On Restrictive Employment Policies: ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

April 29, 2014

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s controversial new loyalty oath for Catholic school teachers which requires that they do not express “public support for a homosexual lifestyle,” among other things, has been receiving opposition recently, and has been the subject of scrutiny of several labor and education professionals.

Some of the Cincinnati protesters.

Over 100 Catholic protesters took to the street in front of the archdiocese’s chancery when they delivered 24,000 signatures on a petition which called on Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to re-write the teachers’ contract without the objectionable clauses.

Parents, teachers, and parishioners were among the protestors.  WCPO-TV quoted one teacher who is also a parent of a gay man:

“Molly Shumate says she has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Hamilton County for 14 years. She has a gay son and refused to sign a contract that says she’s can’t publicly support a homosexual lifestyle.

” ‘I would never initial next to a statement saying that I will not support my son who in my eyes my God made perfectly. I will not do that,’ Shumate said.”

WLWT-TV further quoted Shumate about her decision not to sign the contract:

“The main reason I will not sign this contract is my son is gay, and the day he came out to me, the world was lifted off of his shoulder as well as mine, and it was at that moment that I said to myself I will never hide who he is, be embarrassed of who he is and at that point I said I’m going to use this opportunity to make a difference.”

The Human Rights Campaign joined in the protest by sending a letter to Archbishop Schnurr, from which WKRC-TV quoted the following:

“Dozens of LGBT teachers, who have committed their life’s work to their Catholic faith, have already lost their jobs in schools across the country.  HRC calls on Archbishop Schnurr to remove this anti-LGBT police from Cincinnati Catholic schools and ensure that LGBT Catholics no longer have to choose between who they are, who they love and what they believe.”

The Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii, has recently instituted a similar policy to that of Cincinnati.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee has reported on the growing trend in U.S. Catholic dioceses of making teaching contracts more explicit about what types of ideas teachers can support.  One expert quoted notes that the new, stricter policies “are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.”   Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of  Nevada, Las Vegas, stated:

“It’s about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don’t want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay. . . . They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws.”

Rita Schwartz

Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, a labor union for Catholic educators, worries too about other implications of these new policies which seem to try to solidify the ministerial role of a teacher:

“When dioceses start to call their employees ministers, I look at that as a way for a diocese to tell an employee, ‘Well, you’re a minister, you can’t unionize.’

“If that’s what they’re aiming to do, I have serious issue with that.”

Though diocesan officials state that teaching is a ministerial activity, Schwartz doesn’t disagree totally with that notion.  Where she differs is in the detailed, explicit listing of all the things that a teacher cannot support.  For instance, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati morality section expanded from two pages to six.  McElwee reported on her position:

“While she said she understood the need for a morality clause in Catholic teachers’ contracts –‘I don’t think you can be a Catholic school teacher without one,’ she said — the organizer called the Cincinnati contract ‘six pages of “thou shalt not.” “

” ‘There’s no reason for that,’ she said. ‘There’s got to be a happy medium here.’ “

McElwee’s reporting expands on these themes with interesting details and perspectives.  For those who want more information about the complexities of these employment situations, I recommend you read his entire article by clicking here.  He closes with a plea from Schwartz for greater organizing on the part of Catholic teachers:

“Most Catholic teachers, she said, ‘have no job security, have no due process. They just work at the pleasure of the employer.’

” ‘They need to stop doing that,’ she said. ‘They need to organize themselves into an association, they need to petition for recognize and collective bargaining. That’s the only way that they’re going to have a say over the conditions under which they work. And the sooner they do it, the better.’

“Griffin suggested that teachers consider consulting with lawyers if they have to sign contracts defining them as ministers. Particularly, she said, those teachers might consider trying to insert language into their contracts that specify that while they are ministers, they still claim their rights to sue for workplace discrimination.

“Ultimately, said Griffin, ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

” ‘The laws won’t change unless people start seeing it more from the employee perspective,’ she said.”

New Ways Ministry has been encouraging Catholics to adopt employment non-discrimination policies for their church institutions.  To find out how to begin the process of implementing one, click here.  New Ways Ministry has also supported DignityUSA’s call to write letters to church leaders protesting restrictive employment policies.  All three efforts can have an impact on our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

Cincinnati.com: Marchers seek change to Catholic teacher contract

 

 


Catholic School Student Told Not to Use Harvey Milk Quotation

February 2, 2014

In Ontario, Canada, there has been an ongoing struggle in state-funded Catholic schools to comply with a law there to allow gay-straight alliances (GSA) to form.   This controversy added a new wrinkle to it recently when a Catholic school in a Toronto suburb refused to allow a student to use a quote from gay-rights leader Harvey Milk on a poster for the GSA.

Christopher Karras holding an image of Harvey Milk

Student Christopher Karras, who attends École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille, part of the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud (Catholic Central South District School Board) in Mississauga, chose a quote from Milk to advertise the existence of the newly-formed student organization.

DailyXtra.com reported:

“The Milk quote — ‘All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential’ — has been deemed to be too controversial, according to an email Karas received from his vice-principal in October.

“ ‘I was told that I can’t have a picture of Harvey Milk or his quote on the posters,’ Karas says. ‘I also had “sexual orientation” written on the posters.’
“But Karas says vice-principal Vicki Marcotte told him to change that to ‘self-expression’ because ‘she felt it was too much about LGBT community and not inclusive of everyone.’ “
In an email, Marcotte said she would not allow the quote because it was “tendentious.”

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay man elected to public office in California when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. He was assassinated by Dan White, another member of the Board of Supervisors.

The earlier controversy over establishing such clubs focused around the Catholic schools board’s wish not to name them “gay-straight alliances,” but “diversity clubs.”   The group in the Mississauga school is not labelled as a GSA, but is called “Porte Ouverte (Open Doors).”
Yet, the struggle for the group’s identity has not ended by simply changing the name.  Karras says there has been other intervention by the school administration.  According to DailyXtra.com:
” . . . he says the school is trying to prevent it from becoming ‘too focused on queer stuff.’
“Karas feels the board and school administrators are censoring and restricting the content of the group and making it difficult for the group to present itself as a GSA.
“Davina Smith, another of the group’s founders, says the posters have caused unnecessary friction between the group and the school’s administration.
“ ‘This gets on my nerves,’ she says, noting that the objection to the poster design gives the impression that the board is homophobic. ‘That’s the impression that I get . . . Harvey Milk is talking about giving youth hope. What’s wrong with that?’ “
Catholic school officials need to learn that opposing discussions of sexual orientation among students is not going to keep students from discussing these topics.  Furthermore, wouldn’t it have been nice if the vice-principal could have seen that what Harvey Milk’s quote was saying is really not very different from their own goals as a Catholic school?  Much education remains to be done.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Students Protest Firings in Seattle and Philly; What You Can Do to Help

December 20, 2013

Students chanting “change the church” at the protest outside Eastside Catholic H.S.

Students and faculty at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Washington, protested yesterday morning when they learned that the school’s vice principal was fired because he married his male partner.

The Seattle Times reported that Mark Zmuda, the fired administrator, met with the students during their protest in front of the school on Thursday, December 19th.  According to one student:

“He told us he had gotten fired because he is gay and married. He told us to grow up, get a job and find true love. He was crying and told us what we were doing meant a lot to him.”

Zmuda’s firing brings to twelve the number of LGBT people fired from Catholic institutions in the U.S. fired this year because of sexual orientation, gender expression, or marital status.

According to a report on KIROTV.com, 400 students from Eastside Catholic, which is in the Seattle metropolitan area, walked out of their classrooms for the protest.

Mark Zmuda

The Seattle Times reported that students at another local Catholic high school, Seattle Preparatory School, staged a protest in solidarity with Zmuda at their school.  The protest ended with continued discussion on a school-wide basis:

“ ‘Diversity Director, Heidi Kim, moderated a discussion with our students,’ according to the statement to Seattle Prep parents. ‘Following that, Principal Maureen Reid asked students to return to class, where they were able to take up the discussion with their classmates and instructors.’ ”

The Seattle demonstrations come only one week after students in the Philadelphia area publicly protested the firing of Michael Griffin, a foreign language teacher, from Holy Ghost Preparatory School because he and his male partner obtained a marriage license.  According to an Associated Press  story:

“Administrators at a Roman Catholic high school suffered a sharp and swift backlash this week after firing a well-liked teacher who sought to marry his same-sex partner.

“Educators said they had no choice, but thousands have protested the move through Facebook groups and petitions demanding that Michael Griffin be rehired at Holy Ghost Preparatory School. Some alumni have pledged to withhold financial support.”

Employment GraphicReligion News Service  story on The Washington Post website noted that a new coalition of Catholic gay and lesbian students in Pennsylvania has formed to protest Griffin’s firing:

Gay and lesbian Catholic students in Pennsylvania are joining alumni and others in pushing a Catholic high school near Philadelphia to reinstate a teacher who was fired after he applied for a marriage license with his partner. . . .

“Michael Griffin did not deserve to be treated in a way that does not clearly reflect Christ and His teachings,” says the letter sponsored by the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition. “He has dedicated his life to the Holy Ghost Community. He is just as much a part of the Holy Ghost family as any other member.”

Since the beginning of 2012, Bondings 2.0 has been reporting and commenting on this disturbing, growing trend of firing LGBT people from Catholic institutions.  (You can read all the stories concerning this topic in by clicking on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right hand column of this blog post.)  This past Sunday, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni commented on this trend in an essay entitled “The Catholics Still in Exile.”   Bruni notes that the message of and spirit of Pope Francis’ outreach to lesbian and gay people is muted by the actions of these institutional administrators:

“Pope Francis has indeed been a revelation, his gentle tone and sustained humility more in touch with the heart of Catholicism than the bitter jeremiads of other Catholic leaders were. But it’s important to note that he hasn’t pledged to revisit doctrine, nor are such revisions likely to happen anytime soon. The world turns at a breathless clip; the church, at a glacial one.

“It’s equally important to note that beyond Rome, the very focus on sexual morality that the pope seems to be waving Catholics away from can still be keen and uncompromising. Examples are made where they needn’t be; punishment is meted out when it doesn’t have to be. And it’s this, as much as anything uttered in Vatican City, that continues to drive a wedge between open-minded Catholics and the church’s hierarchy.”

New Ways Ministry’s response to these dismissals has been to encourage Catholics to work towards getting their schools, parishes, and other institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies which will protect LGBT people from being fired.  You can read our whole list of suggestions by clicking here.  If you need help with organizing to adopt such policies, please call or email our office:  (301)-277-5674; info@NewWaysMinistry.org.  The best way to stop these firings is to prevent them by putting into practice Catholic social principles of equality, human dignity, freedom, and the value of work.

Another way you can help is to spread the word about establishing non-discrimination policies by sharing the Facebook meme pictured above on your social media accounts  You can access it by clicking here.  Let’s make this movement go viral!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Gay Teacher Fired from Catholic Prep School for Applying for Marriage License

December 7, 2013

A teacher at a Catholic prep school in Pennsylvania has been fired from his position of twelve years on the same day that he and his partner applied for a marriage license.

Michael Griffin with his partner, Vincent Gianetto

Michael Griffin, who taught French and Spanish at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, a Philadelphia suburb, had been known to faculty and administrators as gay, but that when administrators questioned him about his upcoming marriage, he was fired.  6ABC.com reported on the process of his firing:

“Michael Griffin says he emailed the principal of Holy Ghost Prep earlier in the week saying he may be late Friday, that he was applying for a marriage license. After an in-service day he says he was called into the office of School President Father James McCloskey, along with Principal Jeffrey Danilak.

“Griffin explains, ‘He said, “It’s not really a secret here that you’re gay.” I said, “Correct.” He said, “I assume this is a same sex marriage.” “Yes.” He said if I go through with it, he had no choice but to terminate my position.’ “

NBCPhiladelphia.com reported that McCloskey made a statement on the matter which included the following:

“At a meeting in my office yesterday, teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he obtained a license to marry his same sex partner. Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

Griffin noted that he is angered by how he was treated:

“The school to me has shown their true colors so I don’t know if I… I certainly don’t want to work there again after I’ve seen how they treated me.”

He also told the press that he believes he was fired because the school enforces a code of conduct for teachers which states in part:

“. . . as employees of a Catholic institution, all teachers are expected to uphold lifestyles compatible with the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will know that this firing is just the latest in a rapidly growing trend of firings from Catholic institutions aimed at LGBT people and others who support marriage equality.   What is amazing about these firings is that while they emphasize the Catholic hierarchy’s position on marriage, they totally ignore the Catholic Church’s teachings on non-discrimination, the dignity of work, and respect for all human beings.  The sexual teachings do not and should not trump the social justice teachings.

New Ways Ministry has called upon Catholics to attempt to institute non-discrimination policies in their church institutions such as parishes, schools, and social service agencies.  You  can learn more about how to work towards establishing such policies by clicking here.  Adopting such policies guarantees that LGBT people and their allies will be protected, and it will insure that Catholic social justice principles are upheld.

You can review all the Bondings 2.0 posts about such firings by clicking on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” section to the right of this post.

Here are the names of people fired over the last two years, with links to more information about their cases:

Mark Krolikowski

Nicholas Coppola

Carla Hale

Erin Macke

Nick Johns

Tim Nelson

William Hudson

Ken Bencomo

Kristen Ostendorf

Tippi McCullough

Nigel Studdart
“John Doe”
Trish Cameron
Michael Fischer
Steav Bates Congdon
Jodi O’Brien
Fr. Owen O’Sullivan, OFM, Cap (see page 5 in link)
Laine Tadlock
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Was Banning the Legion of Mary the Best Possible Response to Their Anti-Gay Message?

December 7, 2013

National University in Galway, Ireland

A state-run university in Ireland has banned a campus chapter of the Legion of Mary from the school after the group posted posters inviting students to become part of the Courage movement, a Catholic ministry to lesbian and gay people which promotes chastity and has been known in some instances to promote reparative therapy to attempt to “change” a person’s sexual orientation.

Officials from the National University in Galway said they made their decision because of the school’s “pluralist ethos” and its policy of “protecting the liberty and equality of all students and does not condone such behaviour” according to The Journal.ie.

RTE.ie reported that the poster’s message invited students with ” ‘same sex attractions’ to ‘develop an interior life of chastity … to move beyond the confines of the homosexual label to a more complete identity in Christ.’ “

The Guardian news report offered some background as to why the university came to its decision:

“The university said it had reviewed the actions of the society in the context of the college’s code of conduct and policies governing harassment. It said this led to the immediate suspension of the Legion of Mary, which is understood to have only a few members in its college society.

“The societies chairperson at the university, Patrick O’Flaherty, said he had been contacted by a number [70] of students who were upset or felt threatened by the content of the poster.

“In a statement, the university said it would not condone the production and dissemination of any material by students that discriminated against other students.”

The Legion of Mary’s response to the university’s action is curious.  On one hand, according to RTE.ie:

“Representatives of the Legion did not respond to an invitation to attend a meeting to consider the issue.”

Yet, on the other hand, the same news story reported:

“However, after the suspension was imposed, a committee member did write to the group apologising for any distress that had been caused.

“She said the content on the document had been taken directly from a website. It was not aimed at attacking any person or group of people and was not intended to hurt or offend.”

Yet, the group also had a bit of a rocky history in regard to its application to become a recognized society on campus, according to RTE.ie:

“The group had applied for status as a college society in September of this year and at one point had around 100 members.

“As part of the application to become a fully-fledged society, its committee was asked to provide information as to its aims and objectives.

“This did not happen. Concerns about the lack of clarification contributed to the decision to suspend the society.”

London’s Telegraph newspaper published an essay on this controversy by Padraig Reidy, a senior writer at the Index on Censorship. While Reidy is not sympathetic with the Legion of Mary’s views on homosexuality, he defends their right to express their views on a campus.  He wrote:

“. . . [W]e are in a curious position where a non-violent, non-intimidatory message from an orthodox Catholic position has been banned from a university campus. Without a trace of irony, the university claims that it is ‘committed to protecting the liberty and equality of all students.’

“The university Legion of Mary has said it was not their intention ‘to offend or upset any person or group of people.’ It probably wasn’t. In their own weird little way they probably genuinely think they’re offering real ‘support’ for gay people.

“But it doesn’t matter whether I, or the university authorities, agree with their idea of support or not. The issue at stake here is that they have peacefully put forward their views, without threat or abuse, and have still been punished, with even evidence of the Legion’s student society status removed from NUI Galway’s website.

“Universities are meant to be places where people learn to argue and find their way as adults. How this can happen when students are “protected” from even the slightest controversy, I really don’t know. Believers in intellectual and religious liberty should start praying for the Towers of Ivory.”

There are a lot of issues in this story which can be seen as black and white.  Was the university correct in banning the group or was this censorship, as Reidy claims?  Did the punishment fit the offense?  Was it LGBT students or Catholic students who were experiencing discrimination?

While I do not condone the message of the Legion of Mary’s posters, I wonder if perhaps there could have been a teachable moment here.  The fact that the Legion of Mary apologized shows there might be some opportunity for discussion with them. Perhaps a meeting between the Legion of Mary students and LGBT students would have helped to develop toleration and respect.  The recent example of Providence College, a Catholic school in Rhode Island, is instructive here.  When that school’s administration cancelled a public lecture by a pro-marriage equality speaker,   students on campus organized an evening of discussion and dialogue about the case, which resulted in a re-invitation to the speaker for the spring semester.

As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, let us remember one of the greatest institutions he established was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up for victims of apartheid to tell their stories, but also to foster healing for that wounded nation.   I think the Catholic community, and all communities that struggle with LGBT issues, such as the National University in Galway, would do well to follow Mandela’s model.

–Francis DeBernardo,

 



Ontario Catholic Schools Trustee Is Chastised for LGBT Support

October 5, 2013

A trustee of the  Waterloo Catholic District School Board in Ontario, Canada, has been punished by his colleagues, in part because of his support for LGBT youth and the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSA) in the religious institutions.

Anthony Piscitelli

Anthony Piscitelli

Anthony Piscitelli is not allowed to attend special committee meetings, though he can attend general board meetings.  This punishment was enacted because board members felt he violated principles in an op-ed that he recently published on Pope Francis’ new openness to LGBT issues and how that relates to Catholic education.  The Record newspaper reported:

“Trustees agreed that fellow trustee Anthony Piscitelli made misleading and inaccurate statements in an opinion piece in The Record last week when he said non-Catholic students are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools.

“Only two trustees — Janek Jagiellowicz and Joyce Anderson — supported Piscitelli on Thursday by voting against the motion, which came as an initial complaint by trustee Peter Reitmeier. . . .

“Reitmeier said Piscitelli’s article, which also referred to gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools and how more needs to be done to support gay and lesbian youth, was ‘undignified, unprofessional or contrary to the preservation and promotion of Catholic values and teachings.’

“Reitmeier said Piscitelli was inaccurate when he wrote that ‘the Ontario Catholic school system was slow to adopt reforms aimed at improving circumstances for gay and lesbian students.’ “

In the op-ed, Piscitelli discussed how statistics show strong support for same-sex marriage among Canadian Catholics, and so it would be likely to assume that they also support GSAs.  Yet, he pointed out:

“Last year, for example, the Ontario Catholic Trustees association aggressively fought the provincial government’s attempts to ensure that gay-straight alliances were available as a student support for every student in this province.

“Instead of fighting gay-straight alliances, school board leaders should have been focused on finding a way to make them work within a Catholic context. The church’s emphasis on loving one another should have made this easy to do.”

In regard to  his claim that non-Catholic students are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools, Piscitelli stated that he made a technical error:

“Piscitelli agreed that he made a minor technical error and apologized for saying non-Catholics are not allowed in the system. However, he did not agree that he had violated the code of conduct.

” ‘I am sorry for any misperception this may have caused in the community,’ he said.”

In fact, allowing non-Catholic students to attend the schools is a complicated matter, reported The Record:

“Waterloo Catholic District School Board policy allows non-Catholic students to attend elementary schools if permission is granted by the education director. There are currently 80 non-Catholic students in elementary schools.

“At least one parent must be Catholic or the child must be baptized in the faith to attend elementary school. Catholic high schools are open to all students, regardless of faith.”

Piscitelli did not back down from his support for GSAs and LGBT people.  According to The Record, :

“I will continue to argue that we need to do more to ensure that our gay and lesbian staff are comfortable being open about their sexuality in our schools . . . because I believe they are the areas where we are failing as a Catholic school system.”

Catholic schools here in the United States need a voice like Piscitelli, who is willing to speak out for justice and equality for LGBT staff and students.

Meanwhile, The Windsor Star reported that Catholic schools in Ontario still are calling the provincially-mandated GSAs “social justice equity clubs,”  so that they do not have to use the word “gay.”  Catholic schools in Ontario receive government funding, and so are subject to provincial laws.

The identity of these clubs was highlighted recently by a study which points out that schools which have GSAs in them report significantly less binge-drinking among students.  CBC.ca reported:

“In schools with gay-straight alliance clubs, heterosexual teen boys are 45 per cent less likely to have had an episode of binge drinking in the past month. Heterosexual teen girls are 62 per cent less likely to binge drink.

“It benefits LGBTQ students too. Lesbian students, for example, are 50 per cent less likely to drink five or fewer drinks at one time.”

A prominent LGBT Canadian activist explained the importance of the student organizations having a more accurate, specific name:

Deirdre PIke

Deirdre PIke

“Deirdre Pike, a Hamilton LGBTQ activist, was vocal last year about  the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s refusal to allow issue-specific gay-straight clubs.

“This is evidence that they benefit all students, she said. And it’s another reason why the Catholic board needs to reconsider its practice of only allowing generic anti-bullying clubs.

” ‘The Catholic school board really needs to pick up the pace and the integrity in terms of naming these groups, and be intentional about naming them for what they are,’ she said. ‘ “Diversity club” is not going to cut it.’ “

Catholic schools in the United States can learn a lot from the courage of Anthony Piscitelli and the Canadian experience about how to establish welcoming environments.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Cambridge Times: Catholic board trustee broke policies – banned from special committee meetings”

 

 

 


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