Court Decision Against Gay Employee Should Not Be Final Word

The news that a gay man’s suit against the Chicago-area Catholic parish which fired him was dismissed by a judge because of the religious exemption rule is disappointing, but should not be the last word on this case.

U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras told Colin Collette, who was fired as music director from Holy Family parish, Inverness, that his suit against both the parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago was dismissed because churches are exempt from employment discrimination laws if the position in question is deemed to be ministerial.

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Colin Collette

The Arlington Daily Herald reported that Kocoras viewed Collette to be a “key ministerial employee” and the judge’s decision stated:

” ‘The Supreme Court has recognized the right of religious organizations to control their own affairs,’ Kocoras wrote. ‘This right includes the freedom to “decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Matters of church government include the right of churches to select their own leaders.’

“Kocoras added Collette also served as a director of worship with duties ‘specifically oriented toward helping the church carry out the celebration of Mass.’ “

Collette commented to The Chicago Tribune about the ramifications of the church’s decision to fire him:

“Collette said Wednesday that the decision ‘flies in such contradiction to the wonderful things that are coming out of Rome. The pope is speaking about unity and love, and here we are creating a church of fear and division.’

His attorney saw more sinister motivations behind Collette’s firing. The Tribune captured her thoughts:

“Collette’s attorney Kerry Lavelle, who had argued that Collette’s role was not ministerial, said in a statement Wednesday that the Catholic Church has ‘chosen to stand behind its ministerial exception to discriminate against members of the gay community.’

” ‘That someone of (Collette’s) commitment and ability is prevented from pursuing their career in this day and age is a sign of how far some institutions have to go in accepting all members of society, and demonstrates that there are still many individuals who are not granted equal rights in the workplace,’ Lavelle said.”

Collette had been fired in 2014 because he announced his engagement to another man. The Arlington Daily Herald reported the comments of the then-head of the Chicago Archdiocese:

A letter from the late Cardinal Francis George, published in Holy Family’s bulletin in October 2014, stated Collette was dismissed for his “participation in a form of union that cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church.”

Though the legal case has, at least for now, been lost, this should not be the end of this matter.  While Cardinal George had made opposition to LGBT equality a hallmark of his archdiocesan administration, the new pastoral leader of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, has been much more open to LGBT people.

While Cupich may not have been able to comment on Collette’s case while it was still going through the court, now is the time that he can offer reconciliation with this Catholic man who has been so unjustly treated.

Cardinal George’s claim that Collette’s marriage “cannot be recognized as a sacrament by the church” is a red herring.  Collette was not asking that his civil marriage be so recognized.  Catholics of all sorts may avail themselves of legally valid opportunities that are not recognized by the church and still maintain their employment in church institutions.  Why can’t Collette do so?

The judge may be right that the church does not have to follow civil law.  But the church should at least follow God’s law and treat people with respect, compassion, and dignity.  It should treat all people equally, not set up separate rules for some and not for others.

Civil law may permit Colin Collette’s firing, but Christian charity demands that he not experience discrimination.  Cardinal Cupich should meet with Collette soon, and reinstate him to his former position in Holy Family parish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 9, 2017

Related articles and posts:

For all Bondings 2.0 posts which mention Collette’s story and trace its development, click here.

Cook County Record: Catholic church can’t be sued for discriminating against gay man fired as music director: Judge”

The Daily Mail: “Gay music director loses his battle against Catholic parish”

 

 

Jesuit H.S. Denies Teacher Was Fired Because He Is Gay

A Jesuit high school in Chicago is denying allegations it fired a gay teacher because of his sexual orientation, but that statement has not stopped alumni from organizing against the firing. (Bondings 2.0 reported the firing over a week ago .)

extralarge (1).jpgIn a statement to faculty and staff, administrators at St. Ignatius College Prep said, “While we cannot share details of Matt Tedeschi’s term of employment, it is important for you to know that he was not fired for his sexual orientation.”

However, no reason was given for why he was so abruptly terminated, reported DNA Info.

Tedeschi, who taught religious studies and French, was fired earlier this spring after having been at St. Ignatius for four years. Students who found his online dating profile had harassed him through social media and in the classroom since February 2016. Despite multiple reports, Tedeschi claims the administration did almost nothing to stop the harassment or to discipline the students. Tedeschi responded to the St. Ignatius administrators’ most recent statement:

“‘I was fired for asking the administration to protect me from student harassment leveled against me precisely on the basis of my sexual orientation. . .I may not have been fired solely “for” my sexual orientation, as the school writes, but I certainly was fired “because of” it.'”

Many members of the St. Ignatius community feel similarly. Alumus Christian Johns described Tedeschi to DNA Info as “arguably one of the best rookie teachers at Ignatius.” Johns said further:

 “Granted, the details are still murky, it is clear that the administration at Ignatius fails to get ahead of crises that could be handled with professional zest. The administration, community, and students have to do better so that Ignatius remains an incredible place to learn and grow.”

A petition for administrators to better support LGBT people and people of color at the school gained more than 530 signatures. A Facebook group, “SICP alumni in opposition to Tedeschi firing,” now has more than 1,200 members. The organizer of the group, Jessica Schneider, told DNA Info firing someone because of their sexual orientation is inconsistent with the school’s values:

“The school doesn’t seem to be able to have open discussions,” said Schneider. . .”I know that there are certain things that can’t be disclosed, but the reaction [from administrators] isn’t sufficient for the incident.”

Alumus Andrew Rayner wrote a blog post entitled, “On Being in the Closet at St. Ignatius.” He described the atmosphere at the school as “virulent” when it comes to homosexuality, an atmosphere that stymied his own coming out process. On this latest news about Tedeschi’s firing, Rayner commented:

“I do not know all sides of the story to explain why the teacher, who seemed to be well respected by staff, well-liked by students, and was on his way towards tenure, was fired. . .but when the issue was said and done, the students involved received small disciplinary slaps on the wrist. The teacher ended up canned.”

Rayner expressed concern not only for Tedeschi, but “the student like me who is walking the halls of St. Ignatius feeling even less supported and loved than they felt before because of this incident.” He concluded:

“I also understand as a former educator and proud, fully-out gay man the importance of modeling for young people. The failure of the school to model proper behavior in this situation is what I am most concerned about. Modeling can literally save lives. . .

“What kind of modeling is this for young people? For a school whose motto is ‘men and women for others,’ these actions by the students and the response by the school do not seem to uphold these values. As I said, it is totally within the rights of a Catholic school to not condone homosexuality. You can believe whatever you want to believe. But as an educational institution that holds itself to the standard of teaching God’s love, the school is obligated to teach respect for all people, to decry bullying, to promote justice, and to protect its young people, regardless of beliefs or identities. This is a failed teaching moment. Or, at least, the lessons taught were not ones of love.”

If Tedeschi was not fired because he is a gay man, St. Ignatius officials owe the school community and the wider church community a more thorough explanation about the incident.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 2, 2017

 

SYMPOSIUM: Kentucky Bishop Speaks Out Against Church Firings of LGBT People

When Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” he also gave an interview to  Patricia Lefevere of The National Catholic Reporter.  During that interview, Lefevere asked the bishop from Lexington, Kentucky, about the contentious issue of  LGBT employees being fired from Catholic institutions (which was also the topic of a plenary session and a focus session at the symposium).   His answers to her questions provide the strongest statements yet in support of LGBT employees from a U.S. Catholic bishop.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Lefevere reported that the bishop stressed that the firings of LGBT employees amounted to a form of discrimination which was not appropriate for a Catholic institution to exhibit:

“When Stowe was asked how he felt the church should respond to cases of LGBT employees — many of whom had been fired from long-held church positions when their same-sex marriages were publicized or outed — he stressed that the church must be consistent and non-discriminatory in dealing with all its employees.

” ‘We must preserve our tradition and our integrity as a church,’ he said. ‘We risk contradicting ourselves if we want our employees to live by the church’s teaching and if we ourselves as an institution don’t live by our teaching, which has always opposed discrimination of any sort.’ “

While some bishops contend that firing LGBT employees is protected under the church’s religious liberty protections,  the Franciscan bishop pointed out that a more creative response was needed.  Lefevere reported:

“Stowe thought the church could find a way to ‘defend our religious liberty without violating any one’s human rights.’ “

For Stowe, it seems, the church’s teaching on the dignity of work and workers should be a guiding force when it comes to church employment issues:

“He pointed to its century-long championing of working people, of their rights to a living wage, to humane treatment in the workplace and to collective bargaining. ‘We must be consistent, even though that can be very difficult sometimes.’ “

And the dignity of the human person must be preserved above all,  even above institutional ideals:

“The challenge is to ‘articulate Gospel principles consistently and implement them compassionately,’ he said, noting that Catholic social teaching has always upheld the dignity of each human person. ‘We preach that human flourishing is a primary goal,’ he said, ‘much more important than the protection of our institutions.’ “

Stowe’s comments constitute the most comprehensive positive statement from a U.S. bishop on the employment of LGBT people in Catholic institutions.  To this date, only one other U.S. bishop,  Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, who in 2014 told Bondings 2.o that the firings “need to be rectified.”

The bishops of Germany have instituted a policy that protects legally married gay and lesbian workers in Catholic institutions. An  America magazine editorial in 2016 called the firings “unjust discrimination.”

For other positive developments in the church worker controversy, click here.  To view New Ways Ministry’s resources on the topic, visit our Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT People page.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 23, 2017

Gay Teacher Harassed by Students Fired by Jesuit High School

A Catholic high school in Chicago has fired a gay teacher after students outed and harassed him for over a year.

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Matt Tedeschi

Matt Tedeschi taught religious studies and French at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit institution. Having taught for four years, he was up for tenure next year. But trouble began in February 2016 when a student discovered his profile on an online dating website. DNA Info reported:

“After discovering the dating profile, the St. Ignatius student texted screenshots of Tedeschi’s profile to several other St. Ignatius students, and it spread across campus.

” ‘He “outed” me to a bunch of students. He knew that he was making fun of me and insulting me,’ Tedeschi said. ‘He wanted to embarrass me.’ “

Tedeschi said he never expected students to find him on the website, which is for people age eighteen and older and which is used by other staff at St. Ignatius. He told DNA Info, “Everyone should have the right to a private life.”

Students continued to harass Tedeschi for over a year. One student tweeted against him sixteen times. The tweets include one that said, “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you,” a reference to the screenshots of the teacher’s dating profile, one of which was included in the tweet. All of this created what Tedeschi described as “a horrible environment,” especially given the aforementioned tweet which he considers “public blackmail.”

Unfortunately, school administrators offered little support for Tedeschi. He informed them multiple times about students finding his dating profile and about their continued harassment. Just one student received two detentions for tweeting against Tedeschi. Principal Brianna Latko did little to stop what Tedeschi called a “culture of harassment.” He explained:

” ‘[School officials] were just watching it play out. . .I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. … This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.’ “

This March, Tedeschi was informed that St. Ignatius would not be renewing his contract for the 2017-2018 school year. According to DNA Info:

“The school gave him the opportunity to finish out the school year, but after he discussed his departure with a colleague, the school called him to say that his employment was being terminated immediately. In exchange for the rest of his salary he would have earned over the semester, school administrators urged him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but Tedeschi declined, he said.

“Tedeschi said he was told he was being fired because he showed poor judgment posting photos online and didn’t stop the classroom conversation involving the sensitive information. He said he was also told he was negative and undermined authority — although administrators declined to elaborate to him on these charges or provide further details in writing.”

Administrators will not comment on the firing or surrounding events. Spokesperson Ryan Bergin said confidentiality precluded any comment, but that Tedeschi was “treated fairly” and that school officials “wish him all the best.”

Though his sexual orientation was not explicitly referenced when he was fired, Tedeschi said the firing is really about him being forcibly outed by students as a gay man, his decision to seek an end to the harassment, and the school’s attempt to cover up an embarrassing incident. A colleague agreed that it was not Matt being gay which was the problem, but that his public outing violated the “hush-hush” attitude towards gay faculty and students and was “creating too much trouble.”

Tedeschi has released an open letter (see end of linked article) to the school community, in which he expressed gratitude for the school community. He is publicly telling his story of firing because “only by speaking truthfully and openly can our institution become a better version of itself.” He is now considering his legal options.

This firing is a tremendous loss. Students have lost a teacher who by all accounts was gifted and enthusiastic. Tedeschi was not supported by the administration against harrassment. St. Ignatius administrators’ decision to fire him is troubling for one more reason. It sends the message to offending students and the wider community that homophobia is implicitly acceptable because, in this case, it was the victim who was punished, not the harassers.

 —Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2017

 

Fired Gay Minister: “Archbishop has done us and all the church a great wrong.”

Barring LGBT Catholics from parish ministries is deeply wrong and personally wounding, wrote one gay man who had been forced from ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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William di Canzio

Last October, William di Canzio was dismissed as a lector at the Daylesford Abbey parish community in suburban Philadelphia where he has been active for 35 years.  The abbot said the decision was influenced by Archbishop Charles Chaput’s directive not to allow coupled gay men or lesbians to perform liturgical roles.

Di Canzio first broke his story on Bondings 2.0, and you can read the original report here. He has since written in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Abbot Richard Antonucci of Daylesford Abbey in Paoli requested a meeting with me, though he declined to tell me his purpose in advance. . .The abbot started our conversation by saying that he’d heard I had married my partner of 12 years, Jim Anderson. ‘I want you to believe this,’ he said: ‘I sincerely wish you both many, many years of happiness together.’

“Then he passed me a copy of a directive from Archbishop Charles Chaput. . .[and] said that, with reluctance, he must enforce the directive.”

Antonucci told di Canzio that, despite the abbey being a community that is formally outside archdiocesan control, the abbott was “unwilling to take the risk” of retaining an LGBT person in liturgical ministry. Di Canzio asked the abbot, “You’re the spiritual leader of the place I’ve been part of for 35 years. . .How do you counsel me?” The abbot’s only response was asking di Canzio to remain at Daylesford Abbey.

Di Canzio said of the Abbey, “I felt welcomed there and at home.” He described in his Inquirer essay the many ministries at the abbey in which he has participated for more than three decades: revising the hymnal and arranging a psalter, writing a three-year cycle of Sunday penitential rites for the Norbertine Order, lectoring, and helping with other aspects of liturgy. Di Canzio concluded:

“Forgive me if this sounds like a resume. Here’s my point: the archbishop knows none of this. The abbot himself, who came to Daylesford in 2000, did not know how very long had been my history there. Nor did he know that the man who is now my spouse decided to be confirmed a Catholic after attending Pentecost mass at Daylesford.”

Di Canzio said the archdiocesan directive itself is “very offensive,” especially its claim that same-gender couples are “a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community.” The directive continued to say such couples are “without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.” The former lector commented:

“The hypocrisy of the last phrase, concerning children, is so transparent it seems rhetorical suicide, because it calls to mind the sexual abuse of children by priests that has plagued the Catholic Church for decades.

“Here’s the truth: my sexual nature, like that of all human beings, is holy; my marriage is a sacrament where I encounter the love of God every day in the love of my spouse and bestow it likewise on him. The archbishop has done us and all the church a great wrong.”

A great wrong for sure, and Di Canzio’s story is not an isolated incident. More than 60 church workers and volunteers since 2007 have lost their position over an LGBT identity, same-gender marriage, or public support for equality.

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 such church workers and volunteers, as well as other information and resources about the topic..

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2017

Catholic Supports Dictator’s Views on Marriage; More News Updates

Here are some items that may be of interest:

1) A ranking church official in Zimbabwe has affirmed LGBT-negative comments made by the country’s aging dictator, Robert Mugabe, a Catholic. The Archdiocese of Bulawayo’s vicar general, Fr. Hlakanipha Dube, said the church was grateful for the government’s support of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples only, according to Chronicle. In 2015, Mugabe told the United Nations in 2015: “We are not gays. . .Same-sex marriages have no place in Africa. Such behaviour is worse than pigs and dogs.”

News Notes2) A spring newsletter from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association highlighted its new partnership with Egale Canada Human Rights Trust to help teachers in Catholic schools be more supportive of gender diverse students. These efforts include an awareness project, “Drawing the Line – Against Transphobic Violence,” and LGBTQ training workshops for teachers.

3) A teacher in India was allegedly fired because he is gay, a charge officials at St. Joseph’s Autonomous College (a high school) deny. The teacher, Ashley Tellis, said the school’s principal told him students “were disturbed by my ‘personal opinions.” The principal, Victor Lobo, claimed Tellis was fired for breach of contract, reported The New Indian Express.

4) A controversial bishop in Switzerland who has made anti-gay comments in the past has resigned on the occasion of his 75th birthday. In 2015, Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur cited Scripture passages that suggest lesbian and gay people should be executed, and said a priest who blessed a lesbian couple should resign.

5) The Vatican has named Fr. James Martin, S.J. as a consultor to its Secretariat for Communications, a department newly created under Pope Francis. Martin authored the forthcoming book, Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, based on his address upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in October 2016.

6) Marking the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice last month, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, wrote a piece in The Huffington Post about why she supports the cause as a lesbian Catholic.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April ??, 2017

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.