Sunday, May 5, 2013
Wisconsin’s Regis Catholic Schools Accused Of Anti-Gay Discrimination After Rescinding Promotion And Revoking Contract After Suspecting Tim Nelson Was Gay; Regis Schools Mistakenly Concluded That Male Name Listed In Nelson’s Father’s Obituary Was Gay Partner
In Wisconsin, a day after Regis Catholic Schools announced Tim Nelson would not become its next president, he charged that Regis officials pulled the job offer based on speculation he may be gay. Nelson, 48, who was announced April 4 as the choice to lead the local private school system, said Friday he was "flabbergasted" when system officials informed him nearly three weeks later they intended to revoke his contract because of concerns about his sexual orientation. "The whole thing is based on assumptions, innuendo and speculation," an obviously upset Nelson said by telephone from New Mexico, where he has worked as supervising principal of a group of American Indian community schools for the past eight years, reports the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Regis denied the allegations Friday in a statement. "Regis Catholic Schools denies that any assumptions, insinuations or speculation played a part in its decision to not hire Mr. Nelson," the statement said. "Furthermore, Regis Catholic Schools categorically denies that sexual orientation was a part in its decision. Mr. Nelson's speculation is unfounded and untrue." But Nelson, who was excited about the prospect of leading the parochial school system he attended through his junior year of high school, claimed Regis officials made it clear in several conversations they were concerned about the perception he may be gay and what impact that might have on the system. Nelson said he already has filed paperwork regarding a discrimination claim with the Equal Rights Division of the state Department of Workforce Development and has spoken with an Eau Claire attorney about pursuing legal action. An information sheet about Wisconsin's fair employment law published by the state's Civil Rights Bureau indicates discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation is prohibited, although religious institutions are sometimes exempt from the law when hiring for a position that is clearly related to the religious teachings and beliefs of the institution. The Rev. Brian Konopa, pastoral dean of Regis schools, broke the news about "serious issues that have come to the forefront" in a telephone call on April 17, or 13 days after Nelson had been introduced as the next Regis president, Nelson said. Regis officials indicated someone had given them information showing that a man's name was listed in parentheses behind Nelson's in the survivor list of his father's obituary 2½ years ago, and they told him that is typically the way a gay partner is listed in an obituary, Nelson said. Nelson said he explained to Konopa that he considered the man his best friend and that the man was close to Nelson's family. "I said, ‘If you think we are intimate or sexually active, you've got another think coming.' We are not like that at all," Nelson recalled telling Konopa. Nelson pleaded ignorance to the traditions of obituaries and said, in retrospect, he should have asked to have the roommate, who was included in the obituary at his mother's request, listed among other friends of the family. Regarding his relationship with the man, Nelson said, "The two of us live in community, we share expenses and live a devout Catholic lifestyle and meet daily in a chapel in our home for daily prayers." Nelson suggested Regis officials should be above the kind of assumptions some people make about unmarried men. "Some people speculate that just because I live with a man I am automatically gay, and that is not the case at all," he said. Even if it were, Nelson said, Catholic doctrine indicates it is acceptable for an individual to be homosexual, provided the person isn't sexually active with another person of the same sex, which the church considers a sin. Regis officials also confirmed in the statement that it is not a moral issue if someone of homosexual orientation is celibate. Nelson also alleged that Regis officials expressed concern about a homosexual group he had "liked" on his Facebook page. Nelson, who acknowledged having some gay Facebook friends, said he doesn't know anything about the group and must have inadvertently "liked" it. He immediately deleted it when it was brought to his attention. Despite Nelson's explanations, he said Konopa said he intended to discuss the matters with Bishop William Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse and other Eau Claire priests. The Regis statement acknowledged that system officials had numerous conversations with Nelson about many matters, including those addressed in an e-mail he sent to the Leader-Telegram. "Mr. Nelson's allegation that an employment decision was made without thorough discussion and careful consideration is false," the statement said. Nelson said he was informed by Regis officials April 22 that they had changed their mind about hiring him. The system announced Thursday it instead has committed to hiring 1973 Regis graduate Mark Gobler, principal and athletic director at Luck High School and Middle School, as its next president. Gobler will start the new position July 1. The Regis statement offered an alternative narrative for the reversal regarding its presidency. "Mr. Nelson was not hired as RCS president because of his lack of candor about his affiliations with religious communities during the interview process," the statement said. When informed of that explanation, Nelson's response was short and direct: "That is a complete lie," he said. Nelson said he assumes that is a reference to his history as a Franciscan brother, a highlight of which was living with Pope John Paul II for three weeks at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, in 1993. Yet Nelson insisted he was open about his Franciscan affiliations throughout the interview process and provided Regis officials with the names of several people from the various stops in his religious background that would vouch for his character. The Regis reversal has damaged his reputation and disrupted his life, Nelson said, although he is thankful his current employer allowed him to rescind his resignation and keep his job. "My name, my character and my reputation are extremely important to me, and I do not want it tarnished in any way," Nelson said. "I want the people in my hometown of Eau Claire to know the truth as to why I will not be the next president of Regis Catholic Schools." The sequence of events is particularly disappointing, Nelson said, because he was looking forward to not only leading the Catholic school system he grew up in — a position he accepted even though it required taking a substantial pay cut — but also to being closer to his terminally ill mother, who lives in Eau Claire. "It's just wrong to treat people that way," Nelson said. Nelson also alleged Regis officials sought to get him to agree to a statement indicating he had changed his mind and decided to stay in New Mexico for personal reasons. But Nelson, who backed up his assertion by providing the Leader-Telegram with a string of e-mails, said he refused to go along with what he considered to be a lie. "I thought you need to be forthright and transparent," Nelson said. "If it is not of God, it is not going to work."