Church pantry worker fired for being a lesbian sues Catholic diocese

Colleen Simon filled an order in the food pantry of St. Francis Xavier Church earlier this year.
Colleen Simon filled an order in the food pantry of St. Francis Xavier Church earlier this year. The Kansas City Star

A Kansas City woman fired from a Catholic food pantry in May sued the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese and Bishop Robert Finn on Thursday, saying that her supervisors knew that she was a lesbian.

Colleen Simon alleges in her lawsuit that she had told two priests at St. Francis Xavier Church that she was married to another woman and they had informed her that her sexual orientation would not be a problem.

However, an April article in The Kansas City Star’s 816 news magazine mentioned her marriage to the Rev. Donna Simon of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church. Within a month, Colleen Simon had been fired at Finn’s direction, she alleges.

“Defendant Most Rev. Robert J. Finn … aided, abetted, incited and compelled the actions of the diocese, and participated in the ordering of her termination,” the suit alleges.

She said the church fraudulently encouraged her to take the food pantry position at St. Francis Xavier in July 2013, knowing the diocese had no intention of keeping its commitments to her.

“While I feel betrayed by the unjust action of the diocese, it is still my greatest desire to return to my position and to serve the parishioners and those at the margins in the surrounding community,” she said at a sidewalk news conference announcing the lawsuit at the Catholic Center downtown.

In a written statement, the diocese declined to comment on the lawsuit’s specific allegations, noting that its lawyers had not yet seen the filing.

The diocese hoped the suit could be resolved amicably but asserted its right to “live and operate according to our faith and Church teachings,” the statement said.

“As needed, we will defend our constitutional freedom to practice our faith and uphold the integrity of our mission and public witness,” the statement read.

Colleen Simon alleges in her lawsuit that she mentioned her sexual orientation to the priest at St. Francis Xavier during a job interview in May 2013. The priest purportedly “was nonplussed, and expressed no objection to Ms. Simon’s sexual orientation or her relationship with Donna,” the suit alleges.

When another priest replaced that pastor months later, Colleen Simon said she notified him of her sexual orientation. Had he objected, she wanted to look for work elsewhere. Her health insurance needs, as a cancer survivor, were particularly pressing, she alleges.

According to the suit, Simon purportedly told the priest in January: “I need to let you know that I’m a lesbian, I’m married. My wife is the pastor at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church.”

Simon alleges that the priest “looked surprised.”

“He said, ‘Oh, OK. It’s OK,’” the suit alleges.

Simon alleges she was fired in May, about two weeks after the 816 article appeared.

The lawsuit seeks unpaid wages and fringe benefits, compensation for emotional distress, punitive damages and attorney fees.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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