After losing school job, gay teacher loses church job

A Catholic school music teacher who was fired after church officials learned that he planned to marry his male partner has been fired from his other job as a music director at a suburban Catholic church.

Al Fischer, 46, was told by a priest at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Catholic Church in Florissant that he could no longer work as one of the parish’s part-time music directors, a paid position he’s held for several years, according to Fischer’s partner, Charlie Robin.

The reason given by the priest, according to Robin, was that Fischer’s firing and pending marriage had become “too public of an issue.” The pastor at St. Rose could not be reached for comment.

Fischer declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in an email that Fischer “was relieved of his duties (at St. Rose) when he publicly demonstrated a life inconsistent with Catholic teaching.”

The spokeswoman said expectations for church employees are laid out in “the Christian Witness Statement that is on the first page of the Parish Employee Handbook.” The email said the witness statement applies to all employees of the archdiocese, parishes and schools.

Fischer was fired Feb. 17 from his job as music teacher at St. Ann Catholic School in Normandy, Mo., where he’d taught for four years. Several sources have said Fischer’s sexual orientation was well known at the school.

According to Robin, officials first took action against Fischer after a representative of the archdiocese overheard Fischer talking to co-workers about the couple’s plan to marry in New York City on March 9.

Robin said Fischer signed a Christian Witness Statement at St. Ann, but that he was never asked to sign such a document at St. Rose.

The witness statement says all who serve in Catholic education should, among other requirements, “not take a public position contrary to the Catholic Church” and “demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Robin said he was particularly upset over the firing from St. Rose, where Robin is a cantor and the two have attended Mass for years and are pictured as a couple in the parish directory.

“He’s not up there demanding the liturgy to be pro-gay,” Robin said. “Al is not causing this ruckus. Al is doing his best to stay above all this because he’s more hurt than anything.”

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Historic: Catholic Church Withdraws from Maine Marriage Equality Fight

The Roman Catholic Church is taking no active roles in fundraising, staffing, advertising, or campaigning against marriage equality in Maine.

Bishop Richard Malone, the sect’s top-ranking official in Maine, said on 2 March that his goal now is only to re-train the wayward 25% of Maine’s 187,306 Catholics. He said that the church “doesn’t want to impose a law or belief on anyone,” especially non-Catholic citizens, who comprise 86% of Maine residents, and 77% of all Americans. Maine voters will decide by ballot in November whether to write same-gender marriage into state law.

Historically, Roman Catholic officials have opposed virtually every regulation, policy, and law proposed to protect LGBT people nationwide. Toward that end, the church spent $1.9 million to repeal Maine’s new marriage equality statute in 2009, after the legislature and governor had already enacted it.

Historic Catholic retreat

Friday’s historic retreat is the first of its kind for this religious sect, and is profound. Such changes are not made independently, and are always coordinated with higher church officials. The Diocese of Maine, located in Portland, is a corporation sole which reports to the Ecclesiastical Province of Boston, located in Boston, Massachusetts, which includes the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

The Catholic church’s reversal on this year’s campaign in Maine may help current marriage equality efforts in 18 other states, especially New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Washington. In Minnesota and North Carolina, the church has been lobbying to ban marriage for all same-gender couples by amending those states’ constitutions. Bishop Malone gave no indication of when, whether, or how Maine’s retreat on marriage equality will affect similar campaigns in other states.

Formal Teachings Still in Place

Within its own ranks, however, Roman Catholic officials are continuing to reinforce Pope Benedict XVI’s formal view of bisexual, lesbian, and gay sexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “inherently evil.”

Last month, the church assigned Rev. Kevin Martin of St. Michael Parish in Augusta to operate a newly formed Maine chapter of Courage, the international organization that claims to cure people of the sexual orientation that they are born with. The cures are attempted using a mixture of firm hope, additional prayer, new apparel, and/or life-long celibacy. Such reparative therapies have been discredited and denounced by every major mental/medical health professional organization as ineffective, painful, and dangerous to patients because of higher death rates from suicide.

Despite withdrawing from the public debate, the church still bans marriage for same-gender Catholic couples, according to its official policy ( and Bishop Malone’s recent 22-page letter (

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Catholic school fires gay teacher planning wedding

A popular music teacher at St. Ann Catholic School in north St. Louis County recently was fired after church officials learned that he planned to marry his male partner of 20 years in New York, one of a handful of states where same-sex marriage is legal.

The teacher, Al Fischer, confirmed to the Post-Dispatch that he was fired Feb. 17 from his job of four years at the school. When asked to comment on his firing, Fischer declined and referred to a letter emailed to his students’ parents shortly after his termination.

In the letter, Fischer tells parents of “my joyful news, and my sad news” — the former being his plans to marry his longtime partner in New York City, and the latter, “that I can’t be your music teacher anymore.”

Fischer’s partner, Charlie Robin, executive director of Washington University’s Edison Theatre, told the Post-Dispatch that the couple’s relationship was in no way a secret at St. Ann and that Fischer was fired after a representative of the St. Louis Archdiocese overheard him talking to co-workers about his wedding plans.

Shortly thereafter, according to Robin, Fischer was told he would be fired March 9, the couple’s 20th anniversary and the day of their planned nuptials. But after Robin posted the news of Fischer’s soon-to-come firing on Facebook on Feb. 16, Fischer was fired the next day, Robin said.

Asked about the Archdiocese’s role in the firing, a spokeswoman replied in an email that the Archdiocese “fully supports the action taken at St. Ann Parish School as it is in full compliance with the Christian Witness Statement signed by every educator in the Catholic school system.”

The spokeswoman did not offer any other details about the decision.
The Rev. Bill Kempf, St. Ann’s pastor, said in an emailed statement that the parish was “recently informed by one of its teachers of his plan to unite in marriage with an individual of the same sex. With full respect of this individual’s basic human dignity, this same-sex union opposes Roman Catholic teaching as it cannot realize the full potential a marital relationship is meant to express. As a violation of the Christian Witness Statement that all Catholic educators in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are obliged to uphold, we relieved this teacher of his duties.”

The Christian Witness Statement, which educators sign when applying for Archdiocese work, says all who serve in Catholic education should, among other requirements, “not take a public position contrary to the Catholic Church” and “demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The Roman Catholic Church does not condemn homosexuals who remain “chaste,” but it takes a strong stance against same-sex marriage and homosexual acts.
Robin said his partner did, indeed, sign a witness statement. “We just didn’t realize we were making a ‘public’ stand,” Robin said. “There’s nothing that’s been hidden about our relationship at any point. I go to the staff parties. I show up at the school concerts. … It doesn’t matter until somebody with the Archdiocese is sitting in the room.”

Fischer’s firing comes on the heels of a Jan. 11 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that gives churches and their schools broad powers over employees. In its opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court upheld the “ministerial exception” that essentially says churches can’t be sued over employment decisions regarding those the church hires to “preach their beliefs, teach their faith and carry out their mission.”

Fischer’s firing is similar to the termination of a Catholic church employee in Charlotte, N.C.

Steav Bates-Congdon was the music director at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte until he was fired last month after marrying his longtime male partner in New York in the fall.

One parent at St. Ann Catholic School who asked not to be identified said many parents were upset over Fischer’s firing, considering his impressive work with the school’s music program and his popularity among students and parents.

The parent and others with ties to the school told the Post-Dispatch that Fischer’s sexual orientation was well-known.

Among his roles as an area musician, he is artistic director of the Gateway Men’s Chorus, which, according to the group’s website, “affirms and promotes gay culture and acceptance through excellence in musical performance and education.” A biography of Fischer on the group’s website includes a reference to his partner of 20 years.

In his letter to parents, Fischer wrote: “I think the word has been well spread that this is not the fault of St. Ann School or its leadership, and I want to emphasize that I get that, too.” It added that the school’s principal and the parish priest “are still there for me in a big way.”

The letter encouraged parents to talk to their children. “A family conversation about whether or not justice was served here could be a great thing,” it read. “I do not want the lesson from this for the kids to be, ‘Keep your mouth shut, hide who you are or what you think if it will get you in trouble.'”

When Robin first learned that Fischer was to be fired, he noted on Facebook that Fischer was to be fired “for marrying a man, in another state, even though in the state of Missouri we will continue to be just good friends.”
A practicing Catholic, Robin said he hopes to see the church change how it treats gays.

“Everyone involved in this process I know is committed to good,” he said. “The problem is blindly following the doctrine isn’t committed to good.”

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Savannah diocese, bishops sued over priest child abuse case

The Catholic Diocese of Savannah and two of its bishops have been sued in South Carolina over alleged sexual abuse of a minor by former priest Wayland Y. Brown.

The suit, filed Nov. 16 in the Court of Common Pleas in Ridgeland, alleged that Brown abused a Savannah youth whom he met through youth programs at Savannah’s St. James Catholic Church and school in the mid-1970s.

According to the suit, the victim, a “devout Catholic” identified as John Doe, was sexually abused by Brown on various church and school properties as well as in various locations in South Carolina.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah and bishops Raymond Lessard and Gregory Hartmayer are named as defendants in the suit.

“In approximately 1976-1979, Priest Brown sexually assaulted the minor plaintiff, John Doe, on numerous occasions,” the suit alleged.

The 25-page suit also alleged the church “knew or should have known” Brown was assaulting the victim and the church used “a policy of concealment, secrecy and obfuscation of child abuse by church employees and priests.”

The suit asks for a jury trial to determine damages.

Brown, 67, was ordained in the diocese in July 1977, allegedly over the objections of some diocesan staff, by then-Bishop Raymond Lessard and in 1988 served as associate pastor at St. James Parish in southside Savannah.

Hartmayer was installed as bishop Oct. 18.

Brown was removed from active ministry in July 1988.

Bishop J. Kevin Boland, who served between the two named bishops and is not a defendant in the civil case, started the process to remove Brown from the priesthood in February 2003.

The Vatican dismissed Brown from the priesthood in December 2004. Brown voluntarily agreed to return to Maryland in June 2002 to face prosecution on charges of molesting a Maryland teenager decades earlier.

He pleaded guilty in a Maryland court in November 2002 to charges of child abuse and battery for performing sexual acts on a teenage boy and his younger brother between 1974 and 1977.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but in April 2008 was released after serving five years based on good behavior.

He was required to register as a child sex offenders on the Maryland sex offender registry

Brown has not been charged with sexual abuse in the Savannah area, but at least one man has claimed he was molested by a former St. James priest.

“Father Brown is a convicted sex offender,” said Charleston attorney D. Scott Beard, one of John Doe’s lawyers. “According to our lawsuit, he was placed in a position of authority with young boys even though church officials knew of his inappropriate sexual behavior with minors.”

Beard said Brown “left a trail of child victims in the places where he was assigned by the Catholic Church. If Church officials had not acted recklessly in allowing Father Brown to be around children, they could have prevented John Doe and others like him from being abused.”

Diocese spokeswoman Barbara King said Friday, “We cannot comment on pending legal action.”

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Vatican ruled by ‘omerta’ code of silence, whistle-blower claims

The Vatican is ruled by a climate of fear and an ‘omerta’ code of silence, a whistle-blower has claimed.

The mole claims to be one of more than 20 people within the Holy See who have leaked sensitive documents to the Italian media in the last few weeks, in an affair that has been compared to the WikiLeaks scandal and dubbed “Vati-leaks”.

The unidentified man, who said he had worked in the Vatican for more than 20 years, made the claims in an interview to be aired on Italian television on Wednesday night.

His face was hidden and his voice digitally distorted when he appeared on the TV channel, La7.

According to extracts of the interview, the whistle-blower said the Vatican was engulfed in intrigue, secrecy and a climate of intimidation.
“Maybe there is a kind of omerta to prevent the truth from surfacing. Not because of a power struggle but maybe because of fear,” he added.

He claimed to have worked in the State Secretariat, which is led by the powerful but unpopular Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, who is reported to have fallen out of favour with the Pope and his supporters.

The whistle-blower said the Vatican is a place where “you can commit a murder and then disappear into the void” – a reference to a murky scandal in the Swiss Guard in 1998, when a young soldier shot dead the corps’ commander and wife before apparently committing suicide.

The mother of Cedric Tornay, 23, the alleged assassin, has never accepted that her son would have committed suicide and has called on Pope Benedict XVI, 84, to reopen the case, amid speculation that the real killer of the three may never have been caught.

There have been long-standing accusations of an official cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church, with numerous conspiracy theories put forward for a possible motive.

The leaks have embarrassed the Vatican in recent weeks, with claims of corruption and nepotism, questions over the transparency of the Vatican bank and unconfirmed reports of an assassination plot against the Pope within the next 12 months.

The whistle-blower dismissed suggestions that documents were being leaked in exchange for money.

“Something like that is inconceivable for me. That would mean betraying what we believe in,” he said.

He urged the Vatican to reinvestigate “with zeal” one of its most enduring mysteries – the kidnap of teenager Emanuela Orlandi nearly 30 years ago.
Over the years it has been claimed that Miss Orlandi was kidnapped so that she could be used as a bargaining chip for the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill John Paul II in St Peter’s Square in 1981.

Another theory is that the girl’s father, a Vatican employee, had stumbled on documents that connected the Vatican bank with a criminal gang in Rome and that she was kidnapped in a bid to silence him.

It has even been suggested that the kidnapping was carried out on the orders of a Catholic archbishop, Paul Marcinkus, the disgraced head of the Vatican bank, known as the ‘Istituto per le Opere di Religione’. Marcinkus, an American, died six years ago.

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