Fired teacher speaks out amid growing controversy

Fired teacher speaks out amid growing controversy

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The Catholic school teacher who was recently fired for her same-sex marriage spoke with PGN this week about the ongoing controversy.

It was made public last week that Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion terminated Margie Winters, a longtime teacher and director of religious education at the elementary school, because a parent reportedly complained to the school and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia about Winters’ marriage.

Winters, who married her wife in Boston in 2007, taught at Waldron Mercy for eight years. Waldron Mercy Principal Nell Stetser knew of Winters’ sexual orientation and marriage when she was hired — even recommending to her that she remain closeted to parents and students.

While the archdiocese has emphasized that the decision to terminate Winters came from the school itself, Winters said she suspects the Archdiocese played a role.

“I can’t be certain, but it is interesting that I was a beloved member of the Waldron Mercy community for so many years, and loved and accepted for who I am,” she told PGN. “This stance of inclusion was called into question once the church was notified of my marriage.”

In a statement this week, Archbishop Charles Chaput applauded the firing.

“I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church,” he said in a statement. “They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

In a letter to the Waldron Mercy community, the Sisters of Mercy reaffirmed Stetser’s decision and made it clear that Winters would not be reinstated.

“We affirm this decision made by your principal, Nell Stetser, as a final decision, which will not be reversed or modified,” wrote Sister Patricia Vetrano, president of Sisters of Mercy. “Had Nell not made this decision, our Leadership Team would have had to do so.”

In his statement, Chaput suggested public backlash is unwarranted.

“Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief,” Chaput said. “There’s nothing complicated or controversial in this. It’s a simple matter of honesty.”

However, the firing caused a sharp outcry from the school community and beyond.

As of presstime, the “Stand with Margie” Facebook group had more than 10,000 page likes. More than $14,000 had been raised for Winters and wife Andrea Vittori via GoFundMe. Hundreds gathered at a prayer vigil Sunday night in Lower Merion, and some students have written letters to Pope Francis about the situation.

While Winters said she is “still discerning” her next steps for employment, she does have tentative plans for the money raised through “Stand with Margie.”

“With the support that Stand with Margie has received, we are contemplating making this a foundation to continue this conversation in the church and in society.”

The support she’s seen in the past weeks has demonstrated that many Catholics favor institutional changes towards the LGBT community, Winters said.

“The support I’ve received shows that many in the Church desire an inclusive Church that bases its decisions on love and mercy,” said Winters. “This is the Church Pope Francis has called for. With his visit to Philadelphia, what better time for the Church of Philadelphia to have this conversation?”

Winters said LGBT people deserve a place at the table in the Catholic Church.

“I invite the Church to sit down with members of the LGBT community in a spirit of conversation and dialogue so that the Church learns about our lives, our loves and our faith,” she said. “Andrea and I are committed, baptized members of the Church and desire full inclusion and active participation in this Church that we have loved and been formed by.”

Winters noted her firing points to a larger problem within the Catholic faith, as a growing number of people have faced adverse employment action because of anti-LGBT policies.

She said she’s hopeful that her situation will fuel the adoption of a statewide LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

“I hope that my story will help strengthen the debate in favor of both a statewide and national nondiscrimination law. My termination is not the first time that someone has been fired for being in a same-sex marriage,” she said. “This is happening nationwide and is a pastoral challenge for the church.  I believe that the parents of Waldron Mercy Academy and those supportive of Stand with Margie are speaking out for change within the church so that the church becomes a more loving, inclusive, welcoming church. Isn’t this what Pope Francis has been calling for?” 

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