Ireland Votes on Marriage Today, While Bishops’ Political Influence Wanes

May 22, 2015

Thousands of Irish “Yes” campaigners rally in Dublin just days before today’s referendum.

Irish voters will decide today whether to legalize same-gender marriage in this most Catholic of nations. If they succeed, the vote would be the first national referendum in the world to endorse marriage equality.

Catholic supporters of the “Yes” campaign have been prominent and manifold, with the unsurprising exception of the nation’s Catholic bishops. Many observers are noting that the stature of Ireland’s once powerful church hierarchy is now falling.

Catholics’ outspoken opposition to the hierarchy’s position reveals an Irish church undergoing fundamental shifts, what Daily Beast columnist J.P. O’Malley describes as:

“[T]he complete collapse of the old guard of archaic, socially-repressive Catholic institutions that have dominated Irish society since the Free State was formed in 1922…What this referendum represents is a seismic shift in the zeitgeist: progressive-modern-Ireland is finally breaking free from the shackles of a de-facto Catholic State that was unofficially run from Rome for decades.”

Initially, Ireland’s bishops refrained from the harsh rhetoric and showy displays favored by many American bishops on this topic, but this restraint changed as the referendum approached. Their initial statement about the referendum’s announcement did not even ask voters to oppose marriage equality, merely to think it over. Fintan O’Toole wrote in The New York Times:

“[The bishops’] ability to influence the referendum on same-sex marriage is limited. Many church leaders have avoided taking a hard line. This owes something to Pope Francis’s more conciliatory tone on homosexuality, but even more to an awareness that many of the faithful. . .no longer take church teaching on sexuality as gospel. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, went so far as to warn church leaders not to use ‘language which is insensitive and over-judgmental’ — a warning surely rooted in his understanding of the other, more personal force in this debate.”

Due to the Catholic Church’s domineering influence, Ireland did not decriminalize homosexuality until 1993. Now, polling shows marriage equality support consistently above 70%. Young Irish citizens living abroad are returning home to cast their vote. In other signs of change, leading politician Leo Varadkar came out as gay several months ago, and Ireland’s government has repeatedly been clear that church worker discrimination will not be allowed if the referendum is approved.

Rita O’Connor, a parishioner of Dublin’s cathedral, succinctly summarized this cultural shift, and the thinking of many Irish Catholics, when she told an Irish Times journalist:

“I’m just going to vote for gay people because I have nothing against them…I can’t understand why anybody is against it…[The bishops’ opposition] is a stupid carry-on.”

There is a deep reality behind these sentiments, documented by Bondings 2.0 in the months leading up to today’s vote (see articles listed at the end of this post). Lay Catholics, like their counterparts in many other nations, have been at the forefront of pro-equality campaigning. Former Irish president Mary McAleese, who has a gay son, gave a moving address earlier this week, challenging anti-LGBT voices who claim marriage equality will harm Irish children. She said, in part:

“We who are parents, brothers and sisters, colleagues and friends of Ireland’s gay citizens, we know how they have suffered because of second class citizenship. This referendum is about them and about them alone. The only children who are certain to be affected by this referendum are Ireland’s gay children. It is their future that is at stake…

“We the majority, we have to make it happen for them and for all the unborn gay children who are relying on us to end the branding, end the isolation, end the inequality, quite literally, once and for all in our Constitution. A yes vote costs the rest of us nothing. A no vote costs our gay children everything.”

What has been unique to Ireland is the strength of public support from the clergy and religious women. Throughout the campaign, clergy and religious women have been more vocal in their endorsement of marriage equality than in almost any other nation that has debated the issue.  One priest came out as gay during a sermon in which he endorsed marriage equality. which his congregation met with applause. Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, the founder of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, predicted that 25% of Irish priests might vote for marriage equality today, according to a report in Buzzfeed.

As one of the world’s most Catholic nations historically, a “Yes” victory in Ireland today can have ramifications in the Catholic world beyond Ireland, too.

Add your prayers to those of Catholics worldwide that Irish voters make the Christian choice and endorse marriage equality today!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Articles on Ireland’s referendum on Bondings 2.0


May 14: “Nun and Priest Join with Other Irish Catholics Set to Vote ‘Yes’ for Marriage Equality

May 8: “Dublin Archbishop Calls for an “Ethics of Equality” in Marriage Debate

April 19: “Sr. Jeannine Gramick Calls on Irish Population to Vote for Marriage Equality

March 23: “Dublin Archbishop: I’m No Expert on Family; Anti-Gay Groups’ Language is ‘Obnoxious’

March 21: “Catholics Leave Mass Over Bigoted Homily, but Not All Priests Oppose Marriage Equality

March 12: “Archbishops Correct Irish Bishop’s Insensitive Remarks About Lesbian & Gay People

March 10: “Bishop’s Insensible Remarks Reveal the Great Need for LGBT Dialogue

March 3: “Irish Arguments About Marriage Equality Go From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

February 3: “Ireland’s ‘Gay Moment’ as Marriage Referendum and Ban on Employment Discrimination Approach

January 10: “Irish Priest Comes Out During Mass, Endorses Marriage Equality to Applause


December 22: “Ireland’s Gay Catholic Voices Speak Out for Faith and Equality

December 12: “Elphin Bishop, Bert & Ernie, Gay Priests, and Colin Farrell Are All Involved in Ireland’s LGBT Debates

December 9: “Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

September 9: “St. Vincent de Paul Society Gives Grant to LGBT Center Despite Bishop’s Challenge

September 8: “Ireland’s Catholics March Onward for LGBT Equality

March 14: “LGBT Rainbows Are Appearing Over Ireland

February 11: “Signs of Openness on LGBT and Marriage Issues from Two European Church Leaders

January 9: “Former President of Ireland Calls for Change in Church’s Teaching on Homosexuality


November 7: “Marriage Equality Referendum Scheduled In Ireland: Where Will Catholics Stand?

April 16: “Equal Marriage Rights Progress Around the World-Especially in Catholic Nations

April 8: “Irish Bishops Threaten Action if Marriage Equality is Passed

Colombian Bishop Apologizes for Angering All with Lesbian & Gay Remarks

May 21, 2015

It’s pretty rare, and thus news, when a Catholic bishop makes statements about gay and lesbian people that equally anger both liberals and conservatives.  It’s even rarer to hear a Catholic bishop apologize for any of his statements.

Bishop Juan Vicente Córdoba

Yet, a bishop in Colombia did both those things this past week. Bishop Juan Vicente Córdoba of Fontibón, Colombia, created a stir last week, when during a university talk about same-sex marriage, he proposed the idea that one of the Apostles was perhaps gay and Mary Magdalene might have been a lesbian.

In his talk, he also suggested that gay and lesbian couples be respected, though he did not support marriage or adoption rights for them.  But, he also gave a positive evaluation of homosexuality. The message he offered was very mixed, and a bit confusing.

As a result, according to Crux, the bishop’s words and message were not well-received by either progressives or conservatives.  The news report stated:

“To illustrate his point, he used a pejorative Spanish term for a gay man, offending members of Colombia‘s gay community during a speech intended to denounce discrimination based on sexual orientation. . . . Conservatives, meanwhile, raised an eyebrow when the bishop said that homosexuality is not a sin and that gays are welcomed by the church.”

In his original speech, Córdoba spoke very positively about gay and lesbian people.  The following, according to Crux, are some of his statements:

“ ‘No one chooses to be gay or straight,’ Córdoba said. ‘One simply feels, loves, experiments, is attracted, and no attraction is bad.’. . .

“Although Córdoba reiterated Church teaching when it comes to marriage – that it’s a union between a man and a woman, permanent, and open to children – he said that homosexuality isn’t a sin.

“ ‘Sin is something else. It’s not respecting the dignity of others. Not loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, not feeding the hungry, not giving water to the thirsty,’ Córdoba said.

“According to local reports, Córdoba said that in the Bible there’s no explicit rejection of homosexuality, suggesting there’s no basis for making a condemnation of homosexuality a Church doctrine. . . .

“Córdoba asked those in favor of the gay rights bill not to call the opposition ‘recalcitrant, dinosaurs, cavemen, retarded, because we also have the right to present our ideas and our emotions with respect.’

” ‘There will come a time when the Catholic Church is a minority that will be crushed by the majority,’ he warned. ‘Let us respect each other, without using adjectives or telling anyone they’re sick or disordered.’ “

Yet, the bishop did return to the language of “disorder” when he issued his apology and clarification of what he originally had said. A follow-up Crux article reported on his change of mind:

“ ‘Even if homosexuality as an inclination doesn’t constitute a sin, it’s regarded as a disordered conduct,’ he said.

“Córdoba said that his words were not intended to modify the ‘solid and unchangeable moral position of the Church,’ but to express respect in an auditorium which, according to the prelate, was mostly composed of leaders and members of the LGBT community. “

The bishop also apologized for his use of “unfortunate colloquial expressions,”  and explained the use of the pejorative in terms of the situation of his speech:

“The bishop also admitted that he didn’t know there were members of the press present at the event, and that he only used such colloquial expressions because of the academic and dialogic context of the encounter, adding that they had no theological or moral value.”

It is difficult to assess this controversy.  The bishop seems to have been sincerely interested in building bridges with the lesbian and gay community in Colombia, a nation which is currently debating legalizing marriage equality.  His use of a derogatory word was certainly ill-advised, at the least, but his apology for it seems sincere.

It is curious, however, that the bishop’s apology and clarification in which he reverts to traditional hierarchical language was issued not by his diocese but, according to the news report, by the Colombian bishops’ conference.  That seems to indicate that his second set of remarks were motivated by someone from that organization.

What is important, though, is that even in this more conservative clarification, the bishop offered some very positive statements about lesbian and gay people:

“ ‘With a mother’s love, the Church welcomes every man and woman, whatever their condition, conscious that regardless of their sexual inclination – and even sexual behavior – every person has the same fundamental dignity,’ Córdoba said.

“Regardless of the controversy it may have generated, Córdoba said, Thursday’s encounter at the University of Los Andes was the first public encounter between a Colombian bishop and the LGBT community.

“ ‘It proves that it’s possible to establish an honest and frank dialogue that could allow us to bring down the walls and discover each other as brothers,’ the bishop wrote in the letter.”

I think the bishop’s heart wanted genuinely to do something positive towards the LGBT community.  It is unfortunate that his message became so muddled by his use of a harmful slur and his pulling back from his favorable evaluation.  This was the first encounter between the church hierarchy and the Colombian LGBT community.  Let’s hope it is not the last, and that Bishop Córdoba’s original intention to show respect and outreach will be manifested more clearly in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




New Appointee to Vatican Justice and Peace Office Has Pro-Gay Record

May 19, 2015

Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP

Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, a British Dominican who has spoken very positively in the past about lesbian and gay people, has been appointed by Pope Francis as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a Vatican office.

The appointment of Radcliffe, who was once the Master of the Dominican Order (head of the world-wide community), was announced very briefly on Vatican Radio’s website, giving only a brief five-sentence description of his academic and ecclesial background.

Radcliffe, however, has had a long history of supporting lesbian and gay people in the Catholic Church and speaking for their rights in civil society.   Just in the last few years, Bondings 2.0 has reported on some of his actions and statements:

  • In September, 2013, Radcliffe penned an essay in America magazine in which he called for “A New Way of Being Church.”  In that essay, he noted the possibilities opened up by Pope Francis in regards to lesbian and gay issues:

    “[Pope Francis] also sees the Christian mission as offering that healing gaze to others. He is touched by seeing how individuals live. When he addresses the question of welcoming gay people in the church, he says, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say. Who knows where this will take us?”

  • In March 2014, we reported how Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was boycotting a Divine Mercy conference in Ireland because Radcliffe was one of the featured speakers.  EWTN condemned him because he celebrated Masses for the Diocese of Westminster (London) pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  An article in Ireland’s Independent  newspaper at the time detailed the controversy.  According to The Tabletanother aspect of the EWTN controversy was Radcliffe’s remarks on an Anglican report on sexual ethics.  On the topic of same-sex love, he said:

“Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and non-violent. So in many ways, I would think that it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.”

  • Though Radcliffe supports same-sex couples, he has not supported legal marriage.  In a 2012 op-ed he wrote for The Tablet he stated:“Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. . . . [E]verywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. . . .“This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love.”


In response to the 2005 instruction from the Vatican cautioning bishops from ordaining gay men to the priesthood, Radcliffe spoke out in support of gay priests. In a Tablet article, he wrote:

“Having worked with bishops and priests, diocesan and religious, all over the world, I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive priests I have met. So no priest who is convinced of his vocation should feel that this document classifies him as a defective priest. And we may presume that God will continue to call both homosexuals and heterosexuals to the priesthood because the Church needs the gifts of both.”

In a 2006 address to the Los Angeles Religious Education conference, Radcliffe called on the church to “stand with” gay people, according to a National Catholic Reporter column. Radcliffe elaborated what he meant:

“We must accompany them as they discern what this means, letting our images be stretched open. This means watching ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ reading gay novels, living with our gay friends and listening with them as they listen to the Lord.”

Crux provided a bit more information concerning several of the other controversies in which he has been involved.  According to the article, Radcliffe has also openly supported women’s ordination, communion for those divorced and remarried, and diversity in the church.   They quoted Radcliffe from a 2013 interview:

“Jesus offered a wide hospitality, and ate and drank with all sorts of people. We need to embody his open heart rather than retreat into a Catholic ghetto.”

This brief resumé does not give a full picture of Radcliffe’s support for LGBT issues, which has been evident since at least the 1990’s.

Terence Weldon, who blogs at Queering The Church, offered hope that Radcliffe’s voice will help change the institutional approach to LGBT issues.   In a post, Weldon wrote:

“Too often, the issue of lgbt Catholics is approached purely from the perspective of sexual ethics, but it is equally important to see things from the perspective of justice. In his new position, Fr Radcliffe will surely remind his colleagues that the Catholic imperative of ‘justice’ must inevitably include the frequently overlooked question of justice inside the church, just as much as in the wider, secular world.”

Though Radcliffe may not support the full spectrum of LGBT equality, his past record indicates that he can be a force for the church institution to start taking the next steps toward a more just and humane approach to LGBT issues.  I have hope for this appointment because I trust in the words he used in his 2013 America essay (see above):

“If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say. Who knows where this will take us?”

Such openness to new possibilities is what is needed most deeply in church officials.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Archdiocese of Newark Fires Seton Hall University Chaplain for NOH8 Support

May 18, 2015

Fr. Warren Hall

The priest who has headed campus ministry Seton Hall University has been removed after he publicly supported the NOH8 campaign, on social media.

On Friday, Fr. Warren Hall tweeted:

“I’ve been fired from SHU for posting a pic on FB supporting LGBT “NO H8.” I’m sorry it was met with this response. I’ll miss my work here.”

The NOH8 campaign describes themselves as “a charitable organization whose mission is to promote marriage, gender and human equality through education, advocacy, social media, and visual protest.”

Hall, who is also an adjunct Catholic studies professor at the South Orange, New Jersey, Catholic school, deleted that tweet but followed up by calling for constructive dialogue in response to his firing:

“Grateful for all the support. Dont [sic] be angry!! Turn this into an opportunity for open/reasonable discussion on LGBT issues on a Cath Campus.”

In what is becoming a commonplace response to these firings, students quickly organized in support of Hall.

A petition gained nearly 2,200 signatures over the weekend, saying Hall “contributed greatly to the academic and spiritual lives of the students.” Student organizer Ethan Kraft told the Washington Post:

” ‘This action is neither in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ, nor the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis…Father Hall is a well-loved member of the Seton Hall community, and much of the student body is shocked and saddened by this decision.’ “

Screenshot 2015-05-17 at 1.22.22 PM2011 alum John Colantoni told that Hall’s removal is “a big loss for everybody” because:

“[H]e inspired us to be better in and out of the classroom. He allowed kids to feel comfortable. In his classroom you weren’t afraid to share ideas.”

