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LGBT+ teacher alleges he was fired by New York school ‘for not living a Catholic lifestyle’

More than 100 people attended a rally to reinstate Michael Califano as a teacher at Maria Regina Catholic School

Io Dodds
Friday 29 December 2023 22:39 GMT
Mr Califano himself attended the school where he now teaches
Mr Califano himself attended the school where he now teaches (Michael Califano via Facebook)

Parents at a Long Island Catholic school have rallied behind an LGBT+ teacher who says he was fired from his job for not living a "Catholic lifestyle".

Michael Califano, who teaches third grade at Maria Regina Catholic School in Seaford, New York, told local media that he was dismissed on Wednesday after someone sent pictures of him with his boyfriend to the church authorities.

But on Friday more than 100 parents, students, and faculty members rallied outside St Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre calling for Mr Califano to be reinstated, while more than 5,000 people signed a petition to that effect.

The petition's author Karen Greenwood described him as "an immensely beloved, committed and diligent educator" who had been "unjustly dismissed" due to his sexuality.

She further claimed that the school administrators had known Mr Califano was gay when they hired him, and that the decision to sack him was made against their wishes by the local Catholic diocese.

"Michael is the epitome of someone who should be praised as a role model of the Catholic faith," wrote Ms Greenwood. "Despite all of the adversity and tragedy he has faced in his life, his dedication to the church, his faith, and the school has never wavered, and he still attends mass every week."

In response to questions from The Independent, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre said: "For privacy reasons, we do not comment publicly on personnel matters, but we can say that the school did not end Mr Califano’s employment over his sexuality."

The school's principal Matthew Scannapieco also declined to comment, referring all questions to the diocese. As of Friday, the school's website still listed Mr Califano as a teacher.

Mr Califano himself did not immediately respond to requests for comment but told News 12 Long Island that he did not believe he had broken any of the school's guidelines.

Mr Califano is well known in his area as the son of Michael J Califano, a Nassau County police officer who was killed on duty when a flatbed truck ploughed into his car at high speed during a traffic stop in 2011.

Having attended Maria Regina himself as a child, Mr Califano now helps organise an annual memorial breakfast and raffle that funds scholarships for poor students, according to his Facebook profile.

Mr Califano told News 12 that his trouble began when photos of him and his boyfriend taken from social media were sent to the diocese, and things "escalated" from there.

Ms Greenwood said that the photos were "not inappropriate by any means" and had been taken from his boyfriend's social media account since Mr Califano's had been set to private at the request of the diocese.

By Friday the Nassau County Police Benefit Association had joined in the calls to reinstate Mr Califano, along with about 1,000 people who joined a Facebook group in support of him.

"Long before my son even was born or attended this school, I attended the annual pancake breakfast for their fallen father," said one local parent on TikTok, who said he worked as a police officer.

"I developed a relationship with the family, and [that] was one of the main reasons that I decided to send my son to this school. Unfortunately, I will have to remove him from the school if this situation is not rectified with the bishop."

He added that the school was not to blame and had "tried to save [Mr Califano's] job".

The Catholic Church has softened its stance on homosexuality in recent years. It still officially brands sex between two men or two women as a sin, and strongly opposes gay marriage.

But its current leader Pope Francis has supported visitation and inheritance rights for gay civil partners, criticised laws that criminalise gay sex, and approved Catholic blessings for same-sex couples as long as they do not resemble marriage rites.

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