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Monks cut ties with Catholic school after lesbian lacrosse coach's hiring

St. Procopius Abbey founded Illinois’ Benet Academy more than 120 years ago and is one of its biggest donors.

A group of Benedictine monks has cut ties with a Catholic school in a Chicago suburb after it hired a lacrosse coach who is in a same-sex marriage.

Abbot Austin G. Murphy, Benet Academy chancellor and head of St. Procopius Abbey, announced the monks’ decision Tuesday in a joint letter with Dennis M. Flynn, Benet Academy’s board chair. The letter said there would be “a transition in the sponsorship of Benet Academy” in the coming months.

“Events in recent months have been an occasion for the Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey to examine their future relationship with Benet Academy,” the letter said. “After much deliberation, the monks as a community have discerned that they no longer have the resources needed for governance and oversight of the Academy. Currently, alternatives for the Academy’s governance are being studied. In the meantime, the Abbey will continue its role in the governance of the high school. The goal is that Benet Academy will continue to operate with an emphasis on academic excellence and Catholic identity within the Benedictine tradition.”

Stephen Marth, Benet Academy head of school, said, according to the statement, that “contrary to some reports circulating in the media” on Tuesday, “know of our steadfast commitment to ensuring that the Academy will maintain its Catholic identity, in the Benedictine tradition, for years to come.”

St. Procopius Abbey founded the high school more than 120 years ago and is one of its biggest donors, giving at least $50,000 to the school during the 2019-20 academic year.

Image: Amanda Kammes.
Amanda Kammes.via LinkedIn

Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois, first offered Amanda Kammes, an alumna, a job as head lacrosse coach in September, but the board of directors deferred the offer after learning that she is in a same-sex marriage, citing the institution’s Catholic beliefs.

However, it reversed that decision and offered Kammes the job again after her supporters held a rally outside the school and more than 3,000 alumni signed a letter in opposition to the board’s decision.

The board said in a statement at the time that it had determined “Ms. Kammes’ background and experience made her the right candidate for the position.”

“The Board has heard from members of the Benet community on all sides of this issue over the past several days,” the statement read. “We had an honest and heartfelt discussion on this very complex issue at our meeting. Going forward we will look for opportunities for dialogue in our community about how we remain true to our Catholic mission while meeting people where they are in their personal journey through life. For now, we hope that this is the first step in healing the Benet community.”

Kammes accepted the offer and said in a statement issued to local news outlets that she had never “been prouder to be a Redwing,” referring to the school mascot. 

“The past week provided a chance for Benet to rally together in the name of community, sportsmanship, and social change, and I’m beyond grateful that Benet reconsidered their decision,” she said in September. “Throughout the past few days, my hope is that the LGBTQ+ community at Benet and other Catholic institutions, felt supported, loved, and know that they are not alone. You are part of a community — as students, athletes, and friends — and I am your ally and will continue to be one.”

Image: Members of the Benet Academy lacrosse team wear rainbow Pride masks in support of Coach Amanda Kammes.
Members of the Benet Academy lacrosse team wear rainbow Pride masks in support of Coach Amanda Kammes. Courtesy Colleen Savell

Kammes has not responded to a request for comment regarding St. Procopius Abbey’s decision to cut ties with Benet Academy. St. Procopius Abbey and Benet Academy have not responded to requests for additional comment.

Murphy, the chancellor, said in a September statement that he was “deeply troubled” by the board’s decision to reverse course and would take time to decide how the Abbey would respond.

“The matter raises the question of what a Catholic high school should require from those who work with and form its students,” he said at the time. “In particular, is it necessary that the witness of their public lives not be in opposition to Catholic moral teaching? I believe this requirement is necessary and, therefore am deeply troubled by the school’s decision which calls into question its adherence to the doctrines of the Catholic faith. In turn, I want to let everyone know that I am taking this matter to prayer and discerning how to proceed.”

Benet Academy is one of an increasing number of religious institutions that have made headlines in recent years due to employment decisions based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Some educators who believe they were wrongfully terminated due to their sexual orientation have sued, but legal experts say the law in this area is complicated.

In a landmark decision in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ employees are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there are some exceptions for religious employers. For example, the “ministerial exception” bars Title VII claims by employees who serve in clergy positions.

Kammes’ situation is an example of when social pressure can be more powerful than legal pressure, though similar situations are not always successful.

“I think that there is a growing recognition among some of the faith-based institutions that they are increasingly out of step with the young people that they are inviting to be students and to get their education,” Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, previously told NBC News, after Benet Academy reversed its decision regarding Kammes. “It’s lovely that in this situation the school decided to value the needs of the students.”

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