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Two More LGBT Catholic School Teachers Are Fired, and Robert Finn Is Still a Bishop

The purging of LGBTs from the ranks of Catholic school teachers continues. This week’s edition comes to us from Affton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis in South St. Louis county.

For Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro, this was supposed to be a summer to remember. But not like this.

Earlier this summer the couple traveled to New York to get married, and upon returning to St. Louis signed a mortgage on a house together. By the end of July they were anticipating the start of the school year at Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school near Afton where the newlyweds were employed as teachers.

But after the school got ahold of the couple’s mortgage application, Reichert, a P.E. teacher and coach, and Gambaro, a social studies teacher, announced on a private Facebook group that the administration had terminated them both, citing a violation of school’s morality clause.

The story bubbled quietly behind the scenes for weeks, becoming public only this past week with a story in Vital Voice, which then was picked up by other local media outlets. Reichert told Vital Voice that alumnae of the school had been directing their protests to the school leadership privately — including that they were pulling their financial support — and out of respect for the couple, not doing this publicly. Now that the story is out, the voices of alums and others are being heard:

Protesters [at a rally yesterday] said they were speaking up on behalf of gay students at the school who might not feel welcome after the teachers’ firing.

“During the past few days, many students have expressed fear, betrayal, disappointment, anger and sadness. We must stand outside their school’s walls to remind the current students that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is OK,” said Ed Reggi, co-founder of ShowMeNoHate.

The pattern is distressingly familiar by this point. In a desire to insure fidelity to the official teachings of the church, school administrators across the US have been removing LGBT teachers and staffers who do not fit the narrow picture of what a “good role model” looks like. Churches have the right to hire and fire their leaders according to their own religious convictions, and while I don’t at all agree with the Catholic Church’s vision of LGBTs, they have the right to fire these two women for getting married if that’s what they want to do. Cor Jesu is a Roman Catholic school, run by Roman Catholic leaders, under the oversight of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, and so of course they should run their school in accordance with their beliefs.

But two things make this “we’re simply making sure that our leaders are good public examples to the world of what it means to be a Catholic” argument rather implausible.

First, the school seems quite shy about wanting to talk about the reasons for firing Reichert and Gambaro. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Reichert said she and her partner were asked to resign after the school said in late July it received a copy of a mortgage application with the couple’s names. The school said the couple had violated the moral contract faculty are required to sign as part of employment. The couple had married in New York over the summer.

“We understand that, as a Catholic institution, Cor Jesu has an obligation to ensure that its employees serve as Christian role models. However, because they do not enforce the witness statement in any other way, this is a blatant case of discrimination,” Reichert wrote in a statement to the Post-Dispatch.

In response to questions, a statement from Cor Jesu said the school “does not publicly discuss personnel matters.”

Cor Jesu fired the teachers because they were no longer considered proper public role models, but doesn’t want to publicly discuss that they fired the teachers because they were no longer considered proper public role models? Sorry, but your argument falls apart here. If the concern is that these teachers are public role models, then the school ought to be touting the firing as a victory for purity. The school is within its rights not to discuss these firings, but by remaining silent, it makes them look like they are afraid that people will see how out-of-step they are with the world around them.

But there’s another big reason why the school doesn’t want to talk about these firings: that mortgage application.

When you apply for a mortgage, you give the mortgage company permission to verify your employment, so that they can be sure that you have the jobs and income you say that you do. I’m not a mortgage officer nor am I a lawyer, but the idea of providing the employer with a copy of the employee’s mortgage application appears to go far beyond verifying employment and income. There is information on that application that the employer has no business seeing, and does not need to know about in order to confirm to the lender that yes, you work for them.

In other words, someone illegally gave the school that application.

As long as we’re talking about firing people, that sounds like a firing offense to me. Reichert and Gambaro know exactly where they applied for a mortgage (either one place or several), which would give them a pretty good clue about where the illegal release of their information came from. They may have no grounds for a suit against Cor Jesu or the church, but they sure as hell have grounds for one against a certain mortgage company employee.

Yeah, I can see where Cor Jesu wouldn’t want to talk about receiving that mortgage application.

My guess is that the application was provided to them by a conservative catholic at the bank. In my more conspiratorial moments, I’d say it might have come to them with a little blackmail threat attached: “Either you fire these two teachers, or I send this to the archbishop along with a note that says ‘I sent this to the school and they refused to take action.'” Given how the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is under heavy Vatican scrutiny these days, I can easily see the school caving to this kind of pressure.

But that’s only speculation. Let’s get back to facts, as they cause enough problems on their own.

The other big problem for Cor Jesu and their credibility sits some 200 or so miles west of them: Bishop Robert Finn, of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. More specifically, the problem is that Robert Finn is *still* the Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

In 2011, Finn was indicted for protecting a pedophile priest by not immediately reporting to state authorities that the diocese was in possession of that priest’s collection of child pornography on his personal laptop. In 2012, he was found guilty, and a subsequent civil suit demonstrated that while Finn dithered and hid the incriminating computer, the pedophile priest continued taking more photos and violating the extremely lenient restrictions Finn placed on him (restrictions that had no substantive mechanism to ensure they were followed). Just two months ago, Finn and the diocese were fined an additional $1.1 million for failing to live up to the terms of a $10 million settlement in 2008 child abuse case.  You would think that if the Roman Catholic church was concerned about the faithfulness of its leaders and the good example they are to set, Finn would have been replaced by now.

This strongly suggests that the issue is something other than who is a good role model. As Reichert noted, it is only LGBTs who seem to be targeted by those seeking to use a morals clause in a contract to protect the church’s public image.

Those who remove LGBT teachers, food pantry workers, and others from their positions in the Roman Catholic church can talk all they want about “adhering to the church’s teachings” and “setting a good example,” and they can say “this isn’t about discriminating against gays and lesbians – we love gays and lesbians” all they want, too. But as long as Finn remains a bishop, it’s hard to believe them.


h/t for the photo to Sean MacEntee and used (cropped slightly) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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