Catholic High School Fires Gay Teacher After He Gets Married

Being gay and working as a teacher at a Catholic school has proven to be a volatile combination. There have been multiple cases of Catholic schools firing gay teachers: for publicly supporting gay marriage or even having a same sex partner identified in the obituary of the teacher's mother.

The latest such case might be that of Ken Bencomo, who had taught at the all-girls St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora, Calif., for 17 years. He was fired two weeks after marrying his partner, reports the San Bernardino County Sun, purportedly because a notice appeared in a local paper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. But depending on the specific details of the event and Bencomo's history at the school, there may be questions of whether the institution was within its rights to end his employment.

Los Angeles CBS television affiliate KCAL reports that the marriage between Bencomo and his partner Christopher Persky was prominent because they were one of the first same-sex couples to be married in San Bernardino, after the historic Supreme Court ruling. (San Bernardino is about 40 miles east of Glendora.) Some say that Bencomo's sexual orientation was no secret from the school.

Abigail O'Brien, a former student of the school, said in an interview with the San Bernardino County Sun newspaper that Bencomo's being gay was "something that students and faculty knew" long before the wedding. Bencomo's attorney, Patrick McGarrigle, also claimed in an interview with the Sun that the school cannot claim to be surprised.

"St. Lucy's has known of Mr. Bencomo's orientation for years," McGarrigle said. "Administrators had been introduced to his partner in the past, so the suggestion that Ken's orientation is a surprise or that his lifestyle somehow violated doctrine is at odds with the school's knowledge and what seemed to be acceptance of him until most recently."

Joseph Stark, an attorney for the school, told the Sun that a lawyer claiming to represent Bencomo contacted the school on Sunday but that Stark had not yet seen the allegations.

According to the San Bernardino Sun, the school issued a written statement that its educational activities will continue "in the tradition of the Catholic faith."

St. Lucy's officials later issued a written statement, saying the school plans to continue educating students "As a Benedictine school, St. Lucy's is a community for those who wish to express Christian values in education and develop person and academic excellence," the statement said.

An online petition asking the school to return Bencomo to his duties has gained close to 10,000 signatures. More than 1,300 people have joined a Facebook discussion group, according to the Sun, although some people felt that the school's decisions was the right one:

James Wellman, a former board and executive committee member for the school, said he thought Bencomo might still be teaching at St. Lucy's had he not appeared in the newspaper.

"We should not forget that Ken has been teaching at a Catholic high school. Anyone who believes that St. Lucy's operates in a totally independent fashion from the Catholic Church is gravely mistaken," he said.

According to some California labor attorneys contacted by AOL Jobs, the focus on how long the school knew of Bencomo's orientation could become a critical question in any wrongful termination lawsuit.

According to Mark Spring, a partner with the California labor law firm Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger, which represents employers, what the school knew and when could potentially undermine its position. Under California law, workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, but there are exemptions for religious organizations, particularly when employees are in a "ministerial" role, which can include teachers. "Religious schools and organizations are offered substantial deference for making decisions in keeping with their teachings," Spring says.

However, if Bencomo could prove that the school had known of his orientation long before the marriage, then it might suggest that the St. Lucy's "doesn't have a problem with teachers who are gay, even though it's against the church's teaching." In that case, the school would have fired the teacher for exercising his civil rights, which would be illegal. Spring says that proving the school had actual knowledge and not mere suspicion would be difficult.

Leslie Levy, a partner at labor law firm Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams, which represents employees, adds that there are other complicating factors. "Religious corporations are sometimes formed as non-profit public benefit corporations," Levy says. "It means they are required to not discriminate." So the legal structure of the school could play a role.

There's also the question of whether teaching English, as Bencomo did, would be considered by a court to be a ministerial role. If not, California religious exemptions might not apply.

Recent Related Posts By Erik Sherman

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Catholics led the inquisition, they put Galileo on house arrest, they never bothered to excommunicate the Nazi Party or fascist Italy. You go ahead and defend them and their righteous place in history.

