Santa Clara University Responds to Anti-LGBT Slurs, Swastikas

Santa Clara University experienced multiple hate crimes last month, including messages against LGBT people, incidents which have energized members of the campus community to express their solidarity and demand change.

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Student vandalizing a poster at SCU

Vandals struck the California Jesuit school twice this past October, reported campus newspaper The Santa Clara:

“Over the weekend in Casa Italiana Residence Hall, a swastika was drawn in blood in an elevator and derogatory messages aimed at the LGBTQ community were written on a fourth floor hallway bulletin board. These acts came just two weeks after the 43 Students Memorial was defaced.”

The anti-LGBT messages appeared days before National Coming Out Day, when students on campus expressed their solidarity by affixing supportive fabric signs to their backpacks and coming out on social media. But LGBT programming and a generally affirming campus environment do not preclude prejudice said some students. Alaina Boyle, a senior who directs the Santa Clara Community Action Program and is queer, told The Santa Clara:

” ‘I have experienced discrimination and words of persecution from people on our campus before. . .I’m not surprised to hear that this is how some people really feel. . .I think there’s this overarching atmosphere of it being okay to put down certain groups and to speak out about how you feel about minority groups. I think that’s normalizing the hatred.’ “

Students and several offices on campus organized a march in which 70 students, staff, faculty, and administrators participated. Marchers changed “We are one” and “Love not hate” during the witness, about which the Multicultural  Center’s director Isaac Nieblas explained to The Santa Clara:

“We want to be loud and we want to be proud and we want to showcase that regardless of the symbols of hate and undertone of racism and misogyny and bigotry that exists here on this campus. . .We are not going to stand for it and we are going to start moving forward hand and hand.”Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration

Fr. Michael Engh, SJ, the University’s president, participated in the march and explained that he was there because “it is important that the administration demonstrate that all students are welcome here.” Engh said the acts had violated a “sense of home” on campus.

Administrators hosted a community forum shortly after the acts of vandalism to address students’ questions, and the Multicultural Center facilitated restorative circles to help students process the incidents.

The forum was tense, according to The Santa Clara, as students asked whether the perpetrators would remain on campus and administrators refused to give details citing confidentiality requirements and the involvement of the Santa Clara Police Department. Students also questioned why administrators had used terms like “bias incident” and “act of discrimination” instead of “hate crime” to describe the events.

A statement from 25 LGBTQ community members was subsequently released, condemning the acts and naming four demands:

“The document contains four core demands, including that the acts be called hate crimes rather than acts of discrimination and that a full description of the vandalism be released to the Santa Clara community.

“The statement also demands that the university increase the security of campus surveillance footage to prevent images of hate crimes from circulating around the university and ‘re-traumatizing’ affected communities.

“The joint statement also calls for using a ‘transformative justice’ approach in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. This would allow those affected to address the perpetrators directly.”

The topic of hate crimes targeting LGBT people and other marginalized communities is quite present in the U.S. today after the presidential election. Though these incidents at Santa Clara happened in October, the negative effects such crimes cause are harm more than just the campus community. What should not be lost is that not only tragedy occurred at Santa Clara, but solidarity from church leaders and an appeal for transformative justice by campus groups.

Clearly, the teachings of the church on justice, solidarity, and reconciliation are foremost considerations for the community at Santa Clara University. The rest of us would do well to keep these teachings at the forefront of our lives, too, in these coming months and years when it seems hate is poised to raise its ugly head.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

 

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 21, 2016

Fired Church Worker Shares Testimony of Faith, Parishioners’ Support

Fired for being in a same-gender marriage, church worker Michael Templeton shared his experiences of faith and community support in a new article he penned for the Providence Journal.

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Michael Templeton and his husband

Templeton, who was fired in mid-September as the music director for the Church of St. Mary in Providence, described the last month as “rather overwhelming.” He wrote:

“[N]ot only trying to find the words to share my story, but listening to how what happened to me has impacted so many others, and all of this while trying to process a sense of personal grief for what has seemingly been lost: a ministry to a beloved church to which I’ve dedicated a quarter century.

“Regardless, I am profoundly grateful to the hundreds of people who have reached out to show their love and encouragement during the last four weeks: St. Mary’s parishioners, high school and college friends, liturgical musician colleagues from across the country, churchgoers of other denominations, and even perfect strangers who connected with my story in some way. What it tells me is that I’m living the life I’ve been called to and that my 25-year commitment to ministry through music has, in fact, made a difference.”

