Catholic Relief Services Yields to Right Wing Attack as Gay Employee Resigns

Rick Estridge

A Catholic Relief Services (CRS) employee has resigned amid controversy over his same-gender marriage.

In early May, CRS Vice President Rick Estridge’s marriage license from the state of Maryland was publicly released by a right-wing organization to force this executive in charge of overseas finance out of his job. Advocates called on Catholic Relief Services to stand by Estridge at the time, noting his positive contributions to the organization’s mission for 16 years and the discriminatory message his job loss would send.

Instead, CRS, which is the U.S. bishops’ international aid organization, released a statement yesterday that announced Estridge’s resignation, while at the same time lauding his service. The statement, which had Estridge’s tacit approval, attempted an explanation for his departure.Catholic News Service stated:

“Rick Estridge…stepped down after 16 years with the U.S. bishops’ overseas aid and development agency, saying ‘it was the right decision for me.’

” ‘Because of the stress this situation has caused Mr. Estridge and his family, he has made the decision to leave CRS,’ the statement said.”

CRS also noted in the statement that Estridge is not a Catholic, and his job did not involve decisions which affected mission, so church affiliation and faith were not a requirement for his employment.

From the statement, Estridge’s resignation seems amicable though it is unknown if the decision was solely his or whether CRS requested it. Regardless, Estridge joins more than 50 church workers who have lost their jobs in public LGBT-related employment disputes since 2008.

This case is slightly different, however, because Estridge’s resignation comes as the result of a vicious witch hunt launched by an anti-LGBT Catholic individual. The release of Estridge’s marriage license, including personal information like his home address, was the intentional act of Michael Hichborn from the Lepanto Institute. Hichborn is the only member of this newly formed organization, and he admits he targeted Estridge because he believes only Catholics in conformity with a strict interpretation of the faith should be working for the church. Estridge was disqualifed in Hichborn’s logic because he is not a Catholic and because of his marriage to a male partner.

Because this case was resolved by a gay employee losing his job, this type of resolution may ultimately encourage right wing activists’ targeting of LGBT church workers — a dangerous precedent as marriage equality could very well become national law later this month because of the anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Positively, Catholic Relief Service officials acknowledged that Estridge “has done a tremendous job during his years at CRS,” called him a “valued employee,” and said he would be missed. They also criticized Hichborn’s actions, without identifying him, in the statement:

“CRS also want to express its strong objection to these types of attacks and tactics of the groups which launch them…The highly personal public critique broadcast Mr. Estridge’s home address and used derogatory terms that are now part of the online record. This has caused great pain for many people.”

“We detest hurtful campaigns that do not build up, but undermine, individuals and church agencies carrying out the mission of bringing the love of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering.”

Carolyn Woo, CEO of Catholic Relief Services, admitted there is a “new intersection” between civil law and church teaching happening as marriage equality becomes nationwide law in the United States. The weeks of deliberations were a hopeful sign that perhaps an organization so dedicated to social justice would itself act justly to its employees in their time of suffering. In May, I recalled the tremendous good done by CRS saying it 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.

To allow outside pressure from an extremist group to force the resignation of a dedicated employee after sixteen years of service is an unjust act, deeply undermining Catholic Relief Services’ otherwise powerful Gospel witness. Why didn’t CRS mount a more robust defense of Estridge when he came under attack?

Catholic Relief Services’ response is a concession to those who wish to harm LGBT people and hurt the church’s mission of accompaniment. Niceties in the statement about the terminated employee and even stern criticism of Hichborn’s actions do not negate the reality that Rick Estridge joins the ranks of those victimized by anti-LGBT activists in the church.

This resignation is morally problematic on so many levels. Rick Estridge’s sixteen years of service came to an end because he chose to exercise his rights as a Maryland citizen — and legalize his commitment to and love for his husband. More broadly, the good of the many suffering people whom CRS faithfully serves around the world is deeply undermined because of the punitive act of one man whose world is far too confined.

Marriage equality will eventually be law across the U.S., whether because of a Supreme Court decision or continued state level actions.  This reality will mean the Catholic Church here will have to make a choice: do we value LGBT church workers’ gifts and commitment to the church’s mission, which may mean defending them in moments of challenge, or will we allow extremist minorities — even when the minority is one person, as in Hichborn’s case — to undermine the Gospel work of our church because we are too afraid to love like Jesus.

My prayer is that we may we all listen to Scripture’s most repeated theme as our church confronts this new reality – “Be not afraid!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

15 Responses to Catholic Relief Services Yields to Right Wing Attack as Gay Employee Resigns

  1. Paula Mattras says:

    If a faithful, dedicated and hard-working employee of many years cannot feel secure in his position, particularly in an organization whose mission is to help people all over the world, who is missing the point? What’s next? How about a thorough investigation of the accuser? How about a thorough investigation of each CRS aid recipient before deciding whether or not to allow that person to receive it? And how about an education for the executive responsible for the firing? Shame on you.

