Court: Church Legally Justified in Firing of Gay Church Worker in Chicago

In a ruling released last week, a federal judge has said a Catholic parish was legally justified in firing a gay church worker. The Washington Blade reported:

“In a seven-page decision, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras determined Tuesday the Holy Family Parish, which is under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had the right to terminate Colin Collette because the worker’s position was ministerial in nature.

“‘By playing music at church services, Collette served an integral role in the celebration of mass,’ Kocoras said. ‘Collette’s musical performances furthered the mission of the church and helped convey its message to the congregants. Therefore, Collette’s duties as Musical Director fall within the ministerial exception.'”

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Colin Collette

Collette sued Holy Family and the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2015 claiming employment discrimination under federal, state, and county laws. It was hoped Collette’s case would add to the small, but growing number of legal victories for church workers who have lost their jobs over LGBT issues.

Judge Kocoras did not, however, rule on whether Collette was discriminated against by the parish; he ruled on whether the firing was protected under the so-called “ministerial exemption.”

According to the Blade, the judge’s actions preceding the ruling show he “entertained the idea Collette’s position wasn’t ministerial in nature and therefore protected under the civil rights law.” But that was not where Kocoras ended up, as he explained in the ruling:

“[A] position can be found to be ministerial if it requires the participant to undertake religious duties and functions. . .Here, Collette worked with church volunteers to choose the music that would enhance the prayer offered at mass. Choosing songs to match the weekly scripture required the group, including Collette, to make discretionary religious judgments since the Catholic Church does not have rules specifying what piece of music is to be played at each mass.'”

Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music minister because his engagement to longtime partner and now husband, Will Nifong, became known to church officials. The firing was traumatic for the parish, where Collette had served for 17 years. Some 700 parishioners attended a town hall about it and there welcomed Collette with a standing ovation. One parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

The firing is problematic not only for the parish, but for the Archdiocese as well. Archbishop Blase Cupich has said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected, and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Yet, the Archdiocese has continued to defend the firings of Collette and another gay church worker, Sandor Demkovich.

This latest ruling should not be celebrated by church officials because, while it may be legal justice, it has not advanced social justice. Archbishop Cupich could, however, freely choose to act for the common good by apologizing to Collette and taking the lead in reconciliation efforts at Holy Family.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2017

Griffin PromoIf you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending 

Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues” at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.    During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Gay Band Director Is Example to Students and to Catholic Schools

Too often lately, there have been too many stories of LGBT people and allies being fired from Catholic institutions because of their identities, marriages, or support of LGBT equality.  So, it’s a refreshing change to report on a case where an out gay man is serving safely and successfully at a Catholic school and has only positive things to report about his experience.

Outsports.com recently published a reflective essay by Keith Johnston, the marching band, pep band, and concert band director at Sacred Heart University, Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Johnston reports that he has worked at the school for the past 14 years, and that “I’ve been an out gay man for the last 20 years, and have been married to the same man for 17 years.”

Keith Johnston leads the band at Sacred Heart University.

Johnston reports that his positive experience at the school has changed his perception of Catholic institutions:

“When I started at Sacred Heart University 14 years ago, despite having been out for a lot of years, I came in with a pre-conceived notion of how my Catholic college students would react to a gay director. While the administration that hired me was aware I was gay, I’m not Catholic, and I wasn’t experienced enough at that time to know how – or even if – I should integrate the personal side of who I am as a person into my teaching.

“I’ve learned much since starting here at SHU, an institution steeped in the Catholic Intellectual tradition, and more progressive than many would suspect.”

Johnston’s example as a successful, out gay man certainly has some impact on the students with whom he works.  He reflects on the experiences that his musically talented young people often face:

“Take the usual uncertainty that many young gay men and women have, add in a few comments about “band geeks” and “band nerds” (often coming from a high school sports team), and you have a recipe for stunting the emotional and personal growth of thousands of kids – harsh words and sentiments that could set them back for years.

