As a religious institution, Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines is exempt from Iowa Code provisions that have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2007.
But as local Catholic leaders are learning this week, a legal exemption can’t immunize Dowling from political fallout over the decision to withdraw a teaching contract offered to an openly gay man.
As first reported by KCCI-TV on Monday, Tyler McCubbin has been substitute teaching at Dowling and volunteering as a track coach since the beginning of this school year. Last month, Dowling offered him a full-time teaching position, only to rescind the offer after learning from McCubbin’s Facebook account that he is engaged to a man. KCCI’s story was widely shared on social media, especially in central Iowa, where so many Dowling graduates live.
In the Iowa political world, one of the best-known Dowling alumni is State Senator Matt McCoy, who posted this Facebook status update on April 7:
As a Dowling graduate I am ashamed of the decision of DHS to withdraw a contract for Tyler. While DHS has many wonderful attributes for students, it seems providing a bit of diversity in education is not tolerated. As a result, DHS students are ill prepared for the complexities of real life. While a persons sexual orientation is not a choice, discrimination and bigotry is a learned behavior. I protect the rights of religious institutions to discriminate, but will no longer support their mission with public or private dollars.
The Diocese of Des Moines quickly went into damage control mode. Bishop Richard Pates told KCCI,
McCubbin wasn’t denied the job because he’s gay, but due to the openness of his sexual orientation.
“We accept everybody, we love everybody. Everybody is always welcome within the context of the Catholic Church,” Pates said.
The diocese released a longer written statement from Bishop Pates on April 7:
Employment Concern with Dowling Catholic High School
A hiring situation arose recently at Dowling Catholic High School that has raised questions.
Catholic schools are an extension of the church and are committed to following the church’s teachings and doctrine in employment matters. Our contracts contain specific language that outline the expected code of conduct in accord with long accepted Church teaching.
Des Moines Catholic schools go through a multi-phased hiring process which includes interviews, a traditional background check and a social media scan. If at any time during that period the candidate or the organization identifies an issue that would preclude support of Church teaching, the school does not extend a written offer.
Recently, an individual applied for a full-time position and, after the entire application process based on the foregoing expectations was completed, a formal written contract wasn’t extended owing to a personal situation that was at odds with Church teaching.
It came to the school’s attention through the social media scan that the applicant is in a same-sex relationship and is engaged.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls for us to accept those with same-sex tendencies “with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358) Such an approach has guided the school’s relationship with the applicant in question. We wish him only well.
While we respect all persons and civil law in regard to civil unions, the Church teaches based on natural law, Scripture and the Church’s 2,000-year tradition that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. The Catholic faith is central to our mission as a Catholic school and is an exercise of religious liberty. To deliver on that mission it is our expectation that staff and teachers support our moral beliefs as they are the models of our Catholic faith.
Also on Tuesday, Dowling students heard an intercom announcement to clarify: “The church makes the distinction between having same-sex attraction, which is not a sin and same-sex actions.” Des Moines Catholic Schools superintendent Luvern Gubbels sent a letter to parents about the hiring controversy. Click through to read the full text of that letter on the Des Moines Register’s website. It largely echoes Bishop Pates’ statement, adding toward the end,
This may cause confusion for students. We believe this is an opportunity for parents to talk with their children about God’s love for each person, and also about Church teaching, its tradition and how they intersect.
Those explanations didn’t satisfy the critics of Dowling. Speaking to KCCI-TV for a follow-up story,
Sen. Matt McCoy, a Dowling graduate, said the school turns a blind eye to other social issues.
“They have many faculty members that are divorced. They have many faculty that have been involved in extramarital affairs, they have turned their head to other issues in society,” McCoy said. […]
Dowling senior Emily McGuire said McCubbin is popular with students and is passionate about teaching.
“In reality, every single one of our teachers has sinned. You know you can’t not hire someone because they’ve sinned, because we’re all children of God. We all sin,” McGuire said. “Just because he’s sinned, I don’t think he shouldn’t be given a position.”
McCoy said the school is on the wrong side of this issue and is encouraging alums to do something about it.
“I would encourage people to close their checkbook to Dowling at this time to send a message that we’re not going to send you checks and support your institution if you’re going to do something that’s so publicly hurting your brand in the community,” he said.
Emily McGuire is the daughter of Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire. I sought comment from Dr. McGuire because she has been an active supporter and fundraiser for the high school she and all of her seven children have attended. Not speaking on behalf of the Iowa Democratic Party, McGuire sent me this comment:
As a Dowling parent I am struck by certain acts that aren’t in Church teachings seem to be more of a sin than others and I don’t think that is appropriate.
I know we have other teachers with activities that are not in church teachings but we seem focused on this situation.
We should follow Pope Francis’s teachings of tolerance.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I’ll update this post later, following a walkout some Dowling students and alumni are planning this afternoon.
UPDATE: About 200 people, including current students, alumni, ad supporters, gathered in the rain outside the high school on April 8. The Des Moines Register reported, “Students were allowed to leave class and participate in the event without facing punishment, said Tara Nelson, marketing manager for Dowling.” Click through to view photos from the walkout. Several parents expressed concern about the school’s policy on hiring, but this was the most remarkable quote from Katherine Klingseis’ story:
“I was actually able to come out to my parents last night because we started talking about this,” said Kate Courter, a 16-year-old Dowling junior who identifies as bisexual. “Even if this whole thing was sad that this situation had to happen, there’s some silver-lining, and I’m glad we can all talk about this right now.”
The event ended with a prayer and a call for people to continue the discussion. [Dowling sophomore Grace] Mumm, who helped organize the event, told attendees to use #DowlingCares when talking about the issue on social media.
KCCI’s Ryan Smith reported that about 150 current students participated in today’s protest.
Students led multiple prayers during the event. A handful of Dowling parents also were in attendance. They told KCCI they are proud their children took a stand against what they call an unjust hiring practice.
“Our community should know that we care and that the choices of our school leaders and our diocese leaders don’t directly reflect what we believe as students and it just makes me so happy that we can show our community that,” said Grace Mumm, a sophomore who helped organize the walkout.
A new Facebook group called “Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination” has more than 1,600 members at this writing.
The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa issued this statement on April 8:
DOWLING CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL CONTROVERSY: WITHIN RIGHTS, BUT AT WHAT COST?
DES MOINES–Earlier this week,KCCI-TV reportedthat Dowling Catholic High School, a private religious school in Des Moines, chose not to hire an openly gay man as a full-time teacher because of his “openness” about his sexual orientation. Since the school is private and considered a religious institution under Iowa law, it is within its legal rights to refuse to hire someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Today at 1:20 pm, Dowling Catholic High School students and alumniare planning a “peaceful walkout”to protest the non-hiring of Tyler McCubbin because he is gay.
Donna Red Wing, Executive Director of One Iowa, says: “America’s first freedom is freedomforand freedomfromreligion. As a result, it’s important to note that Dowling Catholic High School is within its rights as a private religious school to deny the hiring of Mr. McCubbin. However, we wonder what kind of message this sends to Dowling students who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. As the Catholic Church struggles with these important issues, One Iowa both respects and acknowledges its constitutional rights as well as the dignity and well-being of Dowling LGBT and allied students.
“In addition,” Red Wing says, “we commend the students and alumni at Dowling Catholic High School who have chosen to turn this unfortunate scenario into a learning opportunity for others by staging a peaceful protest. It’s obvious that many students at Dowling Catholic High School are open, affirming and welcoming of the LGBT community, and they are making sure their voices are heard. While we are disappointed with the school’s decision not to hire an openly gay teacher, we hope school officials will nonetheless encourage its students and faculty to be respectful as they begin to engage in civil dialogue around these important issues of LGBT equality.”
SECOND UPDATE: The Des Moines Register quoted other Dowling alumni and parents for this report:
One parent, Libby Muelhaup[t] whose family has a long history with Dowling, said the school’s actions “has given me reservations. I think parents like me who have private concerns should go to the administration and see if we can have those concerns addressed.”
Claire Celsi, who graduated from Dowling in 1984 and works in public relations, said she disagrees with officials’ decision, which likely “will keep young people away from” the Catholic church. […]
“It saddens me that our school treated someone in that manner,” said Brendan Comito, whose son attends Dowling. “I don’t think this is how Christ would act.”
Comito said he will likely continue supporting Dowling financially because of the overall good the school does. But, he added, he hopes school officials realize they “are missing out on a lot of talented people who can have a positive impact” students and others.
“Sometimes things like this happen and good comes out of it,” Comito said.