The U.S. bishops conference, in keeping with the global church’s conversations on family life, used their 2015 Labor Day Statement to reflect about how greater justice for workers encourages stronger families.
It names contemporary economic realities, like stagnating wages and wealth inequality that harm families. The statement asks good questions about these signs of our times.
The statement, authored by Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who constructed it in conversation with Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Laudato Si, affirms core principles about the church’s social doctrine: that labor should help workers and their families flourish; that a living wage and dignified conditions are human rights; that unions and associations are good; that the church is called to be in solidarity with workers.
These are all to be affirmed readily, but why are they not principles guiding the church’s treatment of its own employees? I offer here my own questions from the perspective of an LGBT advocate concerned for church workers’ rights and dignity.
Archbishop Wenski writes, “Labor should allow the worker to develop and flourish as a person. Work also must provide the means for families to prosper.”
Can LGBT church workers honestly develop and flourish as people when they are forced to remain closeted for fear of being fired? Similarly, do families prosper when teachers and ministers with LGBT children cannot openly celebrate their child’s coming out or marriage? Where is the justice when a pregnant church worker is fired and left without healthcare for herself or her child?
Archbishop Wenski writes, “Reminding us that ‘called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect,” [Pope Francis] calls for a ‘sense of fraternity [that] excludes nothing and no one’ ([Laudato Si] nos. 89-92).”
What happens to our universal family when a transgender church worker’s decision to live more authentically leads to expulsion? Where is an “affectionate and humble respect” for church workers’ dignity when they must choose between signing a contract that violates their conscience or ending their career? How does opposing LGBT non-discrimination protections help build up a community that “excludes nothing and no one”?
Archbishop Wenski writes, “Let us examine our choices, and demand for ourselves and one another spirits of gratitude, authentic relationship and true concern. . .The changes we make to how we live and interact with each other can help change the world.”
How do church leaders’ decision to expel LGBT and Ally people from Catholic communities exhibit “authentic relationship and true concern”? Is not Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s remark that these firings “need to be rectified” exactly what really needs to be done? Shouldn’t U.S. bishops follow their German counterparts’ lead in expanding church employment policies now that civil marriage equality is the law?
To conclude, I quote Archbishop Wenski one final time: “These are difficult questions to ask, yet we must ask them.”
It is a painful reality for Catholics that our leaders–bishops, pastors, religious and lay administrators–have caused so much pain in the lives of LGBT church workers and their families. This reality undercuts the USCCB’s statement because they have failed to include all families in their pastoral concerns and have actively endorsed labor-negative acts by Catholic institutions.
A new way forward is, however, quite possible. When Catholic communities ask difficult questions of themselves about LGBT issues, the outcome is frequently quite positive. Whether it is a Catholic high school’s decision to protect LGBT employees after expelling a lesbian counselor or the forceful responses of communities from which church workers have been unjustly fired, solidarity grows and faith is strengthened.
In the current economic climate, the U.S. church needs to regain its prophetic mantle alongside labor and challenge structural sins that oppress workers and deeply wound families. This can only happen, however, once the U.S. bishops finally welcome all families as equal, and accompany every worker, respecting that person’s authentic identity. Until then, sadly, the voice of our church’s leaders remains will simply be advocating principles which they themselves fail to follow.
Consider praying New Ways Ministry’s “Labor Day Prayer for LGBT Workers in the Catholic Church“. You can read past Labor Day coverage from 2014 (here), 2013 (here), and 2012 (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 more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
To take action, 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