Templeton wrote about his understanding of faith and his own beliefs, saying that expressing faith is “a tricky thing” because:

“It is something so deeply personal and certainly not something that should be diminished, debated or devalued. We cannot claim to completely understand any other person’s journey because it occurs in the context of a very unique set of values, relationships and experiences. Those who make presumptuous judgments or offensive statements might first consider reconciling their own faults and failings with their higher power.”

He affirmed more positively his belief that every person is “created by a God who loves us unconditionally,” and said the only perspectives which matter in life’s key moments are the perspective of loved ones. Templeton added:

“Most importantly, I know that there are faith leaders and faith communities out there who authentically embody the proclamation: ‘All are welcome.’ My hope is that people of all faith traditions find a spiritual home where they are truly valued and challenged to push beyond their tightly held biases, boundaries and beliefs.”

Ever pastoral, Templeton concluded by urging readers to pray for Fr. Francesco Francese, the pastor at the Church of St. Mary, and Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence whom he described as “the local faces of a church struggling to remain culturally relevant and fiscally viable,” as well as the Church of St. Mary community which has been so wounded by this firing.

Templeton had been music director at the church for more than five years, with nearly twenty-five years in Catholic music ministries. The Church of St. Mary had a reputation for being a welcoming parish, but that identity ended with this firing. Parishioners had hoped Fr. Francese would address the matter, but after he did not in his homily the Sunday after Templeton was fired, a choir member joined by some thirty people began singing “All Are Welcome during the recitation of the Nicene Creed. Several parishioners questioned whether they could remain at that parish or the Catholic Church at all.

Bishop Tobin cited Pope Francis in his defense of the firing, which he said the church had “no choice” in doing. But there is always a choice, and this firing in Providence is a prime example of what the editors of America called “unjust discrimination” in their editorial last week against the firing of LGBT church workers.

Templeton’s sharing reveals not only the deep pain and communal wounds which discrimination by church leaders inflicts on communities, but also the powerful hope and fidelity to Christ’s inclusive love with which Catholic communities are responding to these injustices. Catholics know there is always a choice to not exclude an LGBT church worker, but there is never a choice not to love as God loves us – actively and unconditionally.

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, November 4, 2016

Facing Violence, LGBT People Deserve Human Rights Support from Vatican

A new report powerfully revealed the scope and intensity of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that exist in the world. The realities of suffering and abuse necessitate renewed solidarity from Catholics, including human rights advocacy by the Vatican.

1421581520765-cachedZeid Raad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the U.N. report shows “pervasive violent abuse, harassment and discrimination” across the globe. The Guardian reported:

“The report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council circulated on Monday cites the murder of transsexual women in Uruguay and of black lesbian women in South Africa, and the killing of a gay man in Chile by neo-Nazis who carved swastikas into his body. In February 2015, it said, photos appeared to show several men, allegedly accused of homosexual acts, being pushed off a building to their deaths in Syria by militants of the so-called Islamic State extremist group.

“Brazil reported 310 documented murders in 2012 ‘in which homophobia or transphobia was a motive’, it said. The trans murder monitoring project, which collects reports of homicides of transgender people, lists 1,612 murders in 62 countries between 2008 and 2014. And the inter-American commission on human rights reported 594 hate-related killings of LGBT people in the 25 countries of the Organisation of American States between January 2013 and March 2014, it said.”

Non-lethal violence and other forms of discrimination were cited elsewhere, including the United States where hate crimes based on sexual orientation rank second among crimes against protected classes. More than 75 nations criminalize LGBT people and/or their relationships, including some where being convicted of same-gender sexual activity is punishable by death.

Catholic teaching clearly rejects discrimination–and, even more so, violence–against LGBT people, a point affirmed in a recent statement from the Network of Reform Movements. More than 40 Catholics from ten countries released that statement condemning all forms of violence and discrimination against LGBT people which said, per the Network’s press release:

“We, the representative of an international network of priest groups and reform organizations assembled in Chicago 2016, affirm that the dignity of the human person is clearly expressed in the Gospels and the social justice teachings of our Church. It is this dignity that should be the foundation of a truly Catholic response to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their families.

“We, therefore, commit ourselves to stand against violence in all its forms-physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal—toward LGBT people.  We encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.”

The mid-October meeting in Chicago was sponsored by FutureChurch, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, and Voice of the Faithful. Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA  participated in the meeting. Representatives of lay and clergy organizations came from Argentina, Ireland, Slovakia, and elsewhere. The meeting’s purposes was for different reform organizations to come together for honest conversation about experiences and objectives, and see where collaboration might be possible or prudent, reported the National Catholic Reporter

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery of the Association of Catholic Priests, an Irish reform group, credited Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, who suggested the resolution, as the central figure in the statement’s publication. He wrote on his blog:

“[Jeannine] was, as is her style, gently but persistently pushing the topic of LGBT people in the Church, and a resolution was drawn up calling for the Church to respect the dignity of every person, no matter what their sexual orientation, and in that way setting an example that might help reduce the violence and discrimination which is still prevalent in many parts of the world.”

Gramick commented:

 “We are pleased that the entire group felt it could support LGBT peoples with the . . .  statement.”

Elsewhere, Jesuit Fr. James Martin condemned discrimination and violence in his recent lecture at New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award ceremony:

“Church leaders also need to stand for their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters when they are persecuted. In many parts of the world, L.G.B.T. persons are liable, again in the words of the catechism, to appalling incidents of ‘unjust discrimination’—to prejudice, to violence and even to murder. In some countries, you can be jailed for being gay or having same-sex relations and murdered for being a gay leader. In those countries the institutional church has a moral duty to stand up for their brothers and sisters, publicly. Remember, the catechism says ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ must be avoided. Helping someone, standing up for someone when they are being beaten, is part of compassion. It is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Catholics have previously asked Pope Francis to condemn the criminalization of homosexuality through #PopeSpeakOut, but he has refrained from doing so, even during his apostolic voyage to three African nations with troubled LGBT human rights records. This silence was deemed a “missed opportunity” by LGBT advocates in Uganda. Elsewhere in the world, bishops have refused to defend LGBT people’s human rights. Bishops in Malawi even advocated re-criminalizing homosexuality in their pastoral letter for the Year of Mercy.

Even if Pope Francis cannot or will not offer positive words in defense of LGBT people, the Vatican could use its diplomatic efforts to ensure the human rights of these communities are defended and advanced. There are many, many issues between silence and marriage equality where common ground could be found.

Vatican diplomats have been central in efforts for justice and reconciliation in the world, such as facilitating development projects and aiding peace negotiations in the Great Lakes Region of Africa or in Colombia. The Holy See is influential as a Permanent Observer at the United Nations. The Vatican has no defensible reason not to expand its defense of human rights and promotion of the common good to LGBT people. And there are millions, indeed tens of millions of good reasons, why the Vatican should act–because every LGBT person’s life that is under attack is a good reason. Every person is a good reason. The United Nations’ new report is a poignant reminder of just how much the Catholic Church can and should be doing for LGBT human rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 2, 2016

 

 

 

Remembering Matthew Shepard: Encountering Solidarity, Countering Isolation

Today’s post was written by guest blogger Alfred Pang is a PhD student in Theology and Education at Boston College.

By Alfred Pang, October 12, 2016

I experienced a micro-aggression about a year ago at Mass. It was during a homily that listed, in a single breath, the Magisterium’s teachings against contraception, divorce and same-gender marriage. It obliterated the complexity of each issue. There was, of course, the typical mention of the natural complementarity of male and female as biologically designed by God. Such preaching was not new to me, but until then, I had been able to shut it out, numbing myself to what is said and mustering enough generosity to understand that some homilists do not know any better.

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Matthew Shepard

On this particular occasion, I could not. Instead, I simply shut down. I felt invalidated within the church I love as a gay Catholic man. I was angered by the quick dismissal of fruitful same-gender love. I found myself isolated and silenced in the broken shards of the church in which homophobia goes unrecognized. I simply shut down. Such is the power of micro-aggressions, whose cumulative toxicity, often unbeknownst to the offenders, wears down our souls, wearies our bodies and renders our selves invisible.

What aided in my recovery was remembering the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming and left to die on a cold October night in 1998. I recalled, in particular, Dennis Shepard’s (Matthew’s father) statement to the court at the trial of his murders. These words comforted me:

“By the end of the beating, his body was just trying to survive. You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him—friends that he had grown up with. You’re probably wondering who these friends were. First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time—one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming. His last day alive in Wyoming. His last day alive in the state that he always proudly called home. And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind—the ever-present Wyoming wind—for the last time. He had one more friend with him. One he grew to know through his time in Sunday school and as an acolyte at St. Mark’s in Casper as well as through his visits to St. Matthew’s in Laramie. He had God.”

The assurance that God is with me brought me much consolation. God’s presence endures as life not in spite of but in the midst of loss and death. Dennis Shepard’s description of God’s presence in creation and, as Creator, embracing Matthew in Her womb of life, is powerfully evocative. God must have grieved. And in our pain, God grieves with us. We have God because God first loved us. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

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Alfred Pang

During my recovery, I realized that God is present not simply to piece together the broken pieces of my life. God is just not into patchwork! God’s daily invitation to us to be reconcilers in Christ is not simply to be a people who patch things up. Rather, God creates us anew and calls us to be co-transformers in the world in light of our wholeness in Christ who holds all things together. I am reminded by Mr. Shepard’s words that the pain that I was experiencing is not mine alone, but shared in the interconnection of our many individual lives held and sustained by the One divine breath of God that blows creation into being.

This recognition of the inter-connectivity of our lives, I suggest, lies beneath the decision of Matthew’s parents not to press for the death penalty against Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the two young men responsible for Matthew’s violent murder. It is also this attentiveness to the oneness of God’s divine life reflected in diversity that propelled their founding of the Matthew Shepard Foundation just months after their son’s death. In the witness of Matthew’s parents, I gradually found hope and healing.

Today, we commemorate the 18th anniversary of Matthew’s death and I’m struck that Matthew would have been my age if he were alive today. And today, I know Matthew is alive when we remember the reality of violence being directed at young people due to their gender identity/expression and sexual orientation. Hate is, of course, to be resisted.

Beyond physical violence, Matthew’s story also points to the violence of isolation engendered by micro-aggressions cumulatively experienced in our families, schools, churches, and communities. More than an issue of unjust discrimination, every instance of someone fired from ministry or of another teacher dismissed from a Catholic school because of sexuality fuels this culture of isolation, leaving young people feeling abandoned, especially those who are wrestling with their experiences of sexual marginalization.

In today’s Gospel lectionary reading, we hear Jesus speaking to “the scholars of the law”: “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Luke 11:46).

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William McNichols, “The Passion of Matthew Shepard”

Jesus’ words are sharply poignant in light of our remembrance of Matthew. Jesus’ words ought to trouble us to confront not only our moral self-righteousness but also our complicity in turning the rich openness to God’s life within the Christian tradition into an enclosed grave for LGBT people and their families. Together with the crucified Christ, let us be stirred by Matthew’s death to lament over the continuing loss of young LGBT lives due to the distress experienced in isolation.

Yet, let us also be challenged that death does not have the last word. God’s enduring presence as life calls us forth to resist dehumanization by first recognizing that violence in any form is never deserved and deserving. Instead, we deserve to be loved as persons created in the image and likeness of God. There are no damaged people. There are only intersecting systems of dominance due to homophobia, heterosexism, racism, and classism that damage relationships.

Do not wait too long to tell someone how proud you are of them. This is the coming out that we all need to do to reverse slowly but surely this life-sapping culture of isolation. And may our families be the first spaces that need to be de-isolated, to be converted into spaces where blessings are shared in the midst of losses, and where our grief and joy, pain and hope are embraced as one, through a commitment to forgive, serve, and witness in God’s divine life. Anything less than these can only mean that Matthew and many other LGBT youth have died in vain, and our remembrance meaningless.

On October 20, people worldwide will “go purple” for #SpiritDay 2016 to resist anti-LGBT bullying and bias that youth experience in schools. For resources on how Catholics, and specifically Catholic schools, can get involved, please click here.

To read a Lenten reflection on Matthew Shepard posted earlier this year on Bondings 2.0, please click here.

In Wake of Student’s Suicide, Catholic Parents Call for Safe Schools

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Daniel Fitzpatrick

Catholic parents of LGBT children are expressing their sorrow over a teenager’s suicide in New York, as well as their commitment to ensuring Catholic education is safe for all students.

Daniel Fitzpatrick died by suicide on August 11, having faced intense bullying from classmates at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn. He left a note in which Fitzpatrick said, “I gave up. The teachers didn’t do anything. . .I wanted to get out.”

The Board of Fortunate Families, an organization by and for Catholic parents of LGBT children, released a statement on Monday saying it was “saddened to hear” about Fitzpatrick’s death:

“We on the board of Fortunate Families are painfully aware that any child who is badgered and bullied is at greater risk for isolation, marginalization, depression, and sadly, suicide. Catholic Social Teaching holds that all of our children are persons who deserve life, dignity, respect and the freedom to live their potential to the fullest. All our children deserve to be educated in environments that embody that social teaching.”

A board member who lost a child to suicide acknowledged that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults and that suicides are deeply painful for the families and communities left behind. As they bury their son and brother, the Fitzpatrick family is considering, too, how to end bullying. A crowdfunding page which sought to raise money for unexpected funeral expenses has now raised more than $120,000. The family said they wish to use these funds to “give Daniel a proper memorial, as well as shine a bright light on the bullying that killed him. . .and allow for his legacy to live on.”

The student’s father, Daniel Fitzpatrick, posted a heart-wrenching video to Facebook. He spoke lovingly about his son, and affirmed his own commitment to intervene against bullying if he encounters it, including against LGBT youth:

“No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through. . .Bullying unfortunately is an epidemic. It ain’t right. . .If I ever see any child in my life from now on and I witness them and I see doesn’t matter if its boy, girl, straight, bi, transgender now. If they’re bullied, I will knock them out.”

Though Fitzpatrick did not identify as an LGBT person as far as anyone knew (he was bullied about his weight and his grades), his death is a moment for Catholic educators to reflect on the myriad ways in which schools are made unsafe. This includes problems for students of diverse sexual and gender identities, and students who may be questioning their identities. The Fortunate Families Board continued:

“We call on all involved in Catholic education to re-double efforts to prevent bullying and assist each child to reach their full potential, regardless of physical attributes, academic achievements or other characteristics which may make a student seem ‘different.’

“Although too late for Daniel, we are glad to see that the Brooklyn Diocese is re-examining its bullying prevention policies and training, and we pray that these also apply to students bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Catholic education intends to form young people through faith to live flourishing lives, and to live authentically as themselves in service to others. As such, the church’s educational ministries should be sanctuaries for young people to come to know themselves, discern deep questions, and feel God’s love. Mercy and inclusion should be the hallmarks of every Catholic school. Earlier this week, educator Kevin Welbes Godin of Egale Canada wrote about the work Ontario’s teachers have done to create safer Catholic schools for LGBT students.

That good work is happening elsewhere, but is not widespread enough yet, and it is not happening quickly enough. As another school year begins, and we pray for Daniel Fitzpatrick and his family, let us each consider how we – as parents, as students, as teachers, as alumni, and as the faithful – might contribute so that Catholic education is safer and more inclusive of all God’s children.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Fired Church Worker’s Lawsuit May Proceed Against Archdiocese, Court Rules

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Colin Collette

A federal court in Chicago has ruled that a fired gay church worker’s discrimination case against his former employers may proceed as he had hoped.

The Archdiocese of Chicago had filed a motion to dismiss former music director Colin Collette’s lawsuit against both Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, Illinois, and the archdiocese itself. The court ruled against the Archdiocese’s motion, reported the Chicago Daily Herald, and said the case over whether Collette was fired for “entering into a ‘nonsacramental marriage'” may proceed.

Kerry Lavelle, the church worker’s lawyer, said they were “extremely pleased” with the ruling because they “believed all along that Colin has an actionable claim.” She continued in a press release:

“There remains a long road ahead but this validates our position that the suit merits review by the court. . .We had sincerely hoped to negotiate Colin’s return to his job but short of any further dialogue with the Archdiocese, we will continue to pursue remedy through the courts which we know could be a lengthy process.”

The Archdiocese rebuffed mediation efforts last fall, though Collette did meet with former Cardinal Francis George shortly after the firing. Collette sued the Archdiocese and the parish earlier this year for violating federal, state, and local non-discrimination protections. This latest ruling follows an earlier finding by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that there is sufficient possibility of discrimination for a lawsuit.

Collette was fired in 2014 as Holy Family’s music director, a position he had held for seventeen years, when he publicly announced his engagement to another man. His lawsuit seeks Collette’s reinstatement as music director, along with back pay and damages.

This firing was traumatic for the Holy Family Catholic Community. 700 parishioners at a town hall conversation about the incident welcomed Collette with a standing ovation, and one parishioner expressed anger and disappointment at the treatment of Collette, saying: “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

This firing also raises questions for Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. Last December, he said the consciences of LGBT people must be respected and even endorsed legal protections for families headed by same-gender partners. Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, offered a more pastoral voice during the Synod on the Family and told Bondings 2.0 that process would have benefited from hearing lesbian and gay people share their experiences. Yet, Collette and another fired gay church worker in Chicago, Sandor Demkovich, have open discrimination complaints which the Archdiocese is adamantly defending.

Though more than 60 church workers since 2008 have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes, there have been only a few legal victories. A teacher fired from a Catholic school in Italy won her lawsuit in that country. And Matthew Barrett settled with the Catholic school which had rescinded a job offer after finding out he was a married gay man. Colleen Simon reached an out of court settlement with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph after being fired from her parish social justice job.  Flint Dollar also reached a settlement with the Macon, Georgia, Catholic high school that fired him as band director.  Marla Krolikowski also reached a settlement in her suit against a New York City Catholic high school which fired her when she transitioned genders.

Whether Colin Collette will join this small, but growing list is uncertain. But Archbishop Cupich could ensure justice by ending the Archdiocesan defense efforts, apologizing to Collette, and enacting reconciliation efforts to heal the wound of anti-LGBT discrimination in the church.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Fired Lesbian Teacher Wins Discrimination Case Against Catholic School in Italy

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Students at L’Istituto Sacro Cuore

A Catholic school in Italy has been found guilty of discrimination for firing a teacher based on speculation about her sexual orientation.

A labor court fined L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in Trent 25,000 euros, reported Religion News Service (RNS), payable to the former teacher. The Institute must pay an additional 1,500 euros to both a labor union and civil rights association. Alexander Schuster, the anonymous teacher’s lawyer, celebrated the ruling as protecting church workers’ rights to privacy, saying:

” ‘The use of contraceptives, choices such as cohabitation, divorce, abortion, are among the most intimate decisions a person can make and must not concern an employer.’ “

The teacher, for whom reports used the pseudonym “Silvia,” claimed that, in a meeting with Sister Eugenia Libratore, the school’s headmistress and mother superior of the religious order which runs the Institute, Silvia was asked about her relationship with a woman with whom she lives. The headmistress said she had heard rumors about Silvia being a lesbian woman, and sought to clarify the teacher’s relationship in the interests of ‘protecting the school environment.’

Under scrutiny, Silvia refused to answer any questions in that meeting and rejected Libratore’s suggestion that the headmistress could “turn a blind eye if [Silvia] was willing to ‘solve the problem.'”

Silvia later came out as a lesbian women who is in a partnership after her teaching contract was not renewed by the school. Thoughs Silvia was a veteran teacher whose job performance was deemed “adequate and professional,” Libratore defended the firing on the grounds that Catholic identity “must be defended at all costs.” At the time, Silvia described her firing as “medieval.”

The labor court ruled that assuming a church worker’s sexual orientation in an  employment evaluation is discrimination. RNS noted:

“Going further, the court argued it was a case of collective discrimination, because the incident would have a damaging effect on anyone potentially interested in working at the school.”

Italy made employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation illegal in 2003. When Silvia was fired in 2014, the Italian government’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini became involved in the case. Some 20 senators supported Silvia.

Victories in cases of discrimination against LGBT church workers and their allies are rare. Of the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2007, only a handful have won legal cases, had church institutions reverse their decision, or had church institutions defend LGBT employees.

Silvia’s win in Italy is a positive step, especially in a country where the Catholic hierarchy still heavily influences politics. This year, despite ecclesiastical opposition, Italian legislators advanced LGBT rights by passing a civil unions law. More firings could be on the horizon as more couples enter legal partnerships and marriage.  Church leaders could end this firing scourge by prioritizing the gifts and contribution that these church workers bring, and by respecting the privacy of their lives outside the workplace.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of 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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry