I believe that the plight of gay and lesbian church workers is one of the least covered Catholic news stories today. The hierarchy’s increasing belligerent rhetoric on LGBT issues ignores the fact that a major portion of the church’s work and mission is executed by lesbian/gay people, who some times have to live incredibly complicated lives of fear and shame in order to be faithful to God’s call.
Unfortunately, when the issue of gay and lesbian church workers does arise in the news, it is too often because one of them has been fired because his/her sexual orientation or relationship has been discovered. Recently we have been witnessing a spate of such stories. Since Bondings 2.0 began late last year, we’ve reported on two such incidents here and here.
Reflecting on this ugly trend, it occurred to me that church leaders have not thought out these decisions very well at all. These firings raise more questions than they provide any answers. I’ve recently examined the issue in an essay entitled “Church must change its ideas toward gay and lesbian employees “ published this past week by The National Catholic Reporter. (Editor’s Note: I must comment that while, as a blogger, I have become used to synthesizing, critiquing, and promoting other people’s written work, it feels distinctly weird to do so for myself.)
In the essay, after reviewing the five recent firings, I raised several questions that I think need answers:
“How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching? Where do you draw the line? Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?
“A more theological question is how perfect do all church employees have to be? We are all sinners who fall way short of the mark. Will our church employ only people whose lives are near blameless? Is this the logical result of the smaller, more purified church that Pope Benedict XVI has envisioned? I wonder what St. Augustine of Hippo, scourge of Donatists and Pelagians, would have to say on this ecclesiological issue.
“The church also needs to examine how to weigh adherence to sexual orthodoxy — or any orthodoxy for that matter — against a person’s other characteristics: job performance, overall moral character, loyalty to the employing agency, to name just a few. In the two most recent incidents, news reports indicated that not only was there no problem with job performance in either case but, in fact, supervisors were aware of the nature of the employees’ relationships. Does a relationship become problematic to employment only when it becomes public? Does serious sin only enter a relationship when the partners seek legal protection?”
The questions that arise, though, also go beyond the immediate concerns of employment and point toward the bigger issue of how official Catholicism discusses gay and lesbian lives:
“At the core of all these issues is the much more important question of the Catholic institution’s poverty of discourse on the question of homosexuality. Because every issue concerning lesbian and gay people is seen through the lens of sexual ethics, there is precious little else that can be said that does not echo a sexual perspective. The contemporary hierarchy’s focus on the sexual issues of lesbian and gay people has prevented these leaders from developing any other discourse on homosexuality. Catholic thought in the area of homosexuality desperately needs to mature beyond the level of ‘Don’t.’
“For example, while church officials express in their documents that lesbian and gay people should be accepted with “compassion, respect, and sensitivity” (according to the catechism), why has this line of argument never been developed or applied to real-life situations with the vigor that the teaching on sexual expression is applied to policy questions of relationship and marriage? No hierarchical statements were issued when the national conversation was focused on the topic of bullying toward sexual and gender minorities that results in a higher rate of suicide for them. Similarly, there has been no serious thought given to the question of employment of lesbian and gay people other than in simply applying sexual prohibitions.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry