Wednesday, August 26, 2015

St. Mary's Academy in Portland may face lawsuit over Catholic values plus Willamette Week take.

Job offer withdrawn from woman who plans same sex marriage
St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary's Academy pulled a job offer from a woman who planned same-sex marriage, and may face a lawsuit.

St. Mary's Academy photo
St. Mary's Academy pulled a job offer from a woman who planned same-sex marriage, and may face a lawsuit.

St. Mary’s Academy in Portland may face a lawsuit filed by a woman whose job offer was withdrawn after she told school officials she planned to marry another woman. “Like other Catholic schools, St. Mary’s Academy is grounded in the teachings of the Catholic Church and asks faculty and staff to support those values,” says a statement from the school. “St. Mary’s understands that others may hold different values, and we respect the right of individuals in society to do so.”

St. Mary’s attempted to resolve the situation with the applicant, who was not named in the statement. But, the school said, “we have been unable to find an amicable resolution.”
The school, sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, says it is part of a faith community that is obligated to follow current Catholic teachings regarding same-sex marriage in its employment practices.

“At St. Mary’s we strive to live out the values of the Gospel while struggling with the complexities of today’s world,” the statement says.

“This is a very challenging time for our school, our staff, our founders the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and our board of directors,” says Christina Friedhoff, St. Mary's Academy president,. “St. Mary’s is known for its diversity, inclusive spirit, progressive education and developing dynamic, women leaders. As a Catholic school, we recognize that in meeting our obligation to honor the current teachings of the Catholic Church related to employment and same sex marriage, we strive to find grace and healing within our community. St. Mary’s remains committed to diversity and social justice and nurtures the Catholic identity, practice, culture and mission on which we were founded.”

Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample has voiced support for the school and the Holy Names Sisters in their effort to uphold teachings of the Catholic Church.

“We expect that given certain reassurances by the federal government in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling making ‘same-sex unions’ the law of the land, our religious liberty would be protected in this case as well as any future cases of this sort,” the archbishop said in a statement.

On a public Facebook page, some St. Mary’s alumnae expressed anger at their school and threatened to withdraw donations.

From Willamette Week.  August 26th.
"Brown’s dismissal places St. Mary’s in the center of a national fight about when religious organizations can claim they’re exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It also threatens to open rifts at a Catholic high school where lesbian students are welcome, but LGBT faculty must remain in the closet. 
“Some of my dearest colleagues in social justice came out of St. Mary’s,” says Jeanna Frazzini, co-director of Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group. “When folks at the school hear about what’s happening, they’ll be concerned—and they’ll want to see significant changes.” 

St. Mary’s initially embraced Brown. 

Principal Kelli Clark welcomed Brown to the school staff in May. Clark added a handwritten note to the letter: “Lauren—you are going to have so much fun here!” 

St. Mary’s sent her a contract in July. On July 22, Brown received an email from an administrator, asking her to complete a biography. “Tell us about your spouse,” says the email Brown showed WW. “Tell us about your children. Talk to us about YOU! It’s your choice as to what you would like to share!” 

The next day, Brown says, Clark called to encourage Brown to consider applying for an even more prominent job, director of admissions. 

Brown says she asked Clark in that phone call what she should say in her biography, since she has a girlfriend. Brown also asked: Would she be allowed to bring her girlfriend to school events? What if she got married? She says Clark told her that was uncharted territory, but that Clark would support her. 

Brown says Clark called back July 30 with a different message: “It may not work out.” 

Brown met with Clark and Friedhoff at St. Mary’s on Aug. 4. She says the meeting lasted more than three hours, with both women pressuring her to sign a separation agreement that offered her six months’ salary in return for a promise not to sue the school or talk about why she lost the job. 

The agreement, which Brown showed to WW, included a script for Brown to follow. “Brown may post on her social media pages the following statement to describe her separation from St. Mary’s: ‘Friends, I want to let you all know I will no longer be at St. Mary’s in the fall. Please message me if you know of any jobs available. {3’” 

(The two characters at the end of the statement were intended by the school to read as a heart emoticon, Brown says.) 

The agreement also said Brown could give the following reply if people asked why she had been dismissed: “I learned that my intent to enter into a same-sex marriage is in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic church.”

St. Mary’s attorney Scott Seidman says Brown asked for these statements. Brown says they were written by school officials. 

When Brown pushed back, the school increased its offer to a full year’s salary, $41,538, plus benefits. 

Brown left the meeting without signing. She called Gloria Trainor, a friend she has since hired as her attorney. Brown says she hasn’t decided whether to sue St. Mary’s. 

Friedhoff says St. Mary’s continues to value diversity.

“This is not an easy situation,” she says. “As with all matters of faith, we strive to live out the values of the Gospel while struggling with the complexities of today’s world.”

 Brown says she hopes by telling her story instead of taking the money, she’ll set an example for St. Mary’s students not to be ashamed of who they are. She also hopes her experience will open eyes to discrimination taking place in one of the nation’s most gay-friendly cities. 

“Portlanders need to know that it’s happening right here,” Brown says. “It’s not just in a small town in Pennsylvania, or Indiana or Texas. This is Portland.” 

1 comment:

Carol Petrone said...

This battle of diversity vs. Catholic teaching is a nasty one. What used to be called apologetics is a tool for an informed choice. The Oregonian article states that the faith community is "obligated to follow current Catholic teachings...", and later, SMA President says again that teachers "honor current teachings of the Catholic Church..." Does the word "current" hint at upcoming change in Catholic doctrine? It seems to in the nuanced choice of words of the school leadership. The Catholic Sentinel quotes Cannon law: "instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life." Correct doctrine vs. current teachings is a good subject for discussion in a Catholic High School. Does St. Mary's offer philosophy or apologetics? How is Catholic doctrine taught, or is it?