An anti-gay group is attacking Catholic Relief Services (CRS) after the same-gender marriage of one of its senior executives became public. The public criticism has caused leaders of CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international aid organization, to announce it is “in deliberations” about how to respond to this employment situation.
Rick Estridge is vice president for overseas finance with sixteen years experience at Catholic Relief Services, headquartered in Baltimore. He married his husband two years ago following Maryland’s passage of marriage equality, according to The Advocate.
Information about Estridge’s marriage became public after Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute, a recently formed right-wing organization, began extensive digging into Estridge’s social media profiles and legal documents. The Advocate described an interesting fact about Lepanto:
“Hichborn may be the organization’s only member; no other names are listed on the institute’s website, and posts to the organization’s Facebook page are written in the first person.”
This group, founded last November, has focused its attacks on the Catholic identity of Catholic Relief Services. Responding to media inquiries, CRS spokesperson Tom Price said:
” ‘At this point we are in deliberations on this matter’…Later in the week, he said nothing had changed and that the group would make no further comment. Price also confirmed that Catholic Relief Services does not have a policy regarding the employment of openly LGBT people or on nondiscrimination.”
This tense situation has the potential to get much worse if these deliberations lead to Estridge’s firing or resignation.
Hichborn’s online postings on the Lepanto Institute’s website assault LGBT people’s very dignity in obnoxious ways now uncommon among even the most virulently anti-gay voices. Neither CRS nor any church organization should allow solitary figures with hateful agendas to control their operations, especially when doing so means they actually undermine their Catholic identity by discriminating against LGBT persons.
Catholic Relief Services is a bright light in the U.S. bishops’ otherwise tarnished activities, helping more than 100 million of the world’s poorest in 93 countries each year. Through emergency relief, international development, and advocacy at home, CRS concretely enacts the American church’s commitment to justice, and it lives out, in a most full way, the Catholic identity presently attacked.
I personally witnessed CRS’ power last summer while chaperoning high school students in a program where they learned how to be effective advocates for social justice. CRS’s staff assistance helped prepare the students for a day of lobbying at the Capitol the following day. The students, many of whom questioned their place in the church, particularly over lack of LGBT inclusion, came alive when they saw the Gospel really lived out.
To force out a dedicated employee for being gay after sixteen years of service is an unjust act, deeply undermining Catholic Relief Services’ otherwise powerful Gospel witness. We strongly urge Carolyn Woo, CEO, and other decision makers to stand by Rick Estridge and other LGBT church workers, whose dedicated service to the Gospel and those in poverty is what matters, not sexual orientation.
If you would also like to contact Catholic Relief Services through email or phone, you can do so here.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry