Mary Sanchez

As Vatican revisits its stance toward gays, a KC lesbian is left in the cold

Colleen Simon was once a pastoral associate for justice and life for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Colleen Simon was once a pastoral associate for justice and life for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The Kansas City Star

The Vatican’s signal of openness toward gay people offers solace. But what Colleen Simon really needs is a good job.

Simon reluctantly became the area’s most public example of how religion struggles as societal views shift on homosexuality. In May, Simon was fired from running the food pantry at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. A story in The Star had mentioned her same-sex marriage. In firing her, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph cited her marriage as “an irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline and teaching of the Catholic Church.” Simon later sued.

What would Pope Francis do?

Rome may be offering a hint. On Monday, a preliminary report was released of a meeting among bishops in Rome. It indicates that Francis’ less strident, more loving attitudes towards homosexuality, divorcees and couples living together were at the very least being discussed.

But the Vatican is discussing tolerance. It’s not changing doctrine.

Simon never challenged the church’s beliefs. Her lawsuit contends that her relationship with another woman was disclosed at her hiring. And that she was assured it wouldn’t be an issue. The diocese has filed for a dismissal of the lawsuit.

Obviously, religious beliefs are protected by the Constitution. Yet it’s hardly Christian and legally questionable to leverage faith as a threat against employees after they’re hired.

After Simon’s firing, many feared a witch hunt. Worries stirred that other gay people working in various diocesan nonclerical roles — teachers in parochial schools, secretaries and others — might also come under suspicion. By the grace of God, that hasn’t happened.

Simon is now working a $10-an-hour sales job with no benefits. Finances are tight.

She has applied for social work positions at other denominations. Nothing has materialized despite proclamations of support from the leaders of other faiths, noting how they differ from Catholicism on matters of homosexuality. It’s a shame that a job with Catholic Charities isn’t available to her. It’s one of the most productive social service agencies in this region, a good match for Simon’s skills and passion for social justice.

Simon made a touching comment in an email to me months ago. The firing was still fresh and her hesitancy to sue was only beginning to waver. Hope hadn’t been trampled for finding new employment quickly.

“I just want to do work that helps people, particularly those at the margins.”

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. Twitter: @msanchezcolumn.

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