A gay church worker’s firing from 2013 has just recently become public. Mike McMahon, a prominent music minister, was fired from his position in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia for marrying his husband.
McMahon worked for nearly four decades in music ministry, including service as president of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians and thirty years as music director for various parishes.
His latest position, from 2005-2013, was at St. Agnes Church in Arlington, whose pastor, Fr. Lee Roos, fired McMahon last summer after his marriage became known. The Washington Post reports further:
“McMahon said his meeting with Roos was less than half an hour. Church employees had verified that McMahon had married his partner in February , and he could either resign or be fired, McMahon said Roos told him. He opted to be fired and was told the dismissal from the part-time position was effective immediately, he recalled recently.
” ‘He called HR and asked them to walk him through what he had to do. Then we walked over to the church where my stuff was. We walked to the parking lot, he gave me a hug and that was it,’ McMahon said of the exchange with Roos.”
Shortly after he was fired, McMahon also left his position at the National Association of Pastoral Musicians for undisclosed reasons. Michael Donohue, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Arlington, defended the firing because the marriage could “cause scandal in the church and confusion among the laity.” Of all this, the Post writes:
“McMahon is still figuring out the place of a Catholic musician who can’t work at a Catholic church. He feels just as Catholic, he said, and still attends a longtime downtown service with a group of gay and lesbian Catholics. And being out has, in his seventh decade, transformed his concept of his job. “
‘This has been a really freeing experience. One blessing is I no longer, I don’t think that way. I am who I am. And I can’t serve in ministry without being who I am — that I have to be careful who I say what to. Here it’s just normal. The church doesn’t revolve around’ the issue, he said [of a Protestant church in Washington, DC where he serves as music director currently].
“On the other hand, ‘serving in the ministry of the [Catholic] Church has been my identity my whole life. This placed me outside of that. I now think of myself as not able to serve in church ministry. I know I’m Catholic, and I know I belong, but I can’t do part of what makes me me.’ “
Michelle Boorstein of the Post explores the devastating trend of LGBT and ally church workers being fired from schools and parishes in the article, which you can read in full by clicking here. She mentions recent firings, as well as the new trend of explicitly anti-gay morality clauses in teacher contracts now used by Cincinnati and Hawaii Catholic schools. You can read about more than two dozen firings in recent years by clicking the ‘Employment Issues‘ section of this blog.
As for McMahon’s firing, he speaks eloquently to an overlooked reality when it comes to these firings. For many LGBT church workers, their identity is just as closely tied to being Catholic as to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their employment is not just a job, but a ministry offered in service to the Church and to the world. Michael O’Loughlin tackled this false notion that LGBT and Catholic identities are exclusive, or even set against each other, in The Advocate recently. Responding to Bill Donohue’s antics around the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, O’Loughlin writes:
“It’s not one or the other; this isn’t a zero-sum game. LGBT people should celebrate being their authentic selves. So should straight people. Draw the circle wide, as the hymn I learned in divinity school says.
“Here’s the thing about Donohue. He riles up people for money. He doesn’t believe in the bigotry he inspires. In fact, just last month he admitted that he believes LGBT people should be legally protected against discrimination in the workplace.
“But something Donohue might not understand is that to be a person of faith is not at odds with being an openly LGBT person. As a fellow Catholic, he surely knows as many holy and healthy gay priests as I do. So to claim that gay people who ask to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade are attacking Catholicism, as he does, is nonsense.”
The firing of LGBT church workers and those who support their equal rights under the law is the true scandal, not the loving commitment of same-gender partners. In an emerging world where LGBT justice is increasingly the standard, church institutions are faced with the choice of losing talented ministers or accepting people, as our Catholic faith instructs us. Let us hope parishes and schools will make the right choice, but in the meantime, help prevent future firings by advocating for non-discrimination policies.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry