Elphin Bishop, Bert & Ernie, Gay Priests, and Colin Farrell Are All Involved in Ireland’s LGBT Debates

December 12, 2014

Earlier this week, we posted about the marriage equality debate happening now in Ireland, and the role of Catholic bishops and laity on both sides of the issue.  Today we will look at some other Catholic LGBT issues in both the Republic of Ireland and the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland. These issues include marriage benefits, adoption, religious liberty, and gay priests.

Bishop Kevin Doran

In the heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland, where the marriage equality debate is occurring, Bishop Kevin Doran of the diocese of Elphin, a strong advocate against marriage equality has also spoken in opposition to lesbian and gay couples adopting children.  In a talk in the city of Roscommon, Doran spoke about the importance of procreation in marriage and the idea of complementarity of the the sexes being important for child-rearing.

But Doran did make some concessions.  Gay Star News  reported:

“Although slamming gay marriage and adoption, Doran did say that the state should ensure gay couples in committed relationships should have inheritance and visiting rights in the event of illness or death. He also said that the church, ‘condemns without reservation words or actions which are intended to injure, ridicule or undermine homosexual people.’ “

Catholic opposition to adoption by gay and lesbian couples was also in the spotlight in the more Protestant Northern Ireland, where the Catholic bishops have chosen to sever ties with an adoption agency which has agreed to let such couples adopt.  Gay Star News provided details:

“The agency in question is The Family Care Society NI. The agency was originally founded by the Church and has offices in Belfast.

“Adoption laws were changed in Northern Ireland in 2012 to allow same-sex couples to adopt. . . .

“In a statement. . ., the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said, ‘It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith-based organizations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good.

” ‘As a result the Family Care Society is now legally obliged to receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the High Court decision.

” ‘Since the provision of adoption services in Northern Ireland now also involves acting against the Church’s teaching and ethos, we too have no option but to end the long established relationship between the Church and The Family Care Society NI.’ “

It is curious that when discussing adoption and Catholic teaching, these bishops only focus on the sexual relationship of the couple, and not the importance of a child being raised in a loving household.

Muppets Bert and Ernie

In a related story, Paul Givan, a politician with the heavily Protestant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, has called for “reasonable accommodation” for religious conscience as part of his Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill which he is proposing.  The bill was in response to a case in which a Christian baker refused to make a cake of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and including the logo of Queerspace, an LGBTQ organization in Belfast.

The Irish nation has also had an inside view into the lives of some of its gay priests through the publication of a sociological study of priesthood by former seminarian Dr. John Weafer.

Entitled Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity, the book examines the lives of a sampling of priests in the context of a variety of their life struggles.  The parts about gay priests have been receiving the most press attention.  The Huffington Post report on the book discussed one gay priest, known as Fr. L, who went on to have a sexual relationship with another priest:

“Fr L went on to discover a ‘clerical gay scene in Ireland,’ saying he believed there were ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and during one visit to a gay bar in Dublin recognized at least nine priests in the venue.

“Weafer said he did not believe the church hierarchy would be surprised to read these revelations.

” ‘There is a support group for gay priests in Ireland and one respondent said a number of bishops had been invited and met with them in an informal setting,’ Weafer told The Huffington Post over the phone.”

In a story about the book in The Belfast Telegraph, the author noted the difficult situation gay priests live in:

“He believes that there are ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and on one occasion when he went into a gay bar in Dublin, he recognised at least nine priests in the bar. . . .

” ‘As long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest’ they turn a blind eye, he claimed. . . .

“According to Dr Weafer: ‘If a priest was to say in the morning “I am gay,” he would be fired. Priests have learned to keep their heads down.’ “

Actor Colin Farrell and his gay brother, Eamonn Farrell

Given the marriage equality debate and these other controversies which have emerged, Ireland, north and south, seems poised for some lively national dialogues about LGBT people and religion. One news story noted that at least 20,000 students in Ireland have registered to vote to participate in the marriage equality referendum in the spring.  Irish celebrities such as actor Colin Farrell have also become involved in the discussion, making public statements in support of marriage equality.

It would be wonderful if the bishops would relax their defensive posture somewhat and listen to the stories of LGBT people, even their own gay priests. They would learn so much about life, love, and faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Independent: “Bishop supports inheritance rights for gay couples”

How LGBT Catholics Helped Resurrect a New York Parish

December 11, 2014

In this blog’s All Are Welcome series, we try to assist parishes and faith communities that want to do outreach to LGBT people and their families.  Often in that series, we highlight some steps parishes can take to make that welcome known, and sometimes we highlight the gifts that LGBT people bring to a parish.

This blog post fits into a whole different category.  It is the story of how LGBT people have been part of helping a parish in New York City to thrive in life and attendance, thus helping to save it from being closed or merged in the recent archdiocesan cutbacks there.

St. Francis de Sales Church

NYPress.com recently profiled St. Francis de  Sales parish on East 96th Street in Manhattan, focusing on the incredible growth the parish has witnessed in recent years.  The reporter observed:

The Catholic archdiocese of New York has recently made some tough decisions about consolidating churches throughout the five boroughs, due to lack of resources, declining Mass attendance and difficulty maintaining older facilities. But despite the desolate picture presented to some parishes, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on E. 96th St. is thriving and growing, bringing in younger parishioners and catering to the changing populations of Yorkville and East Harlem.

Pastor Philip Kelly speaks about his congregation with a touch of awe for their enthusiasm and willingness to get involved in the parish community, and he credits them with helping to grow the parish from a few hundred weekly Mass attendees to about 600 today.

The pastor and pastoral associate Jayne Porcelli began a program of reaching out to young single people in their neighborhood.  The pastor noted, ““I’d say the average age is 28-30 years old. On Sundays you have to dodge the baby strollers [in the church aisles] – and the scooters.”

But it was the LGBT community in particular played an important role in the parish’s re-birth:

“One of the programs at St. Francis that Porcelli and Fr. Kelly credit with helping to keep the congregation young and vibrant is their LGBTQS Catholic Alliance – a gay-straight alliance group that bills itself as “an inclusive and welcoming fellowship.”

“ ‘I had a very positive experience with my faith and coming out when I was younger,’ said Jay Malsky, who is 29 and the coordinator for the group. ‘When I moved to 102nd and Lexington, [I came to St. Francis], and the message is so clear and welcoming.’

“He said that he wants to help other gay and lesbian Catholics experience the same positive feelings of support and community that he acknowledges they may not have gotten elsewhere. Asked if it truly is an alliance – do straight people join, too? – Malsky laughed. ‘Last night, we were outnumbered,’ he said. Many parishioners join because they have gay family members, or just want to be part of a social group that also shares Scripture readings during their wine and cheese nights.”

St. Francis de Sales statue in parish.

On this blog, we never get tired of noting that the younger generation of Catholics is much more acclimated to LGBT people than any previous generation before them.  For these younger people, the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation pose no problem–even for religious inclusion.  The St. Francis de Sales shows that if a parish wants to attract the younger generation of Catholics, many of whom were alienated from church by previous negative pastoral experiences, the pastoral staff must include LGBT support and spirituality on the parish’s agenda.  As theologian Father Bryan Massingale said at a Pax Christi conference in 2013:

“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue. . . . For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”

The St. Francis de Sales story has another lesson, too.   It shows that LGBT people want to be part of their church and will respond positively to an invitation and signs of authentic concern for them.  And the entire parish can benefit from their gifts and presence.

In many parishes across the nation, participation in parish life by LGBT people has not only been a spiritual boon, but has also helped to re-animate the entire community and often encouraging welcome to other diverse groups.  Pastoral leaders should consider not only the Gospel call to welcome all, but also take note of the benefits that such welcome could have for the entire faith community.

Does your Roman Catholic parish welcome LGBT people?  How has your community benefited by their presence, in practical and spiritual ways. Contribute your answers to the “Comments” section of this post.

To learn more about gay-friendly parishes, click here to read all the posts in our All Are Welcome series or click the “All Are Welcome” button in the “Categories” box on the right-hand side of this page.  You can also visit New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Crux.com: “Finding the right parish for gays”

The Vatican’s New Questions About LGBT Ministry

December 10, 2014

The Vatican has released a preparation document for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and the Family, and, as they did for the 2014 synod, the meeting’s organizers are asking for wide consultation “at all levels” of the Church on a variety of topics, including pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay people.

The National Catholic Reporter described the document, known as a lineamenta:

The 2014 Synod

“The document is part a summary of the last meeting, known as a synod of bishops and held at the Vatican last October, and part a series of 46 questions meant to help prepare for the next synod. The Vatican synod office is sending the document in coming days to bishops’ conferences around the world.

“In its preface, Tuesday’s document states that the questions are aimed ‘an in-depth examination of the work initiated’ at the last synod.”

(An Italian language text of the document is available by clicking here. When an English language version becomes available, we will let you know about it.)

In several spots, the document calls for participation by the laity, perhaps most strongly in this statement:

“The episcopal conferences have the responsibility to continue to examine … thoroughly and seek the involvement, in the most opportune manner possible, all levels of the local Church, thus providing concrete instances from their specific situations.”

As for LGBT issues, the document makes use of the term “persons with homosexual tendencies” to describe lesbian and gay people.  Despite this inaccuracy, the questions that relate to this topic hold some promise for productive discussion and possible changes in pastoral practice, as well as some problems. The document states:

“The pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies poses new challenges today, due to the manner in which their rights are proposed in society.

“How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate?

“While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel? How can God’s will be proposed to them in their situation?”

The positive side to these questions is that the first three are very open-ended.  They provide opportunities for people to answer freely and from their own experiences.  The emphasis on what is “appropriate” in light of particular cultures allows for a diversity of approaches to be discussed and appreciated.

On the negative side, the final question can be interpreted as pre-supposing knowledge of what God’s will is for this group.  I hope that is not how it was intended, but I also recognize that that may be the way it is interpreted by people who will answer the question.

Another troublesome aspect is the first sentence’s contextualizing LGBT ministry within the context of civil debates.  What I am afraid that this framing will do is allow people to respond in ways which hedge on pastoral ministry because they fear that any acceptance of LGBT people would be an endorsement of a civil or political agenda.  Pastoral ministry should not be hampered in such a way.  Church ministers should do outreach to LGBT people because the Gospel requires that they do so at all times.  They should not worry that their welcome of LGBT people would be confused with any political or social agenda in secular society.

It is interesting that these questions are not focused on pastoral care towards LGBT people, but to families with gay and lesbian members.  I hope that will include families which are headed by gay and lesbian people, and not just families headed by heterosexual couples who have LGBT children.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA commented on the new document in a Religion News Service article:

“LGBT people certainly need appropriate pastoral care that starts from a position of acknowledging our moral equality with all other people, and that accepts the reality of our lives and the families we create. But we are not a problem for the church to solve. We are human beings, baptized members of our church, God’s beloved just as are other members of the church.”

Regardless of the merits or drawbacks of these questions, the real import will be in whether bishops actually do the wide consultation that is called for by this document.  In 2013, the U.S. bishops did very little in terms of consulting the laity in preparation for the 2014 synod.  Now that they have had more time to consider options, they should have no excuse not to do the wide consultation the Vatican requests.  The Bishops of England and Wales have already laid out a process for such a consultation a month ago.  The U.S. bishops could easily emulate their model.

And, of course, we repeat that the 2015 meeting must include Catholic LGBT people speaking for themselves to the synod of bishops.  The 2014 meeting suffered greatly because of that omission.

According to Vatican Radio, there are about four months before the bishops have to submit the results of their consultation to the synod organizers:

“All the results of such consultation must be returned to the Synod Secretariat by April 15th so that the working guidelines, known as the ‘Instrumentum laboris’, can be published before next summer.”

If you do not hear from your diocese or parish that they are taking steps to do consultation, please contact your pastor and bishop and request that they do so.  Better yet,  just answer the synod preparation questions yourself and submit your responses to your local bishop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

December 9, 2014

The Republic of Ireland has become the latest of focus of Catholic LGBT political involvement. And as is becoming the pattern in many heavily Catholic nations, there is a huge divide between the way that the Catholic hierarchy addresses these issues and the way that the Catholic people in the pews do so.

Ireland is gearing up for a Spring 2015 referendum on whether to extend marriage laws to gay and lesbian couples.  The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has entered the debate by releasing a pamphlet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage,” in which they defend the position that marriage should only be open to heterosexual couples. The Irish Times reported on the press conference “launch” of the pamphlet:

” ‘The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,’ said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“ ‘To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,’ added Bishop MacDaid . . .

Since same-gender marriage has been a reality around the globe for well over a decade now, and since we have research on the benefits that marriage equality has had for those couples, their children, and society, it is a very weak argument to say that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will somehow devalue or harm heterosexual marriage and society.

The Irish Times also noted:

“According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.”

Brian Sheehan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Network, a leading Irish LGBT organization, countered the bishops’ assertions with statistical information about the state of marriage in Ireland, noting:

“ . . . ‘[O]ne third of children born in Ireland are born to single parents. They grow up in a variety of diverse family arrangements.’ Allowing gay and lesbian couples make such a commitment in civil marriage ‘would strengthen marriage.’ ”

Christian Today reported on a significant symbolic gesture which shows how far Catholic Irish leaders have come in their support of LGBT equality. Reporting on the bishops’ release of their document, the article stated:

“The Church’s launch came a day after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was pictured in one of Dublin’s main gay bars at an event held by his party’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) society. . . .

” ‘The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in a gay bar is a first,’ renowned Irish drag queen Panti Bliss, owner of Pantibar, the bar Kenny visited, wrote on its Facebook page.

” ‘Only a few years ago a Taoiseach wouldn’t have dared, so it shows how times have changed.’ “

One week before the brochure on marriage was released, Bishop Kevin Doran of the Elphin Diocese said in a talk that his opposition to marriage equality was

“ ‘not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle, it is about the meaning of marriage.’

“He said ‘societies rely on families built on strong marriages to produce what they need but cannot secure: healthy upright children who become conscientious citizens.’ “

Doran’s arguments were countered in a letter to the editor from Dave Donnellan, secretary of the Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the nation’s LGBT Catholic organization.  Citing an Irish Medical Journal report that said that LGBT youth are 14 times more likely to commit suicide and 16 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault, Donnellan called on Catholic bishops to have their priorities better placed:

“This opposition [to marriage equality] mistakenly suggests that the primary issue from a Catholic perspective is a legal one. It’s not. The primary issue here for the Catholic Church is not legal, it is pastoral.

“The question is, do we as a church care about LGBT people who are suffering greatly as the study mentioned above, and others like it suggest? Have we put in place any pastoral care plan to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young LGBT people?

“The fundamental question for the Catholic Church is: ‘Do we love our LGBT people?’ What the LGBT community needs from Bishop Doran and the other bishops in the run-up to the referendum is a witness to the love that God has for the LGBT community and not instructions on how to vote in a referendum.”

Donnellan’s emphasis seems to be in line with Pope Francis’ admonition that bishops should not be “obsessed” with issues like gay marriage.

Stay tuned for more on LGBT political issues in Ireland later in the week on this blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Irish bishops: Marriage between man, woman is matter of justice”

Advocate.com: “Irish Ad Looks to Inspire Youth to Say ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality”

Pope Speaks of Parents of LGBTs, As Video Series Examines Family Experiences

December 8, 2014

In his latest interview, Pope Francis’ said the church must figure out how to care for parents with LGBT children while denying

Speaking with Elisabetta Piquè of the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the pope also emphasized that last October’s synod was not intended to address same-sex marriage at all.The interview, posted in four parts linked to at bottom of this post, is in Spanish (but there is a link in each section to translate the interview to English.)

The interview appeared just as an American Jesuit wrote about the Ignatian News Network’s series on pastoral care with Catholic parents of LGBT people in The National Catholic Reporter.  Eddie Seibert used the synod’s more open approach to LGBT issues to encourage Catholic families to welcome their LGBT children at Christmas and to “Make the Yuletide Gay!”  (More on this video series below.)

Gerald O’Connell of America provides a summary of the pope’s interview:

“Pope Francis pointed out that ‘nobody spoke about homosexual marriage in the synod, it didn’t occur to us. What we spoke about was how a family that has a homosexual son or daughter, how can they educate him/ her, how can they raise her/him, how can this family be helped to move forward in this situation which is a little unprecedented. So in the synod they spoke about the family and homosexual persons in relation to their families, because it is a reality that we encounter many times in the confessional’.  So the synod has to see ‘how to help this father or this mother who accompanies this son or daughter. That’s what was touched upon in the synod. For this reason someone spoke about positive elements in the first rough draft. But that draft was relative.’ “

Crux noted further that Pope Francis referred to his own experiences with parents in the confessional while in Buenos Aires:

” ‘We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter.’ “

The pope spoke positively about the synod overall and said the ongoing process “is the journey that God asks of us” so he does not fear criticism or debates. More broadly, Pope Francis said his efforts at reform would be “slow” and “complex,” and that he is glad resistance is finally out in the open.

In recognizing the difficulties of Catholic parents with LGBT children, Pope Francis echoes the voice of an Australian lay couple who spoke at the synod and have now called for greater lay leadership in a recent piece for The Tablet.   At the synod, Ron and Mavis Pirola used the example of welcoming a gay son and his partner to a family Christmas dinner to illustrate the power of family bonds.

The strength of family bonds is illustrated powerfully by Ignatian News Network in the latest installment of their ongoing series about Catholic parents of LGBT issues. The video features the stories of  Thomas Nelson and Javier and Martha Plasencia, who describe their experiences of loving and accepting their gay sons.  Eddie Siebert, SJ introduced the latest video in a blog post at the National Catholic Reporterand you can watch the parents’ powerful testimonies of love and faith in the video embedded in that article.

The episode is the second part of an examination of Catholic parents of LGBT people .  The first installment, which features Linda Karle-Nelson and Joanne Weyant, can be viewed here:

Seibert summarized his blog post introducing the video by calling for the entire church to emulate these parents’ attitudes and actions:

“So, Christmas is coming. Some of you may be asking the same question the Pirolas asked the bishops…With the amount of division that exists in the world, I pray this holiday season that the messiness of being a human and having a family is something we can find grace in, not judgment and isolation. I pray that if we have the opportunity to welcome someone or turn them away, we choose to welcome. Finally, I pray we remember God doesn’t make mistakes when he creates and nothing can take away our innate dignity — even if we don’t always recognize it.”

Ignatian News Network  has been involved in a larger project of examining the topic of LGBT people and the Catholic Church.  You can read about the debut installment by clicking here.

As Bondings 2.0 has written on several occasions, parents are often the most powerful and effective advocates for LGBT justice in the Catholic Church. Their love their children and their commitment to make the church a better place for them are powerful forces. It is refreshing to hear Pope Francis listening to parents, including the Pirolas, but also those he met while offering pastoral care in Argentina. What will be even more meaningful are concrete changes in practice to make greater inclusion and welcome practical realities in homes and in parishes.

For the full interview with Pope Francis provided in Spanish by La Nacion, use the links provided below:

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

John the Baptist As a Woman in a Red Dress

December 7, 2014

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85: 9-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“St. John the Baptist” by El Greco

The 2nd Sunday of Advent’s readings from Isaiah and the beginning of Mark’s gospel both call to mind John the Baptist, a central figure during this season of waiting and preparation for the coming of Christ. I have often thought that John the Baptist is a strange figure. He roams around the Judean countryside, wearing a leather belt and camel’s hair clothing, eating locusts and wild honey. I think that he must have seemed a little weird to the people of his day too. This peculiar figure had a message to preach, something the Judeans needed to hear.

I think of some of the odd people I know or meet. They seem strange to me because they don’t dress as I do, or think as I do, or respond as I do, but I feel sure they have a message I need to hear, just like I need to hear John the Baptist’s message. I believe God has inserted them into my life for a good reason. This Advent I resolved to look again at people I may label strange and to ask myself “How are they ‘John the Baptist’ for me? What message or lesson do they have for me?”

I shared this idea of my “strange John the Baptist” with a small Eucharistic community with whom I regularly worship on Wednesday evenings. Bob, one of the group, told us about his visits to a shelter where he helps to serve meals to some of the city’s homeless. Recently, while handing out some sandwiches for lunch, he saw, across the room, a white-haired woman in a new and exquisite red dress. Strange, he thought. She was not one of the servers, but she did not look like the typical person he encountered in the shelter’s lunch line. As he approached her, he heard her muttering indistinguishable syllables over and over, under her breath, in a rhythmic pattern. Whirling around in circles and making a humming sound, she looked like a big beautiful top, spinning in a corner of the lunchroom.

Here was a John the Baptist figure, not in a leather belt and camel’s hair clothing, but in an attractive red frock with neat white hair. What prophetic message was she delivering?

After the liturgy I thought much about Bob’s John the Baptist figure. The woman appeared lovely in her external world, but her inner life was bewildered and confused. I think that I am like that red-robed woman when my interior and exterior lives are not in harmony. When at times I appear to be kind and loving, but inwardly resent others’ good fortune because it isn’t mine, I hope I think of the woman in the red dress.

Many of us rejoice that we now have a pope who wants to welcome LGBT people into the Church, but inwardly some may grumble that the official teaching on sexuality has not changed. We forget that Pope Francis said, in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, that we are not to be “obsessed” with a multitude of doctrines and that we should avoid a “preoccupation” with doctrine (par. 35 and 94). Rather our goal, he said, is to “concentrate on the essentials,” on the heart of the Gospel or the basic core, which is “the saving love of God” (par. 35 and 36). Doctrines, really, are not essential to Christianity. Jesus had no doctrines, only the law of love.

Perhaps we can outwardly express some sympathy for conservative Catholics who feel lost, rudderless, and insecure because the Church is now experiencing climate change at the highest Vatican level; but secretly we might feel some amusement or glee when we read that conservative bloggers are talking about schism. We pride ourselves on being Vatican II Catholics, yet we forget that Vatican II taught that unity does not mean uniformity. Catholics can understand the Church differently, but we are all part of the same Church in Christ. We are many branches, but we are all rooted in the one vine, which is Christ.

During this Advent season, let’s think of the strange John the Baptists in our lives who have a constructive and vital message to bring us. Who are the women in stunning red dresses, muttering gibberish, who are calling us to resolve the dissonance between our interior and exterior lives?

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry


Fired Gay Music Director Fires Discrimination Complaints

December 6, 2014
Colin Collette at a press conference last week

Colin Collette at a press conference last week

Fired music director Colin Collette has filed federal and local discrimination complaints against the Chicago-area Catholic parish where he was employed for 17 years.

These filings are the first step in a potential lawsuit, hinging on just what “ministerial exemption” means in employment law.

In filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Cook County Commission on Human Rights, Collette claims the pastor and manager of Holy Family Parish, Inverness, discriminated against him on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and marital status. He was fired because his employer thought that Collette’s social media announcement of his engagement to Will Nifong was a public violation of church teaching.

Collette attempted to negotiate with the Archdiocese of Chicago, including a September meeting with Cardinal Emeritus Francis George. However, a lawyer for the fired church worker said these conversations were stalled, and newly-installed Archbishop Blase Cupich had not responded. Collette told the Chicago Tribune

” ‘It is with deep regret that I have had to pursue this course of action…I have chosen to enter into a marriage, as is my right under Illinois law, and perhaps I can open the door to other men and women who the church has chosen to exclude from the community.’ “

Neither the parish nor the Archdiocese of Chicago would comment on the newly filed discrimination complaints. The Tribune explains the filings’ potential implications further:

“A federal discrimination complaint generally has to be filed and reviewed before a person can sue a former employer over alleged discrimination. The EEOC can issue an aggrieved employee a notice of the right to sue the employer or, in rare cases, the agency can sue the employer on the employee’s behalf.

“The success or failure of Collette’s claim will likely turn on what’s called the ‘ministerial exception’ to anti-discrimination law, legal experts said. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that religious institutions have broad latitude in hiring and firing people whose jobs include religious roles.”

That case, EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, expanded the ministerial exemption beyond clergy without laying out clear guidelines. Whether or not Collette’s role as the parish’s music director is considered ministerial would be have to be adjudicated in any potential litigation. Though the former church worker has expressed a desire to return to his job previously, this recent legal action is aimed at “change and justice” and he told Crux:

” ‘My goal is not just to continue a career in the community that I love…Directing both worship and the music ministry, it is truly my vocation. It is who I am, and it saddens me to have this integral part of my life taken away because I have chosen to enter into a marriage…’ “

Regardless of the legal outcome of this case, Collette’s firing and those LGBT-related employment disputes which have lead to than 40 church workers losing their jobs since 2008 cause tremendous pastoral damage. A town hall at Holy Family Parish four months ago drew hundreds, almost all in support of the gay music director, who received a standing ovation. Several volunteers resigned from the parish in protest of the firing. One parishioner spoke about the pastoral harm, saying, “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

The Chicago archdiocese is under new leadership with Archbishop Cupich, who has signaled his willingness to dialogue and respect differences in the church. He can start exemplifying this willingness by meeting with Collette and working towards a moratorium on firing people for LGBT-related issues.

In a related note, another fired church worker, Jamie Moore, has decided not to sue Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

To read more about Colin Collette’s case and all Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of these church worker disputes visit the “Employment Issues” category to the right. For a full listing of those disputes made public since 2008, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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