Social Ills Linked to Marriage Equality? Really?

August 23, 2014

The new Catholic bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, spoke against marriage equality, and seemed to name it as the cause for a variety of social ills.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski

It seems odd that Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, formerly an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore, would use this opportunity to speak out a about a political issue which was decided 12 years ago in Massachusetts, when it became the first state to institute marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

What’s even more surprising is, according to the report of the interview on MassLive.com, Rozanski brought up the topic of marriage in response to a question about social ills:

“In terms of secular culture, he said, today’s ‘crime, drugs, general lack of respect for one another, is really based on in the disintegration of family life.’

” ‘What we offer as Catholics is to strengthen the family as the basis of society. When there is a solid family life, there is less likelihood of crime, there is less likelihood of drug use. The children grow up with a solid foundation. And that is a foundation they can take all through their lives,’ Rozanski said. ‘And, as a Church, what we are saying is that God made us male and female, and that the institution of marriage is so crucial. It is a sacrament of the Church, if the sacrament is well lived, then the children and future generations will benefit.’ “

(You can read the entire interview here.)

Taken in this context, it seems like the bishop is including marriage for lesbian and gay people as part of the reason that many other aspects of society are disintegrating. The news reporter noted that Pope Francis has asked bishops not to “obsess” about gay marriage:

“Last September, Francis, in an interview, said abortion, contraception and gay marriage had become an “obsessed” focus in the Church.”

The reporter also noted that U.S. bishops have not followed this advice:

“U.S. bishops continue to speak out against abortion, oppose same sex marriages, and to support legislation that would ban them.”

From his statement, it looks like Bishop Rozanski fits this profile.

Besides the dubious connection of marriage equality to social ills, Rozanski’s comments are flawed in three more ways.

First, he attributes the major parts of society’s ills on the disintegration of the family.  While family problems almost certainly contribute to these problems, other problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, untreated mental illness also are major contributing factors.  Why select a personal issue, such as family, and not one of these more social issues, to highlight the causes of society’s problems?

Second, while Rozanski may lament the disintegration of the family, he fails to recognize that marriage equality actually strengthens families rather than contributing to their disintegration.  Marriage equality provides protections for all families, not just those headed by heterosexual couples.  And marriage equality teaches respect for lesbian and gay people, which is an important factor in strengthening their families of origin.

Third, the bishop notes that marriage is a sacrament, but that is not a view that is shared by all people in our pluralistic nation.  While Catholics view marriage as a sacrament, others see it as purely a civil matter, governed by legal realities, not ecclesial or spiritual ones.   Confusion of church marriage with civil marriage is one of the most insidious strategies that marriage equality opponents employ.

Let’s pray that Bishop Rozanski’s tenure in Springfield, Massachusetts will be met with more enlightened and pastoral approaches to LGBT issues than he has already displayed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Marriage Equality Court Cases Raise Opposition from Catholic Bishops

August 13, 2014

In recent weeks, bishops and archbishops in various parts of the U.S. have been speaking out against marriage equality as the issue continues to be debated in different states.  Below is a round-up of a variety of actions which have made the news.

Cincinnati, Ohio

As an appeals court begins to weigh the arguments about lifting the ban on same-gender marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati has called on Catholics to pray for maintaining marriage as an institution only for heterosexual couples.

Cincinnati.com reported that the archbishop sent an email to thousands of Catholics in the 19-country archdiocese, reminding them that Ohio’s Catholic bishops supported the ban on same-gender marriage in 2004. The article quoted an excerpt from the email:

” ‘Traditional marriage, the union of one man and one woman for life, is the cradle of the family, which is the basic building block of society,’ said Schnurr, who suggested an ‘appropriate prayer’ would be the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Prayer in Defense of Marriage.”

