Catholic School Made Disastrous Choice to Hire Coach in Same-Sex Union

A Catholic school cannot hire an employee in a same-sex union without compromising its very purpose and putting students at risk of malformation.

St. Joseph Hall at Benet Academy
St. Joseph Hall at Benet Academy (photo: Tiziana Fabi / Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois, recently said it couldn’t hire a candidate for its lacrosse coaching position because, in a form submitted to the school, the candidate acknowledged being in a same-sex union.

“As a Catholic school, we employ individuals whose lives manifest the essential teachings of the Catholic Church in order to provide the education and faith formation of the young people entrusted to our care,” explained a school spokesperson.

It was a courageous witness to our Faith and to authentic Catholic education, especially given protests in support of the candidate by some students, parents and alumni. But this week, the school’s board of directors buckled under pressure and reversed the decision. By doing so, the board effectively abandoned the school’s Catholic mission.

Central to Catholic education is the formation of young people in the Catholic faith, and our faith unambiguously denies the validity of same-sex marriage and considers it a grave sin. While Catholics should have concern and compassion for people who struggle with same-sex attraction, a Catholic school simply cannot hire an employee in a same-sex union without compromising its very purpose and putting students at risk of malformation.

That’s why moral standards need to be upheld for all employees in Catholic schools, not only school leaders and teachers, advises Dr. Dan Guernsey of The Cardinal Newman Society in “All Employees Matter in the Mission of Catholic Education.”

A Catholic education “is not only provided in the classroom, but also the hallways, the sports field, the locker room, and the cafeteria,” he writes. “This formative environment must be marked by a deep, permeating unity of purpose and conduct among the faculty and staff who are dedicated to the mission of Catholic education.”

Sadly, Benet Academy’s board of directors chose “wokeness” over fidelity, and they have caused the school serious damage, including making it very difficult for the school ever to defend itself in court by claiming religious freedom to uphold Catholic teaching.

The board seems to have overruled the headmaster, Stephen Marth, who not only defended the initial rescinding of the coaching offer but scolded protesting students for waving rainbow flags, which “represent an affirmation of a particular lifestyle or life choices that the Church, in her wisdom, does not and cannot condone.” Now that’s a Catholic educator.

It would seem the Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey, which owns the school, have only two valid options for addressing the crisis: dismiss the board of directors, unless it agrees to conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church and uphold moral standards for school employees, or inform Bishop Ronald Hicks of Joliet, Illinois, that Benet Academy is no longer a Catholic institution and will be separated from the Abbey.


Moral Standards for Employees

As for now, it appears that Bishop Hicks is not getting involved in the situation — at least not publicly. Diocesan spokesperson Mary Massingale told me that the diocese has no plan for a public statement, except to say, “Benet Academy is not under the purview of the Diocese of Joliet, since the school is operated by the Order of St. Benedict, so we were not involved in the decision-making process.”

Furthermore, when asked for a copy of the diocese’s policies for Catholic schools, she replied, “Diocesan policies are not at issue here because Benet Academy has its own policies.”

But canon law clearly expects diocesan bishops to “watch over and visit the Catholic schools in his territory, even those which members of religious institutes have founded or direct,” and to issue “prescripts which pertain to the general regulation of Catholic schools,” including a Benedictine school like Benet Academy.

The Diocese of Joliet website suggests a very high standard for teachers and administrators in Catholic education, which I am delighted to see:

“[C]andidates must be devout and practicing Catholics who uphold the teachings of the faith and exemplify an unwavering commitment to Catholic education that is firmly rooted in Gospel values. Most importantly, each candidate is expected to adhere to all principles and tenets of the Catholic faith, to exemplify Christ-like behaviors both inside and outside of school, and to maintain a lifestyle that is in full accord with Church teachings. Additionally, candidates must be willing to accept the challenges of serving as ‘New Evangelists’ within their classrooms and schools.”

However, the website focuses only on standards for “teachers and administrators” in Catholic schools owned by the diocese. What about a lacrosse coach? Surely coaches are also expected to uphold and witness to Catholic values, given their highly influential role in the formation of students?

Incredibly, Benet Academy claims it does have such standards, despite the board’s apparent violation of them.

As of Thursday, the Academy’s employment website says it “reserve[s] the right to hire staff of good moral character who subscribe to the stated philosophy of the school and to the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Two jobs are currently advertised, both for coaching positions, and both job descriptions state that “for Catholic employees, conformance with religious tenets of the Catholic faith is a condition of employment, and all employees are prohibited from performing, teaching, or advocating any practices or doctrines which are inconsistent with religious tenets of the Catholic faith.”

Moreover, both job announcements require that the employee “serves as a positive role model and supports the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church at all times. Creates a faith-focused learning environment within the department and school and maintains a Catholic culture in his or her department that is emphasized including but not limited to, words, deeds, manner of dress, and actions.”

Is this same language in the newly hired lacrosse coach’s job description? One way or another, such a discrepancy between policy and practice cannot stand.

While the Benet Academy situation is a great disappointment to faithful Catholics, especially families who have trusted their children to the school, I am heartened to see more Catholic dioceses and educators embracing clear standards for curriculum, employment, athletics and more. The only path forward for the renewal of faithful Catholic education is to ensure policies that are firmly rooted in Catholic teaching and the mission of Catholic education, and which are practiced consistently.

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