by Pete Mazzaccaro
Chestnut Hill College and Father Jim St. George, who was dropped as an adjunct professor at the college when officials there discovered he was openly gay, reached a settlement last weekend and have, in the words of St. George, “agreed to move on.”
“This should send a signal to the community,” St. George told the Local in an interview Monday afternoon. “We can have a dispute and can resolve it without going to court. It’s not about whether they are Roman Catholic and I’m not. We’re all in our heart Christian, and we can find ways to settle our differences.”
St. George declined to discuss the specifics of the settlement, which both parties agreed would remain confidential.
The settlement comes one month after St. George learned that the school had not renewed his teaching contract. He had been a religion professor at Chestnut Hill College since January 2010.
St. George is an ordained priest of the Old Catholic Apostolic Church of America, which allows its priests to be gay, straight, celibate or married. That church separated from Roman Catholicism in 1873. St. George is the pastor of St. Miriam Church in Blue Bell.
After news of his termination was reported widely through the media, Chestnut Hill College president Sister Carol Jean Vale confirmed that the school had severed its ties with St. George because he was openly gay.
“It was with great disappointment when we learned through St. George’s public statements of his involvement in a gay relationship with another man for the past 15 years,” Vale said in a prepared statement. “It is important to note that this information came to our attention only after St. George chose to make his private life public information on his blog.
“While we welcome diversity, it is expected that all members of our College community, regardless of their personal beliefs, respect and uphold our Roman Catholic mission, character and values, both in the classroom and in public statements that identify them with our school. For this reason, we chose not to offer an additional teaching contract to St. George.”
St. George told the Local that life had been “hectic” during the last month. In addition to the stress of losing his teaching position and coverage of his termination in local and national media, were press reports of a prison sentence St. George served nearly 20 years ago stemming from a federal conviction for fraud. That conviction was for misused funds at a funeral home St. George owned in Erie, PA.
“I stopped looking at all the good things in my life and looked at all the bad things,” St. George said. “I kept wondering, ‘Why am I being assaulted for not doing anything wrong.’ I never held myself out as being a perfect human being. I did things in the past, but I’ve done nothing but good with my life since then.”
St. George said that in the weeks leading up to last weekend’s settlement he had been considering litigation against the school. But, he said, he began talking with officials at the school, and they reached an agreement. A press conference to announce the agreement, with both St. George and officials from Chestnut Hill College, had been scheduled for Monday morning, but was cancelled.
“I wanted to try and figure out a way to resolve it amicably,” St. George said. “The school finally came and we came to a resolution.” And it was a resolution that came just in time.
“This morning at 6:30 I had a parishioner – a long time parishioner – who died,” St. George said. “What it did was foist this whole thing into perspective. I’m a priest. That’s what I do. That’s what I want to do. My obligation is to be there for my parish when they need me. If I kept going, I would be so distracted I would not be present for my community.”
St. George said he had no hard feelings toward Chestnut Hill College and had nothing but good things to say about the school and its students.
“I am grateful for the students who supported me,” he said. “I told them that we can only do so much, but that we can stand up when we see something that we perceive as injustice. Very few people do that. I told them, don’t take it out on Chestnut Hill College. If you enjoy the college and the education you are getting, don’t let this be a deterrent. You learned something from me. Just like the church is not a building, college is made up of a lot of good hard-working people.”
Jessica Murray, a Chestnut Hill College student who had organized a rally for St. George last Saturday (the rally was canceled when students learned of the settlement between the school and St. George) said in an email that she believed the settlement and the situation had been productive.
I truly believe that [Chestnut Hill College] will never [again] treat a person as unjustly as they did Father Jim,” she wrote. “The students knew that he was not going to be reinstated, but it had to be learned that this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“The school has learned that, and they learned that their students have voices that will be heard. It is going to take time to rebuild trust within the school, but I am hoping that one day it can be accomplished.”