Michael Califano attended Maria Regina as a child and had...

Michael Califano attended Maria Regina as a child and had worked there for two years. Credit: Courtesy Michael Califano

A third-grade teacher at Maria Regina Catholic School in Seaford said he was fired after officials with the Diocese of Rockville Centre were alerted to pictures on social media of him kissing his longtime boyfriend.

Michael Califano, whose father was a Nassau County police officer who died in the line of duty more than a decade ago, said he was called into a meeting Wednesday with the school's pastor and the head of human resources for the diocese, who told him that he was not following a “Catholic lifestyle and Catholic ethics” based on the church handbook and that his employment had been terminated.

Califano, 26, who attended the school as a child, worked at Maria Regina for two years.

“They said that I wasn't living a Catholic lifestyle but didn't specify what they viewed as a Catholic lifestyle,” Califano, who is gay, told Newsday. “I go to church every Sunday. I'm very active in my parish because my parish is my school. So from what I've seen, and from clearly from what other people have seen, I have been living a Catholic lifestyle. The diocese feels that they can decide differently.”

The diocese on Thursday refused to answer questions about Califano's termination.

“For privacy reasons we do not comment publicly on personnel matters, but we can say that the school did not end Mr. Califano’s employment over his sexuality,” said Sean Dolan, a diocesan spokesman.

Califano and other parents familiar with the termination insist the school and its pastor fought against the firing but were overruled by Rev. John O. Barres, the bishop of the diocese.

A rally in support of Califano is planned for Friday in front of the Cathedral of St. Agnes in Rockville Centre. 

In a letter to parents Thursday, Maria Regina pastor Rev. Jason Grisafi and principal Matthew Scannapieco confirmed Califano's termination.

“We understand that a change in teaching staff during the school year is significant and want to assure you that this decision was made after thorough and careful consideration and review,” they wrote. “Due to the confidential nature of personnel matters, we are not permitted to provide any further details about this decision.” 

The statement said the school is “working to ensure that when our students return that they are returning to what so many love about our school — a safe and nurturing environment where they can learn and be formed in their Catholic faith.”

Califano said the school and the diocese were aware of his sexuality and never expressed concern until an individual sent an anonymous letter to Barres with pictures from Califano's boyfriend's Facebook page showing the two men kissing. Califano said his Facebook page is private and that he never discusses his sexuality in the classroom.

“They said they found things on that account that were inappropriate for a Catholic schoolteacher,” said Califano, who has been in contact with an attorney. “There's nothing vulgar on that account.”

Parents at Maria Regina expressed outrage about Califano's termination, creating a Facebook page in support of the teacher and an online petition urging the diocese to reverse its position that had more than 1,000 signatures by Thursday evening. Some parents said they're planning to pull their children from the school in protest or to refuse Sunday donations to the church.

Toni Lichtenberger, of Massapequa, said Califano taught her daughter last year and called him an “amazing teacher and an amazing person” who is beloved in the school.

“This is a witch hunt,” she said. “We pay tuition because we want a certain type of education that aligns with our family's values and morals. What they just did goes against everything they're supposed to be learning. These kids are supposed to be learning acceptance and tolerance. And this has gone the complete opposite way.”

Califano's father, a highway patrolman of the same name, died in 2011 after his patrol car was struck by a flatbed tow truck on the Long Island Expressway during a traffic stop. The driver, who prosecutors said fell asleep behind the wheel, pleaded guilty to reckless driving and avoided jail time.

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