Responding to media inquiries, Seton Hall’s administration has attempted to distance itself from the firing. Spokesperson Laurie Pine released a statement saying:

“Seton Hall University does not comment on personnel matters…The Archbishop of Newark appoints the Director of Campus Ministry, who serves at his discretion.”

Officials reiterated this message repeatedly on Twitter as well, diverting blame to the Archdiocese of Newark which owns and administers the university. Archdiocesan spokesperson Jim Goodness said removing Hal was a standard transfer, reports Goodness provided no further details, however, as to why or where the priest was being reassigned.

The archbishop referenced above is the embattled John J. Myers, who has a strong anti-LGBT record. Seton Hall University previously denied a student LGBT group twice, and Myers personally criticized a campus course on the politics around marriage equality in 2010.

Hall’s termination comes just as the university is recruiting Derrick Gordon, the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player. The former chaplain was a well-known support of campus athletics, speaking about his love of sports and their spiritual side in a University video released last year.

Hall’s removal as the head of campus ministry is the latest employment dispute around LGBT issues, but this case is the first known incident where a priest has been targeted.

In calling on students to act constructively for LGBT inclusion rather than be mired in anger, Hall is responding gracefully and revealing what a positive force he was on the campus. If this really is a case of reassignment, the Archdiocese of Newark should reassign him right back to Seton Hall.

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 almost 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

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Issues Play a Role in Catholic Colleges’ Commencement Ceremonies

May 17, 2015

Cardinal Dolan speaking at The Catholic University of America’s commencement, Washington, DC, in 2012.

It’s commencement time across the country, and LGBT issues seem to be popping up both negatively and positively at some Catholic schools’ graduation ceremonies.  Here’s a round-up of some of them, followed by some brief reports on other LGBT news at Catholic colleges.

Le Moyne College

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is addressing Le Moyne College graduates today with hundreds promising to ignore his speech after asking for Dolan’s removal.

Nearly 750 students from the Jesuit college in Syracuse, New York,  signed a petition against the College’s choice of Dolan as their commencement speaker. Student organizers argue that Dolan’s previous remarks against LGBT people, alongside questions about his role in covering up clergy abuse make the cardinal an unqualified speaker, reported WSYR Syracuse. Senior Kate Bakhuizen explained to NY1:

” ‘I think that, as a group, a group of people who have their own identity, we have decided that Cardinal Dolan doesn’t really embody the values that we’ve been taught at a Jesuit school.’ “

Le Moyne president Linda LeMura defended the choice of Cardinal Dolan, but also spoke positively of these students –rare admission from an administrator facing protest:

” ‘It’s an inherent part of the Catholic intellectual tradition to challenge questions of authority. That it’s OK to ask the big questions and, in fact, at the end of the day, it actually makes us better Catholics, if you will. Better citizens’…

” ‘I think it’s something you hope for in a college setting. You know, that young people are thinking critically about issues and that they’re willing to take stands on things that they believe in and even more so in a Catholic Jesuit setting, where we promote the importance of social justice.’ “

Student organizers promised a silent protest during Dolan’s speech at commencement exercises, saying they will respect the cardinal’s speech while making their disagreement known. What is remarkable here is President LeMura’s defense of the students’ actions and recognition that critical challenge should be valued, rather than suppressed on Catholic campuses.

Lavender Graduations

At least eight Catholic colleges hosted lavender graduations this year, which are separate ceremonies officially sanctioned by the institutions to honor LGBT graduates . Schools with lavender graduations include:

Other News

The following are news items about LGBT issues in Catholic higher education with links provided below for more information:

Fordham University, New York City, is making progress towards implementing gender-neutral restrooms next fall, reported campus newspaper The Fordham Observer. This is the outcome of ongoing discussions between a student group, The Positive, which advocates for gender rights, the student government, and University administrators.

Georgetown University student Tim Rosenberger, who is openly gay and a Republican, lost his bid in the election for student president at the Washington, DC, school, reported The Washington Blade.

