Archbishop “Temporarily” Closes Department of Catholic Schools Amid Parent and Teacher Backlash Over Pronoun Guidance

The closure comes after Archbishop Alexander Sample condemned addressing students by their chosen pronouns.

Archbiship Alexander Sample

According to emails sent to school staff by leaders of four separate Portland Catholic schools Thursday and Friday, the Archdiocese of Portland has “temporarily” closed its Department of Catholic Schools.

“Yesterday, Archbishop [Alexander] Sample let pastors of schools know of an important change for catholic schools for our Archdiocese…the Department of Catholic Schools has been ‘temporarily’ closed,” wrote Pastor Matt Libra of St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, a K-8, to parents on Friday. “In the interim period, the Pastoral Center will coordinate the functions of this Office with the help of a team of principals.”

The abrupt closure comes at a time when parents and teachers at St. Rose are pushing back against Archbishop Sample’s guidance surrounding the use of personal pronouns for students. (Sample, whose views on abortion mark him as one of the more conservative archbishops in the country, released guidance earlier this year instructing educators to use the pronouns associated with a child’s assigned sex at birth, and not to use a student’s chosen pronouns.)

Catholic school parents and teachers earlier this month circulated a petition online asking that parents, teachers and other advocates for LGBTQIA youth submit their thoughts on Sample’s guidance.

“A coalition of parents and educators representing over 15 different local parishes and schools is in the process of drafting a response, to express the concerns arising within their communities and invite the Archbishop to meet with a small group of representatives for further dialogue,” the online petition reads. “Many faithful Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Portland are profoundly concerned about the consequences of this document, which ignores commonly-accepted best practices in education, medicine, psychology, and child development, and has the potential to cause grave harm to an already-vulnerable population.”

Libra added in his Friday email to St. Rose parents, “It does not indicate any closure of schools but rather a reworking of the department at the archdiocesan level.”

It’s unclear whether superintendent Dr. Jeannie Ray-Timoney still leads the Department of Catholic Schools or what the implications of the temporary closure of the department will be, but an email from a top school administrator to teachers at The Madeleine Catholic School on Friday asked that they keep Ray-Timoney in their prayers—implying she had been terminated.

“I personally have worked with Jeannie for 21 years and couldn’t have thought of a better person to serve as Superintendent,” the school administrator wrote. “I consider her a friend and she will be missed.”

The principal of All Saints Catholic School sent a similar email to his staff on Friday, writing that both Ray-Timoney and the assistant superintendent, Kim Shields, were “no longer” with the department.

The archdiocese’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the closure, but WW reached Denise Ramsden, coordinator for the Department of Catholic Schools, via telephone Friday afternoon. “I work for the Department of Catholic Schools, and I’m still here,” Ramsden said in response to questions about the firings.

When asked if Superintendent Ray-Timoney was still employed by the Archdiocese, Ramsden said, “She’s not here today.”

When WW asked if she were coming back to work, Ramsden said, “I don’t believe so.”

Ray-Timoney did not respond to a phone call or text seeking comment.

Jake Moore contributed to this reporting.

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