Here’s an open line. I also have handy an early version of Frank Bruni’s column in the Sunday New York Times. I’ll provide a link when it’s available.
Bruni writes about Tippi McCullough, the veteran teacher forced to quit her job at Mount St. Mary Academy after she married her long-time partner Barbara Mariani.
Bruni contrasts the absence of condemnation from new Pope Francis for the divorced, women seeking abortions and gay people with actions by Catholic officials elsewhere. He writes — and quotes from reports on the Arkansas Blog — mainly about Arkansas:
The memo also didn’t make it to Little Rock, Ark., where Tippi McCullough, 50, got the ax after 14 years as an English teacher at a high school affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy. This was in October. Her crime, too, was to take a relationship that Catholic co-workers apparently knew about and formalize it. She told me last week that she and her longtime partner had even been overnight guests on the school principal’s houseboat. But when school officials learned that the couple had just been legally married in one of the New Mexico counties where that’s now possible, they told her they had to let her go, though she hadn’t announced the wedding or given any signal that she was going to be more public about her partnership than before.
Her dismissal upset some school employees, one of whom apparently gave The Arkansas Times remarks that another Francis — Msgr. Francis I. Malone, a local priest — made in a faculty meeting afterward. “The devil is real,” he reportedly said. “He goes after people like you and institutions like this one.”
“Don’t give in to him,” Malone added. “Rise up above this like the good and decent people God has made you to be.” In a subsequent exchange with the newspaper, Malone didn’t deny those remarks but said that they weren’t meant to characterize McCullough or her situation.
McCullough said that she was struggling to reconcile the stated mission of the Sisters of Mercy with how she was treated. “Our whole school is founded on the mercy values,” she told me. “Things like the recognition of the intrinsic worth and dignity of each person and respect for varied religious traditions and beliefs.” But that recognition isn’t “applied equally to everyone,” she added. “That’s the hardest thing for me. And I loved teaching there.”
Bruni uses the McCullough case to make the obvious point that, warm as Pope Francis’ remarks have been, the church itself still moves glacially and too many examples remain of the meting out of unneeded punishment. This forces gay people to choose secrecy over honesty, he writes.
Bruni cites other cases like McCullough’s, including the forced resignation of a church organist in Atlanta after it became known he had a male fiancé. He quotes, too, Arkansas native Chad Griffin, leader of the Human Rights Campaign, whose gay rights organization has identified nine similar cases in the U.S.
McCullough told Bruni, as she had remarked to us earlier, that many employees routinely ignore the morals clauses they sign and aren’t reprimanded or removed for such things as divorce or use of birth control. But then, in unpredictable ways, the clauses are enforced. He concludes:
McCullough recently took a new job with Little Rock Central High School, which, she proudly noted, was an important theater in the struggle for civil rights. Still, she feels a profound loss, and is drifting away from a church she loved. I asked her if she’d known how the school would react, would she have married anyway?
Yes, she said. A thousand times yes. She’s finished with one-half openness or three-quarters openness or whatever calculation she’d made. “As I told the principal, I’m 50 years old,” she said. “I’m tired of this. I’ve tried to play this game my whole life. I don’t want to do it anymore.”