It’s an annual event, in which girls in Catholic schools show their devotion to the Virgin Mary by bestowing a wreath of flowers as a crown on a statue of the mother of Jesus.
But Notre Dame Academy’s May Crowning on April 26 has left a bad taste in the mouths of some of the school’s alumnae after they learned one alumna’s invitation to speak at the event was revoked because of her marriage engagement to another woman.
Brittanie Kuhr of Sylvania, a 2009 graduate who placed the wreath on the statue of Mary when she was a senior, was told less than a day before the event that she would not be permitted to address the assembly after all.
The rebuff prompted an outpouring of support for Ms. Kuhr and expressions of disappointment in Notre Dame Academy on Facebook, with 1,215 people — most apparently graduates of Notre Dame — joining as members of a group called NDA Eagles for Equality.
On Friday, the high school explained that its decision was based on Ms. Kuhr’s advocacy of same-sex marriage, something of which the Roman Catholic school does not approve.
“As a Catholic school, Notre Dame Academy supports the teachings of the Catholic Church. That means ensuring that programs, resources, and presenters that we choose to represent Notre Dame Academy will also support those teachings. This situation involved the contradiction between public advocacy for same-sex marriage and church teachings, not the sexual orientation of the speaker,” the school’s statement said.
Whether that mollified its angry and disappointed alumnae was not immediately clear because shortly after the school’s statement was issued and reported in The Blade, the Facebook group was converted to private status.
“While the decision has been made and Brittanie did not speak at May Crowning as planned, we as LGBTQA alumnae are determined to not let this blatant act of discrimination [allow] current and future generations of NDA students [to] be pushed further back into the closet,” said the group’s statement. LGBTQA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and allied.
According to NDA Eagles for Equality, Ms. Kuhr “was provided the opportunity to speak to current faculty, staff, and students about her strong relationship with Mary during May Crowning 2013.”
“Less than 24 hours before she was set to speak, she received a call from NDA uninviting her to speak due to her ‘public engagement’ to another NDA alumna from the class of 2003,” the group said.
On her own Facebook page, Ms. Kuhr wrote, “How dramatically things can change in 4 years. Including my openness about my sexuality. Surprising to many: my faith has remained a constant. NEWSFLASH: Catholicism and homosexuality ARE NOT mutually exclusive!”
Ms. Kuhr issued a statement Friday that she said would clarify her feelings.
“It is not my intention to harm the image of Notre Dame Academy, but merely to work toward facilitating a dialogue to improve its current ‘Non-Discrimination Policy’ [found in the handbook],” she wrote.
“It is my hope that Notre Dame Academy will lead the way and set an example for other Toledo-area Catholic schools to support and protect all students, regardless of sexual orientation. I would also like to see the institution establish a consistent protocol for all alumnae being considered for school-related engagements or recognition post-graduation,” she wrote.
In response to a question, she said it was not her intent to address marriage equality.
“My speech was about my lifelong relationship with Mary and Notre Dame Academy,” Ms. Kuhr said.
Photos of Ms. Kuhr and her partner appear on the page of the Facebook group Marriage Equality Ohio Volunteers Lucas County.
Gail Christie, spokesman for the local high school, said a senior always gives a speech and sometimes an alumna is invited to speak. Ms. Christie said Sister Mary Ann Culpert, president of Notre Dame Academy, would not be available for comment.
“The timing of our decision, for a variety of internal reasons, was extremely unfortunate and we have acknowledged and accepted responsibility for the distress and sadness we caused,” NDA’s statement said.
The issue of Ms. Kuhr being disinvited drew a range of comments in response to The Blade’s report. Some said the action amounted to discrimination and would not be approved of by Jesus. Others pointed out that Notre Dame Academy has to uphold the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Penelope Sanford, commenting on The Blade’s Web site wrote, “Get over yourselves! This is Catholic based education that is taught with Catholic beliefs. Period. People are welcome to leave the Church if they choose to do so. Parents pay 10K per year for this tried and true education.”
But Rachael Sullivan of Columbus accused the Catholic girls’ school of “dancing with words.”
“God loves each one of us equally. Jesus in the Bible many times did NOT outcast those that society did. I feel that NDA should really take a look at their roots, since they are clearly so far off. Sadly, I will no longer be able to support their mission with any of my contributions,” Ms. Sullivan said.
The controversy occurs as the statewide group FreedomOhio is seeking to collect nearly 400,000 signatures to put a question on the Nov. 13 ballot to permit same-sex marriage in Ohio.
A pillar of the campaign is that the proposed amendment guarantees religious institutions the right to refuse to perform or recognize marriages that violate their religious beliefs.
“The church can decide who they want to have come and speak or who they want to listen to,” said Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, which is running the referendum campaign. “But as Ohioans we fare better when we have a dialogue even if it’s with those that we don’t 100 percent agree with. Maybe that doesn’t mean embracing marriage equality, but hopefully we reach a place where we can be accepting of others and frankly doing what Christ did, which is being the outreached hand.”
Phil Burress, president of the Citizens for Community Values, which opposes the amendment, said Notre Dame Academy was right to stand by the church’s position on gay marriage.
“Everyone knows [the Catholic Church] supports marriage of one man and one woman,” Mr. Burress said. “If the homosexual activists had an event or a meeting or a banquet, they would not invite someone in who disagrees with their positions.”
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.
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