St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, New York, cancelled a drag show organized by the campus’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club because campus president Margaret Mary Fitzpatrick worried about “unintended consequences.” However, students speaking to USA Today confirmed the campus is still very welcoming, and also noted that Fitzpatrick suggested the school should first host lectures about gender identity and the role of drag in the LGBT community, as a way of preparing the entire campus for a possible future drag show.  Bondings 2.0 discussed the importance of drag shows in educating students on gender diversity and identity a few weeks ago, a post you can access here.

Graduation time at Catholic colleges and universities can often be ripe with controversy.  Sometimes commencement ceremonies are attacked by conservative groups for featuring pro-LGBT speakers. None such cases have emerged yet this year. In fact, there seems to be more good news than bad this year, especially with Le Moyne College’s students displaying the type of critical thinking and Gospel witness that Catholic education hopes to produce.

Congratulations to all those graduating this spring!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Family Official Thanks TV’s “Modern Family” for Revealing Reality

May 16, 2015

A Vatican official praised the television show “Modern Family” for raising interest in the complexities of family life today, saying it ties in well with Pope Francis’ initiatives to address pastoral care of families.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia of the Pontifical Council for the Family was speaking at a United Nations event when he made the remark last Thursday. Paglia said:

” ‘[P]henomena like the media production “Modern Family,” or same-sex marriage initiatives in a significant number of jurisdictions, the family has become the subject of increasingly intense interest and discussion.’ “

Paglia, speaking during the annual Day of the Family, nuanced his remarks by criticizing the “ideological” discourses which dominate these discussions. Crux’s report continues:

“[Discussion] centers too much on definitions of the family unacceptable to one political current or another, and on economic considerations…

“Instead, he said, family is a complex of human relationships characterized by love, fidelity, commitment, sacrifice, trust, conflict, joy, fruitfulness, nurture, respect, celebration, protection, memory and faith.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia

However, the archbishop noted that addressing family life through existing models is not only insufficient for the church’s pastoral care, but for the authentic development of peoples as well. Family breakdown undermines the UN’s “Sustainable Development Goals.” Pope Francis’ emphasis on families — in the synod of bishops last October and this fall, in his weekly audience addresses, and in his attendance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia — is an effort to reverse these trends. Paglia, whose Vatican office sponsors the World Meeting of Families, noted:

” ‘Clearly, what the Catholic Church is striving for is a new, more authentic flourishing of the family, and with it all of society.’ “

“Modern Family” presents a family in all its messiness, but one ultimately marked by those traits heralded above by Archbishop Paglia. In the show, a gay male couple with an adopted child are part of an extended family network that includes others in non-traditional arrangements.

Archbishop Paglia is naming a reality that many Catholics already know, which is that the struggle for LGBT inclusion and other renewal efforts is often a struggle for a “more authentic flourishing of the family.” Marriage equality has been about strengthening couples and their families by public recognition and legal protection. The most passionate church reformers are frequently the parents of LGBT children seeking a Catholic community which will embrace their family unconditionally and treat their children justly. Fundamentally, when Catholics stand for LGBT justice, they are acknowledging the common family shared by being siblings in Christ as members of the church.

Family is at the heart of our advocacy and our outreach. Between now and the synod, I hope Archbishop Paglia sits down with Pope Francis to watch a few more episodes of “Modern Family.” Even more so, I hope they will listen to the real stories, the real complexities of Catholic families in all their forms today as the church discerns a more loving, merciful, and just pastoral program.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

U.S. Catholic, “Loving Our Modern Families

LGBT Church Worker Struggles Continue in Court, in Schools, and the Chancery

May 15, 2015

Supporters of Shaela Evenson demonstrating last year

Disputes involving church workers and their Catholic employers have been on the rise the last several years as LGBT equality, particularly around marriage, spreads. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides updates for recent incidents about which we have reported previously.