And he notes the importance for teachers to be role models for them:

” The biggest thing I’ve learned, however, has been from my students. Yes, they’re in band to play music. But what they really want to learn is how to become who they really are, and who they have the potential to be. The only way they can learn that is for their teachers to be unafraid to share with them who they are, regardless of their sexuality.”

Keith Johnston

Johnston is explicit in his support:

“At the start of each year at band camp, I tell my students that if you’re gay, straight, bi, transgender, or you don’t know what you are, you’re welcome in the band. If, like me, you’ve heard the voices screaming inside of your head saying “you’re gay”, and you don’t know how to make the noise stop…come and talk with me.”

In the essay,  Johnston recounts his own tumultuous coming out experience in which his own physical health was put in peril.  He survived the ordeal, and he has come out stronger on the other side:

“. . . [E]very day I look at myself in the mirror and am reminded of the physical damage that can happen by trying to be someone we’re not. It was not long after that I decided it was time to start accepting who I was, and if anyone had a problem with it, it was indeed their problem, not mine.”

The band director at this Catholic school, though not a Catholic himself, certainly has values that reflect the Catholic tradition.  At the end of his essay, he states:

“Each of us has worth and dignity, and that worth includes our gender and our sexuality. My door is always open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

“Sexuality and gender is a spiritual gift.

“All of who you are is sacred.

“All of who you are is welcome.”

I can’t think of any better expression of Catholic values about humankind, identity, and hospitality.  I think Pope Francis has, in other ways, expressed those same values.

I also can’t think of a better argument for why Catholic institutions, especially schools, should continue to employ LGBT people.  The gifts they bring from their personal struggle and growth are a blessing to all they serve.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 23, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Witness to Resurrection! Support Gay Priests!

Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, bishops around the world will be joining in celebrating the Chrism Mass with the priests of their diocese, blessing oils for use in the sacraments and remembering their call to priesthood.

It’s a good time to pause to remember that a good portion of those priests and bishops gathered in cathedrals tomorrow will be gay men,  many of them having to hide their identities from their confreres and parishioners, family and friends.  These situations are often personally challenging and difficult for men who have given their lives in service to others.  What makes these situations even more poignant is the fact that, given the growing evidence that Catholics overwhelmingly support LGBT equality, it would be very likely that many of these priests would be welcomed and supported by their parishioners and friends if they shared their identities with them.

A recent essay on Huffington Post describes a grassroots initiative for lay people to begin to show their support for gay priests.  Rev. Gary Meier, an openly gay priest who works as a mental health counselor describes “The 4th Day Initiative,” the brainchild of Barbara Marian and Jerry Powers, the Illinois parents of a lesbian daughter.  Meier wrote:

“. . . [O]ver a year ago, I began corresponding with Barbara [Marian] and Jerry [Powers] from Illinois. Our communications resulted in what Barbara and Jerry call the ‘4th Day Initiative’ which seeks to promote visible faith allies by encouraging churchgoers to wear white strips to mass which are symbolic of the burial linens that Lazarus was wearing when Jesus tells the community to ‘Unbind him and let him go.’ (John 11:1-14)

“Here’s an adaptation and summary of what they wrote: The church has many faith allies and perhaps they get their inspiration in the biblical account of the raising of Lazarus, found in the Gospel according to St. John 11:1-44. According to the story, Jesus begins his miracle by turning to those mourning the death of Lazarus, and telling them, ‘Take away the stone.’ When Lazarus rises from the dead at Jesus’ command and comes out of the cave still bound in his burial linens, Jesus again turns to the mourners and bids them, ‘Unbind him and let him go.’

Meier describes how this Gospel story can be interpreted to apply to the context of gay priests and their parishioners, families, and friends:

“Lazarus, beloved friend of Jesus and brother of Mary and Martha, represents every one of our gay clergy, trapped and bound by denial and concealment.

“The central action of wearing white strips declares the readiness of people in the pews to support our gay clergy and church employees in their emergence from the tomb of hollow holiness.

