One school's Catholic lesson
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.
No one accused her of bringing her personal life into the gym or onto the fields. By nature she’s private. And she loved her job too much to risk it that way.
Rather suddenly, her mother died, and an hour afterward, she and her brother numbly went through the paces of a standard obituary, listing survivors. Her brother included his wife. So Carla included her partner, Julie, whom her mother had known well and loved. Leaving Julie out would have been unthinkable, though Carla didn’t really think it through at the time. Her grief was still raw.
A parent of one of the school’s students spotted the obituary and wrote an anonymous letter to the school and to the Diocese of Columbus, saying that they couldn’t allow a woman like Carla to educate Catholic children.
So they don’t, not anymore. In a termination notice, the principal explained that Carla’s
“The way it all came about was just so unfathomable,” she told me Sunday. “An obituary?”
I met her and Julie, 48, in their house outside Columbus, where the front lawn was neatly tended, the refrigerator was plastered with photos of relatives, the chocolate lab dozed in his reserved spot on the sectional and Carla kept a box of tissues handy. Whenever she’s asked what her work meant to her, she cries.
“Every morning,” she said, “from the time you walked into the building, kids would be yelling down the hall, ‘Hey, Miss Hale, what are we going to do today?
She had a sense of belonging. Of purpose.
There’s so much in the media, and in this column, about the progress of gay rights, especially on the marriage front. But in the republic of Georgia just days ago, Orthodox priests led thousands of people in an anti-gay attack. In Greenwich Village, a young gay man was fatally shot in what’s been deemed a hate crime.
The answer is in one sense simple: She made a life with another woman. While the Catholic Church doesn’t condemn homosexuality per se, it considers any physical expression of it sinful. And Carla’s “public declaration of an extramarital relationship,” meaning the obituary, indicated that she was flouting Catholic tenets and thus breaching her contract, according to a statement the diocese emailed me.
But things get complicated when you consider the selectiveness of the church’s outrage, the capriciousness of its mercy.
Besides which, Carla was guiding students through situps, not psalms. The school hired her though she’s Methodist, not Catholic.
“I’m sure it was surmised: gym teacher, divorced, short hair, didn’t have a bow in it,” Carla said. “Come on.”
There was no discussion or upset, not until the anonymous letter.
It’s been a big story here, with thousands of people publicly expressing support for her. She’s moved but mortified. She didn’t seek and doesn’t enjoy the media attention.
Frank Bruni is a columnist for the New York Times.
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