The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Catholic teacher loses job for marrying without annulment

A Catholic school teacher in Texas has just lost her job — and is now considering suing the school.

The issue: an annulment. Or lack thereof.

The local paper has the story:

Less than a week before Marquis LaFortune was supposed to marry her fiance, the principal of the downtown Catholic high school where she worked as an English teacher called her into his office to warn that a “scandal” was looming.

The scandal, the deacon informed the bride-to-be, was her coming marriage.

LaFortune married anyway, but now she’s the one who feels scandalized. Fired from Central Catholic High School for the Nov. 22 wedding, the 25-year-old has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and wants to sue the school.


The reason for her termination turns on a theological tenet. According to Catholic doctrine, participants in a marriage must be an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. LaFortune told the principal that her fiance had been divorced — a proceeding not recognized by the Catholic Church.

The deacon was concerned with whether the first marriage of LaFortune’s fiance, Benjamin Stakes, had been declared invalid by a Catholic tribunal and thereby annulled. His concern, however, did not sit well with LaFortune, who refused to resign from her job or seek an annulment — a process that could reach to Rome and take more than a year.

“I would have resigned if I’d felt like I’d done something wrong,” LaFortune said last week, adding that the conflict put a strain on her wedding preparations. “I couldn’t get out of bed. It’s just been this cloud. It was supposed to be the best week of my life, and I had to pull myself together for the ceremony.”


The school’s president said federal law supports the school’s stance.

“We have very clear policies on what we expect from Catholic people on our faculty, and there has been a violation of that,” Brother Peter Pontolillo said. “When a person does something that is obviously contrary to everything that our Catholic school stands for, we cannot just look through our fingers.”

“Victory Bells, Anyone?”

So ran a headline in the November edition of The Pep, the student newspaper that LaFortune helped manage. The story trumpeted a win by the football team before segueing into an announcement of LaFortune’s marriage.

“In addition to gaining a new last name,” the article stated, “Ms. LaFortune will also be inheriting a beautiful stepdaughter.”


Soon after, Deacon Patrick Cunningham asked LaFortune if her fiance had been married. LaFortune, who’d worked at the school for more than a year, said yes.

He then gave her a choice: Seek an annulment, resign or be fired.

“There is a high likelihood of scandal here,” Cunningham wrote in a letter to LaFortune later that day, “when there is a public repudiation (even if it is unintentional) of the Church’s understanding of the marital covenant. This is not something that Central Catholic High School can support.”

And in most cases, it’s not something that religious institutions must support, according to one expert in constitutional law.

“As a general matter, religious institutions are free to engage in religious discrimination in employment,” said Ira C. Lupu, a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School. “The question is, are they applying the policy consistently? I think the point about consistency is very important.”


Reached on Monday, Cunningham said the high school does not ask all its Catholic employees whether the Catholic Church would consider their marriages valid.

In his letter to LaFortune, the deacon cited the story in The Pep as a complicating factor because it made the previous marriage public. And he added Monday that some students at the school knew that LaFortune was marrying someone who’d been divorced from a marriage that hadn’t been annulled.

LaFortune refuted that.

“Why would I tell the students, hey I’m getting married, and by the way, I’m getting married to someone who didn’t have their first marriage annulled?” she asked.

She added: “(The issue of an annulment) wasn’t made public until he asked the question. And I frankly feel that’s none of his business. And if it is his business, then he needs to ask everyone those questions.”

The conflict threw LaFortune into an emotional tailspin…

Continue at the link for the rest of that spin.

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posted December 31, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I attended Catholic schools for 16 years. I can think of 1 teacher who lost her job for just this reason. My husband’s cousin’s fiancee lost her job in a Catholic elementary school for marrying a divorced man. Both were aware of the these rules when they accepted their jobs. They were just surprised they were enforced. A local elementary school as the rule that you must be a parishioner of the parish. Seems very common. Not sure if our kids’ schools have the same rules now though. I think she should move on. I wish her a lot of luck in her future teaching positions and with her marriage.

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Ken Schaefer

posted December 31, 2008 at 10:10 pm

We Catholics say all are welcome to the table. Yet all are not welcome. If scandal is the issue then most of the US Bishops and many priests should be fired.

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scotch meg

posted January 1, 2009 at 9:36 am

Kudos to the school! My husband and I are facing intense pressure for our faith, and teaching our faith to our children, from family members. The problems began with just this issue — the nature of marriage. We, and many others, need support! Is this teacher not Catholic herself?The issue is not whether “all are welcome” but whether all sinners, who are welcome, are willing to “go and sin no more.”

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Thomas Scott

posted January 1, 2009 at 11:03 am

The rules are the rules and they exist for good reason. Why the opposition to an annulment? Why, if this teacher works with a Deacon and has good access to counseling would she refuse to go through the annulment? It looks like no one wins in this instance. I’m sure, working for a Catholic school this teacher was well aware of her responsibilities and would understand the impact of her decision. Perhaps not a scandal but it would certainly look bad and would open the door to all sorts of slides on church teaching. What type of role model would that set, especially for high school kids who are REALLY paying attention to the choices their role models take.While not as severe, this is no different than a social worker employed by Catholic Charities that suggests abortion – we all have a responsibility to accept the Church teaching as a whole.Annulment gets a bad rap in the US. Taken in the right context and with the help of trained facilitators, annulment can bring a sense of reconciliation, closure, healing and can truly underscore the value of sacramental marriage. It is not something to be afraid of which is the message this teacher sends to her students.

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posted January 1, 2009 at 11:18 am

I wonder if the school (diocese) would do something similar if a male teacher fathered a child out of wedlock.In LaFortune’s instance, it seems as though there may have been alternatives that would have been less severe than “my way or the highway.” One that comes to mind is a public repudiation of what she did and a time frame (9-12 months) for a marriage tribunal annulment. The school then is not condoning LaFortune’s civil marriage, yet like Christ is extending an opportunity for reconciliation.

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posted January 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

LaFortune may have a point in stating that her annulment or lack thereof is not a public matter. There are many precedents in the United States where a person, even an employer or prospective employer is told by a diocese that annulment records are private and available only to a another diocese which needs them to verify that a person is free to marry within the Church. Had LaFortune refused to affirm or deny if Stakes’s first marriage was annulled, it might be a different story. While civil marriage and divorce in most places are official public records, a diocese is under no obligation to make them public or keep them private.

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Mr. Basso

posted January 1, 2009 at 11:38 am

Which of “us catholics” say that “all are welcome” (aside from the wretched hymn)? Speak for yourself, Ken, but not for the Church. Jesus tells us “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” -Matthew 7:21

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Civitas Occiduus

posted January 1, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I’m as in favor of enforcing order in the Church and “sending the appropriate message” as the next person, but sometimes our obsession with “scandal” is itself a scandal to the Church.Christ dined with tax collectors (dirty traitors!) and prostitutes (not even going to touch that one) and publicly went about with very “public” sinners.A woman decides to form a family with the man she loves (and one can presume she loves him as the Church would desire her to love him) and rather than celebrate a Sacrament that is under constant attack, the Church ignores love in favor of the Pharisitic technicalities of canon law. I know and respect the teachings of the Church on marriage; I understand the need for annulments. But to quote an increasingly used word on SNL: “REALLY? A woman chooses to NOT cohabitate in violation of a Commandment and marry the man she loves and you fire her over a technicality? REALLY?”I am a Catholic School teacher who is happily married to a Catholic woman. I know MANY other Catholic School teachers at schools all across my Archdiocese. Many (vastly many) of them are paragons of virtue, but we all have our human failings. Some of those teachers, while excellent educators, are currently cohabitating with their significant other. And I dare say, most of those cohabitations are known to the powers that be that “look through their fingers” at those relationships. Some of those same relationships are also known about by the teachers’ students…I’m not saying that Catholic School Teachers shouldn’t be held to a standard. Indeed, with the shaping of young hearts and minds in our hands, we should most certainly be held to a high standard. But what message is sent to students about marriage when a woman is fired FOR GETTING MARRIED? Honestly, do these (Father, forgive me) Pharisees honestly think the students understand the concept of an Annulment? Most adults don’t understand the concept!Where is the compassion that Jesus showed to the prostitutes and tax collectors? Clearly, it’s hidden away where no one can get to it in the name of preventing “scandal.”

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Gen X Revert

posted January 1, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I would take issue with the timing of the firing, why not wait until the end of the school year to make it easier on everyone? Give the teacher a chance to get straight with the Church. Also, in the article it claims that they found out on the honeymoon that the husband’s marraige was annuled, so there is a lot of ignorance here. But the woman saying it is not a Catholic schools business if she lives in sin is a good reason to fire her. The article makes it pretty clear she was not a practicing Catholic. You should not work in a Catholic school if you do not follow Church teachings publicly. Also, the article mentions that she had left the Church before all this happened anyway – “Raised in the Catholic faith, LaFortune had moved with her fiance to a nondenominational church before the conflict at the school.”

