The National Catholic Reporter‘s most recent editorial comes out strongly in support of fired church workers, responding to the spate of LGBT-related employment actions that have caused at least 17 people to lose their jobs this year alone.
Noting the rapid expansion of marriage equality, with the list of states allowing same-sex couples to marry expanding from 19 to 32 in the month of October alone, the editorial explains:
“Just 10 years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and just two years ago, the country was evenly split on the issue, 46 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed, according to one poll. Now the majority of Americans favor such unions, and that majority is growing more solid.
“The U.S. bishops, their lawyers and personnel directors have some hard choices to make in the next few weeks. What will they do with Catholic employees who enter valid legal marriages with partners of the same sex? To date, their track record on this issue has been bleak.”
That track record has been more than 40 LGBT-related employment disputes made public since 2008, the first year in New Ways Ministry’s tracking of such actions. Many of these church workers were committed and gifted people with years of experience and, as NCR notes, “There was no problem until they entered legal, civil marriages.” The editorial concludes:
“Church actions against these employees are unjust and must be rectified.
We do not here speak of the sacrament of matrimony. The issue we address is legally contracted civil marriages and employment. Church personnel policies must allow employees to enter into such marriages without fear of losing their jobs. The church can depend on First Amendment protections for the right to worship to safeguard the sacraments, and policies could delineate narrow ministerial exemptions when it comes to civil marriages, but for the vast majority of church employees, a legal marriage should not be a job impediment.”
Yet, the editorial is not optimistic about how American church leaders will respond and worries about a “protracted fight through the court system” similar to the high rhetoric against the HHS contraception mandate that “yields dubious results” and “will give no one justice.” You can access the editorial in full by clicking here.
Legal considerations should not be the only criteria informing church officials’ response as more and more church workers enter into and openly support same-gender marriages. In the footsteps of the synod’s initial recognition that gay people offer the church many gifts, Catholic institutions should also consider the value that LGBT employees offer.
One teacher, writing at The Huffington Post, explores what a gay teacher as role model would have meant for him. In a piece deeply applicable for Catholic schools, Blake O’Bryan Montgomery notes:
“Coming out to my students frightens me…But I want to say it, I want to say it; I want the queer among them to know they can grow up…
“LGBTQ visibility allows us to envision the lives we might lead; on an even more basic level, to learn that such lives are possible. I had no idea what I would be as an adult because I didn’t see anybody I could be…What I would have given to hear a high school teacher say, ‘I’m gay,’ ‘I’m a lesbian,’ ‘I’m queer;’ to tell me that I could grow up to be a person a young man would respect?…
“I was a queer student who would have gained a great deal of self-respect from a role model, and I’m asking you now, as a queer teacher, to please come out. If you might lose your job for your queerness, do all you can without coming out. I hope your workplace is a safe one.”
Catholic schools and parishes should become those safe workplaces where LGBT and ally church workers can teach and minister openly and in ways that enhance the lives of all. The employment disputes are deeply unjust and in violation of Catholic social justice teachings. Indeed, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a leading US prelate, admitted as much in saying they “need to be rectified.”
Yet, excluding and expelling LGBT church workers is also about the deficiencies caused by such actions. There are the forgone possibilities of how dedicated employees could have enhanced classrooms, school activities, and spirituality. There is the pain inflicted on LGBT and questioning youth whose feelings of being unsafe or unloved are exacerbated by being in church institutions with no visible role models. There is the loss of younger Catholics turned off by institutional hatred who walk away from the church altogether.
The words of the National Catholic Reporter are worth repeating as the principle by which church leaders should instead proceed: “a legal marriage should not be a job impediment.”
For Bondings 2.0′s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or click here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents made public since 2008 by clicking here.
On a final note, as the National Catholic Reporter celebrates its 50th anniversary, Bondings 2.0 applauds the newspaper for not only providing phenomenal journalism, but for being an early and ongoing voice of solidarity with LGBT Catholics.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry