Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bishop Finn sued again (updated)

Posted By on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 11:44 AM

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A former pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier Church sued the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and its bishop, Robert Finn, on Thursday, alleging that she was fired after The Kansas City Star published an article that referenced her same-sex marriage.

Colleen Simon says priests at St. Francis Xavier knew about her 2012 marriage in Iowa to the Rev. Donna Simon, of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, when she was hired there, only to then use the relationship later as a justification for firing her.

A lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court asks to get her job back and receive back pay and other damages. Simon ran the church's food pantry located near Rockhurst University, a role that seemed to fit a larger Catholic scripture that calls on members to assist the needy.

That work was included as part of a Star 816 section feature chronicling the redevelopment and increasing diversity along Troost Avenue, long considered a physical barrier that separates wealthy enclaves of central Jackson County from its poorest neighborhoods. The story referenced Simon's marriage as a minor, almost offhand detail in a much larger story.

Simon claims that buried reference to her personal life triggered her termination, with the diocese using the revelation of Simon's same-sex marriage as a violation of church doctrine.

E.E. Keenan, a labor attorney in Kansas City representing Simon, decried the local diocese's actions toward what he described as one of its "generous and honest" employees.

"Our Pope has called us to a more inclusive and loving church, and this Bishop's actions do not match up with the basic moral responsibilities that the Church owes the people who sacrifice their labor for its mission," Keenan said in a written statement.

A diocese spokesman said officials there hadn't yet seen the lawsuit, but were preparing a statement.

Update, 2:05 p.m.
The diocese says they'll defend themselves against Simons' legal claims.

"The Diocese has not seen the filing, so we cannot comment specifically at this time," reads a statement from diocese spokesman Jack Smith. "In general, as a Church we have the right to live and operate according to our faith and Church teachings. We regret this situation has resulted in litigation, however it is our sincere hope that the matter can be resolved amicably. As needed, we will defend our constitutional freedom to practice our faith and uphold the integrity of our mission and public witness."

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