US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The latest enemy of Catholicism is... Ellen DeGeneres?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

After last week's debate about whether a Catholic parish can employ a woman in a same-sex marriage to run a food pantry, this week we get another layer added to the divide between the church and the LGBT community, courtesy of a Catholic school in Philadelphia. No, the school didn't have an employee in a same-sex marriage, or a student whose parents were in one. They handed out a picture of someone who is gay.

In a move she has since apologized for, St. Andrew School principal Nancy Matteo used a photo of Ellen DeGeneres on a handout promoting an Oscar-themed eighth grade school dance. The handout, which reads "Live from the red carpet," features a photo of DeGeneres, who hosted this year's Academy Awards, holding the famed Oscar statue. She is dressed in a tuxedo, and there is nothing obviously offensive about the photo itself. Essentially, it is the typical sort of handout that schools use to promote eighth grade dances with silly pop culture tie-ins.  

But DeGeneres is openly gay, which she first made public in 1997. Since 2008, DeGeneres has been in a same-sex marriage to actress Portia de Rossi. And apparently those facts make her ineligible to have her photo on a flier for an Oscar-themed dance, regardless of her notoriety as a comedian and television personality. (Or the obvious fact that she was the most recent host of the Oscars.)

Matteo issued a public apology for using the photo of DeGeneres, who she says is a "poor role model." She has since requested that all of the handouts be returned to the school immediately so that they can be destroyed.

"All Catholic schools in the Archdiocese are firmly rooted in gospel-based values and the teachings of the church," the Philadelphia archdiocese said in a statement about the incident. One would think that includes the teaching about the inherent dignity of all human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation. The school made no mention of DeGeneres' sexuality or her marriage, only her ties to an award show. There was nothing about the photo that would suggest anything conflicting with church teaching, other than the perceived sinfulness of the person in it. 

I wonder what sort of message this sends to the students of the school, many of whom will undoubtedly encounter at least a few people in their lives who are gay and who may be in same-sex relationships. What lesson are they learning about how to treat such individuals--to love the sinner and hate the sin, or to condemn the person and refuse to associate with them?

Perhaps the principal should have known that using a photo of an openly gay celebrity would lead to backlash, and perhaps she could have avoided the whole issue by choosing a different photo. But maybe it also offers an opportunity to teach the students a valuable, gospel-based lesson on how we are called to treat one another, including those whose views--and even lifestyles--are different from our own.