Michigan

An interfaith prayer service in support of marriage equality was recently held in Lansing, Michigan, to support the same court case which is affecting Cincinnati.   While many people of different faiths gathered to pray together, MLive.com reported that the Michigan Catholic Conference issued a statement against marriage equality.  The article excerpted the statement:

“For the sake of future generations and to uphold the common good for all of society, the Catholic Church recognizes and teaches that marriage is rooted in natural law and as such cannot be redefined. By no means should the Catholic Church’s teaching in support of natural marriage between one man and one woman diminish the dignity or sensitivity that must be afforded to all human persons, regardless of their orientation.”

Texas

In Texas, where the state attorney general is appealing a decision which reversed the state’s ban on same-gender marriage, Catholic bishops there have put their support behind this initiative.

According to CBSLocal.com:

“Catholic Bishops said in a statement they hope the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals will objectively review the case and ‘affirm the right of the people of Texas to continue to upholding marriage as a union between one man and one woman.’ ”

Miami, Florida

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami spoke out against a recent court ruling in that state which said that same-gender couples have the right to marry.  Wenski called the decision “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification,” according to The Catholic Sentinel.

The court case, which was initiated by same-gender couples in the Florida Keys, invalidates the voter-endorsed constitutional ban from 2008, but only applies to the state’s Monroe County.

Virginia

When an appeals court in Virginia recently ruled that the state’s ban on same-gender marriage was unconstitutional, the two Catholic bishops there spoke out against the ruling.   Bishop Paul LoVerde of Arlington and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond issued a statement  which called the ruling“a fundamental misunderstanding of the intrinsic nature of marriage and is an injustice to Virginia voters,” according to a Catholic News Service story.

At the same time, the two bishops affirmed that  “those with same-sex attractions must be treated with respect and sensitivity.”

Conclusion

While Catholic bishops continue to speak out against same-gender marriage, Catholic people continue to grow in their support for equality for lesbian and gay couples.   More important than the political realities, bishops need to understand the harmful pastoral realities that their negative statements cause.  It’s time for bishops to be pastors, not politicians.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Is it Possible for Bishops to Move Away from Marriage Equality Opposition?

June 26, 2014

Last week’s appearance of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) March in Washington, DC, inspired several journalists to look more closely at the relationship between the Catholic hierarchy and anti-marriage equality groups.

While we’ve noted before that there is a growing trend in the church of some church leaders speaking favorably of lesbian and gay couples, the road to full acceptance still is a long one.  Some of the new insights that these journalists have expressed show that a new relationship between Catholic leaders and the issue of marriage equality, while a challenge, is possible.

The challenge comes from some of the “strange bedfellows” that some bishops are connecting with, politically speaking.  Jeremy Hooper, at the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM Exposed blog, points out that in addition to Cordileone’s appearance at the rally, he also continues working behind the scenes with NOM leaders.   He was listed as a host of a recent strategy meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, with several of NOM’s top leaders and associates.

Will this continued association with NOM continue? The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters says that it shouldn’t.  In a recent column, he questioned Cordileone’s involvement at the rally because he sees NOM as  “dedicated to a strategy that is not only counter-productive, which is bad enough, but a strategy that is profoundly un-Christian.”

Winters offers evidence of NOM’s role in stirring up anti-gay legislation aborad as a major reason Cordileone should not have participated in the event:

“Their president, Brian Brown, spent time strategizing in Russia, encouraging that country’s parliament to enact harsh anti-gay laws that do not reflect the kind of love Archbishop Cordileone called for in his speech yesterday. The Uganda parliamentarian, David Bahati, who authored that country’s truly draconian anti-gay laws acknowledges the influence of U.S.-based groups in encouraging him and helping him, including the shadowy ‘Fellowship.’

“NOM’s stateside efforts are not much better. They are smart enough to know that promoting a law that would call for killing gays is a non-starter. But, they apparently are not smart enough to recognize that the great threats to marriage in our day have nothing to do with what gays do. Among the great threats to marriage is a hook-up culture that is to human love what laissez-faire economics is to the world of commerce and finance, a libertarianism in action which, like all that flows from that ‘poisoned spring,’ as Pope Pius XI termed it, devastates the Gospel.”

Winters concludes with a warning to bishops about how they need to shape their future rhetoric and action on the question of marriage:

“Finally, if the leaders of the Church are to become credible again on the issue of marriage, they cannot simultaneously insist that they are not motivated by anti-gay bigotry and then give speeches at rallies organized by bigots. This is not guilt by association. It is recognizing that such participation is a counter-witness to the Gospel. Archbishop Cordileone’s comments about loving those who do not share the Church’s teachings on marriage are, I am sure, sincere, but he betrays his own words when he demonstrates common cause with the architects of draconian laws that seek to deny the human dignity of gays and lesbians. This is obvious to the rest of us. One wonders why it was not obvious to +Cordileone.”

Pope Francis

The role that Pope Francis is playing in the bishops’ rhetoric on marriage equality and other issues is also an important factor that needs to be considered.  U.S. Catholic’s Scott Alessi notes the ambiguity and ambivalence that seems to characterize the U.S. bishops’ desire to follow Francis’ lead in taking a softer tone in regard to marriage equality and LGBT issues.  Noting that some headlines about the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting proclaimed concord with Pope Francis, while others asserted a striking difference between the bishops and the pontiff,  Alessi writes:

“As is often the case with such things, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The bishops are a large and diverse group, and I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated a radical shift in the conference’s overall agenda. Some bishops have surely been taking the pope’s words to heart and thinking about how that impacts their work, while others are much less concerned with what’s being said in Rome than they are with what is happening in their own backyard.”

U.S. News and World Report published an insightful essay with a title that explains the confusion surrounding the “Francis factor”:  “When It Comes to Same-Sex Marriage, Both Sides Claim Pope Francis.”     On the pro-marraige equality side, the article quotes Michael Sherrad, executive director of Faithful America:

“Pope Francis has powerfully inspired countless Catholics and other Christians to a new vision for how the church can be compassionate. Unfortunately too many – not all, but too many – of the bishops in the United States and their conservative activist allies have really flouted what Pope Francis has had to say about gay and lesbian people.”

On the anti-marriage equality side, the writer quotes Chris Plant,  regional director of NOM:

“[Plant says that] Pope Francis’s tone is in line with the approach he sees his organization taking on the issue. ‘He is focusing on the fact that our dialogue ought to be civil,’ Plant says. ‘We absolutely ask for it to be a civil.’ ”

The U.S. News and World Report article also quoted a seasoned Catholic Church observer, noting the pope’s influence on the debate:

“ ‘I think he wants to move a little bit beyond the culture wars, at least certainly key issues in the culture wars,’ says Rev. Thomas P. Rausch, a Jesuit priest and a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. ‘He can’t simply change the church’s teachings – the whole church has to be involved in that. But he can change the way that the church is perceived in terms of the range of issues it addresses. And I suspect that is what he wants to do.’ “

In a recent interview with Faith in Public Life’s John Gehring, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, former president of the USCCB and archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered words of wisdom for how Pope Francis’ more compassionate approach can succeed:

“We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and laypeople have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.”

What I like about Fiorenza’s remarks is that he reminds us that if the more compassionate approach is to come about, it depends on lay people, as much as on bishops.  We need to remind ourselves of this reality when the going gets tough.  A new relationship between marriage equality and Catholic leadership is possible–but we’re the ones who have to help it along.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 2

June 1, 2014

Yesterday, we introduced this two-part series on Commonweal magazine’s continued conversation about Joseph Bottum’s 2013 essay entitled“The Things We Share:A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Commonweal asked two writers with opposing points of view to respond to Bottum’s essay.  Yesterday, we examined the conservative pundit’s point of view, expressed by Ross Douthat of The New York Times.  Today, we will look at the progressive response, offered by Jamie Manson of The National Catholic Reporter.

You can read Douthat’s complete remarks here, and Manson’s complete remarks here.  Bottum’s reply to both of them can be read here.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have a much more favorable view of Manson’s take on Bottum’s essay than I did of Douthat’s.  Manson’s main argument is one that New Ways Ministry strongly shares.  She states:

“. . . I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.”

