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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Loretto Teacher Fired: Part 2

In case some of you have not figured it out yet, Wynette Sills is my mother. I was unable to reveal this earlier because at the time of my last post, my family felt that it might make my time at Loretto awkward. After all, our family appreciates the school and hopes that my younger sister will also be able to go there. Now that the Bee has revealed our identity publicly, I would like to share the article and my thoughts as a sophomore at the school.

Anti-abortion mother got teacher ousted

By Todd Milbourn -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, October 22, 2005
Story appeared on
Page A1 of The Bee

The mother of a Loretto High School student obtained photographs that exposed a drama teacher as a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, a revelation that led to the teacher's firing last week. It wasn't the first time Wynette Sills raised her anti-abortion views on the all-female, private Catholic campus.

Sills, who leads anti-abortion rallies outside Sacramento-area Planned Parenthood offices three times a week, complained to school administrators last year about a classroom presentation on domestic violence, said Gail Erlandson, a theology teacher for 11 years at Loretto.

Sills objected to brochures listing agencies that offer help for women because they included Planned Parenthood, which supports abortion rights. The brochure was later revised.
Bishop William K. Weigand's call to fire drama teacher Marie Bain in response to Sills' latest protest has raised concerns in some circles that anti-abortion activists at Loretto have too much pull with the Sacramento Diocese's top cleric.


"There are a handful of extremists in the affluent Catholic community that can make keeping the integrity of academic freedom very difficult," said Erlandson, who retired last year in part over the brochure flap. "There is a lot of fear among teachers: How far is this going to go?"
Sills did not return repeated messages left on her telephone or at her home.
Sills provided photos of Bain escorting women into the clinic in a Sept. 19 e-mail with a letter stating: "If the identification is verified, clearly this individual cannot be a part of the Loretto staff."

Bain "will have extensive unsupervised access to our young women at Loretto, and I must speak up or they are put at risk due to her abortion-promoting presence," Sills wrote. "My conscience will not let me ignore this information."

Loretto, a college preparatory school on El Camino Avenue, is one of three Catholic high schools in the Sacramento area that operate independently of the diocese. But the school still falls under the bishop's purview on issues of morality.

Weigand, who declined to comment for this story, exercised that authority in an Oct. 5 letter to Loretto's president, Sister Helen Timothy.

Weigand's spokesman, the Rev. Charles McDermott, said the diocese "treads carefully not to intrude on internal affairs."

But the message in Weigand's letter is clear: "I am directing you, under the provisions of Code of Canon Law ... to dismiss Ms. Bain with all deliberate speed." The letter also states that the termination should be handled with "dignity, sensitivity and appropriate decorum."
Dom Puglisi, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Sacramento, said parents have a right to expect their students will be taught in accordance with Catholic principles. And allowing teachers to publicly display contrary beliefs sends the wrong message, he said.
"It sounds like we play hardball, but they know up front, whether they are Catholic or non-Catholic, that these are Catholic schools and we go by the teachings of the church and Rome," said Puglisi.

Loretto has long employed Catholic and non-Catholic faculty alike. Bain, who was hired in August, is not Catholic. That fact could play a role in a potential discrimination lawsuit, wrote Bain's attorney, John M. Poswall, in a statement.

"Loretto knew that she was not a Catholic and did not insist that she either hold or follow Catholic doctrine when they hired her," wrote Poswall.

Vocal parents demanding action from administrators are not unique to Loretto, said the Rev. Martin Connell, an education professor at Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit college in Los Angeles.

Increasingly, he said, "teaching and schooling is treated as a service industry - we tell people how we want our lawn cut, how we want our hair cut and how we want our children educated."

While it's positive to have parents more involved in their child's education, sometimes parents step on the toes of teachers and administrators, he said.

One of the Sacramento Diocese's seven Catholic high schools, Loretto offers a rigorous academic program with an emphasis on social justice.

Traditionally, the school's mission has been to instill Catholic values while pushing students to become independent thinkers. School officials have said they take pride in presenting all sides of an issue.

"The idea is to come to the right decisions based on faith," said Rebecca Williams, a University of California, San Diego, freshman who graduated from Loretto in the spring. "That doesn't mean you always have to agree with the church, but you have to always consider both sides."

Williams said she understands the bishop has certain moral obligations, but is disappointed he would "align himself with someone who takes pictures of people walking into a clinic."

"What does that say about our church as a compassionate organization?" Williams asked.

At least three mornings a week, demonstrators gather in front of Sacramento-area Planned Parenthood clinics, many hoisting anti-abortion signs and shouting anti-abortion messages to clients and workers, said Katharyn McLearan, spokeswoman for the local chapter.

As a volunteer, it was Bain's job to be a "friendly face" and help steer clients through the protesters, McLearan said.

Sills first saw Bain during one of those morning rallies, according to the e-mail Sills wrote to administrators. Sills decided to alert the school after seeing Bain at a Loretto function in September.

Many at the school have kept quiet about Bain's firing - at least publicly. Calls to six Loretto teachers and the school principal were not returned. Timothy, who initially voiced support for Bain, has since referred all questions to Weigand's office.

But debate is lively in cyberspace. Web sites ranging from "Bush vs. Choice" to "California High School Conservative" have weighed in.

Loretto sophomore Katelyn Sills, Wynette Sills' daughter, started a political blog in March and has written in support of the bishop's decision to fire Bain.

A person "who volunteers at abortion clinics on days when the killing occurs is probably not the best candidate for a position at an all-girls Catholic high school," wrote Katelyn Sills, who did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

An classmate who wished to remain anonymous retorted on Sill's blog: "Many people at our school are pro-choice but do not think that abortion is the right answer. Should we with our beliefs be expelled from the school?"

On a recent afternoon, Loretto students gabbed and listened to iPods in front of the school as they waited for rides home.

Kathryn Wahlberg, taking a break from after-school play practice, said she was in Bain's drama classes. She drafted a four-page letter that she plans to send to the bishop. Wahlberg said Bain was a "disciplined but fun" teacher who was "really good for students who are serious about acting."

Regarding her termination, Wahlberg said, "It makes people think we don't tolerate people of opposite opinions. I don't think we're like that."


Let me tell you the whole story. My family was not originally as pro-life as we are now. Actually, it all started at Loretto. In my freshman year in our Sexuality and Spirituality class, we had to research abortion, develop an opinion, and give a presentation to the class. That night I went home and was reading some websites. It was then that I realized that there really was no argument. You can see what I have to say on it here. I realized that if abortion is the ending of a human life, I would need to do whatever I could to protect that life. When I shared all of this with my family, they agreed. We had always made small donations to the Life Center, but after this touched our hearts, we knew we had to do more. Since then, we have gone to abortion clinics, passed out literature on fetal development and the facts of abortion, and have offered to help women in any way we can.

I have gone to the Planned Parenthood mentioned in this article and have seen this individual as an escort there. I know that many people do not know what exactly an escort does, but a blogger named"Naaman the Ex-leper" was formerly an abortion clinic escort and explains it here. When I started school and saw Ms. Bain, I just thought that they looked very similar. I mentioned this to my mom and she could not believe it. Others who go to abortion clinics with us document their time there with pictures, not of the "clients" but of the long term employees and escort activity in general just so any falsehood that the abortion clinic decides to tell can be easily disproved.

The article mentions the "brochures" that were handed out last year in our Sexuality and Spiritualty class. These "brochures" were actually business cards that were labeled "Just in Case" and listed emergency numbers and "helpful" websites. One of these websites was teenwire.com, which is Planned Parenthood's teen outreach. If you visit this website, I'm sure you can understand why my family would be opposed to such a website being distributed at this Catholic high school.

Interestingly, the Sacramento Bee chose to interview Kathryn Wahlberg. Kathryn and I are both sophomores and we consider each other friends. We know what each other's views are, but we don't let that interfere with our friendship.

At a Catholic school, people can reasonably expect that the staff will support Catholic teaching. This does not mean that the teachers have to be Catholic. I have had many teachers that I admire and are not Catholic. However, Ms. Bain did not just disagree with the Church. Her moral identity is in direct conflict. John Paul II states
that abortion "is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being," and that "it is contrary to the law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." This was not some small issue. When a teacher at a Catholic school has actively demonstrated that her beliefs are contrary to the Church on an issue that the Church believes is "deliberate killing", something is very wrong.

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