Benet Academy, a private Catholic school in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, recently rescinded a head coaching job offer from someone after learning she was married to another woman. The move has led thousands of graduates, parents, and current students to sign a petition in defense of that coach and in opposition to the administration’s bigotry.
According to everyone who knows her, Amanda Kammes‘ résumé was perfect for the job. She led a girls lacrosse team in Pennsylvania to two state championships and had a good rapport with the athletes at Benet.
But you know how it goes with Catholic institutions. Being gay and unashamed of it is a dealbreaker for leaders in the organization best known for covering up child sex abuse. In fact, Kammes had already been hired, resigned from her previous job, and signed all the necessary paperwork before learning Benet no longer wanted her because she had listed her wife as an emergency contact.
When students decided to protest the decision yesterday by wearing rainbow clothing, Stephen Marth, the Head of School, issued a statement saying rainbows were “confusing and ambiguous and, therefore, lead to a lack of understanding or even division.” He went on to claim the colors represented something “complex and sophisticated,” suggesting students were too stupid to understand what they were doing, and urging them to wear something less controversial instead… like a crucifix.
Because Christianity has never been controversial.
Meanwhile, a petition, now signed by 3,477 Benet-linked community members and counting, says that being gay (and in a relationship) doesn’t violate the Catholic faith at all:
… In your statement on this matter, you contend that “Benet Academy respects the dignity of all human beings to follow their conscience and to live lives of their choosing.” And yet this hiring decision suggests quite the opposite: By rejecting a talented potential staff member on the basis of whom she loves, you have utterly failed to uphold the principles of dignity and charity that you purport to practice as Christian institution. We are ashamed of your narrow interpretation of Christian morality.
The petition also sent a message to current LGBTQ students at the school, letting them know they’re loved even though the actions of the Catholic leaders at the school “suggest otherwise.”
We finally express our profound sympathy and solidarity with current LGBT+ students at Benet. Your hiring decision disrespects them and leaves them with the erroneous impression that they are unwelcome at your institution or less than in the eyes of God. To those students, we say this: That could not be farther from the truth. You are valuable, capable, and powerful individuals. Though Benet’s leadership would suggest otherwise, you have bright futures ahead of you, with every opportunity to love and be loved in full authenticity with who you are. We welcome you into the Benet family and condemn those who would see you excluded.
This is a repeating pattern at so many Catholic schools: The people who attend those schools are kinder, more loving, and more decent than every single person in a position of power. It’s not like any administrators are quitting their jobs in protest or publicly voicing any dissent.
Keep in mind that these hiring decisions aren’t necessarily clear-cut. It’s not as simple as saying “It’s a Catholic institution so they can always reject job applicants who are in same-sex relationships.” Earlier this month, in North Carolina, a gay teacher just won a sex discrimination case against the Catholic school that fired him. The argument was that the teacher, who only taught secular classes in a limited capacity, wasn’t responsible for any religious indoctrination. So firing him for being in a same-sex relationship was undoubtedly illegal.
Not hiring a head coach at Benet because she dared to marry another woman seems like a parallel situation. There’s no talk of a lawsuit, however. This story isn’t about Benet getting sued. It’s about a Catholic school getting pushback from the people who pay money to go there for taking the heartless Catholic route instead of the loving non-Catholic one.
The Chicago Tribune notes that Benet officials aren’t saying much of anything. I guess they’re hoping the bad publicity will just pass — or that the school’s Catholic roots will provide cover for their bigotry.
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Joliet, which covers Lisle, said Benet Academy is operated by the Order of St. Benedict. The school’s chancellor, Abbot Austin Murphy of St. Procopius Abbey, did not immediately return a request for comment.
By the way, on Monday, a handful of people showed up at Benet for a peaceful protest. There were rainbows all around:
None of this will change the coach’s hiring. The Catholic Church will still be a bigoted institution. But the protest and petition and outrage should remind us that Catholic individuals are often so much better than the institution itself. Students may not always get a choice in where they go to school, but attending a Catholic institution doesn’t mean you have to agree with Catholic doctrine. Whether or not you think it’s logical, roughly half of all U.S. Catholics disagree with the Church on matters like abortion and LGBTQ rights.
Would it be better if they left the Church? Arguably, yes. But for those who love the school and who think the Church is merely falling short of its own theoretical ideals, protesting serves a purpose. Let’s hope there are parents who may have been considering sending their kids to Benet who might now come to their senses and send them to a more inclusive and loving place.
The irony is that these protests won’t change the Church leaders’ minds, but losing tuition dollars would kick them where it really hurts.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)