamic that is often seen: WAND reported that Fustin has received “an outpouring of support from parents and other teachers.”
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 5, 2022