Father knows best

Bishop Weigand got rid of a teacher who had once been a Planned Parenthood volunteer. But it’s the school—not him—that will pay to settle the case.

It could have been a fascinating court case. But former Loretto High School teacher Marie Bain agreed to settle her legal complaint against the Catholic school, which she filed after Sacramento Catholic Diocese Bishop William Weigand demanded she be fired for her past involvement with Planned Parenthood.

Although the school is run independently of the diocese and the bishop, and the bishop has no involvement in the day-to-day operations of the school, Weigand took an unusually strong interest in the Bain matter. By stepping in, he drew cheers from religious conservatives around the country.

“Consistent with my responsibility for the care of souls and the works of the apostolate in the Diocese of Sacramento, I am directing you … to dismiss Ms. Bain with all deliberate speed,” wrote Weigand in a letter to Sister Helen Timothy, the school principal.

The move came after parent Wynette Sills, whose daughter attended Loretto at the time, presented school officials and the bishop with photos of Bain escorting patients to and from a local Planned Parenthood clinic. The escorts are present to make patients feel undeterred about entering the clinic despite the presence of anti-abortion activists. About 3 percent of all services at these clinics are related to abortion.

“As an escort, I have no idea why they are going through those doors,” Bain said. Although Bain’s work as a volunteer happened before she went to work at Loretto, Weigand was unforgiving. “Ms. Bain’s active and public participation in the procurement of abortions is morally inappropriate and unacceptable with regard to her works as a teacher at Loretto.”

The firing, and the ensuing legal complaint from the fired Bain, raised interesting questions about the extent to which Catholic and other religious institutions must adhere to state and federal labor laws. “I was fired for expressing my First Amendment rights. And I had expressed them before I was even interviewed for the job,” Bain told SN&R.

Her attorney, John Poswall, put it more starkly when he filed complaints of sexual and religious discrimination against the school. “The action of the Bishop, cowering to noisy fundamentalists, threatens to turn Loretto into a Taliban-style institution of thought control and repression.”

The school agreed to settle the complaint last week, offering Bain an undisclosed amount of money on the condition that she not pursue lawsuits against Loretto or the diocese.

There are 54 Catholic schools in the greater Sacramento area, with more than 20,000 students. Many of the teachers in these schools either aren’t Catholic or disagree with the church on issues like birth control or homosexuality. Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said disagreement with church teachings is almost never an issue. “This just became one of those situations where you just couldn’t look the other way,” Eckery explained. “It was so public that it couldn’t be ignored.”

It seems unlikely that the school would have fired Bain on its own, or without the Sills family pushing the issue with the bishop. Shortly after Bain’s termination, the family was barred from the school. Eckery said the bishop had no opinion about the Sills’ banishment, saying it was “an internal matter” for Loretto officials to decide.

“Unfortunately, I think the school got stuck in the middle,” said Bain. “Certainly, the administration [at Loretto] doesn’t believe in my views. But they knew it was an illegal termination.”

Illegal or not, the issue now won’t be settled in the courts. And the bishop will manage to avoid the fallout of his controversial decision. The school has no financial ties to the diocese. Whatever it costs to compensate Marie Bain, it’s the school—not the diocese or Bishop Weigand—that gets stuck with the bill.