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VU Pride event invites discussion of intersection between faith and sexuality

By Maria McGeary
On February 28, 2017

In June of 2015 Nell Stetser, Principal of Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion, released a statement to the school community addressing the termination of the director of religious education. “In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings, but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings,” she wrote.

The letter was in response to the outrage of several parents after the termination of the school’s director of religious education. According to Philadelphia Magazine, theologians, ethicists and lawyers were consulted before the decision was made to fire Margie Winters from her position as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy because of her life choice that contradicts Church teaching: she is married to a woman.

VU Pride began reaching out to Winters and Vettori in 2015, hoping to find a place for them during Pride Week themed as a response to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, Feb 21, Winters and her wife, Andrea Vettori, took the Connelly Cinema stage to discuss their experiences with sexuality and faith in the Catholic Church.

“I’d like to start, if I may, with a reading from the gospel of Matthew,” Vettori said, closing her fingers around the stem of a microphone. “Please close your eyes.”

Winters calls herself a “scripture nerd.” In an article published by the Huffington Post she wrote, “Daily Mass with my grandmother, reading my children’s Bible with pictures that have been indelibly etched in my imagination, singling along at the new guitar mass . . . these images capture my religious experience as a young Catholic.”

Sitting on the cinema stage she is soft spoken but clear, choosing her words deliberately. Raised by a family that was “simple in understanding of faith but practical in practice of faith,” she described coming to know God through the music of David Haas, Lori True and Marty Haugen.

Andrea Vettori is a beekeeper and lover of nature. Seated to the right of her wife, she commands the room first with a reading from scripture, then with the story of her faith journey. She says the recognition of her sexual identity was like a light switch. “For the first time in my life I knew who I was and I loved myself for it,” she said.

The two women met as novitiates in the Religious Sisters of Mercy, whom they credit with supporting their vocational discernment. “They allowed us to stay and ask the question, walk that path until we recognized what path we were called to,” Winters said. “That was brave of them to do.”

The decision to go public with the story of Winters’ termination, which inspired the social media hashtag “Stand With Margie,” was a call.

“God gave me the words,” Winters said. “Because of all the emotions my brain was mush. I don’t know where some of those words came from.”

Vettori likened their experience to the Resurrection, saying, “staying private would be like staying locked in the tomb.”

“The event last week was an attempt to articulate a counter-narrative on Villanova’s campus that being Catholic and Queer are not oppositional identity positions,” Matt Zarenkiewicz, former co-chair of VU Pride, said in an email. This individual event is part of a larger effort that will go on longer than my term here, which aims to counter the idea that because we are a Catholic campus, queerness is in opposition to that.”

For Brett Schratz, the event served this purpose. During the question and answer portion of the event freshman Schratz asked the two women how they resist the fear that “maybe the other side is right.”

“I’m wrong about a lot of things but who I am as a lesbian woman is who I am, and I know that to my core,” Vettori told him.

“I needed to hear this,” Schratz said after the event. “I had such a struggle with coming to terms with being gay and Catholic.  I used faith as a means of purging myself of it. And then being Catholic didn’t really seem to work out because I was gay,  so then I abandoned it. And now I’m trying to find the best of both worlds.”

Like Schratz, Winters and Vettori have chosen to make change from within. The couple has continued to be vocal via social media and public events. Both were present at the White House for the arrival ceremony of Pope Francis in 2015. For Vettori, alienation from the church is the greatest sadness. “If you do not find a home in the Catholic Church, find a spiritual home somewhere” she said.

It was the power and prayers of their faith community that sustained them through the first months after the termination, Winters said. “It is our duty to stand and speak of justice and love. If I leave, I can’t do that.”

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