Saturday, September 20, 2003

Teacher fired; she wed outside Church



By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Meacham

CRESCENT SPRINGS - Angel Meacham had no idea she was about to get fired.

The veteran teacher had already decorated her fifth-grade classroom at St. Joseph Elementary School. Over the summer, she had volunteered at the parish festival and attended teacher trainings. After 17 years, St. Joseph was like a second home to her - so much so that she posted an invitation to her 2002 wedding in the faculty lounge.

That wedding would prove to be her undoing.

On Aug. 12, Meacham was called into Principal Rebecca Brown's office and abruptly dismissed. The reason: Her ceremony had taken place in a Presbyterian rather than a Catholic church.

Divorced in 1998, Meacham could not remarry within her own faith because she had not yet received an annulment of her first union from Catholic authorities.

Under the Covington Diocese's teaching contract, any "grave offense against Catholic doctrine or morality" is grounds for termination.

This summer, Covington Bishop Roger Foys received an anonymous letter about the situation and ordered Meacham's dismissal, says her attorney, Don Ruberg.

"It's the loss of something I dedicated my life to," Meacham says.

Her two children still attend St. Joseph. A sister teaches there, her nieces and nephews are graduates, and she and several siblings are long-time members of the parish.

"I suppose they could find fault," Meacham says of her decision to remarry. "My thinking was that at my school, we were not 100 percent Catholic teachers. We had people of many denominations."

"It stinks," says St. Joseph parent Peggy Premec, whose children had Meacham as a teacher. "She was always approachable. She was always fair." Neither Foys nor St. Joseph's principal could be reached for comment, despite phone messages left at their offices.

"The matter has been resolved by both parties," Diocesan spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said of the Meacham case. "Ordinarily it is not the practice of the diocese to comment on personnel or employment matters."

He declined to say more.

The dismissal of Catholic schoolteachers for violating church rules is not unprecedented in the region. Over the last five years, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has taken such action about four times, Personnel Director Vince Frasher says.

In one case, a pair of teachers at All Saints School in Kenwood got married by a justice of the peace, a violation that became known when someone noticed they were using the same address, Frasher says. They were given a chance to remarry in the Catholic church, but they declined and challenged their firing to the Ohio Supreme Court, which sided with the Archdiocese, Frasher says.

Catholic teachers in Catholic schools incorporate religion in their lessons, and "it's very difficult to have someone outside the faith teaching the faith," Frasher says.

Meacham began teaching at St. Joseph in 1986, but from about 1992 to 1999 she worked as a substitute so she could spend more time with her children.

Upon her firing, St. Joseph's principal and its priest, the Rev. Ed Brodnick, cried along with her, Meacham says.

Both officials signed complimentary letters about her work, and Diocesan Superintendent Larry Bowman confirmed in writing that she was not dismissed for any incompetence or criminal wrongdoing.

"On the contrary, you have been an excellent teacher at St. Joseph's," Bowman wrote. "I would also like to make it clear that you will be eligible to be rehired at a Catholic school in the Diocese of Covington when your annulment has been granted and when you have followed canonical form and married within the church."

E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com




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