Shaela Evenson

Shaela Evenson, a lesbian woman who was fired in 2014 for being pregnant outside of marriage, is suing the Diocese of Helena, Montana, and Butte Central Catholic High School in federal court for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, and breach of contract, reported Crux. The case could hinge on whether Evenson, as a teacher, is considered a minister whose primary duties, in the language of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “consist of engaging in church governance, supervising a religious order, or conducting religious, ritual, worship or instruction.”

Responding to Evenson’s lawsuit filed in federal court, the Diocese of Helena is claiming a ministerial exemption which excuses religious institutions from nondiscrimination laws.

The diocese’s claim is that Evenson is a minister because she led class in prayer and accompanied them during school Masses, though legal experts believe these activities do not justify the exemption.

Matthew Eledge

Matthew Eledge, who was told that he would not be re-hired next year at Skutt Catholic High School, Omaha, when he informed administrators that he planned to marry his boyfriend,  has taken a job at neighboring Millard North High School about which he is “thrilled,” reports KETV 7. Eledge continued:

” ‘I’m really proud to be a part of a school district that is sending a message to LGBTQ youth that tells them, “Hey, we’re proud of you, we accept you and we love you” ‘…

” ‘While the story may have elements of hurt and pain, I think that they’re completely overshadowed by the endless support…I do know that I get incredibly excited when I think about the future.’ “

Reports surfaced that teacher’s decision to marry his partner was an attempt to have his partner’s mother, diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, present at the ceremony.

Skutt students continued protests after Eledge’s contract was not renewed. About 100 students donned “I support Mr. Eledge” t-shirts at an annual fundraiser, sending the message that though he would not likely be hired back such discrimination is unwelcome in their school community. Nearly 100,000 people have signed the petition in support of Eledge, even while school administrators continue defending their actions according to The Huffington Post.

Tyler McCubbin

Many people have weighed in on the decision by Dowling Catholic High School, Des Moines, Iowa, to fire Tyler McCubbin, from school students to Iowa’s governor.

A Catholic student from another school protested McCubbin’s firing by writing to church officials and said, in a letter published anonymously by The New Civil Rights Movement:

“I am a Catholic thirteen year old and am currently an eighth grade student…I cannot even start to comprehend how you could dismiss (from what I understand from background knowledge and media) an excellent teacher and friend of some of the students, based off his sexual orientation in his own personal life…

“The last time I checked, the church’s motto was to accept and love everyone. This man was doing no wrong. My prayers and intentions are with the protesters, Tyler, and his future husband. You may want to think a little longer and harder next time so you don’t make another irrational decision. Does this truly agree with your conscience?”

DignityUSA’s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke also condemned the firing in a letter to the editor published by the Des Moines Register. Admitting that Dowling is legally protected in firing a gay employee, she criticized church leaders on moral grounds:

“From the tremendous outpouring of support for Tyler McCubbin demonstrates that many Catholics understand that being gay and in a relationship should not be a barrier to serving as a Catholic school teacher — or in many other roles in our church. LGBT people can and do offer their talents and commitment to the church every day. Being truthful about our identities and relationships should not be a barrier to employment or volunteer ministry within our church. The majority of Catholics understand this. It is time for church leaders to catch up.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose three children are Dowling alumni, defended the discriminatory firing while rejecting LGBT legal protections on religious liberty ground, reports KCCI 8.

Cincinnati Contracts

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is revising controversial morality clauses implemented last year, specifically targeting teachers on a selected set of sexual ethics. Though most teachers signed the new contracts, some resigned, and there were widespread public protests against the anti-LGBT language.

The changes, announced by archdiocesan spokesperson Dan Andriacco, includie changing “public support” to “advocacy,” reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. This clarification, according to Andriacco, means a teacher could attend a gay child’s wedding or write a letter to their local politician, but not write a pro-marriage equality blog post — which is advocacy, in the archdiocese’s eyes.

These developments come as more positive news broke in Germany last week, with bishops in that nation announcing a labor policy protecting LGBT employees who enter same-gender partnerships from immediate firing or retribution. Yet, in the United States, the morality clauses controversy in San Francisco  continues, and the possibility of an LGBT employee of a Catholic institutions being fired is still high.

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 almost 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


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