Ellen DeGeneres (ABC)

Catholic school vows to "destroy" dance invitations featuring Ellen

Principal calls DeGeneres a "poor role model"

Mary Elizabeth Williams
May 22, 2014 6:44PM (UTC)

There's still work to be done, Pennsylvania. It's true that just this week, the state took great strides toward tolerance when a federal judge struck down the Keystone State's same-sex marriage ban, but then a Bucks County Catholic school had to go and blow a gasket over a lesbian.

It seemed innocuous enough: an invitation to the upcoming St. Andrew Elementary School eighth grade "live from the red carpet" graduation dance featuring two photographs of recent Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres. The theme was clear enough – this was to be an event that was "Hollywood nights"-themed but also, as the invite promised,would feature pizza delivery. You know, the sort of thing that the 43.7 million people who watched the Academy Awards understood and apparently had no major objections to.


But soon after the invitations went out, the school's principal ,Nancy Matteo, remembered that in addition to be being a beloved entertainer and reliable awards show host, Ellen DeGeneres is also one of them there homosexual types. Mortified at the idea of a gay person's image appearing on a Catholic school's mailer, she sent out an email to parents -- and obtained by Philly.com -- apologizing for the obvious mistake. In it, she said she was "obviously NOT thinking" when the school issued an invitation featuring such a "poor role model" who "lives her life outside the teachings of the Catholic Church."

"A role model, as defined by Webster's Dictionary," the email read, "is a person who is unusually effective or inspiring in some social role, job, position, etc. This does not describe her at all. We work so hard to be good role models and then I go and do something stupid!" In a statement to Philly.com, Archdiocese of Philadelphia spokesman Ken Gavin added, "All Catholic schools in the Archdiocese are firmly rooted in Gospel-based values and the teachings of the Church. As such, it is expected that any promotional materials developed by these schools would feature images and themes that correspond with their core mission and identity. That approach is logical and our school families have a right to expect it."

Well, sure, you wouldn't want your kids' eyes to be scalded by photos of a human being who's been affiliated with 41 different charitable organizations, who regularly uses her talk show as a platform to recognize and reward deserving individuals and families, whose now apparently contentious Oscar gig helped raise $3 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Humane Society and who also brings the awesome moves to any dance party. I'm sure his holiness Pope Francis would be outraged.


But as if the mea culpa over the sending out of the invitations wasn't absurd enough, Principal Matteo decided to go all in, telling parents that "I need every single invitation returned and I will personally destroy them." You've really got to admire the dedication of someone with such a clear-cut mission to not just apologize for putting a gay person on a mailer but to "destroy" said invitations as if they were a trove of smallpox-infested blankets. And I would certainly never speculate that, knowing what I know about the denizens of the Internet, that's a request that might well lead to some increased mail volume this week for Ms. Matteo.

Remember last year when the pope himself said the church "cannot be obsessed"? I think this is what he meant. The sad insanity of this blatantly mean-spirited fiasco is that it just makes Matteo and the Archdiocese look petty and dumb. If they're that concerned about not including homosexuals in their school-endorsed materials, are they not going to teach the poetry of Walt Whitman or the stories of James Baldwin and Willa Cather or the art of David Hockney? And are they going to "destroy" all references to gay and lesbian people who've appeared in history? Because good luck!

A photograph of a gay person – a gay person, by the way, just doing her job as a television host – isn't going to corrupt your eighth graders. And if you're concerned about their role models, consider what they're seeing when they see educators more concerned about division than acceptance, more interested in "personally destroying" than in creating.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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