23,000 sign petition for Catholic teacher’s reinstatement

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File under: Seige Mentality

Former Waldron Mercy Academy teacher Margie Winters was not allowed in the building, but an archdiocesan representative accepted the box of signed petitions. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Former Waldron Mercy Academy teacher Margie Winters was not allowed in the building, but an archdiocesan representative accepted the box of signed petitions.

By Chris Brennan

Margie Winters, accompanied by about 50 supporters and carrying a box of petitions signed by 23,000 people who want her reinstated as a Catholic school educator, could not get in the front door.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Center City offices were on lockdown Monday afternoon. A security guard politely but firmly refused to allow Winters to enter the building.

“Because I’m so threatening,” Winters joked after handing the box to the guard and asking him to deliver it to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

Winters was fired June 22 as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion for being in a same-sex marriage, something she told the school about when she was hired eight years ago.

“We ask for full inclusion at the table and in the church,” Winters told her cheering supporters Monday. “And we ask now for a moratorium on firing any LGBT employee.”

Winters questioned the archdiocese’s repeated claim that it played no role in her firing. An anonymous complaint to the archdiocese in June “very quickly” set in motion her firing, Winters said.

“It wasn’t until the archdiocese was notified that something changed,” she said. “You can draw your own conclusions.”

The petitions, addressed to Chaput, read, “Margie Winters’ firing was unjust and contrary to Catholic values, and she should be reinstated immediately. Please inform the school’s leadership that you will not interfere with their staffing or threaten their status as a Catholic school.”

Archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin called the petitions “problematic.”

“It’s wrong for any individual or group to perpetuate the falsehood that the archbishop interfered with the school’s personnel decisions,” he said.

The petition drive was organized by Faithful America, a group that says it has more than 319,000 members.

The group’s website describes it as “the largest and fastest-growing online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice. Our members are sick of sitting by quietly while Jesus’ message of good news is hijacked by the religious right to serve a hateful political agenda.”

The group’s previous petition drives have pressured Google and MSNBC to cut ties with organizations accused of discrimination against the LGBT community, and targeted a corporation using religion to defend employee insurance plans that did not include birth control.

Chaput, in a statement last month, said school officials showed bishop chaput2“character and common sense” in firing Winters.

The school and the Sisters of Mercy, the religious order that sponsors it, have said Waldron Mercy’s Catholic identity could have been put at risk if it did not follow the church’s teachings on same-sex marriage.

Chaput clearly saw that as a possibility.

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief,” Chaput said in a statement last month. “There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this.”

Winters’ firing outraged parents, prompting some to withhold contributions and tuition to the school and others to consider sending their children to other schools.

The school’s board of trustees last month held three “small-group discussions” on Winters’ firing that were attended by about 170 parents, and the board has promised to hold a “larger town hall meeting” as the school year approaches.

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