05/1/15

Students Fight For Teacher After Nebraska Catholic School Fires Him For Being Gay

Skutt Catholic High School declined to renew the contract of teacher and speech coach Matt Eledge after he told them he was getting married to a man. He said school officials told him he’d have to end the relationship to keep his job.

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Matt Eledge, center, with members of his speech team. Facebook: skyhawkspeech

In March, Skutt Catholic High School speech coach Matt Eledge led his team to their fourth consecutive state championship. Pictures from the day show the group of students, from Nebraska, beaming and clutching a huge gold trophy with Eledge in the center.

But soon after those photos were taken, school officials told Eledge his contract would not be renewed for the following school year. The decision came after Eledge informed the school that he and his partner, Elliot, were planning on getting married.

Eledge told BuzzFeed News that he realized he could lose his job if he married another man – but he hoped the school, overseen by the Archdiocese of Omaha, would overlook it.

“I had a thought, maybe they will make this work out,” he said.

But, according to Eledge, the school wouldn’t budge.

Now, former and current students, parents, and other community members are rallying behind Eledge and petitioning the school to allow the beloved teacher to remain at the school.

“A living example of what it means to be a SkyHawk, Mr. Eledge has spent hundreds of hours striving to make sure that the students at Skutt have an incredible high school experience,” an online petition reads. “He soars above the rest in accolades, talent, and character for Skutt Catholic.”

The petition has nearly 68,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

Matt Eledge with his speech team. Facebook: skyhawkspeech

Eledge said his experience teaching and coaching at Skutt has been everything he had hoped his career would be. He said he considers the Skutt community a family.

“It’s a job that I feel gives me joy and gives me meaning,” he said.

But he was later told by the administration that if he wanted to return to the school, he would have to end his relationship with his partner.

Officials from Skutt told BuzzFeed News they could not comment on employment matters. However, the school defended its decision to not ask Eledge back in a letter to its school community.

“If a staff member cannot commit to Catholic Church teachings and doctrines, he or she cannot continue to be on staff at Skutt Catholic,” the school president John F. McMahon said in the letter, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News. “As a Catholic school we stand firmly with the Archdiocese of Omaha and our Catholic church in the support and upholding of the Church’s teachings as they are defined.”

Eledge said he was completely shocked by the request. But he was also surprised by the petition, started by former student Kacie Hughes.

Matt and his former student, Kacie Hughes. facebook.com

Hughes, who is now a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told BuzzFeed News that if Skutt wants to fire Eledge for being gay, they would need to fire every other teacher who has broken any Catholic teaching.

“If you want to fire him for not abiding by Christian law, then you better start firing every teacher on the pill, a teacher who has gotten a divorce without an annulment or a teacher who has gotten a vasectomy,” she said. “They won’t fire these teachers, but it’s okay for Matt because he’s gay.”

Hughes said she thinks Skutt should “follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis and realize that this is no longer 1950.”

“Times are changing, and they need to get with it,” she said. “I started this petition to make a difference, which is something that my alma mater Skutt Catholic instilled in me.”

Matt and Elliot Facebook: skyhawkspeech

The 28-year-old was hired at Skutt after graduating from college and said he realized the implications of working at a Catholic school as a gay man.

At the time he was young and single and happy to be working, he said, but he knew he never could be open with who he really was.

“It always was a bit fearful for me to work in that environment,” he said.

Eledge said that as part of their contract, teachers at Skutt must agree to “support the teachings of the Catholic church.”

Deacon Timothy F. McNeil of the Archdiocese of Omaha told BuzzFeed News that the school would not renew the contracts of teachers who conduct themselves in “violation of Catholic Church teaching.”

“Teachers know what they are getting into and accepting when they sign the contract,” he said.

A federal judge struck down Nebraska’s same-sex marriage ban, but an appeals court stayed that decision – keeping the ban in place until further legal arguments are made.

Eledge said in practice he operated on a so-called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He never spoke openly spoke about his sexuality at work, even after he began dating his partner, Elliot, a few years ago.

But in 2014, Elliot’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Eledge said that although he and Elliot had talked about marriage before, they decided to go ahead with it so that she could be at the ceremony.

