- September 22, 2015
Post submitted by Jane Coaston, former HRC Writer
Theresa Lienau was raised in the Catholic Church and attended Catholic school from first grade until she received her master's in pastoral ministry from Boston College. “Really, when I was trying to decide on an undergraduate major, I kept coming back to theology,” she said. “This is where I felt my best, this is what I’m most passionate about.” Specifically, Theresa connected with the social justice aspect of Catholic teachings, saying that it encouraged her to know that "we can be a part of the Church's work for a better world."
After graduating from Boston College and working for a few years, she found a job teaching at Totino Grace High School, where she taught for ten years and couldn't have been happier. "I wasn't just a teacher. I went on mission trips, I coached speech, I was involved in the community," she said. She taught social justice and Scripture, and never felt that where she was spiritually would come into conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
But that all changed after the school's president was forced to resign because he was in a same-sex relationship. Suddenly, lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers were working in fear, and, Theresa said, an atmosphere of paranoia permeated the campus. At first, Theresa told herself, "I’m going to try and stick with it and see what we can do and what we can make of this."
Then Theresa's friend Kristen was fired because of her sexual orientation, and Theresa spent a year wrestling with what to do. "After Kristen got fired, I felt completely expendable," she said. She wanted to continue working with young people, but the environment at the school had become increasingly difficult. After speaking with her husband, Theresa chose to leave, unable to reconcile her beliefs with what the Church was doing at her school. But the decision was the most difficult one of her life. “I would have stayed, “ Theresa said. “My heart is in teaching. I absolutely loved teaching. I loved being a part of the Lasallian community. I was at my best there. But it had gotten so hostile.”
“I had a student come out to me in a religion paper,” Theresa said. "And he said, ‘I don’t know how I can be a Catholic and recognize that I’m gay.’ And I knew that there were other students along the way. But reading his words, thinking about other students that came before, those who didn’t share (their sexual orientation) with me, but felt so unaccepted at Totino Grace and within the Catholic tradition, that seemed counter to what I think true faith is."
For Theresa, leaving Totino Grace was heart-breaking. "I didn't just lose a job," she said. "I lost a family."
In anticipation of the historic visit of Pope Francis to the U.S., HRC is highlighting the stories of teachers and staff fired from Catholic institutions because of whom they love, and asking the pontiff to embrace the LGBT faithful. The Human Rights Campaign will welcome Pope Francis with a plea to bridge the gap between acceptance in the pews and rejection by bishops. New HRC polling shows overwhelming support among U.S. Catholics for LGBT equality, yet repudiation of the faithful persists in churches, schools and institutions. Learn more about LGBT Catholics at www.hrc.org/Catholic