LOS ANGELES (RNS) Support for a Roman Catholic high school teacher fired for marrying his same-sex partner continued to grow Monday (Aug. 12) as the number of people signing an online petition topped 58,000 people.

Ken Bencomo taught English at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora for 17 years. He was fired last month after an article in the Southern California newspaper Inland Valley Daily Bulletin published a story and video about his wedding.

Bencomo, 45, and his husband, Christopher Persky, 32, were one of the first gay couples to marry on July 1, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

His termination is not the first firing of a gay Catholic schoolteacher. In Columbus, Ohio, teacher Carla Hale was fired from a Catholic high school in April, after someone pointed out that she listed her lesbian partner’s name in her mother’s obituary.

And in January, Nicholas Coppola was stripped of his volunteer posts as a religious education teacher, lector and visitation minister at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Oceanside, N.Y., after he married his same-sex partner.

Nicholas Coppola (left) with his husband David Crespo at home. Photo courtesy Nicholas Coppola

Nicholas Coppola (left) with his husband David Crespo at home. Photo courtesy Nicholas Coppola


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“I just believe it’s a complete injustice,” said Brittany Littleton, 23, who graduated from St. Lucy’s in 2008, and launched the petition to reinstate Bencomo on the web-based platform, Change.org. “I was really horrified and sickened and so ashamed of my school for making this decision.”

An aspiring actress, Littleton also led an Aug. 8 protest at the school, which she says drew about 300 people.

The Catholic Church is opposed to gay marriage.

Bencomo, who many students affectionately refer to as “Mr. B.,” was head of the English department, as well as extracurricular activities such as dance and yearbook. Students say most people at the school were aware of Bencomo’s sexual orientation. They were shocked to hear of his firing through social-media platforms, such as Twitter.

According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, a growing number of Catholics support same-sex marriage. The March poll, which surveyed close to 500 Catholics, found that 54 percent of Catholic voters support same-sex marriage, while 38 percent oppose it.

St. Lucy’s media consultant, Robert Alaniz, said the school stands firmly by its decision. Bencomo was not fired for being gay, Alaniz added, but for making his same-sex marriage a “public spectacle.”

Bencomo’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles would not comment on the firing, noting that St. Lucy’s was not part of the archdiocese’s school system. The private Catholic school is guided by the educational standards of the archdiocese, however.

Students said they would continue to press the school on the matter.

“There’s been no sense of remorse or understanding of even what a hurtful and prejudicial decision this is,” Littleton said. “So my plan really is just to keep going until they realize that. A lot of it really has to do with church doctrine, so this fight is going to have to continue on past St. Lucy’s.”

YS/AMB END FOWLER

16 Comments

  1. Most Catholic schools have a morals clause as part of their teacher contracts. This makes sense, in that teachers are a role model for students, particularly during the teen years when students are often aware of the outside lives of their teachers.

    The problem is that such clauses are enforced in an erratic manner. Consequently, teachers are blindsided if school administrators suddenly decide to take the clause seriously. The situation with Ken Bencomo is a case in point. He had repeatedly introduced his life partner, as such, to others at school functions. That Bencomo was gay, and living with another guy was not considered a problem, despite it being against Church teachings and despite it being public knowledge.

    The administration apparently drew the line at the newspaper coverage of the marriage.of Bencomo and his partner. Yet surely students at the school would have aware of the marriage, even if it had not been publicized in the newspaper. Such is life in a high school. I get the impression that the administration acted, not because of concern for the students, but because the newspaper coverage meant that they could no longer deny the situation to parents and alumni.

    • How do we really know how his partner was introduced at school functions he could have said “this is my brother”, “this my neighbor”, “this is my friend”, or something to that effect. I doubt seriously that he said “This is my gay lover and we are going to get married soon”.

  2. These rules need to be strictly enforced, not just if something embarrassing to the school comes to light. If someone is in violation of the conditions of employment, get rid of them right away. Otherwise, you look like a hypocrite! This guy shouldn’t have been allowed to stay for as long as he did.

  3. Daniel Berry, NYC

    you said in this article that “the catholic church is opposed to gay marriage. it sounds to me like a great many Roman catholics are NOT opposed to gay marriage – in fact, polls show that the majority of Roman catholics are not. So perhaps you might better have said, “The leadership of the Roman catholic church is officially opposed to gay marriage.” Any Christian theologian will tell you that a church’s position on an issue cannot be reduced to the opinions of its leaders.

    • Contrary to leftist opnion, the church is not a democracy. What is sin is always sin, regardless of how many believe otherwise. Remember the great flood, most of the people during that time thought doing whatever they wanted was perfectly ok, before they realized they should have taken Olympic swimming lessons. If the [expletive deleted] want to start their own school have at it, but keep your perversions out of the catholic ones.

  4. Ken…People like you amaze me. You advocate firing a long term, excellent teacher? We have enough problems in this country and our education system. When you say these things you just prove Justice Kennedy correct by using the word “animus”. What if some someone walked into your office and said you are fired because you just married the woman who is the love of your life. You would be screaming your head off. Grow up and think before you speak.

    • This guy was NOT part of the public education system he was a Catholic school, where homosexual behavior is justly considered a sin. I find it dubious that he did not look into the beliefs of the church before taking this job.

  5. You state that “The Catholic Church is opposed to gay marriage.” This is totally wrong. To say that the Church “opposes” “same-sex marriage” is like saying that the Church opposes an apple being an orange or that it opposes 2+2=5.

    The Church does not “oppose” “same-sex marriage.” Rather, the Church rightly understands that “same-sex marriage” is an ontological impossibility.

    A religious news service should know that and accurately report what it is that the Church actually proclaims rather than promote its own ideological views as fact.

  6. Carl Diederichs

    Why do so many people take the church’s position on gay marriage so seriously and have so little to say about the death penalty, unbridled capitalism, child abuse, the denigration of women, crimes against gay people,and so many other sins against justice and charity?

    Our church is too concerned about the pelvic region.

  7. I marvel at the comments made here. The administration of Holy Mother Church for decades moved clergy about dioceses when discovered they were pedophiles. Their gifts and talents as priests were still shared with the People of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that gays should be respected and included in society–valued as children of God. And yet, local administration sacks a solid teacher. All this chatter about the Word of God….take off your dirty glasses and finally read it with the eyes of faith.

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