November 08 2013 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Catholic church knows that there are people out there who have same sex attraction. They could not fire him before, if they knew, because he could have always lied and said the relationship was over. Now that he is "married" that claim is gone.
Those who say the Catholic are bigots need to look up what a bigot is. A bigot is someone who is intolerant to the ideas of other. Catholics have the idea that marriage is between only a man and a woman. If you are intolerant to that idea, look in the mirror before you call someone a bigot.

November 08 2013 at 1:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He knew the Rules when he took the Job, the School should sue him for all Back Wages ever paid to him since he took the job with Fraudulent Intent. Enough Already of Homosexuals trying to seek relief in hopes of normalizing perversion. I hope the School SUES him.

October 01 2013 at 9:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Catholicism = bigotry. Love is love. To deny love between two consenting humans is to advocate hate. You are teaching children incorrectly because of your own prejudices. Love thy neighbor AND thou shall not judge!

August 14 2013 at 1:57 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I myself was brought up a Catholic as I did with my own children, at no time did my family teachings allow for any Gay or Lesbian morality, nor did I allow anyone known to adhere to such behavior, to influence any of my children while growing up into adults in the Catholic or public School Systems.. The dismissal from a teaching position to anyone professing to be a Gay or Lesbian to or teaching children under age of 18, should be the norm reason for dismissal even from Catholic or Public School Systems.

August 14 2013 at 1:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

if you worked at a jewish school and served honey baked ham to all the students, would you be fired??? we must learn that we do have to live by the rules, it's nothing new...not a new concept!!!

August 14 2013 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gigi1105's comment

He's not serving gay to the kids. If the kids are gay, they will be gay whether he is or not. If they are straight, they will be straight. I know straight as an arrow parents who recently found out BOTH their 30 something sons are gay. One came out a long time ago. The other struggled with it, he says, because he wanted to give them grandkids- and thought if he just met the right woman it would all be OK but he only met the right men! I also know two gay women whose daughter goes to school with my son. She is about as girly girl as you can be and seems to like boys. So no, I don't buy this argument. No one is serving up gay. It is there all on its own.

November 08 2013 at 11:16 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
David Finn

Duh, what did you think would happen? You are working for a Catholic High School and there is an implied moral code. And if it is not implied, you probably signed some sort of a paper when you were hired, which had a morality clause which prohibits that kind of immoral activity. The school could probably not prove any thing while you were just living together but once you got married the immorality was implicit.

August 07 2013 at 11:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This article is NOT news. Overtly gay behavior (NOT orientation) or open support for such behavior gets one fired from a Catholic school teaching position. Period. A heterosexual Catholic-school teacher promoting same-sex marriage, for example, ends up in the same situation. The teacher in this article had to know in advance what would happen; he decided what was more important to him and then made a conscious choice. A quick glance at lawsuits involving similar situations suggests that he has an uphill fight. We\'ll see what happens.

August 07 2013 at 2:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

He shouldn't be teaching little girls, but little boys. Homosexuality and little boys go hand in hand in every Catholic environment. If you doubt my words, you welcome denial.

August 03 2013 at 11:13 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Someone's comment
David Finn

Your implication is ridiculous. As much as every one deplores what happened in the Catholic Church with their Priests, they also know that there is just as many problems with Male Scout Leaders and many thousands of cases in the Protestant and evanglical churches, and thousands of more problems with pubilc school teachers. Example in New York City alone there were more cases of homosexual acts performed by teachers in one year than in every catholic church in the whole of New York state for the past 10 years. Get real buddy. We are all sinners including you and priests are people too and they sin! Though probably not as much as you with all the harm you have done to those of the cloth by your uneducated defaming remarks.

August 07 2013 at 11:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David Finn's comment

Amen & Well said, Thanks

October 01 2013 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

Search Articles

Picks From the Web