Politics & Policy

Who Is Patricia Jannuzzi?

The Catholic teacher’s comment on gay activism ignited a firestorm.

I can’t get this question out of my head: Who is Patricia Jannuzzi?

These last few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of religious organizations publicly wrestling with gay rights. The Mormon Church authorized new protections for gay people, while attempting to protect religious believers, too. A rapidly dwindling denomination of Presbyterians decided to embrace gay marriage. San Francisco’s City Church, the largest evangelical megachurch, embraced gay marriage for its congregants. Cardinal Dolan was the grand marshal of the first St. Patrick’s Day parade that permitted people to march with LGBT banners.

Some of these churches are discarding ancient Christian moral truths; others are looking for loving or tolerant gestures, while holding to their doctrines. It’s not always easy to figure out how to combine truth and love.

Enter Patricia Jannuzzi into the fray. Actually, to judge from the published accounts, it doesn’t appear she meant to enter any particular fray. Reacting to the crass way Dan Savage spoke to Dr. Ben Carson, she popped off on her personal Facebook page, which you can read here.

Mrs. Jannuzzi teaches theology at a diocesan Catholic high school in New Jersey. A few of her former students organized a petition calling her posting “public hate speech.” Another former student, now a reality-TV star, also attacked her. Susan Sarandon weighed in, and a media juggernaut was unleashed. The school immediately suspended Mrs. Jannuzzi and made her take down her Facebook page. She hasn’t spoken to the press, but her family did put up this fundraising website for her.

Side note: I’ve been asked if I agree with Patricia Jannuzzi’s post. Well, no, not exactly — especially, I don’t believe the gay-rights community is trying to harm Western civilization. (Re-engineer it? Obviously.) On the “born that way” versus choice, I believe most people do not choose their orientation, although it is not hard in the scholarly literature to find women who say they did make a choice, and there are even gay men who choose to marry women, and who say they love their wives and are happy living that way. Sex just won’t stay in our boxes. But fundamentally, I think Patricia Jannuzzi is right in this: Sexual orientation is not like race, because while we don’t exactly choose our desires, we all do choose what we are going to do with them.

So who is Patricia Jannuzzi really? Is she a “nightmare human dumpster,” a hater and a bigot who is unworthy to teach at a Catholic school?

Patricia is not talking to the press, but I found a few new things by Googling.

Here’s a story from 2012 about the Bishop of Metuchen giving Patricia Jannuzzi a medal — the Regina Nostra medal. The student reporter writes: “Because of her love and devotion to Immaculata High School and the parish, Mrs. Patricia Jannuzzi was the ideal nominee for the award.” The reporter then quotes Mrs. Jannuzzi: “I am very grateful for the encouragement that Monsignor Seamus F. Brennan has given me for the honorable work of spreading the Gospel in our parish and high school. I do believe all honor, glory and credit go to Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother. I am just a frail instrument in His hands with her prayerful aid. I offer the Regina Nostra award back to Immaculata and thank the Blessed Mother for her constant prayer for our Parish and school!”

The reporter continues:

Mrs. Jannuzzi participates in many school activities. Her contribution to campus ministry and volunteer work has made a big impact on Immaculata and, most importantly, the students she works with. The work she does makes a big difference to our school and parish. Leading retreats and trips has inspired many young students and helps involve them with the less fortunate and needy. Mrs. Jannuzzi’s time and dedication to Immaculata has been appreciated for years and every faculty member, student, and person involved with the parish is tremendously grateful for her commitment.

Lifesite News points out that many of her former students, even those who have criticized her statement, say she is a wonderful and loving teacher:

During the feeding frenzy, her students defended her as a teacher and as a human being.

“I had Ms. Jannuzzi this semester, and the way that she is being perceived here as somebody that’s a hateful person, it’s just not fair,” said David Rubin to a local TV station.

“I’ve talked to her a few times, all good things,” Sam Constintino, a junior, said. “I’ve never heard anything bad from her, so I was surprised hearing this.”

But not all were supportive. “I left this school after being told in religion class I must live a celibate single life if I had gay ‘feelings,’” wrote Doug Bednarczyk, according to the New York Daily News.

Here you can watch Patricia Jannuzzi speaking at a March 23, 2012, religious-freedom rally she helped organize in Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall, to protest the new HHS mandates on Catholic and other organizations: “We need to make this a priority,” she told the rally. “We need to put all our hearts and minds to the task of preserving religious freedom. . . . We must make this injustice visible, we must follow in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who led prayerful, peaceful movements to expose and change the great injustices of the day, and this is the beginning of that kind of movement.”

She went on: “We need to talk about it around the table, we need to talk about it at sporting events . . . e-blast people, upload articles to your Facebook page, blog on the topic.”

And then — more on the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up watch — she said: “This process to secure religious freedom will be painful. It is going to hurt like all fighting hurts, but we will persevere in prayer because the truth is on our side. The fragrance of our sacrifice will bring everything back to grace. Be revolutionary. Prayer, sacrifice, penance and action. God bless you.”

I wonder if the diocesan lawyers who are no doubt working this case really understand what they appear to be proposing to do: take away the livelihood of a 57-year-old woman, with two kids to support, because she expressed herself awkwardly and heatedly on her personal Facebook page in support of Catholic teaching. I don’t know if they know how unlikely a secular employer is to want to take on the headaches they may be tempted to cast off, after they’ve judged her unfit to be a Catholic teacher after 30 years of service.

I hope the diocesan lawyers figure out how to do the right thing. I hope they figure out a way to work together to minimize the damage this kind of organized protest tactic can do to Catholic institutions. I hope Mrs. Jannuzzi says she regrets any hurt feelings, because she loves her students and only wants to speak truth in love. She seems to be that kind of Catholic. I hope others go to her family’s website and offer support, moral or financial.

I hope this for her sake, but even more for the Church’s sake: Please, don’t let the throwaway culture come to Metuchen, N.J., and throw away a treasure like Patricia Jannuzzi.

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