The marriage between Waldron Mercy Academy and Margie Winters, the school’s former director of religious education, was definitely not a match made in heaven. In fact, it ended in a nasty, very-public divorce, with reconciliation seemingly out of the question. And both sides in this contentious debate undoubtedly have their axes to grind.
The issue is that Winters, who has been in a gay marriage since 2007, was fired after parents complained about her marital situation, a legitimate beef since gay marriage is contrary to Catholic teaching.
Par for the course, a group of Waldron parents rallied behind Winters, creating both a social and mainstream media firestorm. Also par for the course, many of those supporters are simply wrong in their thinking, a result of their entitlement attitude.
Here’s a look at the real issues in this case:
1.) At the core, this is not about gays, gay rights or gay marriage. It is about a private entity exercising its right — yes, its legal right — to choose employees it believes are best suited for the business.
Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, meaning employers have the right to terminate employees whenever they wish, for almost any reason — or no reason at all. Additionally, as a religious institution, Waldron is exempt from numerous government regulations concerning "discrimination."
People are free to criticize Waldron’s decision or denounce it as bigoted, but the school is within its legal rights. Attempting to undermine that fundamental right is sinful.
2.) Waldron is located in Montgomery County. So state Sen. Daylin Leach has been spouting off that it is in violation of the county’s anti-discrimination ordinance because some students receive Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit scholarship. He contends that because the school receives such "state funding," it is not exempt from anti-discrimination regulations. He is wrong.
EITC dollars are not state-appropriated funds, but monies from scholarship organizations that are funded by businesses receiving tax credits for their donations. Therefore, the money comes from private organizations — not the state. Further, Pennsylvania has no statewide law protecting gays from workplace discrimination.
Bottom line: Let’s stop with all the extraneous talk about an anti-discrimination lawsuit, which would have no legal standing and only serve as a time-wasting publicity stunt.
Sidenote: Leach’s comments, while wrong in this case, should nonetheless serve as a warning to any entity taking government money. Once you’re on the hook, the government has you, and it will move in to regulate, dictate and do social engineering, because that’s what government does. Buyer beware.
3.) Speaking of clueless politicians, Philadelphia mayor-to-be Jim Kenney blasted the Philadelphia Archdiocese, calling it "cowardly" after Winters was fired. Pay no attention to the fact that the archdiocese repeatedly stated it had nothing to do with Waldron’s decision (and why would it? Waldron is a private school not under the purview of the archdiocese.) And disregard that Kenney fully admits that he has absolutely no knowledge that the archdiocese was involved.
After all, that’s the kind of shoddy leadership we’ve come to expect in Philadelphia: Shoot your mouth off on issues that are none of your business as a way to score cheap political points, while ignoring the monumental problems facing the city. Bad start for Kenney, unless he wants to achieve the impossible and actually make Michael Nutter look good. And at that point, all the prayers in the world won’t be able to save his mayorship.
4.) The parents fuming over Waldron’s decision need to pipe down and remember a very basic, commonsense idea: We live in a free country, where you are permitted to make your own decisions. Translation: If they don’t like what Waldron did, fine. They can vote with their feet and leave. But they don’t get to change the rules just because they don’t like them — the same rules, by the way, they knew about when they enrolled their children.
Likewise, if Ms. Winters didn’t agree with the church’s position on gay marriage, she shouldn’t have taken the job. But she did. In doing so, she should have known that this issue was one that could — and inevitably would — rear its head. And in that case, she should have been prepared to face the music with dignity. Instead, the opposite has occurred. There are Facebook pages, fundraising drives, protests galore, vitriolic rhetoric (this is all part of the Catholic Church’s "discrimination and hatred"), and even an appeal for Winters and her wife to meet with Pope Francis when he visits Philadelphia in September.
Does everything we dislike always have to be made into a cause celebre by the frenzied, self-absorbed and sometimes imbecilic social media crowd, so often bereft of facts? And is it really necessary to place every "victim" on a pedestal, elevating them to hero, and even martyr, status?
It grows very, very old.
5.) Anyone actually believing the pope will intervene has clearly drunk too much altar wine. There’s not a chance in the world of that happening. It’s a pipe dream perpetuated by those who cannot see the difference between a compassionate pope — "Who am I to judge homosexuals?" — and one who innately understands that keeping an open homosexual involved in a same-sex marriage as director of religious education in a Catholic school would open the floodgates, destroying the very essence of what makes Catholic education unique.
6.) Where does it end? In the spirit of "mercy," as we keep hearing from Winters’ supporters, what’s the harm in keeping her? Under that rationale, should it be acceptable for a Catholic school to employ a rabid pro-abortionist as a teacher, principal or, for that matter, priest, even if that individual is beloved?
Flip the coin. Should Planned Parenthood be forced to employ a devout pro-lifer as the person who counsels women to have abortions? Since doing so would be bad for "business," and contrary to the organization’s goals, Planned Parenthood would rightfully reject that.
Would it be a good idea to have a vegetarian ideologue employed as spokesperson for a meat company? Again, where does it end?
Waldron’s decision was right, and the only one it could make to maintain its integrity.
Does being in a gay marriage make Margie Winters any less of a person? Of course not. Did she do a good job? By all accounts, most definitely. But the issue isn’t about Margie Winters. It’s about a Catholic entity adhering to the rules of the Catholic Church.
Should Rome take a look at changing, or at least updating, its positions on homosexuality, birth control, marriage for priests, and woman priests? Sure. Likewise, should the church be called on the carpet for employing heterosexuals who divorce, then remarry, since that is also against Church tenets? Good point.
Discussing ideas with full transparency should always be on the table, as honest debate often leads to long-overdue reforms. That doesn’t mean things will change, but constructive dialogue would allow the flock to feel that they have a say in their church.
So to those who think they’re entitled to change the rules of the church just because they don’t like them, say three Hail Marys and make a good Act of Contrition.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].