A letter to my Alma Mater — West Catholic High School
I have spent much of my life learning in Catholic Schools. I attended Catholic K-12 schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and graduated valedictorian of West Catholic High School in 2004. I completed a Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame in 2016. I have spent time as an educator and a coach in a variety of private Catholic, Christian, and public schools throughout West Michigan and the country. I am grateful to West Catholic and these other schools for teaching me to value social justice, diverse worldviews, and critical thinking. Because of that education, I write today to stand up for what is just.
You have recently forced a coach to resign because she plans to marry her partner. You stated:
“Everyone who works for West Catholic works for the Catholic Church, whether they are administrators, teachers, staff members or coaches. They are charged with sharing the faith and the teachings of the Church. When someone is living outside of Church teaching or participating in behavior not in line with Church teaching and makes it known publicly, they cannot fulfill their primary mission to lead by example.
“It does not mean that we are judging this individual or that she is not a welcome and beloved member of our community. She is. The public act of same-sex marriage, not her same-sex attraction, is the focus of Church teaching. It is not only people who experience same-sex attraction who are called to live chastely, but all of us. No one is excluded from the call of Christ. The teachings of the Church are written for happiness.
“West Catholic is a Catholic institution. We are agents of the Church. This issue is about love and wanting what is best, not necessarily in the immediate moment, but for a lifetime.”
Most behavioral science has proven that sexuality is not a choice. Forcing a person to deny their nature or to resign because of their sexuality is abhorrent. Catholicism is built upon love and acceptance, not judgment and self-isolation. It may be legally permissible in a private school to push out those who don’t conform to Catholic tenets. However, choosing to discriminate in this way does not model how we should treat those serving our community.
If pushing out those who don’t abide by Catholic tenets in their personal life is where you choose to draw your line, then I would expect you to stand by that beyond LGBTQ issues. I would suspect that many of your teachers and staff have been divorced, lived with significant others, used birth control, had sex outside of marriage, or made decisions not in line with church teachings. Will you be encouraging all of them to resign? If not, this isn’t an issue of conformity to Catholic values, but rather one of discrimination and judgment.
By putting LGBTQ issues atop a hierarchy of sins that require resignation, you do a grave disservice to your students. By communicating that somebody in a same-sex marriage is not employable in a Catholic institution, you communicate that your queer students do not belong in Catholic spaces. This message tells an already-isolated group of students, who are at elevated risk of depression, suicide, and substance abuse, that they do not deserve to see someone like them as a role model in their daily life, nor are they welcome to live their truth in a Catholic space. You should be developing a support system to encourage and embrace these students, working to reduce the suicide risk of LGBTQ youth. One source notes that nearly one-third (29%) of queer youth “had attempted suicide at least once in the prior year compared to 6% of heterosexual youth.” We should be working to support and uplift these students, rather than isolating them.
In my 19 years as a student in Catholic schools (K-12 and graduate school), I have been fortunate to have been taught not only by instructors who were devout Catholics, but also by non-Catholics, by LGBTQ people, and by those questioning their faith. Regardless of their connection to Catholicism and its tenets, many of these teachers and mentors have imparted a fierce dedication to protecting and serving others. Surrounding ourselves with those who are different than us helps us grow. Forcing them out fosters intolerance and hatred.
In a recent encyclical by Pope Francis “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), he proclaims, “We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided.” He notes, “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth.” I urge my alma mater to think outside of the box between the concrete limits of “black and white” to seek out solutions that love and respect all people. Catholicism should be inclusive and welcoming, not insular and parochial, and as an alumna, I urge you to do better.
I am most encouraged by the scores of alumni who have spoken out against this intolerant action you have taken. I hope you follow the lead of your graduates in welcoming and embracing all people. The future of our Church and your school depends upon it.
Lindsey Passenger Wieck | 2004 Valedictorian of West Catholic High School