It seems that almost every day, we receive news concerning employees from Catholic institutions being terminated because of LGBT issues. Such news can be depressing, when we think about how much our church leaders need to learn about LGBT issues and Catholic principles of human dignity and equality. On the other hand, sometimes these stories can be inspiring when we learn about the courage of individuals who are standing up to the oppression, and of groups of Catholics who are making known their opposition to using support for LGBT issues as a reason for being fired.
In the latest round of news on these matters, we have witnessed two more teachers who have refused to sign new diocesan contracts which restrict school employees from showing support for LGBT people. Let’s hope and pray that their courage inspires others to resist.
In the first case, Kathleen Purcell, a teacher and program director at Bishop O’Dowd High School, Oakland, California, signed the new contract, but crossed out the offending clauses with which she disagreed. Purcell, a former constitutional lawyer, interviewed by ABC7News.com, said:
“This contract would be a huge step backwards, and would say, ‘We’re stripping these employees of civil rights.’”
“Then you throw the employees’ personal lives into the middle of all the disputes currently in the Catholic Church.”
The news report noted that the schools’ parents are threatening to withhold donations, as a sign of support to Purcell. We have seen time and again in disputes like this that parents and students have organized in support of courageous teachers.
Such was the case in Cincinnati, Ohio, this week, too. Students, alumni, and parents demonstrated outside of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s office in support of Richard Hague, a teacher who worked for 45 years in Catholic education and has refused to sign his diocese’s new contract. Hague, who teaches at Purcell Marian High School, was eloquent in his letter to the archdiocese explaining why he will not be signing the new, restrictive contract. WLTW-TV quoted from Purcell’s letter:
“I simply cannot believe that Jesus would require me to condemn my friends, nor that Jesus would require me to report any of my colleagues who supported, even loved, gay persons, nor do I believe for a moment that Jesus would punish me for my earlier ministry.”
And another Cincinnati teacher was told by his employer that his contract would not be renewed next year. Richard Miller, a teacher at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf, lives with another man, Richard Hoopes, and their six children, in a committed relationship. He told WNKU-Radio that he told his employer of his relationship when he was hired:
“I was assured at that time that what I did in my personal life was my business and I was being hired for my abilities and my capabilities as a teacher and he was very excited to have me on board. About three weeks ago, I was issued a letter by the very same director stating that my contract would not be renewed and when I was asked why my contract would not be renewed his response was, it was just too risky.”
In Macon, Georgia, Mount de Sales Academy’s band leader, Flint Dollar, was just fired , because he announced plans to marry his male partner. WMAZ-TV reported, though, that just as soon as the firing was made public, parents of the school’s students have begun to organize, and that within two days of the news, they are planning a public protest.
The school, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, has an employment policy that says the institution is “committed to the principles of equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, gender, ancestry, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.”
Principal David Held sent a cryptically-written email this week to parents “to address recent social media posts regarding personnel decisions at Mount de Sales Academy, and to share some information that might clarify some of the rumors that are circulating.” Yet, though he discusses school governance and policy making, he does not mention Dollar or his firing in the email.
Catholic commentators have also weighed in on these new contracts, questioning how these new policies fit into the seemingly new agenda that Pope Francis is setting for the Church. In The National Catholic Reporter, Isabella Moyer recalls a homily last year where the pope asked people to build bridges, not walls. The new contracts, she observes, are basically walls, designed to be defensive. Bridges are especially needed for people who are tenuously attached to the church. Moyer writes:
‘There are many good women and men hovering around the doors of the church. Some are contemplating joining us for the first time or returning after long absences. Others are struggling with a growing desire to leave. Hard-handed tactics and judgmental pronouncements will not convert hearts. Sadly, they might provide the final push out the door.”
Regina Brett, columnist for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, also referred to Pope Francis in her commentary about the new contracts:
“Just when the new pope made the church more welcoming, the church found another way to turn more Catholics away.
“My church needs a heart transplant. I thought it got one with the new pope. Now I’m not so sure.”
The firings and new policies seem to be coming at us fast and furious. Catholics, however, are ready to stand up to these measures with an equal amount of determination and vigor. One can become depressed by such oppressive actions, or one can attempt to band together with others and stand up for what their consciences are telling them is right and just. Our church will change not because the hierarchy changes, but because Catholics are willing to make their voices heard and stand up for their faith.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry