A decades’ long administrative “wink and nod” in U.S. Catholic education?

 

When a local newspaper in suburban southern California—the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin—published photographs of a local Catholic high school teacher’s wedding, “Matrimonial bliss turned into an employment nightmare.”

The problem?

The teacher at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glenora, CA, 45-year-old Ken Bencomo, is homosexual and attempted a so-called “homosexual marriage” with his “partner” of 10 years, 32-year-old Christopher Persky.  Bencomo and Persky were among the first homosexuals who got “married” at the San Bernardino County Assessor-Recorder’s Office following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that allowed homosexuals to simulate marriage, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin published the pictures, administrators at St. Lucy’s fired Bencomo, telling him on July 12 his contract would not be renewed, citing the “wedding, the photos, and the attendant publicity.”

The school’s administrators followed-up the firing with a statement, calling St. Lucy’s “a community of faith for those who wish to express, practice and adhere to values in education based on the Roman Catholic tradition.”  The statement adds that employees have a contractual obligation to abide by those values in public.  And:

While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values.

Conservative Catholics might applaud the firing—Catholic moral teaching is supposed to be the keystone supporting the distinctive identity of a Catholic school—and liberal Catholics might deride it—using Catholic moral teaching as a judgmental cudgel is an affront to human rights.  Bencomo’s lawyer called the decision “crushing” and “draconian,” intimating that Bencomo may sue to get his job back.

None of that really matters.  What really matters is how this outcome is the result of a consistent failure of moral leadership on the part of St. Lucy’s administrators for at least 17 years which, according to the LA Times, is the period of time Bencomo has been teaching St. Lucy’s.  For at least the past 10 years, the school’s administrators have known about Bencomo’s sexual orientation and relationship with Persky. During that decade, Bencomo has brought Persky to school events, identifying Persky as his “partner,” according to Bencomo’s lawyer.

There was nothing “in the closet” about this homosexual relationship.

That is, until all of the “attendant publicity” resulting from the “photos” taken at the “wedding” were published in the newspaper.  Had Bencomo only kept the entire affair in the closet, administrators at St. Lucy’s must have reasoned, there would have been no attendant publicity and no firing because, at St. Lucy’s, immoral lifestyle choices kept private are “okay,” but public displays of immoral lifestyle choices are “not okay.”

It’s a Catholic school administrator’s policy equivalent of the military’s “Don’t Kiss, Don’t Tell” policy.  One doesn’t have to make a judgment or take a stand on a moral issue.  No, just ignore it…unless…

Quite likely, the administrators fired Bencomo because important constitutents and constitutent groups associated with the school or perhaps even the Archbishop of Los Angeles or his representative demanded that something be done…or else.

That’s the problem.  It’s an administrative “wink and nod,” even though the efficacy of Catholic moral teaching is being debased inside a community of faith—an “educational” one at that—whose administrators claim this community to be “for those who wish to express, practice and adhere to values in education based on the Roman Catholic tradition.”

So-called “homosexual marriage” is not part of that tradition.  Nor does presenting one’s “partner” to that educational community of faith express, practice, and adhere to the values of that tradition.

Why administrators at St. Lucy’s didn’t deal with the problem when it first emerged says a whole lot about their expression, practice, and adherence to the values of the Roman Catholic tradition…as well as all of those Catholic educational leaders who didn’t tell those administrators “or else” during those 17 years.

 

 

To read the LA Times article, click on the following link:
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-gay-teacher-catholic-school-20130801,0,4837008.story

 

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  1. The place is the project of a collection of habitless sisters founded in 1952 as a Benedictine priory.

    http://stlucys.com/directory/

    About a quarter of the faculty are male, just off normal for an American high school. Only three sisters are employed at the school. Presumably, those are the three in this community under 70. Every single administrative employee is female and every single custodian is male. They formed a self-regenerating board three years ago, so are presumably preparing for the departure of the remaining sisters. At that point, characters like this fellow Bencomo will presumably be welcomed back.

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  3. You site the problem correctly and it is the point most often missed in discussion.

    If the policies of a distinctly Catholic organization are not aligned with the organization’s goals and stated beliefs, that organization is “living on borrowed time.” It is inevitable that a conflict will surface and the “safe haven” that a religious organization enjoys is endangered by having compromised its stated beliefs.

    This is precisely the problem that the Boy Scouts of America have created with the policy change on homosexual membership.

    Prior to the policy change in May, the BSA enjoyed a “safe haven,” created by their unmitigated application of a policy barring homosexual membership. The Supreme Court of the United States put their conduct under the 1st Amendment protections because it was a consistent policy. The policy change permits boys to be openly gay and still enjoy membership. This blows up the context under which the organization was allowed to discriminate.

    It is hard to imagine that the BSA will prevail in the next law suit by an openly homosexual adult who seeks paid employment with the BSA.

    If an organization is going to hold values that are in opposition to those embraced by the society around it – as, indeed, Catholic organizations must – then it had better apply those values consistently.

  4. The underlying problem is that Catholic education has long ceased to be just that, Catholic education. Like the public school system, our diocesan offices are more concerned about “certification” (from public institutions) rather than competence and “Catholic” is treated as a separate identity from education. Sort of like, “Oh yeah, we do that subject to.” Additionally our schools are obsessed with emulating the (failing) public school system offering a better version, a kinder place, than public counterparts.
    Our educational leaders, administrators and principals – also much like their public school parallels – are populated with managers intent on sustaining the status quo. In fact, there seems to be an aversion to real leaders in our schools.
    It is no longer “shocking” or even considered scandal (is the word even used?) to have Catholic school teachers (and administrators) include people living together, divorced several times, don’t attend mass regularly or at all, homosexuals, non-believers and so on. How well we’ve been assimilated!

    I have many years experience working in Catholic schools, as a teacher, an assistant administrator and as a principal in grammar and high schools, so I speak from experience. (As a principal I was able to facilitate, even lead, in many positive changes that enthusiastically and successfully transformed the school into a more vibrant Catholic community.) However, I moved on and to another diocese where I taught religion in a high school for two years. I modestly say that I was an extremely popular teacher with students and parents who truly challenged students to faith. But the school administrators seemed to care little, and were even uncomfortable and glad to let me go as their numbers deservedly dropped. Nor did it matter that religion teachers attend mass or hold up Catholic teaching on such matters as abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Better not to mention it at all. Meanwhile my own children attend a “nice” Catholic school where their education is mediocre and taught separate from Catholic identity which they barely learn. “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” seems most appropriate to me about much of our Catholic schools, and what the heck, my diocese. That, by the way, is not to say that our schools do not also have some wonderful teachers and administrators – just too few.

    We’ve got our work cut out for us.

  5. It would not surprise me to discover that here and there and the next place, the diocesan authorities are having a whale of a time finding appropriate personnel. At a time when only 6 or 7 million people will confess to the priest even annually, you will have trouble finding those among them with the vocation to teach and superintend schools. That having been said, homosexuals and those living in concubinage are not so prevalent in the adult population that one is taxed avoiding them and even divorces are a minority (I believe around 18% of the working population at any one time). One cannot help but think that the bishops are as negligent with this as they have been with so many other things.

    Do you ever notice in these cases there will almost invariably be some verbiage (supplied by a supposed student or alumnus) grading the dismissed instructor as ‘outstanding’ blah blah? You would think these schools might employ some run of the mill teachers they let go from time to time…

  6. David Spaulding: “Prior to the policy change in May, the BSA enjoyed a “safe haven,” created by their unmitigated application of a policy barring homosexual membership.” Before the age of informed sexual consent at emancipation the young man is considered a minor and is exempt from being qualified as an homosexual. Homosexual behavior in a minor child does not carry the same legal import as homosexual behavior in an adult male.

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  8. Kevin,

    While I do not agree with your Religion in its strickest form, I sincerely respect you and your fortitude! I find that it is so very refershing to hear someone so committed to what they believe in – in a very simple and fundimental way. I applaud you tenacity because it is obvious that you approach this in a very Christ like and mature fashion. If more traditional Catholics approached discussion in this way, more tradtional Catholics might get more listeners.

    Thank you,

  9. Perhaps it’s time for the U.S. Catholic Church to consider getting out of the educational ministry, especially in those institutions where its business model is to remain open by collecting tuitions for:

    1. providing a values-based, non-confessional, non-offensive “religion” curriculum;
    2. attempting to mime the better public school districts by divorcing reason from faith; and,
    3. winking and nodding at immorality on the part of administrators and/or faculty.

    What about reading the “signs of the times”? If a sufficient number of Catholics who believe in Church teaching, are qualified educators, are willing to work for the pay, and are willing to build an authentic Catholic culture in the school are not available to serve in Catholic schools, why keep any school open that isn’t Catholic except in name only?

    The same might also apply to many so-called “Catholic hospitals.

  10. You need to pront a retraction. Ken bencomo was already under a duly ratified contract at the time that he was fired.

    A retraction of what? That is irrelevant to his argument.

    If a sufficient number of Catholics who believe in Church teaching, are qualified educators, are willing to work for the pay, and are willing to build an authentic Catholic culture in the school are not available to serve in Catholic schools, why keep any school open that isn’t Catholic except in name only?

    Because there are witless constituencies attached to the school as an institution, and never mind the content of the instruction. What happens when bishops attempt to close parishes which they do not have the manpower to staff (and which are often poorly attended and testaments to the vapidity of contemporary architecture to boot)?

    A question to put to the sisters is why the man was there for as long as he was. Active male homosexuals are less than 2% of the adult population. Teaching services is not such a sellers’ market that throwing this fellow over the side 10 years ago would have presented much of a quandary for the school administration. Not that you will ever get a straight answer. You do not from these types.

  11. “You need to pront a retraction. Ken bencomo was already under a duly ratified contract at the time that he was fired. ” The contract stipulated that no matter the life style in private, the teacher was not to go public contrary to Christian doctrine.

  12. Thank you Tina. I think I know exactly what you mean. As a somewhat related observation, Tradition is important and wonderful but as Chesterton noted, it never is static. Paraphrasing, “If you want a fence to stay white, you must occasionally repaint it.” Tradition needs repainting too, faith needs repainting, in how it is presented to others. But even before that can happen, I strongly believe that like Christ, we must be welcoming of others. They must know they are welcome – even if they do reject us.