The following is the statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, in response the news that a Catholic high school has adopted an employment non-discrimination policy about sexual orientation and marital status.
New Ways Ministry thanks and congratulates St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon, for not only reversing their decision to dismiss a counselor who they learned was a lesbian, but to adopt a non-discrimination policy which welcomes gay and lesbian employees, including those who are legally married.
St. Mary’s policy sets a precedent for Catholic institutions across the nation and around the globe who are faced with the new reality of gay and lesbian people who are more open about their sexual orientations, and the even newer reality of the legalization of marriage for gay and lesbian people. To the Catholic Church’s shame, since 2008, over 50 employees have lost their jobs at Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues—most of them involving marriage. These 50 are only the cases which have become public.
(For a list of the known employees fired, click here.)
Since 2013, New Ways Ministry has been advocating for Catholic institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies protecting people from being fired because of sexual orientation, marital or relational status, and support for marriage equality. Such policies are easily supported by the authentic Catholic teachings on social justice and conscience. Though a number of institutions have had discussions in regard to such policies, St. Mary’s Academy is the first known Catholic employer to adopt one.
Equally impressive for St. Mary’s Academy is the speed with which the school reversed its decision. One day after the dismissal became public, the school’s board met and voted to continue hiring the counselor and to adopt the non-discrimination policy. This speed saved the school community of parents, students, teachers, alumni much grief, as witnessed by the countless strong and pain-filled protests that other institutions have faced because of similar employment disputes.
The St. Mary’s case had been particularly egregious because in addition to withdrawing its contract, the school had asked Lauren Brown, the employee, to remain silent about their decision. Brown said that as a matter of integrity she could not be silent, and so she made her story and pertinent documents available to the press. Her example shows that openness and transparency are ways of achieving justice. The burgeoning protest by students, alumni, and parents surely also played a role.
New Ways Ministry prays that other Catholic workplaces will follow the example of St. Mary’s Academy in adopting non-discrimination policies. In doing so, they will be living up to the best ideals of the Catholic faith’s promotion of human dignity and equality.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry