In June, Margie Winters, the director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Lower Merion, was let go.
The ostensible reason? Winters is in a same-sex marriage to long-term partner, Andrea Vettori.
The case — and the murky circumstances around Winter’s firing — have become a lightning rod for how the Catholic Church treats LGBTQ members. Winters and about 40 of her supporters dropped off a petition with more than 22,000 signatures on Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput’s doorstep in Center City.
It calls on Chaput to put a “moratorium on the firing of LGBT employees” and “to ask Catholic schools before he gets involved with the hiring or firing of staff, in particular their lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual staff.”
The petition was prepared by Christian social justice organization Faithful America, with the support of Winters.
While supporters initially called for Winters to be reinstated, the petition and Winters own words move the activism out of the realm of individual grievances and into one of seismic shifts within the Catholic church.
Initial outcry by parents and supporters of Winters led to meetings, a “Stand with Margie” Facebook page, a GoFundMe account with a $25,000 goal for the teacher. Winters said she is no longer seeking to be reinstated so the academy can move on and prepare for the coming school year.
In response to media attention and public outcry, the archdiocese issued a statement calling it a “falsehood” that church leadership pulled the strings behind Winters’ firing, though Chaput “fully supports the decision made by the leadership of Waldron Mercy.”
According to Winters, the timeline speaks for itself. “The school and the Sisters of Mercy had me in this position for eight years, and it wasn’t until the diocese was notified that something changed,” she said.
Winters maintained school faculty and staff were aware of her marriage for the full time of her employment at Waldron.
She said the archdiocese was notified by at least one parent who became aware of her same-sex marriage and who already had complaints about some of her curriculum decisions.
For his part, Chaput has called gay marriage “the issue of our time” and gay relationships “wrong.” From the same interview, with the National Catholic Reporter, he continued, “that said, we should always respect people who do things contrary to the Gospel.”
That Catholic paper also spelled out a way that church officials may force the hand of Catholic schools by threatening to take away their “canonical status,” in essence revoking their relationship with the church and threatening their financial status in order to bring about the firing of gay or lesbian staff.
It’s not clear if that happened at Waldron, although Winters said she believes being married, in addition to a same-sex relationship, can act “as the line you cross” to incur discrimination as a gay Catholic.
Parent of two Waldron Mercy students Dayana Melendez said Winter’s firing was one part of her decision to pull her kids out of the school. “I want my kids to have the same church,” she said. “But, I want to make sure there is no space for discrimination.”
Another parent, Katie Culver, said she would wait to see how the firing decision is addressed before deciding on whether to remove her three children from the school, but said she was “disappointed in the [school’s] decision.”
Moving forward, Winters said she’d like to keep speaking about inclusion on the public stage, addressing other high-profile firings of Catholics, including the Rev. Warren Hall from Seton Hall University, and perhaps meeting the pope to speak about LGBTQ inclusion this coming September.
“I would love to get the ear of the pope,” said Winters. “He’s passionate about people who are on the margins.”