“The mourners in the Lazarus story stand in for Catholics in the pews who experience turmoil, grief and anger in response to the rejection, devaluing, shaming, bullying and firing of gay clergy and personnel. . . .

“The wearing of white strips of material is a powerful visual statement of solidarity with their priests and church employees.”

Barbara Marian offered the following comment to Bondings 2.0 to encourage Catholics to support the “4th Day Initiative”:

Barbara Marian

“In every movement towards justice ‘coming out’ changes everything. It always has and always will.  To support our priests the people in the assembly must come out first.

“Catholics coming out at Mass is the most powerful and effective action we can take because it evokes and demands deeper conversation and dialogue about and with our clergy and church employees.
“We must push with all our might to roll away the stone!  We are called to open the Church to Easter’s new life through our show of support for the LGBT community.
“I believe that attitudes and policies in the Church will not be transformed unless and until the people of God come out of the cave into the light as we act together to include, value and embrace our gender- and sexually-diverse brothers and sisters.”
As we prepare to celebrate the gift of the priesthood and the glorious feast of Easter, let us remember the gay priests and bishops in our midst.  To testify to our support for them and to the transforming power of new life, consider wearing some white strips of cloth on your lapel when you go to church this Easter.   You’re sure to spark transformative conversations with your friends and neighbors, and you’ll send a visible sign of support to gay priests, bishops, and all LGBT church personnel.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 12, 2017
At New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,  scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Barbara Marian will co-lead a focus session on “LGBT Parish Ministry.”  At the same meeting, Warren Hall will lead a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life.”  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Praying for Identity

For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,  who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry. Today’s post is from Fernanda Beldero, a second-generation Filipinx-American, working as a Religious Studies teacher in the San Francisco-Bay Area. Fernanda received a Master of Arts in Ethics in 2014  from the Graduate Theological Union.

Scripture readings for Palm Sunday can be found by clicking here.

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. As I reflect on today’s gospel story, I cannot help but identify with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Allow me to explain.

Gethsemane – Matthew 26:36-46

While I identify as Catholic, and work at a Catholic high school, my lived reality is that I do not fit the pattern of an “ideal” Catholic.  I am marginalized in the Church in three ways: being Filipinx, a woman, and queer.

My marginalization goes further. On New Ways Ministry’s blog, we can read the list of names of employees at Catholic institutions who have been fired, forced to resign, or had offers rescinded because of their LGBTQ+ identity.  I was acutely aware of this terrible trend as I was finishing my master’s degree at the Graduate Theological Union and knew I would soon be seeking a job in a Catholic school.

Last year, a writer on a conservative Catholic website wrote an article about me after having trolled my school’s website and my LinkedIn profile, and then assumed that I am gay based on how I express my gender. This invasive experience made me question my ability to stay in the Church. Yes, I am gay, but this writer took my power away from me by outing me without my consent or knowledge. These are threatening times in our Church today for any LGBTQ+ person working in a Catholic institution, so this article made my employment as a Catholic educator extremely vulnerable. I was stunned and deeply hurt by this writer’s violation.

At the same time, I also heard the voices of my friends and family members who ask me “Why do you work for an institution that does not accept you?” After I found out about the article, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I seriously questioned my calling to work as an educator for my faith, which is itself is a complex issue.

I have dated women who could not understand why I am still Catholic, and yet this community is very much a part of my identity. It has been a lens through which I have experienced my spirituality. The examples of my mother and grandfather, who embodied my Christian faith, the rituals and traditions of Mass and praying Novenas after a family member who has passed, spending time in nature with my family: all of these have lain the foundation of my current spirituality.

My faith is something I cannot shake, nor can I turn away from. And yet I struggle with it every day. Many in the Catholic LGBTQ+ community also struggle with this dilemma, asking the question: “How can we authentically be ourselves, our whole selves, which includes our sexuality?”

So, in today’s gospel reading, I am drawn to the image of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane, where, frightened at what the next hours will hold, he prays aloud: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” How many times in our own lives have we said a similar prayer to God, in times of distress, sorrow, facing the unknown? Jesus knew his calling, his purpose in his life: to give us all people an example to live by, and to die on the cross to show God’s deep love for us. But in this moment, he showed us that while he knew his vocation, he, like us, had doubts and weaknesses.

We need to ask ourselves an important question:  What is our own personal calling and purpose in life? In what ways are we challenged by others who judge us as not fit to be following our call, or who do not accept our authentic, God-given selves?

After Jesus requested his disciples to stay awake with him while he prayed, they ended up falling asleep.  His response to them: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” My spirit is willing: I want to continue to impart to my students the best of the Catholic faith. I want them to know that the Catholic faith is centered on Jesus who ministered with the marginalized in his community, with the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the outcasts. He preached and lived unconditional love. Our Catholic faith calls us to be in solidarity with those on the margins of society, of the Church, and of our world. Our faith is not a faith meant to keep us comfortable. It should challenge us constantly, shaking up our worldview, and inspiring us to seek justice for those who deserve to be acknowledged as human beings.

But it is my flesh, my ego, that is weak at times: I sometimes give into others’ judgments about me and my sexuality, the color of my skin and the organs I was born with. In order to be my whole self, I need to acknowledge and feel the sorrow, the hurt, the despair, that this dilemma has on me. I need also to reflection how I have to continue my work both as a queer womxn and as a Catholic educator.

As I struggle with all these challenges, I look outside my window and see the trees budding with new life, the cherry blossoms blossoming. I hear the sweet sound of birdsong. It is possible to experience peace in the midst of an inner storm.

As we embark on this Holy Week, may we all reflect on our own pains and sorrows as a way of sharing the pain of Jesus’ persecution for being who he is.  May we work toward being in solidarity with the pains that our human family and Mother Earth are experiencing which is the contemporary version of Jesus’ death on the cross. May we also not forget to look forward to the Easter hope of Jesus’ resurrection and to experience it in our own lives.

Fernanda Beldero, April 9, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

Calling All LGBTQ Educators in Catholic Schools!

If you’ve been a regular reader of Bondings 2.0, you will be aware of the terrible trend in recent years where LGBT and ally church workers are being dismissed from Catholic institutions.  If this information is news to you, please check out this blog’s resource page which archives all the news related to this terrible injustice.

Catholic schools have been a main target for these firings–both high schools and elementary schools.  While we’ve reported on the firings, the reactions, the protests, one thing that has been missing is the personal stories of the teachers affected.  Furthermore, another untold story is the fear and anxiety that these firings have had on those currently employed in Catholic institutions.

Two researchers from academic institutions have contacted New Ways Ministry to let us know about a study they are doing where they will survey LGBTQ educators currently working in Catholic schools.  This category includes teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, support staff, and others working in Catholic schools.  Respondents do not have to be Catholic themselves. The goal of the survey is to generate a sense of the experience these people face as employees in Catholic schools. The survey would take 15-25 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. The identity of the participant, along with any potential identifying factor, will be kept strictly confidential.   Educators do not have to be “out” as LGBTQ to participate.

This research will be a boon to our church, providing first-hand testimony and data from those who are most affected by this misguided policy of firing.

The researchers have asked New Ways Ministry for help in identifying LGBTQ educators in Catholic schools.  So, we turn to you, our faithful blog readers, to spread the word about this research project.  If you are an LGBTQ teacher in a Catholic school or you know someone who is one, please be in touch with New Ways Ministry: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone (301) 277-5674 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern U.S. Time.

All information will be held in strictest confidence by New Ways Ministry and by the researchers.   The study is being conducted in April and May, so quick responses would be the most helpful.

This research work will provide solid, scientific information and personal experience that can help our church better understand LGBTQ people, particularly those employed in church institutions.  If you have any possibility of asking someone to participate, please do so. Please feel free to share this information with others.

This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and Bondings 2.0 will continue our Lenten reflection series with an essay penned by a Catholic high school teacher who identifies as gay and queer.  If you are interested in getting the personal dimension to this issue, be sure to check back here on Sunday, April 9, 2017, to read this moving account.

