Friday, October 18, 2013

Story from My Own Backyard: Catholic School, Mount St. Mary, Fires Teacher Who Marries Same-Sex Partner

As long as these kinds of stories from Catholic institutions continue to hit the news on a regular basis, LGBT Catholics with any self respect will continue to feel "fear, hurt, and isolation," no matter what the new pope says about not judging those who are gay.

I wrote those words in the context of a discussion of the discrepancy many church members see between what churches proclaim about being welcoming communities and advocating for those on the margins, and how many churches actually treat those who are gay. Here's the story to which I'm referring when I speak of "these kinds of stories from Catholic institutions" in my preceding comment:

As Max Brantley reports yesterday for Arkansas Times,* a long-time teacher at Mount St. Mary Academy, a Catholic school in my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, was fired by the school on Wednesday when she married her partner of 14 years. Tippi McCullough had taught at the school for 15 years. She and Barb Mariani, an attorney in the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney's office, married in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in Arkansas. 

Though the two had not made public their decision to marry, they say that when they were contacted by the school to tell them the marriage would present a problem to the school, Mount St. Mary's secretary told them that "the diocese" had told the school about the impending marriage. When McCullough spoke to the principal of the school about the intent to end her job if she married, she told the principal, Diane Wolfe, that she was being singled out because she was gay. 

Brantley reports that McCullough's wife Barb Mariani also thinks McCullough is being singled out as a gay employee of Mount St. Mary:

Mariani, too, said she thought McCullough had been singled out. 
"They hire people who aren't Catholic, with a lot of different belief systems. What's upsetting to me is that the morality clause covers birth control, premarital sex and they are certainly not pro-choice. It's disturbing to me that no straight teacher is called in and asked if she's using birth control or unmarried and having premarital sex with a boyfriend."

In a subsequent article, Max Brantley has reported on the intense conversation that this story is eliciting locally. As his first article about the story notes, it's also eliciting national attention, since Human Rights Campaign, which is headed by Arkansan Chad Griffin, has weighed in on the story and is asking the Catholic school to stop targeting gay employees.

Mount St. Mary has already been very much in the news lately: as I reported last month, another teacher at the school, Kathy Griffin, was recently sentenced for having failed to report abuse of a student at the school by another teacher, Kelly Ann O'Rourke. O'Rourke, who had previously been found guilty of abuse of a minor, was sentenced at the same time for having repeatedly violated the terms of her parole by contacting the student she had abused.

As I also noted, SNAP has been monitoring this story, and in the past week, has been shining the light of publicity on a fundraiser that a number of supporters of Kathy Griffin had arranged for her this coming weekend. In a press release that I am not yet seeing on the SNAP website just uploaded to its website, SNAP notes that after SNAP challenged the organizers of this event to think more carefully about the signal it sends to young people who have been abused, the event has been cancelled.

How--or whether--the Griffin-O'Rourke story affects the story about what has just happened to Tippi McCullough, I can't say. At the very least, it was an inopportune time for McCullough's marriage to Mariani to come to light, since the school is bound to feel extremely sensitive about publicity at present--though McCullough and Mariani should surely have every right to make major life decisions without having to worry about how publicity regarding those decisions will play into other streams of publicity involving McCullough's employer.

Bottom line, as I see it: McCullough and Mariani are absolutely correct when they point out that there's a glaring double standard in how Catholic institutions continue to treat gay and straight employees. Mariani is absolutely right when she states that "no straight teacher is called in and asked if she's using birth control or unmarried and having premarital sex with a boyfriend."

Catholic schools never seek to invade the privacy of straight employees regarding sexual behavior in the way in which they willingly continue to do when it comes to their gay employees. The moral principles that prohibit homosexual activity also prohibit the use of contraception--the same moral principles apply to both cases.

But I have never heard of any Catholic school inquiring into the use of contraception by its heterosexual employees, or making an issue of the use of contraceptives. Catholic schools would not dream of invading the bedrooms of heterosexual employees in this way--while they still willingly do so in the case of gay employees.

The double standard demonstrates loudly and clearly that the treatment of gay employees by Catholic institutions continues to be motivated by prejudice. As long as prejudicial treatment of gay employees of Catholic institutions, treatment grounded in double standards, continues to be dished out to those who are gay, the Catholic church cannot credibly claim that it has turned over a new leaf in its treatment of those who are gay--no matter what fine words the new pope has said about refusing to judge those who are gay.

*It's possible that when you click on the Arkansas Times links, you'll receive a notice that they're behind a paywall and that you have to subscribe to read them. I myself am not a subscriber. I can sometimes click on links to the newspaper's articles and read them without difficulty. At other times, I'm told I can't access them as a non-subscriber.

The photo of Barb Mariani and Tippi McCullough is from the second of the two articles by Max Brantley linked above; Brantley's article notes that the photo is from Facebook.

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