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posted January 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Jesus said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mk 10.11-12)It’s pretty simple. This is all the Church is trying to preserve. It is an uphill battle in this culture of relativism, as evidenced by the fact that this open and shut case is an issue at all.

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Paul Stokell

posted January 1, 2009 at 3:12 pm

From the linked article, near the end:Two days after the wedding, the couple traveled to Cripple Creek, Colo., for their honeymoon, where LaFortune’s husband called his ex-wife to relay the entire troubled saga. According to LaFortune, the ex-wife told him their previous marriage had, in fact, been annulled, something she had sought.I call shenanigans on this. Unless this is a legal annulment, which varies from state to state, no single party to a formal case can go forward without giving the other a chance to respond.Regardless, the deacon in question could have gone about it in another way. But the burden ultimately falls on the woman in this case to uphold Church teaching while working for the school. She made a choice in public which bears a public consequence. As a teacher in a parish myself, I learned of two colleagues who became engaged where one of them was divorced. The pastor quietly called them in, laid down the law, explained the risk of “public scandal” and gave the divorced party a chance to go through the formal process. Due process was followed and the truth was preserved. Civitas, name-calling doesn’t work. Recall that Jesus was himself a Pharisee and taught by Pharisees. And confusing neglect of the responsibility of public witness with “compassion” doesn’t work either. I certainly hope you don’t teach religion.

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posted January 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

But what message is sent to students about marriage when a woman is fired FOR GETTING MARRIED? Honestly, do these (Father, forgive me) Pharisees honestly think the students understand the concept of an Annulment? Most adults don’t understand the concept!I suppose it says that marriage is incredibly important, and doing something outside the Teaching and Tradition of the Lord and His Church is sinful and a Catholic who is marrying a divorced person has to be careful to marry someone free to marry. That there are consequences for doing things the wrong way, even if you didn’t intend to do it wrong.Why, pray tell, is being obedient to Catholic teaching being a ‘Pharisee’? I don’t get the connection here. A Pharisee is someone that denies another a place in God’s kingdom over trivial violations of man-made laws.Jesus on the other hand, had some extremely uncomfortable things to say about eternal nature of marriage and the eternal consequences of divorce, since Marriage is God-made, is holy, and is a type of the Holy Trinity. Take it up with Jesus, its His Words being shared by His Church.While it is horrid that we have bishops who do not ask their priests to teach the Faith, and seem not to do much about it themselves, it is still up to each Catholic to learn, in so much as they are able, the Sacred Teachings of the Faith and obey them once they are known. Despite having little in the way of catechesis as a child and growing up in a non-practicing home, I’ve managed to find the resources to become educated, beginning with the CCC and the Scriptures. Every adult who ‘don’t understand the concept’, unless they are mentally defective, or unable to read or ask questions of their pastor, or get EWTN or teaching tapes or get on the internet and find Catholic Answers – if they don’t understand, its because they don’t bother trying to understand, or don’t bother educating themselves, or don’t bother reading the CCC and the Gospels. That’s their fault, not the fault of the school or the diocese for obeying Christ on this issue. And if the diocese, a bishop, the Catholic schools or whomever, don’t obey Him on other issues – it still matters that they are obeying him on this one. You wouldn’t tell a teenager “Well, since you don’t obey your father on the matter of coming home at 11 pm, I have no idea why you should obey him on the matter of speaking to your mother respectfully!” Let’s rejoice that they have this one correct. If this man she is marrying is not able to show he is free to marry, then they are possibly in a state of adultery, and not to tell them so and hold them accountable for the scandal it may cause another is not just or merciful either.Isn’t that important for their sake, too? Jesus also has a lot to say about scandalizing the faith of ‘the least of these’ and millstones around the neck – another thing we ought to remember when we are tempted to whine ‘its not fair’.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted January 1, 2009 at 5:02 pm

A couple thoughts. 1. It’s highly questionable whether the woman could still, actually, be considered Catholic, if she no longer goes to mass and attends a non-denominational church. If she doesn’t consider herself Catholic, do the rules for Catholic teachers still apply? 2. It’s probable that when she was hired, she either signed an agreement to abide by Church teaching or, at the very least, was given guidelines that dictated a professional and ethical code of conduct. Those guidelines may well have stipulated that teachers would be terminated for proper cause, including “scandal,” as defined by the Church. 3. Isn’t a week before the wedding a little late to be raising these issues with her? What did the school honestly expect her to do? Did they really think she would cancel the wedding? Or quit her job? 4. There must have been a better way to deal with this, for all concerned. Now, an uncomfortable situation has been made ugly, and nobody — not the teacher, the school, the students — wins. Dcn. G.

