In some ways, I feel for Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
Yesterday, when he released a statement on the archdiocese’s position on the firing of Margie Winters, I honestly believe he wasn’t prepared for the collective “NOPE!” the Internet sent his way. It lacked a little finesse, sure, but my guess is that he pretty confidently hit “send” on the below:
“There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty. I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church. They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”
The jury’s out on the “character” part. But as for the common sense, well, he’s right — it makes perfect sense to fire Margie Winters, a gay woman who is married to her partner, within Philadelphia’s Catholic school system. After spending 14 years in it, I would have been surprised by any other statement.
I’m grateful for my Catholic education. I have beautiful penmanship, strong knee-sock game and a world-class authority fetish. I learned about evolution from Sister Judith, while Sister Rose taught me to balance a chemical equation and shoot a decent free throw. I will never, ever be as good at my job as Sister Jane was at hers, and I don’t have 30 snot-nosed fourth-graders attempting to sabotage me at every turn.
But I was also taught, in 2002 no less, that being gay was wrong and against God’s plan, as handily illustrated by puzzle pieces that didn’t fit together. (Although technically a private school, Cardinal Dougherty didn’t have a lot of money to spare on visual aids. I trust Bishop McDevitt had a more engaging presentation.) As director of religious education at Waldron Mercy, I understand that Winters was well-respected among her peers and students, but I can’t imagine her tackling this lesson plan to the Archdiocese’s liking.
It’s easy to think the church is more enlightened now that Pope Francis is at the helm warning about climate change and delivering bad-ass indictments of capitalism gone wild (I’ll admit that I can be a bit of a fan-girl). But gay marriage isn’t on the table, and the Catholic church and school system are still far from LGBT friendly.
Many at Waldron Mercy expressed their support for Winters, setting up a Stand with Margie Facebook page that now has close to 10,000 members. That’s encouraging, and it rings true to my own experience with Catholic school — unofficially and off the record, things weren’t as bleak as the misfit puzzle pieces. Many practicing families find a way to work acceptance into their faith, and many students and faculty are allies, regardless of what the main office is handing down.
But that’s not enough. Winters has the advantage of looking at this outpouring of support with perspective and experience, and hopefully it only confirms what she already knows damn well: Out in the real world, your marriage certificate and resume are two very different documents. As for 15-year-olds sitting in religion class and hearing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them, well, a rogue Facebook page and sympathetic guidance counselor doesn’t cut it. They deserve better, whether that’s better leadership or a better church altogether.
I’m optimistic about the direction of the church, but not so much that I could see sending children to a Catholic school in the near future. (This might never be an issue, considering the rate at which they’re closing and the number of nights I spend at home watching Ghost Hunters with my dogs.) But if you enroll yours this fall, consider the true cost. There are the thousands of dollars, yes, but that’s nothing compared to being told that who you bring to prom determines your worth.
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