Catholic school in Illinois hires coach in same-sex marriage, reversing earlier decision

shutterstock 1187196577 A same-sex wedding cake topper. | edwardolive/Shutterstock

A Catholic school in suburban Chicago this week reversed a previous decision not to hire a coach who is civilly married to a person of the same sex, following massive internet backlash and protests from parents and students.

Benet Academy, a co-ed preparatory school located in Lisle, Ill. in the Diocese of Joliet, hired Amanda Kammes Sept. 21 to coach the girl’s lacrosse team, despite days earlier “deferring employment discussions” upon learning Kammes is in a same-sex civil marriage. Kammes reportedly listed her female partner as her emergency contact on employment papers.

Benet Academy initially defended its decision not to hire Kammes, citing the importance of hiring individuals who “manifest the essential teachings of the Church.”

The school's website says that the "Benet Academy does reserve the right to hire staff of good moral character who subscribe to the stated philosophy of the school and to the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church."

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual inclinations are not sinful, homosexual acts "are contrary to the natural law...under no circumstances can they be approved."

“Benet Academy respects the dignity of all human beings to follow their conscience and to live lives of their choosing,” school spokeswoman Jamie Moss told the Chicago Tribune in an email.

“Likewise, as a Catholic school, we employ individuals whose lives manifest the essential teachings of the Church in order to provide the education and faith formation of the young people entrusted to our care.”

A group of 40 or so students and parents at the school reportedly staged pro-LGBT protests after learning that the school had decided not to hire Kammes. The girl’s lacrosse team was photographed wearing rainbow masks in support of the prospective coach.

An online petition advocating for Kemmes’ hiring, which appears to have since been removed, reportedly garnered nearly 4,000 signatures. Social media posts from the school – many unrelated to the hiring situation – were flooded with comments, many from alumni, condemning the school’s decision not to hire the coach.

The school’s board said in a Tuesday statement that the school had, after extensive discussion, extended a job offer to Kammes, and that she had accepted.

“The Board has heard from members of the Benet community on all sides of this issue over the past several days. We had an honest and heartfelt discussion on this very complex issue at our meeting,” the statement reads.

“Going forward we will look for opportunities for dialogue in our community about how we remain true to our Catholic mission while meeting people where they are in their personal journey through life. For now, we hope that this is the first step in healing the Benet community."

Benet Academy lists on its website 24 board members, of whom five are Benedictine priests, brothers, or sisters; 12 are lay alumni of the school; and seven are non-alumni lay persons.

Kammes, a decorated lacrosse coach, had previously coached at a Catholic school in Lombard, Illinois. She said in a statement that she is “truly humbled by the outpouring of support” and expressed hope that “the LGBTQ+ community at Benet and other Catholic institutions, felt supported, loved, and know that they are not alone.”

Mary Massingale, director of communications for the Joliet diocese, told CNA via email that Benet Academy is operated by the Order of St. Benedict, and is not under the purview of the Diocese of Joliet, which was “not involved in the decision-making process.”

Nearby St. Procopius Abbey, whose abbott serves as chancellor to the school, declined to comment to CNA.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that people with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should be "accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

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A 2003 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught that "in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty...One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws.”

Stephen Marth, head of school at Benet Academy, released a letter to the school community Sept. 22.

“As a person who has been raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through graduate school, and devoted a substantial portion of my professional career to leadership in Catholic schools, I am truly committed to the value of educating our young people in the faith and in helping them to understand that, as they mature, they will have to struggle all the more with the complexities that result when authentic Church teaching is applied to situations encountered in life,” Marth wrote.

“I am not a theologian, a psychiatrist, or a mediation specialist, and I have no pretention [sic] of possessing great wisdom with regard to how Catholic Church leadership and lay membership might best resolve some of the issues that have fractured our Church and / or caused some to leave the Church altogether. I am certain, however, that two things will be helpful in going forward – honest dialogue and patience,” he continued.

“How best to structure and ultimately accomplish this respectful discourse at Benet is something that will be receiving the focused attention of Benet leadership in the days and weeks ahead. My sincere hope is that the entire Benet family will come together and exercise mutual respect as we continue to fulfill the school’s mission.”

Marth, in an earlier letter, had encouraged students to wear symbols of the cross or crucifixes to school, which represent “God’s unconditional love for each and every one of us despite our human weaknesses, brokenness, and sinfulness,” rather than rainbow “pride” symbols, which for some “represent an affirmation of a particular lifestyle or life choices that the Church, in her wisdom, does not and cannot condone.”

However, in response, some parents called for his resignation.

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According to a May 26 letter, Marth's position as head of school was created earlier this year with three foci, one of which is the “carrying out of the school's mission and vision”.

The school's mission statement says, in part, that the academy will have achieved its mission if graduating seniors leave it "having learned to incorporate the principles of Christian morality into all aspects of their daily lives".

CNA reached out to Marth for further information about how the decision in this case might affect future hiring decisions at the school, but did not receive a response by press time.

A Chicago radio personality on Wednesday shared online an excerpt of a letter, purportedly from a current Benet Academy parent to the school board, in which the parent expressed concern that Kammes’ hiring puts the school’s Catholic identity in jeopardy.

“A person who publicly lives outside the moral teaching of the Church on matters of human sexuality and marriage cannot model for students the truth and virtues that Benet seeks to instill in its students,” the letter reads in part.

“Moreover, if it hires Ms. Kammes there will be no limiting principle to this going forward. The school will have no basis for refusing to hire anyone in the future who dissents from the Church on grave matters of moral teaching. There will be no principled way it can refuse to hire a qualified teacher or coach who works weekends as a clinic escort for women seeking abortions at Planned Parenthood.”

The parent also speculated that Kammes’ hiring would prove to be a watershed moment for the school, and would be used to justify changes to other aspects of the school’s curriculum and mission going forward.

"In addition, in the near future, Benet will hear calls for the school to instruct its students in ways of thinking about profound moral questions invovling [sic] sexuality and other matters that contradict what the Church holds and has always held to be true. The same arguments now heard— about a lack of compassion, about a failure to respect the consciences of others— will be heard again, only now in demanding curricular changes,” the anonymous parent opined.

In the United States, various Catholic schools and dioceses have faced lawsuits from employees who have been fired after contracting civil same-sex marriages in violation of the diocesan or school policy.

Federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination – Title VII – includes an exception for ministers of religion. In a June 2020 ruling in the case Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Supreme Court found that Catholic school teachers, even if not given the formal title of "minister,” can fall under the ministerial exception because the essence of their job is to transmit the faith to students.

Last month, Lynn Starkey, a guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, a Catholic school, was fired for entering a same-sex marriage contract. A federal district judge later ruled that Starkey qualified as a minister of religion; thus, the archdiocese and school were exempt from federal workplace discrimination prohibitions.

However, earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the Diocese of Charlotte discriminated against a substitute teacher by firing him upon his announcement – after more than a decade of openly dating a man – that he intended to contract a same-sex marriage.

The judge’s ruling rejected claims that religious freedom protected the school from the lawsuit, writing that “Plaintiff is a lay employee, who comes onto the campus of a religious school for the limited purpose of teaching secular classes, with no mandate to inculcate students with Catholic teachings.”

The diocese argued that “Catholic schools are permitted to employ educators who support our Church’s teachings and will not publicly oppose them.”

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