Chaput backs school's ouster of lesbian staffer

Margie Winters (second from right), who was fired as the director of religious studies at Waldron Mercy Academy after complaints about her same-sex marriage, at a vigil in her support in Merion on Sunday. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)

THE SISTERS OF Mercy order and Waldron Mercy Academy officials "showed character and common sense" in their decision to fire a school staffer who is in a same-sex marriage, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said yesterday.

The Archbishop was not alone in his support for Waldron Mercy Academy's dismissal of Margie Winters after eight years of employment. The Sisters of Mercy, which sponsors the Montgomery County Catholic school, also issued a bluntly worded letter to parents, telling them the Waldron Mercy decision is final.

Winters, who was the director of religious education and outreach, was dismissed last month after a parent complained to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Office of Catholic Education about her marriage to Andrea Vettori.

Chaput said schools who describe themselves as Catholic are responsible for teaching and witnessing the faith "in a manner true to Catholic belief."

"There's nothing complicated or controversial in this," he said in a statement. "It's a simple matter of honesty."

Chaput added that he was "very grateful" to the Sisters of Mercy, the principal and the school's trustees "for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the church.

"They've shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon," he added. Chaput sharply criticized the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Many parents said they were angry but not surprised at Chaput's words. Some said they were more disappointed and caught off-guard by the Sisters of Mercy statement.

Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community Leadership Team, wrote in the letter that the team "upholds the recent decision to not renew the annual contract of the school's director of religious education."

"We affirm this decision made by your principal, Nell Stetser, as a final decision which will not be reversed or modified," Vetrano wrote. "Had she not made this decision, our Leadership Team would have had to do so."

Winters was not available for comment, but a statement from the group Stand With Margie encouraged "the Church to invite the voices of the LGBT community to the table."

"Through relationship and conversation, the Church will grow in understanding of their LGBT sisters and brothers, who desire to share their gifts and talents freely and without fear of discrimination or termination," the statement read.

Winters, the statement continued, "was faithful to the teachings of the Church."

"The work of her ministry was never called into question. Margie was terminated from her position simply because she is married to her wife, Andrea Vettori," the group's statement read. " 'Stand with Margie' is a community that believes this is fundamentally wrong."

The statements by Chaput and the Sisters of Mercy left some parents wondering if they should part ways with Waldron. Others said they were determined to remain with the school and to press for changes.

Parent Nancy Houston, who said she's considering other schools, said she felt sadness when she read the order's letter. "We were hopeful there would be a change, and she'd be reinstated," Houston said. "Now that's gone."

Parent Diana Moro said "there's a tremendous sense of anger among the parents who feel they have been betrayed" by the Sisters of Mercy.

They say the order has drifted from the school's core values of "openness, inclusion and working in outreach in the spirit of mercy for all people," Moro said.

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