If you would like to learn more about the issue of LGBT church workers in Catholic institutions, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois.  Leslie Griffin, a professor of law, will give a plenary session talk on “Religious Liberty, Employment, & LGBT Issues.”  During one of the focus sessions, three people affected by the firings, Colleen Simon, Margie Winters, and Andrea Vettori will give personal testimony about “The Challenges of LGBT Church Workers.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 7, 2017

Lawsuit Filed by Catholic Groups Against Federal Transgender Protections

Three Catholic organizations are suing the U.S. federal government over a regulation that went into effect yesterday which expands anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people further.

Headquarters of US Department of Health and Human ServicesA new Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) regulation interprets existing regulations banning discrimination based on sex as including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The regulation stems from the Affordable Care Act, and is rooted in the non-discrimination protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the HHS regulation “requires group health plans to cover these procedures and services” related to gender transitions and counseling for gender identity questions. The regulation applies to any group health plans, insurers, and hospitals who receive federal funding and does not include a religious exemption.

Three Catholic groups — the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA), the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities North Dakota — are now claiming the regulation violates religious liberty protections found elsewhere in federal law. The CBA offers insurance and employment benefits to church workers in Catholic dioceses, education, healthcare, and religious life.

Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo said that while the church does not discriminate based on a person’s “orientation,” Catholic values “will not permit us to pay for or facilitate actions that are contrary to our faith.” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who is not only the head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious liberty but is also chairperson of the CBA, said President Barack Obama’s administration sought to “impose radical new health care mandates . . .creating a moral problem for Catholic employers.”

Two other lawsuits in federal court are challenging the HHS regulation.  They were filed by the Becket Fund, a conservative Catholic legal/political organization. The suits include  Catholic plaintiffs such as the Franciscan Alliance, the Sisters of Mercy in North Dakota, the University of Mary, and SMP Health System. A half dozen states have joined the suits as well.

In a related case, the HHS regulation was invoked in a discrimination lawsuit by a transgender man against the Dignity Health system, which the man alleges denied him gender-confirming surgeries. That lawsuit is ongoing, reported Crux.

But transgender advocates have challenged these claims of religious liberty violations as misguided. Jillian Weiss, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), said the regulation establishes parity in healthcare for trans people. Gay Star News reported:

“‘The only thing a doctor is obliged to do is treat all patients, including trans patients, with dignity and respect and to make treatment decisions free from bias,’ said Ezra Young, staff attorney for the TLDEF, in a statement.

“‘If a doctor has a sound, evidence-based, medical reason to delay transition care for a specific patient, that would be respected under the regulations.'”

Despite contrary claims, the regulation does not force health care providers to deliver services they do not deem medically necessary. It only ensures trans people have equal rights and equal treatment. Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, explained to PinkNews, “‘What the rule says is if you provide a particular service to anybody, you can’t refuse to provide it to anyone.'”

As with many discussions of LGBT legal rights in the United States, religious opponents of equality have set up a false contrast between LGBT communities and religious institutions. These matters are really about balancing the goods of human dignity, conscience, equal rights, and religious liberty, all of which are affirmed in Catholic teaching. At times, legal action is needed to uphold rights; more often, a collaborative approach could advance the common good by bringing together different interest groups and finding a beneficial solution for all involved.

The sadder reality about these present lawsuits is that church officials have buttressed their claims with ideas that do not exist in church teaching. There is no prohibition on gender transitions or mental health counseling for LGBT people, whereas non-discrimination protections and equality of persons are well-established doctrine. Despite the claims of some church leaders and right-wing organizations, Catholics in the United States are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights.

It is worth noting, too, that Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris was among the first instances where healthcare was named as a human right. Outside the United States, where the nation’s bishops have in recent years waged an ideologically driven attack on the Affordable Care Act, the church has championed expanded access to healthcare. Malta, a very Catholic island nation, passed a transgender rights law which is considered the gold standard in Europe. Historically Catholic nations elsewhere have led the way on transgender and intersex legal rights.