That argument, which is seemingly simple, is packed with history and faith. Catholics, who now overwhelmingly support marriage equality, are doing so because of their faith, not in spite of it.  Their faith journeys of the last few decades, largely ignored by the hierarchy, have led them to understand sexuality and relationships in new ways.  They have come to recognize that so many myths and stereotypes that they have had about lesbian and gay people are false.  Unfortunately, church teaching has not quite yet caught up with this new faith reality.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Manson illustrates this new reality nicely:

“Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.

“Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples.”

The insistence of so many of the church’s bishops to listen to the lived faith of gay and lesbian people, to examine new research on sexuality, to dialogue with family members of sexual and gender minorities is truly a great scandal in our church.  This resistance has caused great damage to LGBT people, but it has also caused much damage to the bishops who continue to ignore this reality.  These clerics are missing out on an amazing development of faith in the world.  Manson seems to recognize this idea when she states:

“The growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the push for same-sex marriage is not, I would argue, a sign that reality needs re-enchanting, but a sign that our culture may be more receptive to a challenging spiritual vision of married love and commitment than Bottum suspects.”

It is in accepting, not in rejecting, same-sex couples’ commitments that the church and the world can be renewed.   Manson makes this point in her conclusion.  Having discussed witnessing a same-sex marriage ceremony in New York City, and having noted her own plans to marry her lesbian partner, Manson states:

“It may take centuries before the Catholic hierarchy recognizes that marriages like the one I witnessed in the park, or the one I hope to enter, are holy unions with the potential to bring the life of God more fully into our world. But just as most of our culture has already concluded that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of protection under the law, for many Catholics the question of whether gays and lesbians are capable of living the vocation of marriage is already settled.”

Douthat’s and Bottum’s disappointment that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on same-sex marriage could easily be turned around if they would understand that though the hierarchy may have lost, the entire church has actually “won” because we have all gained so much by the fact that marriage equality is spreading rapidly.  The true loss for the hierarchy will be if they persist in their refusal to listen.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related resources:

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 


Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1

May 31, 2014

Last August, Commonweal magazine published an intriguing article entitled  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.”  What made it most intriguing was that it was written by Joseph Bottum, a religious and political conservative, who is the former editor of First Things magazine, a staunchly conservative publication.  You can read our blog post summarizing and critiquing the article here.

This past week, Commonweal followed up on Bottum’s landmark essay in an equally intriguing way:  they asked both a leading conservative columnist and a leading progressive columnist to respond to Bottum’s arguments.  The New York Times’ Ross Douthat and The National Catholic Reporter’s  Jamie Manson each offered their thoughts on Bottum’s work, and Commonweal provided Bottum’s to respond to them.

Today, we will look at Douthat’s comment and tomorrow we will look at Manson’s remarks.  You can read Douthat’s comments in full here.  If you want to read Bottum’s reply to both of them, you can click here.  After reading it, I decided not to comment on it because I don’t think such comment would add much to the debate about marriage equality.

Ross Douthat

Though Douthat and Bottum’s may agree on many matters, even some that concern same-sex marriage, Douthat believes that one of Bottum’s main argument–that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on marriage equality and that church leaders should not argue the case anymore but instead focus on “re-enchating” the public with its traditional view of marriage–is “either confused or a cop-out.”  Douthat explains:

“For the Catholic Church to explicitly support the disentanglement of civil and religious marriage, and to cease to make any kind of public argument against treating same-sex unions the same way opposite-sex ones are treated in law and policy, would be a very serious withdrawal from political and cultural engagement. It is one thing to urge the church to prepare for political defeat on this issue—such preparations are obviously necessary, more obviously so now even than when Bottum’s essay first appeared. But it is quite another—more separatist, more sectarian, and thus more problematic—to say that the church should preemptively cease to even make the argument.”

Douthat wants no part of such retreat, and he argues that Catholics opposed to marriage equality must, on principle, continue their argument:

“If Catholics are to continue contending in the American public square, if they are going to choose active participation over catacombs and lifeboats, they need to have something to say to actual Americans about actual American debates. . . . there is no honest way for the church to avoid stating its position on what the legal definition of marriage ought to be—even in a world where that definition has changed and doesn’t seem likely to change back.”

While I disagree with Douthat about marriage equality, I have to admit that I sympathize with him about the idea of speaking out on the basis of principle.  As someone who believes in the power of argument and persuasion, I think it is important that people do not give up on their principles just because others, even a majority of others, may disagree with them.

But I don’t think that is necessarily a strategic thing to do.  Pope Francis himself has urged church leaders not to be “obsessed” about same-sex marriage, among other things.  Douthat, I think, agrees with the pope, for strategic reasons, stating:

“This need not mean starting every conversation with same-sex marriage; once the legal change is accomplished, it may involve talking about the issue less often, or talking about it in some very different way. But it cannot mean pretending that the church’s opposition to calling same-sex unions ‘marriage’ no longer exists.”

I tend to think that Pope Francis made his comment from a pastoral, not a political, perspective, based on the context in which he made the statement.  And I think that it is wise pastoral advice for at least two reasons: 1) there are many, many more important pastoral, spiritual, and social issues that church leaders should focus on; 2) constantly speaking negatively about same-sex marriage will certainly alienate many Catholics and others from the church.

Finally, I strongly disagree with Douthat in his estimation of the results of the spread of marriage equality. He states:

“I think a serious look at the trends that have accompanied the advance of gay marriage, at the legal arguments deployed on its behalf, at the shifting understanding of marriage that has made it seem commonsensical, and at the direction of the debate on related issues (from polygamy to surrogacy) should all cast grave doubt on the idea that the church could somehow incorporate same-sex nuptials into its view of marriage without transforming that view beyond all recognition.”

To me, this is not an argument, but simple fear-mongering.  As I see it, the only major social change that has happened since the advent of marriage equality has been the strengthening and protection of more couples and families, providing greater social stability.  Douthat, however, is  almost right on one point: same-sex nuptials will require a transformation of the hierarchy’s views on marriage.  I think that transformation will be for the better of all concerned. But, more on that tomorrow, when we look at Jamie Manson’s piece.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 

 


Catholic Bishops and U.S. Evangelicals Make Strange Bedfellows

May 25, 2014

One of the more unusual political alliances that has developed over the past two decades has been the deepening relationship between U.S. Catholic bishops and Evangelicals in this country.  Not surprisingly, one of the areas of common ground for these otherwise seemingly disparate groups is their opposition to marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

Yet recent research confirms what other reports have shown:  that U.S. Catholic lay people strongly support marriage equality, unlike their counterparts in Evangelical churches. The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released statistics which show that while 69% of Evangelicals in the U.S. oppose marriage equality, only 37% of Catholics do.  On a related issue, PRRI reports the following data:

“Fewer than half (49 percent) of American Catholics agree with the traditional Catholic teaching that sex between two adults of the same gender is sinful, while nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) of white evangelicals agree.”

Writer Patricia Miller notes that for a long time now, Catholics have been outpacing Evangelicals on support for LGBT people.  In a Religion Dispatches article, she reports:

“On the . . . . issue of same-sex marriage, Catholic opinion has tended to be slightly more favorable than the population as a whole and way more favorable than Evangelical opinion. The 2007 Pew Poll found that 42% of Catholics expressed support for same-sex marriage versus 36% of the population as a whole. In terms of trends, 40% of Catholics supported same-sex marriage in 2001 with that number increasing to nearly 60% by 2014. By contrast, only 13% of Evangelicals favored same-sex marriage in 2001 and just 23% approve of it today.”

As for the latest data, Robert Jones, the head of PRRI, points out an interesting twist for those who thought that they knew the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals.  It turns out that Evangelical Christians are more in line with official Roman Catholic positions on some social issues than Catholics are.  In an article in Tbe Atlantic, he notes the following results from his research, in addition to the two statistical comparisons mentioned above:

“Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to less than half (47 percent) of Catholics. Perhaps most surprising is the white evangelical Protestant view on whether employers should be required to provide employees with no-cost contraception coverage. Despite their history of criticizing Catholics for opposing artificial means of birth control, white evangelical Protestants are far more likely than lay Catholics to oppose mandated contraception coverage (58 percent vs. 37 percent).”

Jones notes, however, that the role Pope Francis will have in politics can complicate this alliance between Catholic bishops and Evangelicals.  Of the pope, he states:

“On March 31, for example, he met with 18 members of the Green family, staunch Southern Baptists and owners of the billion-dollar Hobby Lobby empire that is suing the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. But the pope’s call for economic justice complicates the relationship, because it calls both Catholics and evangelicals to cooperation beyond a narrow band of cultural politics. It remains to be seen whether this evangelical flock will hear in Pope Francis’ broader message the voice of a shepherd they can follow.”

Miller’s analysis shows that not only is it unusual that so many Evangelicals are following the Catholic bishops on politics, but that few pundits are picking up on the fact that Catholics, in fact, are not following their bishops.  She writes:

“The real Catholic-Evangelical convergence is between the Republican leadership, the Catholic bishops, right-wing Catholics, and rank-and-file Evangelicals, a coalition that was cemented by Karl Rove with his aggressive outreach to ‘conservative Catholics during the Bush administration. But the fact that a big chunk of moderate and progressive Catholics are missing from this coalition continues to be lost on many in the media. It’s as if as long as the bishops are vocal in their objections to progressive polices and someone in the public is making noise, there’s a tendency to attribute it to “Catholics.” How else to explain the PPRI number that only 37% of Catholics oppose the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, when the widespread perception that Catholics were broadly disapproving of it helped gin up early and critical opposition?”

While ecumenical networking is definitely a positive development, it is troublesome that the U.S. bishops seem to have more in common with members of another denomination than they do with their brother and sister Catholics.  This news should be a wake-up call to U.S. bishops that they need to be in better dialogue with lay Catholics, particularly on issues of sexuality.  At stake is the very unity of the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Gay Star News: US Catholics more liberal on gay issues than white evangelical Protestants

Religion News Service: Evangelicals and Catholics Together marks 20 years

 


As Another Lesbian Church Employee Is Fired, Catholicism Continues to Diminish

May 16, 2014

In the same week that Catholics in Cincinnati are protesting new teacher contracts which prohibit employees from supporting LGBT issues, another lesbian employee has been fired from her employment as coordinator of social ministries at St. Francis Xavier parish, Kansas City, Missouri.

Colleen Simon at work in the St. Francis Xavier parish food pantry.

Colleen Simon is married to Rev. Donna Simon, a Lutheran pastor, and their marriage became public when the couple were mentioned in a local magazine article, according to Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez.

Ms. Simon is a former Catholic and now a Lutheran.  The newspaper columnist reported that she maintained a low profile about her marriage at the parish:

“Colleen Simon kept a don’t-ask, don’t-flaunt attitude. She said she told the pastor who hired her in July 2013 (he is no longer at the parish) of her marriage. But day to day, she avoided pronouns that would highlight it, substituting ‘my spouse’ or ‘my beloved.’

“ ‘You don’t want your legacy to be one of division and ugliness,’ she said. ‘It’s awful. But there are laws, and until that law gets changed in the church, it is what it is.’ ”

Sadly, the 58-year old woman, who is three years cancer-free from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, now has no health insurance and a remaining pile of healthcare bills.

Firings such as this one highlight that, despite Pope Francis’ admonition not to be “obsessed” with gay marriage, some church officials persist in this regard.   Why are they so willing to raise church teachings about sexuality so high above other church teachings on the importance and dignity of work, the care for the vulnerable and the sick, the respect for the human conscience?   Why isn’t support for laws which seriously threaten the lives and dignity of LGBT people, such as the new law in Uganda, a cause for dismissal.  Or, closer to home, support for the death penalty or anti-immigrant policies?

One Cincinnati commentator has tried to frame the situation as a debate between secular culture (which is pro-gay) and Catholic teaching (which is negative on gay issues), but this is not the case.  The real issue is that some church leaders see teachings about sex as the only ones that matter.

For example, the quality of education will probably decline in schools which fire LGBT teachers or adopt new contract clauses which are anti-gay.  In Oakland, California, which this week became the latest diocese to institute new contract clauses about sexuality, one school department head predicts a talent drain from his faculty.  SFGate.com reports:

Tim Newman, who has taught science at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland for 23 years, says some of his colleagues won’t sign a contract forcing them to be disingenuous. Others worry the contract gives the diocese a reason to discipline them for actions outside the classroom.

“I will lose good teachers in my department,” he said.

Huffington Post columnist Charles Reid agrees that intellectual quality will diminish if such policies continue to reign.  He laments the fact that Catholic schools no longer probe into questions, and instead, concern themselves with culture war issues.  Reid states:

“Catholic schools were once places where such questions could be openly pursued. But a culture war is ravaging the Catholic primary and secondary school systems of the United States, and as I survey the scene I am increasingly convinced that these skirmishes represent an actual threat to the health and integrity of Catholic schools.

“In saying this, I have in mind particularly the schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. For what has happened in Cincinnati is absolutely tragic.”

And beyond schools, the entire church stands to suffer.  He offers Cincinnati as an example:

“Just as sadly, the health of the Catholic Church in Cincinnati has been in a downward spiral since Archbishop Schnurr assumed office. Consider some statistics: In 2008, the year he became coadjutor, there were 6,362 infant baptisms. In 2013, there 5,523 such baptisms, a decline of 13.20 percent. In 2008, there were 7,534 First Holy Communicants in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. And in 2013, there were 6,686, a decline of 11.25 percent. At the same time, overall population in the Archdiocese inched upward from around 2,988,000 to around 3,000,000. And these numbers do not yet reflect the impact of the recent, entirely unnecessary struggle over the future of Catholic education in the Archdiocese. One hopes it is not too late revise that contractual language.”

The new, restrictive contract clauses have caught the attention of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who notes that though Pope Francis seems to be offering change, local bishops seem to be maintaining an oppressive status quo.  Bruni quips:

“The more things change, the more they remain mired in libido and loins.”

Bruni highlights that the new clauses erase a long-standing tradition in Catholic schools:

“Faithful Catholicism has never been a condition of employment in most Catholic schools, which have Protestant teachers, Jewish teachers, teachers of no discernible religion. They know to be respectful. They know to be discreet. But they’re there to decipher the mysteries of algebra, to eradicate the evils of dangling prepositions. They’re not priests.”

And instead of clarifying things, the new clauses make for a more perplexing future. Cincinnati teachers are confused about potential legal problems, Bruni observes:

“They wondered why religion gets to trump free speech.

“They also wondered about run-of-the-mill political activity: Can a teacher be canned for attending a rally for a candidate who’s pro-choice? The contract suggests so.

“Does a Catholic-school teacher relinquish the basic privileges of citizenship? The contract raises the question.

“And what constitutes ‘public support’ of a Catholic no-no? If a teacher’s Facebook page includes photographs of her niece’s same-sex wedding, is that cause to be fired?”

Like Newman and Reid cited above, Bruni sees that the damage these policies will cause spreads far beyond the individual educators harmed:

“There are so many losers here: kids — many from the inner city — who depend on parochial schools that will now be drained of talent; younger teachers who can’t afford to quit and will carry an embittered attitude into their classrooms; Catholics everywhere, forced to wrestle anew with their church’s archaic fixations; church leaders, who have such a sad knack for driving people away. Isn’t that what Pope Francis was urging an end to?”

If these firings show anything, they show that the decades-long practice of obstinately refusing to acknowledge the presence of healthy and holy LGBT people in church communities and institutions is now causing havoc in dioceses.  Pope Francis has shown a way out of these problems, if local bishops would only pay attention.

(New Ways Ministry continues to urge Catholics to begin conversations towards adopting non-discrimination policies in their parishes and schools, as a way to prevent firings.  At the very least, such conversations will let Catholic leaders know that lay people do not want LGBT people and their supporters fired.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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