Along with the petition, former and current students and others are also showing support for Eledge on social media using the hashtag #LetMattTeach.

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Eledge said he was reluctant at first to address the issue because he wanted to make sure he wasn’t just speaking with his “ego.”

However, he said, he’s come to realize that his story has “represented something way bigger.”Eledge said both he and Elliot are “more than anything totally and 100% moved and humbled and in awe of the way people are reaching out.”

“The support from the community has made me feel very loved and accepted,” he said.

Eledge said that he is not sure what the future holds for him. He will continue to teach at Skutt until the end of his current contract in May, and he said he has been exploring possible future teaching opportunities.

However, he said it breaks his heart to leave his students and team, which is a community that he considers family.

“Despite some of the pain from this situation,” he said, “I love and care about everyone at my school.”

Complete Article HERE!

04/26/15

Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Quiet partners behind the Christian Right’s religious discrimination agenda

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While Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, and other Christian Right pundits of the more shrill variety may be easy to ignore as they demand a right to discriminate on Fox News, there is a more dangerous coalition emerging. One of the primary drivers of the movement to corrupt and redefine religious freedom isn’t someone in a shouting match on cable news, but a decades-long alliance of top Mormons and Catholics.

book of mormon

While Mormons and Catholics may seem like unlikely allies, from a political perspective they bring complementary strengths to their partnership.

The Mormon Church has an amazing amount of wealth on hand (it’s estimated to be worth over $40 billion – gathered from real estate and commercial holdings, mandatory tithing collections from members, and even a theme park in Hawaii) and a world-class grassroots mobilization and recruitment force.

The Catholic Church and related groups, on the other hand, enjoy a much higher approval rating with the American public (62 percent) and thus can put a more popular face on public political campaigns.

The political allegiance between Mormons and Catholics dates back at least to the 1990s in Hawaii, during the first U.S. battle over same-sex marriage. As I previously reported, while the Mormons could — and did — provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalition’s public face.

The Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons could push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during California’s Proposition 8 fight.

The alliance grows stronger with each passing year. Epitomizing the relationship is Princeton professor Robert P. George, one of the most influential Catholic conservative activists in the country, who partnered with the Mormon Church to create the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). He also joined the editorial advisory board of the Mormon Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News.

George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the debunked Mark Regnerus study – which was reported first by the Deseret News), was the primary author of the anti-LGBTQ Manhattan Declaration, and is one of the top national strategists leading the charge to redefine religious freedom into a sword religious institutions can use to force their doctrinal positions on individuals.

Last week, Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University awarded George an “honorary Doctor of Law and Moral Values” degree, calling him “one of the most able and articulate advocates of the proposition that faith and reason are not incompatible.”

Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Mormon Church’s 12 Apostles, has been deeply involved in the effort to redefine religious freedom. He sits on the board of the World Congress of Families, an international culture-warring collection of Religious Right organizations that works all over the world to use (redefined) religious freedom arguments to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws (such as the Russian law that criminalizes any positive speech about homosexuality).

In recognition of his work with WCF and frequent speeches before conservative groups extoling the benefits of using one’s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty” from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Catholic legal organization responsible for the Hobby Lobby ruling at the Supreme Court and one of the top groups in the Right’s religious freedom campaign.

Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Church’s semi-annual General Conference to all 15 million members worldwide, Oaks quoted a speech given by Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput at Brigham Young University.

“Speaking of ‘concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,’ such as ‘about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,’ he [Chaput] said this: ‘I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority—not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do.’” Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, “Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

Another of the Mormon Church’s top leaders, Henry B. Eyring, met with Chaput and Pope Francis in November 2014 at the Vatican. Eyring described their strengthening alliance and mutual dedication to opposing civil liberties for LGBTQ people and women, saying “I think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.”

The crowning, and perhaps most insidious, achievement thus far of the Mormon-Catholic alliance is the much-hailed Utah nondiscrimination/religious freedom law. While the Christian Right’s state-level Hobby-Lobbyized RFRAs (with their overt anti-LGBTQ intentions) have generated a significant national backlash (particularly in the cases of Indiana and Arizona) and are susceptible to court challenges, the Utah RFRA “lite” law actually won endorsements from LGBTQ groups.

The Mormon Church enlisted the help of Christian Right operative Robin Fretwell Wilson, who works closely with right-wing Catholic groups like The Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, to co-write the law. The end product was a bill written in such a way that LGBTQ groups hungry for a “win” in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law.

The price — knowingly or otherwise — was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise – or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utah’s law, “a collaboration.” Such endorsements have set a dangerous precedent for the advancement of RFRAs and other efforts to corrupt actual religious freedom in various state legislatures.

Right-wing groups can (and do) point to LGBTQ support in Utah as a means of mainstreaming their agenda and deflating their opposition.

Catholic news agencies have hailed the “Mormon law” as a model to be repeated across the country. If that happens, we may well see more such pyrrhic victories, in which gains in non-discrimination legislation are overwhelmed by the emerging “right to discriminate” on the basis of religious convictions. This is where compromising on the true meaning of religious freedom could lead.

We may also see the Mormon Church emerge as a more prominent—albeit less public—partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom.
Complete Article HERE!

04/21/15

Pope OKs resignation of US bishop for not reporting abuse

File under:  Pretty amazing stuff!

By Nicole Winfiel

Pope Francis accepted the resignation Tuesday of a U.S. bishop who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected child abuser, answering calls by victims to take action against bishops who cover up for pedophile priests.

The Vatican said Tuesday that Bishop Robert Finn had offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office.Bishop Robert Finn

It didn’t provide a reason in the one-line announcement. Finn is 62, about 13 years shy of the normal retirement age of 75.

Finn, who leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, waited six months before notifying police about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years’ probation in 2012. Ever since, though, he has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down, with some parishioners petitioning Francis to remove him from the diocese.

No U.S. bishop has been forcibly removed for covering up for guilty clergy. And technically speaking, Finn wasn’t removed – he offered to resign, in the same way that Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law did in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in his archdiocese.

Law hadn’t been convicted of a crime, as Finn was, and the failure of the Vatican to forcibly remove Finn for three years after he pleaded guilty fueled victims’ complaints that bishops were continuing to enjoy protections even under the “zero tolerance” pledge of Francis.

In a statement, Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online abuse resource BishopAccountability.org, said Finn’s resignation was a welcome step but called on Francis to publicly state that he was removed for mismanaging the Ratigan case and failing to protect children.

She noted that bishops had been allowed to resign under the previous two popes, but that the Vatican has never publicly linked their resignations to mishandling abuse cases.

“We urge Pope Francis to issue such a statement immediately. That would be unprecedented, and it would send a bracing message to bishops and religious superiors worldwide that a new era has begun,” she said.

Finn, who apologized for Ratigan’s abuse and took measures to make the diocese safer for children, remains the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.

Even Francis’ top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, had said publicly last year that Francis needs to “urgently” address Finn’s case, though he later stressed that Finn deserved due process and must be spared “crowd-based condemnations.”

The Vatican last fall sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn’s diocese as part of an investigation of his leadership. But until Tuesday, there had been no word about what the pope would do.

In a statement issued by the diocese, Finn said it had been an “honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith.”

He asked for prayers for the next bishop.

Francis tapped Archbishop Joseph Naumann to lead the diocese temporarily until a new bishop is named. In a letter to the faithful, Naumann said he prayed “that the coming weeks and months will be a time of grace and healing for the diocese.”

The main U.S. victims group, SNAP, praised Finn’s resignation as a “tiny but belated step forward.”

“After centuries of abuse and cover-up done in secrecy … one pope has finally seen fit to oust one bishop for complicity in clergy sex crimes,” said SNAP’s David Clohessy of St. Louis. “That’s encouraging. But it’s only a very tiny drop of reform in an enormous bucket of horror.”

Francis is facing similar pressure to remove a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, amid an unprecedented outcry over his appointment because of his longtime affiliation with the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.

Karadima’s victims say Barros witnessed their abuse decades ago. He has denied knowing anything until he read news reports of Karadima’s crimes in 2010. The Vatican has defended the appointment.

Earlier this month, members of the pope’s sex abuse advisory commission came to Rome in an unscheduled session to voice their concern about Barros and his suitability for office given he will be responsible for child protection programs.

Complete Article HERE!

04/17/15

This I Believe: Created in God’s Image

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