Changing the Conversation on Church Workers’ Rights

It seems as if every few months, and sometimes weeks, Bondings 2.0 covers the story of a Catholic church worker who lost a job in an LGBT-related dispute made public. There are more than fifty such cases since 2008, but there are signs of hope as ecclesial forces increasingly resist these firings.

Augustinian Father Paul Morrissey is helping to shift the conversation in his recent National Catholic Reporter article, raising an often overlooked point:

“The world could not hold together for a month without the loving devoted care offered every day by all the LGBT teachers, counselors, nurses, doctors, sisters, brothers, priests, artists, authors, postal workers, police, politicians, adult children, parents — and, yes, even bishops, whom God has sent to help the heterosexual married community raise and nurture its children. . .

“Rather than focus on the love and respect that LGBT people need from the church, at least equal time should be put into the love and respect that LGBT people give to the church and to the world, and how this has been going on throughout history. The world could not continue as a loving and caring place without the gifts of the LGBT people in our midst, often in vocations of healing, such as the medical profession, the counseling profession and the priesthood itself.”

At a minimum, a heaping dose of mercy is needed in the church’s reflection about church workers. Scott Alessi writes about this in U.S. Catholic, ending his reflection in on a similar note as Morrissey:

“Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a church of mercy, one that does not focus on the faults of its members or obsess over a narrow set of doctrinal issues. The church’s employment policies should take a similar approach. . .

“It is time to end the witch hunt for employees within the ranks of the church who may not always be living according to the letter of the law. If such a strict test were truly applied across the board so that anyone who sins were to be fired, everyone from the pope on down would lose their job. Instead of trying to purge the church of employees who may not meet the ideal, it is time to craft a new approach that appreciates their gifts and talents, recognizes the value of their contributions, and helps to point them—and all whom they encounter in their work—toward the gospel.”

A recent survey in U.S. Catholic shows Catholics widely oppose LGBT discrimination, choosing instead Morrissey’s and Alessi’s calls to focus on church workers’ contributions to the church community. 83% of respondents said church institutions should not fire employees whose personal lives differ from the bishops’ teachings. 90% agree that the secret tip offs which had lead to many firings are “poisonous to the church” and 84% oppose contracts with enhanced morality clauses.

These numbers affirm what anecdotal evidence reveals to be true: Catholics in the United States appreciate church workers, cognizant of the commitment and sacrifices ministers, educators, and social service providers make to advance the church’s mission.

The bishops and their middle managers who enforce discriminatory policies forget such gratitude in place of their zealously anti-LGBT agenda. A little more gratitude could greatly help church leaders understand the true costs of their “purity” crusade, which not only discriminates against church workers for LGBT identities, but also sends a message to all in the church that all are not welcome, and some will be expelled for who they are and whom they love. These firings greatly undermine the church’s mission.

If church leaders do not start showing gratitude for the numerous and essential contributions of LGBT Catholics to the church and to the world, there may at least be hope in the American legal system. Fired music teacher Flint Dollar has filed a discrimination suit against Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, reports The Telegraph. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Dollar had “reasonable cause” for claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation earlier this year, a finding potentially strengthened by the EEOC’s June finding that existing federal civil rights law covers sexual orientation.

Yet, church leaders should not wait for U.S. law to ensure that they respect the rights and dignity of LGBT and ally church workers.The time is now to change the conversation on church workers’ rights. Church institutions should start implementing Gospel-based employment policies as soon as possible, welcoming all who are qualified and committed to enhance the church’s mission.

To get started, consider getting an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

5 Responses to Changing the Conversation on Church Workers’ Rights

  1. Rev. Vernon Meyer, PhD says:

    While I totally agree that there should be every effort to gain church workers rights, I am under no allusion that such things would ever come about. When the US bishops basically rejected their own Pastoral letter on the Economy I knew the institution would never response the dignity of their own workers. I was a part of our diocesan implementation team and was told that even a simple survey of the diocesan center staff hinted at unionizing them and therefore the letter’s injunction to apply their vision of the dignity of the worker to their own workers, I resigned from the committee.
    Dogma will always reign and since the time of JPII and BXVI that took priority over their own speeches about the dignity of the human person.
    I will continue to support such efforts as you support, but I do not have much hope for any changes before the next 50 years-the time it will take for the JPII and BXVI priests and bishops to go through their life cycle and die off. Then perhaps is Francis and his successor who hopefully will share his vision will change the way church workers-gay or straight- will be accepted and respected.

  2. Friends says:

    AMEN! Great post, Bob. Bottom line: the Catholics in the pews, the Church offices and the schools are living in — and are coping with — the REAL WORLD of modern life; while the High Priest Muckity-Mucks in pretentious robes and red beanies are living in their own private fantasy worlds, often with delusions of grandeur and authority which virtually nobody in the real world could take seriously. It’s the pompous and pretentious Pharisees vs. Jesus and His Apostles and Disciples — over and over again. This Church needs a massive infusion of the Holy Spirit — starting from the top, and percolating downward. Pope Francis is indeed creating the best Ecclesiastical model we’ve seen since the reform-oriented Papacy of Pope St. John XXIII — but his bureaucratic underlings simply aren’t “getting behind the program”. This is the conundrum in a nutshell, IMO.

  3. ermadurk says:

    I like the direction that Fr. Morrissey took the discussion about the firing of GLBT employees. If it doesn’t budge the consciences of naysaying clergy, and a self-blinded leadership, at least the remarks of Fr.M. does ring true to thinking Laity, and will reinforce their decisions to work for Justice in the matter of Just treatment of Church employees.

  4. […] then so be it. The losses in our schools are simply too great to continue, and it is past time to change the conversation on church […]

  5. […] by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Dollar had “reasonable cause” to claim discrimination because he was gay. The EEOC rejected school claims that Dollar was fired […]

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