JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic religion teacher has been fired for sharing a letter in class that singles out homosexuality in the priesthood as a root cause of the sex abuse crisis.
Joan Simon has filed a wrongful termination complaint with St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City, New Jersey and the archdiocese of Newark after being fired for handing out an article written by a conservative Catholic evangelist.
Saint Dominic Academy is run by the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, a group of social justice nuns focusing on environmental issues, climate change and immigration. Simon said in the past eight years, she has never had the administration question or look at any of the materials she has used.
At the start of the school year, Simon was asked to talk to her students about the sex abuse crisis. The release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report was only a few weeks earlier, and the predation of children and young adults would have been worrisome for the students.
She said, "How can you talk about Jesus and love, when the people they were supposed to trust have broken that trust?"
She said there wasn't much written on the crisis and found noted evangelist Ralph Martin's piece "Dear Troubled Catholics: Church needs spiritual renewal."
After reading Martin's letter, Simon found it to be very good and "hopeful" — it calls for Catholics to stay with the Church, increase in personal holiness and pray for Church leaders. Simon even asked a number of priests that she knew to look it over to make sure there was nothing contrary to the Church's teachings in it. They all told her it was a solid response to the crisis.
Martin is the president of Renewal Ministries and the director of graduate programs at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. Shortly after his letter was published, Bp. Edward Rice of the diocese of Springfield praised and endorsed Martin's letter. Bishop Rice acknowledged the homosexual root of the crisis in the Church and said, "While I would rather not address the situation publicly, to not address it is to stick my head in the sand."
Simon passed out the letter to her classes and had discussions about it. At the back-to-school night, she spoke with parents and gave them copies of the letter. She said parents were supportive and thanked her for addressing the crisis.
On Oct. 9, when Simon returned from a short disability leave, the head of school at St. Dominic Academy, Sarah Degnan-Moje, told her, "Ralph Martin would never be brought up under her watch."
Simon explained that St. Dominic Academy used to be "top notch" in education and religious formation. She said when she started, the previous head of the school kept that so, but with Degnan's leadership, "it all started to unravel." Simon has approached her about the first day of school address focusing on the Disney corporation — a corporation pushing the LGBT agenda to younger and younger children and donates to Planned Parenthood.
Simon also claims Degnan said "God would have to understand" when she and her family would be missing Mass on Sunday because of Halloween parties.
Last year, the senior class was also assigned to read If Nuns Ruled the World, a book showcasing 10 nuns that are "on a mission" to change the world. It showcases the work of Sr. Jeannine Gramick, an LGBT activist and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a group condemned by the Vatican for pushing for full acceptance of active homosexuality. The book also features Sr. Donna Quinn, a Sinsinawa Dominican nun, fighting for a change to the Church's teachings on women's ordinations, contraception and abortion.
Simon has a master's degree in theology from Seton Hall and taught in a number of Catholic schools in the dioceses of Newark and Paterson in her career spanning four decades.
"I've always been an advocate for young people," she said. Simon has been outspoken against one parish priest who told the girls it "was okay to have an abortion" and another who was handing out condoms.
Simon explained she stayed at St. Dominic because of the girls. While she was removing her things from her classroom, a number of girls came in wanting to know what happened. Simon told them she was fired for telling them the truth and said the girls were crying and "hysterical." She said they were upset that she was leaving because she was the only one who helped them and listened to them. Susy Yengo, Simon's lawyer, is working for her because she is one of her former students.
Simon explained that she was more than a religion teacher. Throughout her career, she listened to her students' problems and helped them with their personal difficulties.
"I had to fight to get confessions into the school because the sister didn't believe in them," Simon recalled.
Simon said this fight is not just about her being wrongfully fired, it's about the larger problem of the liberal agenda being pushed in all the Catholic schools in the archdiocese of Newark and the diocese of Paterson. "It's not ok, it's got to stop. We're talking about kids' souls."
She knows this fight is coming at a personal cost for her. She lost her job and, with so few Catholic schools left, she knows she has very few options. "It needs to be said, somebody has to say it. I teach the truth and that's what they don't want to hear."
She said parents and students are extremely upset. She said one parent she spoke with wanted her to attend St. Dominic for the Catholic religious instruction, and now they feel they "did their daughter a disservice spiritually" by sending her to St. Dominic.
Degnan also told Simon that she couldn't collect unemployment because the archdiocese of Newark had made a deal that exempted them from unemployment laws. Simon will be receiving two more paychecks, but will be left with no other financial support.
Church Militant reached out to both St. Dominic Academy and the archdiocese of Newark to clarify that claim, but the director of communications, Jim Goodness replied, "Since it involves a private school, it would not be appropriate for me to offer any comment or analysis."
Degnan and others from St. Dominic Academy did not respond.