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Archbishop: School leaders showed 'character and common sense' in firing married gay teacher

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PHILADELPHIA — Roman Catholic school officials who fired a married gay teacher are not seeking controversy but showed "character and common sense" by following church teachings, Philadelphia's archbishop said Monday.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, in a statement, thanked Waldron Mercy Academy leaders "for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented ... in accord with the teaching of the church. They've shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon."

The church opposes gay marriage. Of homosexuals, Pope Francis has said: "Who am I to judge?"

Teacher Margie Winters recently told a newspaper that she lost her job last month as religious instruction director even though she had told the school about her same-sex marriage when she was hired in 2007. She was told she could be open about her marriage with faculty but not with parents at the school, Winters told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"So that's what I've done," Winters said. "I've never been open. And that's been hard."

Nonetheless, she said, a few parents found out and complained to the school or the archdiocese. She was fired after she refused a request to resign, Winters said.

"In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current church teachings," Principal Nell Stetser said in a letter to parents obtained by the Inquirer, "but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings."

Many parents are upset by the dismissal, and Philadelphia's Democratic nominee for mayor, Jim Kenney, a Catholic-school graduate, has criticized the firing.

Spokesman Ken Gavin said last week that the archdiocese "did not influence" Waldron's decision at the nondiocesan elementary school.

However, Chaput on Monday weighed in with his statement.

"Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief," he wrote. "There's nothing complicated or controversial in this. It's a simple matter of honesty."

As archbishop of Denver in 2010, Chaput supported a diocesan Catholic school in Boulder that refused to let two young children of lesbians re-enroll. Chaput, in his weekly column, called it "a painful situation and said the church "never looks for reasons to turn anyone away from a Catholic education."

However, he said parents choose Catholic schools for their children so they can see their religious beliefs "fully taught and practiced."

"That simply can't be done if teachers need to worry about wounding the feelings of their students or about alienating students from their parents," said Chaput, who described people with different viewpoints on marriage as "often people of sincerity and good will."

Chaput said children of single and divorced parents are welcome in diocesan schools as long as their parents support the Catholic mission.

Chaput is scheduled to host the pope's two-day visit to Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families.

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