A parish food pantry worker who was fired over her marriage to another woman sued the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Thursday, the latest in a growing number of clashes over gay rights between Roman Catholic leaders and their employees nationwide.
Colleen Simon, 57, said the diocese and the parish where she worked knew she was married and that her wife was a well-known community leader before Simon was hired. She was fired when the couple was mentioned last April in a newspaper article.
“I was mostly shell-shocked,” Simon said. “I hadn’t thought it would come to this.”
Diocesan officials hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit, but said in a statement, “As a church, we have the right to live and operate according to our faith and church teachings.”
New Ways Ministry, a Catholic gay rights group, has found more than 15 cases since 2010 of U.S. teachers, school administrators or parish musicians who lost jobs or resigned after expressing support for gay marriage or going public with their own same-sex relationships. Several of the former employees have sued.
Dioceses in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Honolulu; Oakland, California, and elsewhere have added morals clauses to their teacher contracts barring public support for gay rights. Other dioceses have asked volunteer educators to sign pledges on upholding church teaching.
The Missouri lawsuit was filed Thursday by Colleen Simon, who said she worked as a parish bookkeeper in the diocese before she was hired in 2013 as a food pantry coordinator at St. Francis Xavier Church. In each step of the hiring process, she said she told administrators she had married a woman a year earlier in Iowa, where gay marriage is recognized, and diocesan and parish representatives said her marital status would not be a problem.
Simon’s wife, the Rev. Donna Simon, is a pastor at a Kansas City congregation affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Colleen Simon said she underscored her wife’s public role in case the Jesuit parish had expectations the couple would be “discrete” about their marriage.
When a new priest was assigned to the church, Simon said she told the new pastor she was in a same-sex marriage. Then, the Simons were mentioned in a news article about the redevelopment of their neighborhood, accompanied by a photo of Colleen Simon working at the food pantry.
Soon after, the priest told Simon he had to fire her over the article. The dismissal letter sent last month from the diocese human resources director said she was fired because of the “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.” Simon provided a copy of the letter to The Associated Press.
The legal petition, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, accuses the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn of civil fraud for leading Simon to believe her same-sex marriage would not affect her job.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has been facing a raft of litigation in recent years over clergy sex abuse that has cost the church millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees. Finn was convicted in 2012 of failure to report suspected abuse to civil authorities and was sentenced to probation.