I reported last night on the firing of a Mount St. Mary Academy English teacher, Tippi McCullough, because, on Wednesday, she married her long-time partner, Barbara Mariani, in New Mexico, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The issue was taken up by the Human Rights Campaign, but too late to affect the outcome.
McCullough, in her 15th year at the school, said Principal Diane Wolfe told her she must resign or be fired (though a school employee had first called and warned her not to get married. She implied that a decision not to marry might protect McCullough’s job.) McCullough had no interest in returning to work at a place unwelcome to her decision nor to go quietly. So she was fired. Sometime last night, her photograph was removed from the Mount St. Mary website.
Though the news came late, it stirred up a huge discussion, pro and con, on our Facebook page.
I didn’t get a response to my e-mail to Wolfe. But others wrote her. And one correspondent, who sent me his letter to Wolfe, also sent a response he said he received from her. The tenor of the letter is in keeping with what both McCullough and Mariani had related to me last night in a phone call to them on a vacation trip to the Grand Canyon. I have no reason to believe it is not from Wolfe.
The principal said that the signing of a legal document on marital status forced her to act in obedience to her own contract as school administrator. She said she’d have done the same had a staff member divorced without an annulment or happened to be an abortion provider.
Wolfe said she was just a messenger. “I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be. “
She also commented: “You and many others are making grandiose assumptions and if you think this decision conflicts with the spirit of the Vatican II perhaps you need to take this up with the Catholic church which made the decision.”
UPDATE: I’ve received from a former St. Mary student the response she received from Wolfe. It is virtually identical to the letter I’ve printed below, with small changes. It includes her comment, “you really have no clue.”
UPDATE II: Friday evening, McCullough sent me a copy of the letter of resignation she sent to principal Wolfe. (In case you wonder about terminology, I consider a forced resignation a constructive firing.)
You may read in full the first letter I received and the response on the jump.
Dear Principal Wolfe:
I was saddened to read out about the recent firing of one of your teachers, Tippi McCullough, for marrying her partner. I was born and raised in Little Rock, attended Hendrix College, and then went on to get a Masters in Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Florida International University in Miami. In other words, I’m no neophyte when it comes to the study and interpretation of religious traditions, including Christianity.
I know that you may be thinking that you are upholding tradition or some sort of Catholic theological doctrine in your decision to fire Ms. McCullough, but I would argue that your position is theologically, ethically, and morally out of sync with the spirit of Vatican II reform (which Pope Francis is thankfully re-focusing the Catholic Church upon). Furthermore, if you are going to take such a conservative position, I hope you are prepared to fire any teacher that has: been divorced, had sex outside of marriage, had an abortion, or used/uses any form of contraception. Otherwise, your decision to fire Ms. McCullough is not just ethically, morally, and theologically problematic, it is also inconsistent and hypocritical.
I urge you to show moral courage rather than cowardice during this time when many in America are re-thinking the definition of love and marriage. Just as those who fought for women’s, civil, and other rights had to take a stand on the side of justice for all human beings, so now you are faced with the opportunity of extending justice to all peoples or confining justice to just some human beings. I hope, therefore, that you will reverse your decision and re-instate Ms. McCullough.
Whitney A. Bauman
Fall 2013, Fulbright Scholar, Surabaya, Indonesia
Assistant Professor of Religion and Science
Undergraduate Program Director
Department of Religious Studies
Florida International University
Ms. [Dr. Bauman is a he] Bauman,
While I respect your thoughts, concerns and theological expertise, you really have no clue. This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger. Perhaps you would be more informed to direct your opinions to the Catholic church. Do you honestly think a lowly high school principal of 531 girls would take this kind of monumental action on a whim or based on my “conservative views? ” You and many others are making grandiose assumptions and if you think this decision conflicts with the spirit of the Vatican II perhaps you need to take this up with the Catholic church which made the decision. I am contractually bound by the parameters set forth by the church teachings. It was brought to my attention that by entering into a same sex civil union, whereby a public document was generated, one would be in direct violation of the morals clause of the employee contract. I would be instructed and bound to do the same action were documentation provided to me that an employee of a Catholic school divorced and remarried without an annulment or if an employee had a side line business of performing abortions. It is not for me to decide, judge or disobey the tenets of the church. I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be. It seems many are quick to judge my actions as my decision and accuse me of cowardice in the performance of what I was hired to do. Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church and the directives of those responsible for giving oversight to those tenets? I urge you to quit being so naive to think this was solely my decision and solely my action.
Diane Wolfe, Principal
Mount St. Mary Academy