Education LGBT
Chaput Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press

Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput attends a press conference at the Vatican, Thursday, June 25, 2015.

August 03, 2015

Dismissed gay educator drops off petition at archdiocese

Margie Winters was formerly director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy

Upset that a local Catholic school faculty member was let go supposedly because of her marriage to another woman, supporters on Monday presented a petition with more than 20,000 signatures protesting the move to the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

“Margie Winters' firing was unjust and contrary to Catholic values, and she should be reinstated immediately,” the petition, addressed to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, reads. “Please inform the school's leadership that you will not interfere with their staffing or threaten their status as a Catholic school.”

The petition was dropped off at the Archdiocesan headquarters at N. 17th St. a little after 4 p.m. Andrea Vettori, Winters' wife, estimated that about 100 people supporters helped deliver the petition. 

Margie Winters is the former director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion Station, Montgomery County. According to ABC 6, a complaint about her gay marriage led the school to ask her to step down. When she refused, Winters was fired the television station reported.

“With Pope Francis coming, here is an opportunity to show just how many Catholics and other Christians are outraged by the treatment of LGBT people in Catholic institutions,” said Michael Sherrard, spokesman with Faithful America, a Christian organization focused on social justice that organized the petition drive.

Winters will be joined by parents when she delivers the petition, according to a press release.

"The petition was generated by folks outside the community," said Vettori. "This was an organic thing, Margie didn't ask for this."

Ken Gavin, the archdiocesan director of communications, said in an email that "the basis of the petition itself is problematic. As has been noted several times, Waldron Mercy is a private Catholic school and does not fall under the administrative purview of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia." 

"That being said, Archbishop Chaput continues to fully support the decision made by the leadership of Waldron Mercy," Gavin said. "He remains 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. Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic faith in a manner true to Catholic belief."

"The petition being presented does not change that stance," he added.

Vettori put out an open letter to Pope Francis on a website titled “Stand with Margie” in early July to publicize Winter's dismissal.

“[Winters] was asked to leave because we are married and, according to Church teaching, living in sin,” the letter said. “Margie, in so many ways, was the soul of that school community and took seriously her responsibility to weave the values of mercy throughout the children’s education. I cannot help but imagine God weeping alongside us at such an injustice.”

After parents began to raise concerns about what had happened to Winters, the school's principal, Nell Stetser, sent out a statement to the school community that said: "Like you, I truly value Margie and appreciate her amazing contributions to our religious education and outreach programs. ... In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings, but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings," Philly Mag reported.

The school received support from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput who said in a July 13 statement:

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

“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. They've shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon."

A public outcry followed Winters' dismissal and Chaput's statement. A Facebook page was created in support of Winters, which has more than 10,000 likes. Media outlets, both local and national, have covered the dismissal. Sherrard said Winters had become a major symbol of discrimination against LGBT individuals by the church.

The school did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the petition.

“From our point of view nationally there is a real contradiction between what Pope Francis has played out as a vision for a more compassionate, warmer, open church and what we have seen from Archbishop Chaput,” Sherrard said.