Some supporters of discharged Marian High teacher Barb Webb are encouraged by a two-page letter emailed Tuesday by IHM Sisters, a Monroe-based Catholic order that operates the Bloomfield Hills school.
Sister Mary Jane Herb, president of the order and a former Marian teacher, doesn't reverse Webb's recent dismissal, but alludes to possible policy changes and "various initiatives as we move forward." She adds:
"Our Church and Catholic schools are confronted with a complexity of issues that have not been faced in the past. . . .
"We will work with the Executive Committee of the Marian High School Board to re-examine policies and procedures."
Webb, a Marian chemistry teacher and coach for nine years, was fired Aug. 19 after telling Sister Lenore Pochelski, school president, that she's expecting a child with Kristen Lasecki, her spouse of two years. The case is a high-profile flashpoint, with two protests outside Masses at the girls' school, a website, a Facebook group with 5,000 members and a petition signed by more than 64,500 people.
The carefully worded letter to alumnae, posted at the Facebook group, stirs active discussion and draws this comment from Webb, 33, to the Free Press:
"When I read it, I was happy. I was relieved that someone had responded. To me, it was a response for a positive outlook for change. . . . It just opens the door for a new conversation, and that's what I was hoping for from the beginning."It opens the door for change, and I think that's definitely the first step."
She has landed a long-term substitute teaching position locally, Webb tells the paper.
Sr. Mary's seven paragraphs don't mention her, referring only to "the recent events," "the recent employment matter" and "the recent situation." That oblique language leads Marian graduate Holly Painter to comment at Facebook: "Oh the love that dare not speak its name, or be spoken of or alluded to except in the most general terms."
Notably, the IHM Sisters president twice mentions messages from Pope Francis as points of guidance during "challenging times." She writes:
"Pope Francis has brought a sense of hope to our lives and encourages us to look at our Church with new eyes. No, it is not likely that doctrine will change; however the Pope emphasizes that the values of mercy, inclusion and compassion need to be included in our response to complex situations. . . .
"We feel that God's Spirit is . . . encouraging us to respond to the signs of the times in new ways."
That tone, along with references to "ongoing education and a new lens through which to view issues and situations that are emerging," encourage alumnae who've urged that "Marian be the change." These are among responses posted:
• "It's a step in the right direction. Things don't change overnight but they hear us and are working towards a resolution." -- Erin Katz
• "This sounds very promising." -- Jennifer Rudd
• "This is a very important and positive step in the right direction. It was worth the wait!" -- Verity Flecknell
• "I read this as good news, but pressure must be maintained." -- Julie Webber
• "It's not a complete solution, but at least some changes are happening. It's not specific enough, but at least it is a statement/response. I feel ever so slightly heartened." -- Hilary Friedman
• "it's encouraging. It sounds as though they recognize the changing sentiment and instead of the blanket 'but this is what the church teaches' line, they are interested in moving forward with the times. At least I hope so. All in all, a promising response." -- Jenn Paprocki
• "I would like to see actions that follow these words before I say it is a step in the right direction. It is easy to say they are making considerations in hopes that it will resolve the issue. The real progress will be if they actually modify their rules." -- Angela McMillan
• "I would be encouraged by this letter. . . . It's an opening . . . and shows they're potentially willing to think differently." -- Tracy Sinclair
• "it's encouraging to know we have gotten their attention. The response may be a little weak, but its something. It breaks the silence and is a good first step." -- Christine Reppke
• "This letter is an ice-breaker. Now we can hopefully begin to communicate. . . . It is such a huge deal for them to speak up and say 1) We hear you, 2) The church is making encouraging changes due to Pope Francis, and 3) Though we can't change Church doctrine, we intend to evolve continually." -- Kelly Schneider
Earlier coverage at Deadline:
- Marian Protest Draws More Than 100; 'This Is A Human Rights Issue,' Sept. 7
- Past Valedictorian to Marian: 'Please Reconsider Your Divisive Position,' Sept. 7
- Barbara Webb Will Join Sunday Rally Outside Marian Masses, Sept. 6
- Marian High Students Rally Around Pregnant Lesbian Teacher Who Was Fired, Sept. 2