Denver Archdiocese says fired lesbian teacher violated contract

all souls catholic school englewood All Souls Catholic School and Church in Englewood, Colorado | Always dreamin|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

A teacher at a Catholic parish school in Denver was fired after the Denver Archdiocese learned of her same-sex relationship, which violated the conduct code she had signed. 

The teacher has since aligned herself with LGBT activists and has made statements claiming there is no contradiction between her behavior and Catholicism.

For six years Maggie Barton had taught technology to students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade at All Souls Catholic School in Englewood, a southern Denver suburb.

The Archdiocese of Denver terminated her employment from the parish school in January after discovering she is in a same-sex relationship and discussing the matter with her.

“The school found it necessary to conclude the teacher’s employment because she did not honor the commitments she agreed to in her contract with the school,” the Archdiocese of Denver said in a Feb. 3 statement. The school “learned that she intends to persist in violating the standards she previously agreed to uphold.”

At the start of each school year, every Catholic school teacher in the archdiocese signs a contract that includes a pledge to exemplify personally “the characteristics of Catholic living,” including “refraining from taking any public position or conducting himself or herself in a manner that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Barton, who moved to Colorado in 2017 when she accepted the parish school’s job offer, appeared to reject the contradiction.

“It is the faith I was raised in, and I wanted to teach in a Catholic school because I wanted to share those values that I learned and the experience that I had with future students,” she told CBS News 4.

She has said the school wrongly fired her for her sexual orientation. In her view, she has embodied Catholic values.

“I have a hard time understanding how being in a same-sex relationship or someone's sexual orientation hinders your ability to do that,” she said.

Catholicism rejects same-sex sexual acts. Pope Francis has often encouraged Catholics to welcome and accompany those who have same-sex attractions. He also reaffirmed that the acts in question are sinful, “as is any sexual act outside of marriage,” he said in a letter to Jesuit priest Father James Martin.

The Denver Archdiocese similarly distinguished between behavior and attractions.

“That a Catholic school employee experiences same-sex attraction in itself is not a cause for termination,” the archdiocese statement said. “However, all Catholic school employees in the Archdiocese of Denver are expected to abide by the terms of the agreement they signed and commitments they make.”

Many families send their children to Catholic schools “expecting their children to receive an education that conforms to Catholic beliefs.” Teacher expectations and commitments aim “to protect the Catholic identity of our schools.”

“It would be unjust for a school to present itself as a Catholic school and not offer a Catholic education,” the archdiocese said. Catholic schools must “carry out a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

In November 2022, critical media coverage focused on a Denver Archdiocese policy in place since 2019 that addressed issues of gender and sexual morality. The policy document explicitly said teachers living in same-sex relationships are “unsuited for teaching” because they are “openly engaging in behavior opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and human sexuality.”

One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group that previously criticized the archdiocesan policy, has sided with Barton.

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Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado, told Colorado Public Radio the archdiocese takes a “harmful stance” toward self-identified LGBT people.

“Faith communities, including schools, should be a place for love and support,” she said. “Denying admission to LGBTQ+ students, excluding LGBTQ+ parents from full participation, and in this case terminating LGBTQ+ teachers for no other cause than for who they love alienates and discriminates against LGBTQ+ Coloradans of Catholic faith.”

One Colorado on Feb. 3 shared a statement from Barton in which she said “the injustice of my termination lies with the Denver Archdiocese and their anti-LGBTQ+ policies. My sexual orientation is one facet of who I am, and has no bearing on my abilities as a teacher or my commitment to the values of my Catholic faith.”

“How do we change antiquated views and laws?” Barton asked in a Feb. 2 statement posted to Facebook. “Education and understanding,” she said. Barton added that she is working to educate herself and “find ways to amplify my voice for change,” inviting others to join her.

Barton told Colorado Public Radio that “choosing to work in a Catholic school as a lesbian, as someone within the queer community, might not make sense to everybody.” 

“The reason why I did that is because of my faith,” she said. To feel my own faith being weaponized against me in this way, to be terminated and to lose this position is, it’s heartbreaking.”

Barton said she would attend weekly Mass at the school and play guitar with the children’s choir.

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Some parents of the parish have set up an internet fundraiser to help pay her expenses as she looks for another job. As of Feb. 7, after several days of media coverage, the contributions appear to have exceeded $22,000 from more than 175 donors in six days.

Denver is one of several U.S. dioceses in recent years to issue guidance related to gender theory following the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2019 document “Male and Female He Created Them.” This document criticizes new ideological approaches to sex and gender. It says that the Church teaches an essential difference between men and women, ordered in the natural law and essential to the family and human flourishing.

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