In the end, the person dismissed under a religious dictate proved to be the one behaving the most godly.
Colleen Simon never intended to throw down an ultimatum to Catholic doctrine or to challenge the faith’s constitutional religious freedoms.
She simply wanted to serve the poor. She wanted employer commitments upheld.
Simon agreed to a settlement this week, ending a nearly two-year legal drama that stirred questions about the treatment of gay and lesbian people employed within religious institutions whose dogma finds homosexuality sinful.
Simon, it should be understood, was an extremely reluctant participant in this saga. She never wished to cause pain and division among the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Church, where she had been the coordinator of social ministries.
In fact, it’s a good bet that her agreement to a settlement is part of that stand.
A jury trial has been averted. Simon cannot comment, as part of the settlement terms.
But in previous interviews, emails and conversations with her since her May 2014 dismissal, she has been consistent.
She’d always been upfront with St. Francis Xavier officials about being married to another woman. Still, she went to lengths to never offend church teachings — no pictures of her spouse, deft use of pronouns.
It’s disgraceful that people do not feel welcome to openly display statements of love at work. But Simon respected her employer, even if she disagreed.
She was always adamant that she didn’t want to lead a senseless, divisive charge on the church.
“It’s awful. But there are laws, and until that law gets changed in the church, it is what it is,” she said for a column shortly after her firing.
She’s been married to the Rev. Donna Simon of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church since May 2012. They married in Iowa. Their bond is well known locally; they often participate together in serving dinners to the poor and other social work.
All of that changed when a Kansas City Star feature story inadvertently outed the couple. Although they weren’t hiding.
But Colleen Simon believed the publicity caused someone to complain to the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and ultimately to Bishop Robert Finn. Her resignation was requested.
She refused. She was fired.
Filing a lawsuit only became more likely as she struggled to find work, as bills mounted from past cancer treatments, as the unfairness settled in.
Simon averted embarrassment to St. Francis Xavier and lessened pressure on the diocese by discouraging several planned protests. She seemed to dodge the outrage that some wanted to exhibit on her behalf. An online petition gathered more than 20,000 signatures.
She seemed conflicted about being a public symbol as national press began calling. Repeatedly, she’d cite her desire to work with people on the margins of society as her primary calling, not a lawsuit.
But the fact that other gay and lesbian people are in similarly precarious predicaments also weighed on her. They serve as teachers in parish schools, lead choirs and fill nonclergy roles. Some of them likely fear that one false step, one disgruntled person with connections, could threaten their employment.
Simon also understood that part of the diocese’s concern was that she was serving in a pastoral role. The judge refused to enter the debate on whether the diocese had known of her homosexuality and had acted anyway. Jackson County Judge Kenneth R. Garrett III cited that doing so would bring the court too close to weighing canon law.
But Garrett let stand other questions about how her employment was handled. That’s where the trial could proceed.
Lawyers for both sides rightly claimed victories.
Simon has moved on. After a long spate of unemployment and then working a $10-per-hour job, she is happily employed again in social work. This time, she is helping people stabilize after exiting prison.
Perhaps Simon’s story caused many people to mull their consciences, to examine their beliefs more deeply.
That is one of the greatest rewards and challenges of any faith.
As Simon wrote in her farewell address to parishioners: “Life is not so black and white, so ‘us against them.’ … I think that life is about how we are in relationship with each other and that has many nuances and complexities.”