The chorus of protests over the firing of a suburban Catholic schoolteacher who is in a same-sex marriage grew Friday to include Philadelphia's Republican mayoral nominee, a Catholic LGBT group, and an 8-year-old pupil who wrote to Pope Francis.
"It is unacceptable for people to be fired for whom they are married to," mayoral candidate Melissa Murray Bailey said.
At issue is Waldron Mercy Academy's decision in late June to fire Margie Winters, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school's director of religious instruction, who has been married to a woman for seven years.
Winters' supporters, including many parents of children in the Merion private school, talked of staging a vigil for her Sunday night. Michael Rocks, president of Dignity Philadelphia, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, called the firing "extremely antigay and anti-lesbian."
As Waldron Mercy principal Nell Stetster wrote July 3 in an e-mail to parents, the school "is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy," a Catholic order, but also "recognizes the authority of the Archbishop of Philadelphia, especially in the teaching of religion, because we call ourselves Catholic."
Stetser wrote that she fired Winters - whom she credited with having made "amazing contributions" to Waldron Mercy - after consulting with the school's trustees and the order.
Since the firing, an "I Stand with Margie" Facebook page has been flooded with well-wishers identifying themselves as students, clergy, and educators from around the world.
By late Friday, the page had garnered more than 8,000 likes; a GoFundMe drive had raised nearly $9,000 for Winters and her wife. The Broadway star Kelli O'Hara tweeted: "I was taught "thou shalt not judge" in my Catholic Church. I @StandWithMargie . . ."
Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney denounced the firing Thursday, blaming "cowardly men" at the archdiocese. His GOP rival called Friday for more focus on "performance of teachers (good and bad) in schools. Good teachers should be able to teach, celebrated and paid fairly, and bad teachers should be fired." Both Bailey and Kenney are Catholic.
Archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin reiterated Friday that Waldron Mercy is "not under the administrative purview" of the archdiocese, which he said "neither made nor influenced" the firing.
Winters has said she thinks her dismissal grew out of a dispute with a parent over curriculum. She said Waldron Mercy administrators knew when they hired her seven years ago that she had married Andrea Vettori in Boston.
Vettori gave The Inquirer a copy of a letter she hopes will reach Francis before his September visit to Philadelphia. In three pages she detailed her relationship with Winters, the pain the firing caused, and what it's like to be a gay Catholic.
While she has questioned staying in a church "that does not fully embrace me . . . as a woman or as a lesbian," Vettori wrote, Catholicism still inspires her, as does Francis' washing of prisoners' feet, and his "statements choosing not to judge homosexuals have captured the imagination and attention of the world."
A Waldron Mercy pupil named Jake, 8, also wrote to Francis, said the Facebook page's administrator, who posted his words. "Ms. Winters got fired from my school because she is married to a women," Jake's letter said. "If you are not busy please write me a letter back . . . this is so unfair and I can't understand it at all."