Most tragic is that while U.S. church officials expend their time and resources fighting LGBT rights and claiming that religious liberty is under attack, they neglect almost wholesale the discrimination and violence LGBT people face and the very real threats to religious liberty present in our world today.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 2, 2016

 

For Third Time, Court Rejects Catholic School’s Motion to Dismiss Discrimination Suit

A New Jersey Catholic school’s motion to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit it faces from a fired lesbian employee has again been dismissed.

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Kate Drumgoole, right, and her wife, Jaclyn Vanore

The motion, filed by co-defendants Paramus Catholic High School and the Archdiocese of Newark, was denied by a New Jersey state appeals court. This means a lawsuit filed against them by former Paramus Catholic dean Kate Drumgoole can proceed.

Drumgoole sued the school in August after being fired earlier this year when the archdiocese became aware of her same-gender marriage with Jaclyn Vanore. NJ.com reported:

“[Drumgoole] alleges she was discriminated against by the archdiocese, the school and its president after it was revealed that she was married to a woman.

“The school admitted in a legal motion that she was fired because of her marriage, but argued it didn’t violate state rules because church employees must abide by the Catholic faith.”

This is the third time a joint Paramus Catholic-Archdiocese of Newark motion to dismiss the lawsuit has been rejected by New Jersey courts.

In October, a judge rejected the argument that the defendants were exempt as religious institutions from the New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD), saying a ruling on whether such an exemption applies could not yet be made.

The case will likely come down to whether Paramus Catholic and the Archdiocese are exempt from the states’ employment non-discrimination exemptions, based on whether Drumgoole is legally considered a minister. The defendants have admitted outright that Drumgoole, a former guidance counselor and basketball coach, was fired because she entered a civil marriage with her wife.

The discovery period which can now finally proceed will allow for a determination of whether the exemption applies or not. A finding may be quickly followed by a resolution.

A recent editorial from The Record said it seems as if Kate Drumgoole’s discrimination suit “has been going on for years, but in reality, it has only barely begun.” The editors commented further:

“Whether Drumgoole’s team can prove its case – although we have held she should not have been terminated – Drumgoole’s case deserves to be heard in a court of law. Individuals who believe they have been wrongfully terminated have the right to seek legal redress, to take their case to a court, to have the justice system weigh the merits.

“Despite efforts by the school and the archdiocese to seek dismissal, a Superior Court judge, and now a state appeals court, have both concluded that Drumgoole’s case has enough merit to keep moving forward. Only by proceeding to discovery can a clearer picture begin to be drawn in the case of an abrupt firing of someone who, from all appearances, seemed to be a model employee and representative of the school.”

Drumgoole’s case sparked a number of related controversies in the local Newark church this fall. Fr. Warren Hall, an archdiocesan priest, was suspended from priestly duties in part because of his support for Drumgoole.  The school’s principal was suspended from work for a few days, and the school’s president still remains suspended. Over 3000 school community members signed a petition protesting Drumgoole’s firing.

A particularly troubling aspect of this firing is that church officials only became aware of the marriage after an estranged family member of Lenore’s sent photos of the couples to them. Drumgoole’s job description does not seem ministerial, and it would seem fitting that she be protected by LGBT non-discrimination laws. Whatever the court’s ruling, it will not change two facts. First, church officials allowed a family wound to be exploited by them to cause further harm. Second, they are defending their discrimination against an LGBT person by claiming a religious exemption. While that maybe legally correct, the Catholic tradition does not support such discrimination.

Instead of waiting on a court’s ruling, Newark’s new Cardinal Joseph Tobin should end the legal defense, admit a discriminatory mistake was made, apologize to Drumgoole, her wife, and Catholics generally, and see how reconciliation can now be attained. Such actions initiated by Tobin, who was appointed by Pope Francis, would be a clear indication that the exclusionary style and actions of his predecessor, Archbishop John Myers, are no more. And that is Good News which Newark’s Catholics very much need to hear this Christmas.

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 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 20, 2016