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BY Valerie Schmalz
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Catholic high school student whose mother exposed the school drama teacher as an abortion clinic escort has been expelled.
The action came just weeks after the bishop of Sacramento, Calif., ordered the teacher fired.
The teacher, in turn, has filed complaints with the state against the school, the religious order that sponsors it, and Bishop William Weigand and the Diocese of Sacramento.
The chancellor of the diocese said the bishop cannot intervene in this dispute between Loretto High School and expelled sophomore Katelyn Sills, 15, and her family.
“We don't have jurisdiction,” said Father Charles McDermott, the chancellor. “Bishops aren't absolute monarchs to just jump in whenever they want.”
However, Father McDermott said the diocese would be willing to help Katelyn find a place in one of several Catholic high schools directly under the bishop's control.
The teacher, Marie Bain, 50, was dismissed by the all girls’ college preparatory school on Oct. 14 after Bishop Weigand sent the school a “clarifying canonical directive.”
In his Oct. 5 letter to the school, Bishop Weigand wrote, “Obviously, the very public nature of Ms. Bain's previous volunteer activity at a Planned Parenthood Clinic is inconsistent with her position as a teacher at a Catholic high school and as a collaborator in the formation of Catholic women.”
A “clinic escort” typically stands outside an abortion business and ensures that a woman coming for an abortion gets inside without interference from people who seek to change her mind about killing her unborn baby.
The bishop was able to order the dismissal of Bain because her history of volunteering as a Planned Parenthood escort showed “full formal active cooperation with abortion,” and that is a matter of faith and morals, which is in the bishop's purview, Father McDermott said.
Sills’ mother brought a photo of Bain working as an escort to the attention of the bishop after first quietly bringing it to the attention of Loretto High School, Father McDermott said.
Because the Loretto Sisters — the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the order that runs the school — are a religious order under the Vatican, they are independent of the bishop in matters of internal governance. Sills’ expulsion falls into the category of internal governance, Father McDermott said.
The student was notified of her expulsion in an express mail letter delivered Oct. 29. A statement from Loretto High School president Sister Helen Timothy said the behavior of the Sills family made it necessary to expel Katelyn. In a statement released Oct. 28, the school cited unnamed taunts, veiled threats and verbal abuse as well as “a mass e-mail campaign slandering the school's reputation as a Catholic institution.”
Sister Timothy told the Register she could make no further comment.
“We cannot allow members of a single family to disrupt our ability to serve all Loretto families and provide their daughters with a safe and stable campus environment conducive to learning,” the statement said.
The affair drew a firestorm of local and national attention partly because Sills had begun a very articulate weblog earlier this year that became a magnet for hundreds of comments on both sides of the matter. Comments on the blog (standupandspeakout.blogspot.com) intensified after Sills acknowledged Oct. 22 that her mother was the one who gave the teacher's photo to the bishop. The Sacramento Bee ran several stories, including the first story identifying Katelyn's relationship to the firing of the teacher.
Father McDermott said a local radio show devoted two three-hour shows to Sills’ expulsion on the Monday and Tuesday following her ouster from the school.
The Sills family answered the school's statement attacking them, posting a Nov. 1 press release on Katelyn's blog that said: “These charges are categorically false and defamatory. In actual fact, our family has at all times acted respectfully in attempting to resolve a difficult situation for the good of all members of the Loretto community, continuously seeking reconciliation.”
Sills’ mother had also complained this year about a Teen Wire handout by a teacher in a Social Studies class on domestic violence. Teen Wire is a website sponsored for adolescents by Planned Parenthood.
A telephone call to Sills’ father was not returned after the statement was posted. Earlier, Edward Sills, an organic farmer, said the family was not ready to comment.
The drama teacher, Bain, also did not return a phone call from the Register. But the Sacramento Bee reported Nov. 4 that she filed two employment complaints with the state. One, with the Department of Labor, calls for an investigation of the employment practices of the diocese. The other, with the Department of Fair Employment, is a first step toward a lawsuit.
Bain alleges that her firing was a case of sexual and religious discrimination and violated her free-speech rights.
James Sweeney, an attorney for the diocese, said he was confident the diocese handled the case appropriately, according to the Bee. “It's purely an internal matter of Church discipline and is protected by the First Amendment,” he said.
Katelyn Sills notified the blogosphere of her plight in a post Oct. 31.
“As of Saturday, October 29th, I was given official notice by express mail that I am expelled from Loretto High School. This was given completely without forewarning, without a meeting, and without a chance to say goodbye. My family is now seeking legal advice, and more details will follow,” she wrote.
Sills’ blog and her story were linked and commented upon by detractors at her school and elsewhere and by supporters, including some of the most trafficked blogs run by faithful Catholics, such as JimmyAkin.org and Amy Welborn's OpenBook. Akin recommended that the Sills sue.
The Sacramento Bee in its first story had quoted the school's president, Sister Timothy, saying after Bain's dismissal that she was “exceptional” and “the students thought very highly of her.”
Sills herself apparently had no idea what was looming. On Oct. 26, three days before she was expelled, she wrote on her blog: “After the initial uproar and confusion over Ms. Bain's dismisal, things are now pretty much the same as always at Loretto, from my point of view. My friends are still my friends and, for the most part, people treat me as they did before.”
Valerie Schmalz writes from San Francisco.