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posted January 1, 2009 at 5:45 pm

how did this ever get in the newspaper? it is a classic moral theology class subject–and somebody was absent from class that day–

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posted January 2, 2009 at 12:38 am

Deacon, I have some thoughts on your points above.1. If she is baptized and chooses not to attend church and goes to another church, this alone would seem like a good reason to ask her to leave from teaching in a Catholic school. It does not matter what she considers herself to be in regard to her teaching in a Catholic school, she is a Catholic who clearly dissents from her faith and shows this by her dissent from Church teaching on marriage. If only she were a Catholic theologian at a Catholic University she would be safe. This is what comes from liberal leaning where the truth does not matter and everyone is free to protest in their own way. Of course that is what Protestant do so why do we need this type teaching our children in Catholic schools. Seems like she has a lot of non Catholic teaching options. 2. I would hope she signed an agreement to teach in Catholic schools that would restrict this type of behaviour. 3. Depends on when the school was informed and how long it took them to form a legal basis and get opinion before acting. However, if one is going toward grave sin which she was, what is too late to warn someone? One problem today is that we hear too few warnings about grave sin and hell. The issue for this poor women is not losing her job, but her soul to eternity. Seems like school would be a good place to teach this topic with clear examples.4. There was a better way. It would be to decide long ago to lead her life with church teaching, especially if she were going to sign a contract to teach in a Catholic school. We all pay the piper for our sins, but some accept the punishment and some decide to whine forever.

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Mhari Dubh

posted January 2, 2009 at 1:53 am

I always shake my head when Catholic School Teachers get themselves into trouble.To steal a bit from Civitas and SNL….You teach at a Catholic School and didn’t think this would be a problem?!?! REALLY!?!?The Archdiocese where I teach gives EVERY teacher a handbook with the little “sign me” page and it’s pretty clear that if you don’t live/follow church teaching you can be fired for cause. Also, our contracts are only year to year.

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posted January 2, 2009 at 3:38 am

As an alumnus to this school, I am embarrassed. While he may be legally or administratively in the right, the principal still showed poor leadership in this matter. What these young students need at this school is not an administrator, but rather a leader.In trying to enforce a church law based on Jesus’ teaching, he has behaved more like the Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus in the same chapter.(Matthew 19)

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posted January 2, 2009 at 12:08 pm

There must have been a better way to deal with this, for all concerned. Now, an uncomfortable situation has been made ugly, and nobody — not the teacher, the school, the students — wins. Exactly right. Doing this less than a week before the wedding, especially since she now went to a protestant church, was administratively inept and pastorally incompetent.

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Academ, Mia

posted January 2, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Amen, Michael.

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posted January 2, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Sorry, but those judging the principle while wanting to give a pass to the teacher need to understand that teaching in a Catholic school should have some very stringent rules with regard to Church teaching. Since we lack all the facts, we cannot judge the one week notice. We cannot know when he found out, what procedure he had to go through with the dioceses and legal to make the move, nor what might have been said that is not revealed.

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posted January 3, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Sorry, gramps, but I said nothing about wanting to give a pass to the teacher. I said the principal screwed up, and I’ll add that he did so very badly, exhibiting gross incompetence in both administration and human interaction.

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Kellie Ann

posted January 7, 2009 at 9:26 am

I just read this on “Minute Meditations” – thought it was appropriate here…Legalism is one of the things that the Church tried to rid herself of at Vatican II. It is too great a preoccupation with the letter of the law to the neglect of the spirit and purpose of the law. The law can become an end in itself, so that the value the law was intended to promote is overlooked. But we must guard against going to the opposite extreme and seeing law as useless or something to be lightly regarded. Laws ideally state those things that are for the best interests of everyone and make sure the rights of all are safeguarded.

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posted January 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm

The priest/administrator is being slammed for not knowing the terms of the teacher’s pending marriage until it was printed in a student paper just weeks before the wedding? Gosh, let’s make all engaged teachers up front fill out forms stating whom they are marrying and both parties’ past marital histories.

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