  2. Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    The “C” in CRS now stands for cowardice. To praise Rick on one hand and give in to such hatred is an abomination. Once again the church has failed its people. Lord help us, now please.

  3. Ryan Sattler says:

    Great message this morning. While there are questions still unanswered, we know enough that CRS and the US Bishop leadership turned their back on an “excellent employee” who worked at CRS for sixteen years and left as a CRS Vice President! “Who am I to judge” doesnot apply to CRS and our Bishops. Our bishops feel it is their job to judge. It continues to be a sad day for our Church when we can’t seem to do the right thing. Or do they really believe in their hearts, that in the cases of the 50 Church employees, they really did the “right thing!” We will continue to write letters, sign petitions, and pray that their hearts of stone be turned into hearts of mercy and love.

  4. Jmart says:

    Money talks. There are many worthy organizations out there, My future donations will be going to one of those,

  5. Jim McCrea says:

    Another cowardly charity to strike off of my contribution list … and, yes, I HAVE contributed to them in the past. Most recently for Nepal relief.

    I’m much a fan of Doctors Without Borders and they’ll get any money that I would have considered for CRS in the future.

  6. Mary Winnett says:

    This is so wrong, and anti-gospel, on so many levels. We do not support one who has supported us in the gospel message of “Love thy neighbor” who is not bound by Canon Law, while we do support that gospel message in the wrongdoing of priests and bishops who are bound by Canon Law and should be held to a higher standard as they are leaders. Shame on Catholic Relief Services.

  7. Father Anthony says:

    The Roman Church is no longer a Church of the people
    , if ever it was. Pretty monuments do not a Church make.
    Too many are more concerned with what the building looks like and how to be entertained. zNo wonder Christ said the temple would be destroyed. Maybe he was not referring to his body as we generally think.

  8. Patti says:

    There really is no excuse for, in essence, forcing this person to resign. If church affiliation and faith were not a requirement of his job, and he was legally married under the laws of the State of Maryland, it seems there would be no grounds for this action. As a Catholic, I am ashamed for CRS and the USCCB. In my opinion, and against the specific direction of the Catechism, he has been unduly discriminated against.

  9. Joanne MacPeek says:

    JESUS was crucified because he lived a life and reached out to those people that his hierarchy condemned …and today the church founded in his name continues to crucify (by forcing resignations) those who live as JESUS lived….WHY?

  10. Friends says:

    Total hypocrisy and venality by “High Church Officials” — when it comes to (allegedly) enforcing their employees’ commitment to totalitarian sexual discipline? You ain’t seen nothing yet! Check this out:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/06/us/catholic-archdiocese-in-minnesota-charged-over-sex-abuse-by-priest.html?_r=0

    Presumably our editors will follow up with a full story on this breaking news. The Diocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul IGNORED complaints and evidence of this sexually-predatory priest — to the point that civil authorities finally needed to get involved, and take the legal case into their own hands. What sort of commitment to high moral integrity and sexual purity — on the part of these Diocesan officials — does their deliberate cover-up of such an atrocity represent? And then they have the temerity to SCOLD faithfully-bonded gay and lesbian Catholics, because of their allegedly “disordered relationships”. The Catholic Church needs a TOP TO BOTTOM REFORMATION OF ITS GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE — and needs it IMMEDIATELY.

  11. […] who used a similar tactic to creat a controversy around the same-gender marriage of a long time Catholic Relief Services employee who ultimately resigned from his […]

  12. Celina Lawhorm says:

    Mr. Shine, your article on Rick Estridge’s, pretty much forced resignation from CRS, is so well written and thought provoking.
    I find it terribly sad and frustrated as a Catholic, that the church allowed this one extremist the benefit of having the upper hand. How can a man front an “organization” when there is only one member?
    In the town I live in, there is a Baptist lady who runs the CRS services here. Should she be watching for Mr. Hichborn over her shoulder? I’m married to a woman, as well, is Mr. Hichborn going to petition the church to excommunicate me as well? He’s selfish and is not thinking about the consequences of his actions, how his actions will affect their families and children. So much for loving thy neighbor as thyself; and love one another as I have loved you. But I forget, that only counts if you’re not of the LGBT community.
    So many members of the LGBT community are disowned by family and friends, but you are relying on the love of God to get you through the horrible time in life, until you are informed that He doesn’t love you as well.
    Being LGBT IS NOT A CHOICE! Why would anyone choose to live alienated from their family, friends, Church, and God? This is why so many Christian religions are losing their numbers/memberships.
    I don’t ask what you do in the privacy of your home with your spouse; what I do in the privacy of my home with my spouse is none of anyone else’s. Why are these extreme right wing individuals so concerned?

  13. […] May, Rick Estridge resigned as a vice president at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) after a right-wing organization […]

  14. […] organizations behind the forced resignations of Tony Spence, editor of Catholic News Service, and Rick Estridge, vice president of Catholic Relief […]

  15. […] forced resignations of Catholic News Service editor Tony Spence and Catholic Relief Services’ Rick Estridge, as well as denial of communion to Barbara Johnson, at her mother’s funeral. But the […]

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