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

 

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.

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

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

Jesuit Weekly Criticizes “Unjust Discrimination” against LGBT Church Workers

A major outlet in the English-speaking Catholic media has opined against the firing of LGBT church workers.

downloadAmerica Magazine, a Jesuit weekly in the U.S., printed an editorial titled “Unjust Discrimination” on the issue of LGBT firings. The editors opened by discussing a 2015 policy change by German bishops to prevent church workers who are divorced and remarried or in same-gender partnerships from being discriminated against in employment. The editors wrote:

“Civil unions for same-sex couples have been legal in Germany since 2001. What sparked last year’s policy change? The bishops recognized that the previous church law, which included a ‘morals clause’ for Catholic employees, was being selectively applied. . .

“Under the new law, the church in Germany can dismiss an employee who publicly expresses ‘opposition to fundamental principles of the Catholic Church—for example by support for abortion or for racial hatred’ or who disparages ‘Catholic faith content, rites or practices,’ on the grounds that these infractions would constitute a ‘grave breach of loyalty.’ “

The editorial cited Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, who at the time the German bishops announced their new policy explained that the change sought “to limit the consequences of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases [that would] compromise the church’s integrity and credibility.”

Such reasoning and reasonableness has not been present among the U.S. episcopate, even after the nation’s Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide and despite the growing number of church workers who are entering same-gender marriages. The America editors noted a disparity between Catholic colleges and other Catholic institutions in the treatment of LGBT employees and acknowledged cases where “individuals have been secretly reported to their supervisors by other members of the community.” They continued:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church, while teaching that homosexual acts cannot be morally accepted, also requires that homosexual persons be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’ (No. 2358). The high public profile of these firings, when combined with a lack of due process and the absence of any comparable  policing of marital status for heterosexual employees, constitute signs of ‘unjust discrimination,’ and the church in the United States should do more to avoid them. In addition to any possible harm done to the employees who have been fired, the appearance of unjust discrimination weakens the church’s overall witness. The church will lose talented, devoted workers because of institutional decisions made under pressure or without sufficient discernment.”

Employment issues about gender and sexuality pose a further problem since many lay Catholics disagree with the Magisterium, yet church institutions are dependent on the same lay people whose consciences have led them to a more accepting stance. The editors asked how this situation could be sustainable in the long term, and replied:

“The answer is not to downplay or gloss over these teachings. Catholics are called to preach difficult truths about a range of subjects, including but not limited to marriage and sexuality. But what is the best way to do that? It is true that sometimes an employee of a Catholic institution can cause scandal by his or her public words or deeds. But it is also true that treating employees unfairly, by holding them to different standards or dismissing them abruptly or without consultation, can itself cause scandal.”

One proposal the editorial cited is that of Archbishop Joseph Tobin, newly named to become a cardinal in November, who advocated a case-by-case approach in a recent interview with America. There are complex questions of formation and support, too, and the editors conclude:

“The church must be free to conduct its ministries without government interference and with room to challenge prevailing social mores. But we also have a duty to proceed with wisdom and mercy, attentive to the dignity of the individual and the common good.”

This editorial from America adds significantly to Catholics’ responses against the firings as discriminatory and unjust, adding to a 2014 editorial from the National Catholic Reporter. These pieces come as more than 60 church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since just 2008. The firings continue, such as the case of  educator Kate Drumgoole and music director Michael Templeton. This latest editorial highlights both the need for positive action in defense of LGBT church workers, the complexities of church employment, and ultimately the tremendous harm done when church leaders discriminate against faithful employees.

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.

Newly-Named Cardinal Comments on LGBT Church Worker Firings

A U.S. bishop who will be made a cardinal in late November has spoken publicly about the pattern in recent years of LGBT church workers firings.

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Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis was interviewed by Michael O’Loughlin of America after being named last week as one of thirteen new cardinals. Asked how the church should respond to LGBT church workers, especially those employees in same-gender marriages, Tobin was skeptical that any national employment policy could be developed. He advocated dealing with church workers on a case-by-case basis:

” ‘If I have someone who is a teacher, I think that’s a little different than someone who is a [chief financial officer]. . .I would want to speak with the person about it, and ask, “Do you find any sort of dissonance within yourself teaching faithfully what the church teaches and the choices you make in your life?” ‘ “

Archbishop Tobin commented, too, on his episcopal colleagues and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will vote on new leadership and priorities at their fall plenary in November. The archbishop said bishops in the U.S. need to communicate better and follow the pope in valuing “discernment in a synodal way,” continuing:

“[We should] develop a spirit of discernment among us, reading the signs of the times and places in the light of the faith, and being able to talk about that and asking ourselves, what is God’s will? Where is God opening a door?”

For three years, the USCCB has defied the pastoral agenda of Pope Francis with little attention to the signs of the times on LGBT rights and many other issues. But Tobin affirmed the pope, with whom he is acquainted from the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, and said Francis is calling in Amoris Laetitia for the church to elevate “a way of thinking of what it means to follow or lead a life of discipleship today.”

Two other notable points came up in the America interview.

First, the archbishop said today’s church officials in Rome had a deeper “appreciation and gratitude” for women religious in the U.S.  Tobin had been secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life when dual interventions–one a doctrinal investigation of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and one an apostolic visitation of U.S. women’s religious communities–began in 2012.

Tobin defended the sisters, and he was promoted horizontally out of Rome to Indianapolis. The questions these investigations provoked, however, meant the church “understood in a more profound way, just what an important, critical role sisters play.”

Second, Tobin affirmed the need for ministry at the margins when speaking about his own religious identity. Ordained a Redemptorist priest, and later elected superior general, Tobin said the community’s mission is “always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for.” He said further:

“Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”

By all accounts, Archbishop Tobin seems to practice the pastorally-oriented leadership so desired by Pope Francis. His recognition that the church must be present at the margins, and his affirmation of women religious, who have been present there, could indicate a more pastoral approach on LGBT issues.

That is why his comments on LGBT church workers are puzzling to me. While he affirms the need to interact with every employee in a charitable way, including a conversation, the case-by-case solution he proposes does not actually protect LGBT church workers and their families from discrimination.

When it comes to employment, such provisional solutions are almost never adequate. For every Archbishop Tobin in Indianapolis who is pastorally shepherding God’s people, there is a Bishop Tobin in Providence whose firing of a gay music director has forced many more parishioners to question their relationship to the church. . Lacking explicit non-discrimination policies and demonstrated support programs, church institutions remain dangerous workplaces when one’s livelihood depends on the bishop’s whim.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2016