Bishop Watterson High School students protest the firing of Carla Hale
No one at the Catholic high school that fired Carla Hale in March claimed that she was anything less than a terrific physical education teacher and coach, devoted to the kids and adored by many of them.
No one accused her of bringing her personal life into the gym or onto the fields. By nature she’s private. And she loved her job too much to risk it that way.
But she lost it nonetheless, and the how is as flabbergasting as the why is infuriating.
Rather suddenly, her mother died, and an hour afterward, she and her brother numbly went through the paces of a standard obituary, listing survivors. Her brother included his wife. So Carla included her partner, Julie, whom her mother had known well and loved. Leaving Julie out would have been unthinkable, though Carla didn’t really think it through at the time. Her grief was still raw.
A parent of one of the school’s students spotted the obituary, and wrote an anonymous letter to the school and to the Diocese of Columbus, saying that they couldn’t allow a woman like Carla to educate Catholic children.
So they don’t, not anymore. In a termination notice, the principal explained that Carla’s “spousal relationship violates the moral laws of the Catholic Church.” That was the sum of the stated grievance against her, and after more than 18 years at Bishop Watterson High School, Carla, 57, was done…
So much for what the Catholic Church really thinks about the rights of working people.
“Every morning,” she said, “from the time you walked into the building, kids would be yelling down the hall, ‘Hey, Miss Hale, what are we going to do today?’ ‘Hey, Miss Hale, I remembered those shoes.’ It felt so comforting.” She had a sense of belonging. Of purpose.
Even now, after nearly two months of exile from the school, she’s still on what she calls “bell time.” If the clock on her kitchen wall says 10:45 a.m., the voice in her head says, “Fourth period…”
And at a kitchen table here in central Ohio, a typically cheerful woman dabbed her eyes and wondered aloud what she’d done wrong.
The answer is in one sense simple: she made a life with another woman. While the Catholic Church doesn’t condemn homosexuality per se, it considers any physical expression of it sinful. And Carla’s “public declaration of an extramarital relationship,” meaning the obituary, indicated that she was flouting Catholic tenets and thus breaching her contract, according to a statement the diocese e-mailed me.
But things get complicated when you consider the selectiveness of the church’s outrage, the capriciousness of its mercy.
Until public exposure shamed them, many church leaders protected priests whose sexual transgressions involved minors and were criminal…
Neither the federal government nor Ohio outlaws employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Columbus does, though whether it can be applied to religious groups is uncertain. Carla’s lawyer, Thomas Tootle, has filed a complaint with the city anyway.
It’s been a big story here, with thousands of people publicly expressing support for her. She’s moved but mortified. She didn’t seek and doesn’t enjoy the media attention.
“A lot of people want me to be bitter and go after the Catholic Church,” she said, adding that others want to cast her as a lesbian heroine. She just wants her job back, a recognition, she said, “that I’m a moral individual who happens to be gay.”
After all, that’s the point of civil rights. We’re all supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law. And most Americans believe our right to an equal opportunity to work for a living are protected, should be protected.
In this case, it’s proven once again to be an ethical standard our federal government, most state governments, aren’t required to live up to. So much for states rights preserving freedom.
The only freedom being defended here is the right of the Holy Roman Catholic Church to practice bigotry against employees.