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Uproar in Philly as Catholic ‘married’ lesbian director of religious education fired

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July 10, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A Philadelphia-area Catholic school teacher fired eight years after entering into a homosexual “marriage,” said her employer knew about her relationship all along, and her dismissal is meeting with protest.

Director of Education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion, PA for the last eight years, Margie Winters said knowledge of her homosexual “marriage” was commonplace at her Catholic employer from the beginning, but she believes it was behind her being terminated late last month.

Waldron Mercy Principal Nell Stetser did not outright identify the reason for Winters’ dismissal in a July 3 email to parents, according to Philly.com, citing confidentiality.

But what Stetser did say was enough to suggest why Winters was let go.

"In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings," Stetser wrote, "but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings."

Stetser gave Winters high praise in her email, lauding Winters’ "amazing contributions" to the school, and said, "The primary consideration that guided my decision-making process was to sustain the Catholic identity of Waldron Mercy Academy."

Winters “married” her partner in Boston in 2007, seven years before a judge would strike down Pennsylvania’s marriage protection law.

And while she “kept a really low profile at the school,” Winters said she did not hide her homosexual relationship from the school’s administration, which is in fact where she said the request came from for her to conceal her “marriage” from school families.

"I actually had a conversation with the (former) principal a few weeks after I was hired to say, how should I handle this," Winters stated, saying as well that she was advised that she could be open about her life with the Waldron Mercy faculty, but to avoid talking about it with students' parents.

The president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which advocates for Catholic education, told LifeSiteNews it is heartening for the school to have acknowledged its obligation to Catholic parents, and to employ teachers who are witnesses to the Catholic faith.

“But I can’t make sense of the principal’s implication that the “Mercy spirit” conflicts with the Church’s moral standards for teachers,” Patrick Reilly said. “The good of the students is entirely ignored when teachers publicly reject the faith and values they are supposed to be teaching in a Catholic school.”

While it’s not clear how widely known Winters’ relationship was among parents, reports are that it was parents of two Waldron Mercy students that complained, one to the school and the other to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Winters had declined a request to resign and was dismissed in a June 22 letter from the school.

She has the support of many parents, some of whom are protesting with A Stand With Margie Facebook page and GoFundMe page.

The group has also organized to plan further pushback after what’s been initiated on social media.

More than 100 parents, alumni and students attended a meeting set up by parent Nancy Houston and her husband Wednesday night.

Houston said Winters’ dismissal is uncharacteristic of the school.

“It was a surprise, coming from Waldron,” she said. “That’s not who we are.” 

Houston also said it’s "not something we're going to accept quietly."

Winters attended the closed-door meeting Wednesday night with her “spouse,” according to a report from the local ABC affiliate, and she also led the group in prayer.

"Margie spoke, she received a standing ovation of support. It was very emotional,” said Houston. “Several people share their stories, their stories of Margie and how much we love our community."

Winters said that a parent complaint over her refusal to use "Theology of the Body" in the school curriculum was part of what led to her firing. The program comes from Pope St. John Paul II’s addresses that teach God’s plan for human sexuality.

Winters said she told Stetser she thought the material was too mature for middle school students, according to Philly.com, and that Stetser had concurred.

The parent who had complained, Megan Schrieber, has since removed her family from the school. Schrieber had gone to Stetser and then the school’s trustees, but said she never asked for Winters to be fired, and that another parent complained to the archdiocese.

"Margie is an incredibly talented person," Schrieber said. "She's not capable of doing the job that she was holding the position for."

Winters believes the archdiocese played a role in the school's decision, because Waldron Mercy worried that its "Catholic identity would be in jeopardy," she said.

Stetser’s July 3 letter to parents seemed to also suggest the Archdiocese of Philadelphia may have had some part in Winters’ firing, with Stetser writing that “our school recognizes the authority of the Archbishop of Philadelphia, especially in the teaching of religion, because we call ourselves Catholic.”

However spokesman for the archdiocese Ken Gavin said in a statement that the archdiocese was not involved in Winters' removal.

"Waldron is a private Catholic school and it is not in any way under the administrative purview of the Archdiocese," Gavin said. "As such, personnel decisions at that school are made locally without oversight from the Archdiocese."

Reilly commended this response.

“The Archdiocese is absolutely correct to defend against a lawsuit and clarify that it had no legal role in the firing,” he told LifeSiteNews. “But I wish the spokesman had also expressed enthusiasm for the school’s embrace of moral standards, which do certainly reflect those of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

Reilly said it was the Philadelphia archdiocese’s own morality standards that his organization included in a recent paper summarizing faith and moral standards for teachers in dioceses across the country.

The standards claim “the sole right and duty to operate its school system in accordance with the philosophy of Christian education, the doctrines, laws, and norms of the Catholic Church,” and leave the possibility of “dismissal of a teacher for serious and public immorality and/or public rejection of official doctrine or laws of the Church.”  

“That’s exactly what Waldron Mercy Academy says it has done,” Reilly stated, “and Catholics need to rally behind these sensible and necessary policies at a time when they are most under attack.”

The explanations are not enough for some of Waldron Mercy’s parents.

"It's not for any other reason but the fact that she is a homosexual," said parent Anthony Archievala. "We were shocked because she'd been there for so many years."

"It's time to get the attention of the archdiocese and the Catholic hierarchy and let them know this is illegal," parent Katie Culver said.

Another factor in the case is the question of Catholic institutions being compelled to comply with laws that violate Church teaching, such as the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” because they accept government funding.

The antidiscrimination ordinance for Lower Merion Township, where Mercy Waldron is located, includes sexual orientation, but religious institutions are exempt unless they are "supported in whole or in part by government appropriations."

Democrat State Senator Daylin Leach, who represents the school's area and sponsored the bill taking down the state’s marriage protection law, pointed out that Waldron Mercy states on its website it has received more than $270,000 over the last two years from the state's Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program.

Seventy students have also attended Waldron Mercy since 2005 through a similar state program, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.

"So they've received a good bit of money from the State of Pennsylvania," Leach, a lawyer, stated, and that state money might override the religious exemption for the township ordinance.

"The ordinance says you cannot take state money and discriminate if you're a religious institution," said Leach.

Organizers of the Wednesday night parent meeting said this is only the beginning and they intend to continue working to get Winters her job back.

Winters said she welcomes the attention.

"People of faith need to know what is happening in the name of their church," she stated.

A similar debate is raging in California where San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has urged teachers in Catholic schools to be positive witnesses of Catholic faith to the students.

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