A Firing Without Fairness

Colleen Simon’s firing from a job she loved with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has been widely reported. Her dismissal came after she was featured in a story in 816, the Kansas City Star news magazine, about people working along the Troost Avenue corridor. The article mentioned that she was legally married to another woman.
The letter of dismissal said Simon’s job at the St. Francis Xavier Parish, on Troost Avenue in Kansas City, “included the management and oversight of the parish social and justice outreach ministry to community families, as well as providing pastoral care and education on Church teaching to parishioners.”
Nothing in that job description would prevent someone in a legal same-sex marriage from performing the same duties as someone in a heterosexual marriage. What century does the Diocese think their parishioners live in?
Simon’s attorneys filed suit July 17 against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Bishop Robert W. Finn for unpaid wages and fringe benefits, punitive damages, other damages including emotional distress, court costs, and attorney fees.
In the lawsuit, Simon’s attorneys stated, “Bishop Finn and the Diocese have never once offered Ms. Simon any assistance in finding new employment, nor have they offered any assistance or support in dealing with long-term joblessness or lack of long-term medical coverage. Ms. Simon applied for Missouri unemployment benefits, but has been denied as the Diocese is a religious employer and has not paid into the system.”
Colleen and the Rev. Donna Simon, a minister at St. Mark Hope & Peace Lutheran Church, were legally married May 19, 2012, in Iowa.
Colleen Simon has said that she was open about her marriage to Donna Simon from the beginning of the hiring process at St. Francis Xavier Church.
“I took every chance I could to be transparent about this with the priests because I wanted to make sure that they understood when they hired me who I was,” she said.
When she applied in 2013, she had been employed since 2012 by the St. James Parish in Kansas City, Mo., which is part of the same diocese.
The dismissal letter that Simon received from Bob Roper, human resources director for the diocese cites the reason for Simon’s termination:
“The reason for your involuntary separation of employment was based upon an irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline, and teaching of the Catholic Church and your relationship -- formalized by an act of marriage in Iowa – to a person of the same sex. Such conduct contradicts Church laws, discipline, and teaching and the diocesan Policy on Ethics and Integrity in Ministry.”

Colleen Simon just wants to continue in the job where she worked until her termination on May 14, 2014.
“I really believed that this was the job I was going to retire in,” said Colleen Simon, who is 57 and the mother of two sons. “I loved this job. It hurt really badly when they told me I had to go. It’s my primary request that I be reinstated to the job. That’s what I’ve always wanted from the very beginning. As to the odds of that happening, I don’t know. God works in many splendid ways.”
Donna Simon, a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denomination, said that “it’s a complicated issue because the parish is not the diocese. There are so many wonderful people at the parish. Colleen was so careful to make sure that the people at St. Francis knew that she loved them and loved working with them, and I was so impressed with the way that she handled this and with her grace throughout it. We just hope some good will come out of this and that when we continue to shine the light on the injustice that happens to gay and lesbian people that we’ll find our way to justice.”
Just before our press deadline, we learned that Michael Sherrard of a group called Faithful America, described on its website as an “online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice,” has announced plans to deliver a petition (http://act.faithfulamerica.org/sign/colleensimon) to Finn’s office in Kansas City asking for Simon to be reinstated. He said it was signed by more than 24,000 supporters. In his email, Sherrard writes, “In the Pope Francis era, no bishop should be putting anti-gay political agendas ahead of serving the poor in Christ’s name.”

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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