3,000+ Sign Letter Protesting Catholic School’s Firing of Lesbian Educator

August 24, 2016
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Kate Drumgoole, left, with wife, Jaclyn Vanore

Thousands of alumni and others have organized against a Catholic school’s decision to fire lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole.

In just 24 hours, more than 3,000 Paramus Catholic High School alumni and school supporters signed an open letter calling upon school officials to apologize to Drumgoole, who was the head of the guidance department and basketball coach, and implement LGBT non-discrimination protections. The letter opened:

“We, the alumni of Paramus Catholic, are devastated that you have terminated Dean Kate Drumgoole’s employment because of her same-sex marriage. We are disappointed that, by abandoning Kate Drumgoole, you have abandoned the pride that we share in our diversity. . .

“At Paramus Catholic, our community was diverse in race, ethnicity, nationality, religious and spiritual affiliation, biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual attraction, romantic attraction, language, socioeconomic background, age, and ability—whether or not we were thoughtful and patient enough as adolescents to appreciate diversity as we do now.”

The signers, organized under “Concerned Alumni of Paramus Catholic High School,” said the firing will “perpetuate misinformed hate against individuals on the basis of their gender and sexuality” and deny LGBT students “a psychologically safe learning environment.” These Concerned Alumni include signatories from every graduating class dating back to the school’s founding in 1969.

The letter ends with a series of requests from Paramus administrators to rectify the injustice done to Drumgoole in some way. These requests include formal apologies to the fired educator and to the school’s students, along with the adoption of comprehensive non-discrimination policies for staff and students alike, and diversity trainings for the school’s community. If you are connected to the school and interested in adding your name to the letter, click here.

In related news, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia denied a motion by the school to dismiss Drumgoole’s discrimination lawsuit which Bondings 2.0 reported on Monday. The judge’s decision said a more extended discovery process was necessary, reported The Recordto determine “whether Drumgoole worked in a ministerial capacity and whether the dispute is secular or ecclesiastical.” If Drumgoole is considered a minister, it may allow the school to claim a religious exemption from state non-discrimination protections under the First Amendment.

Paramus Catholic officials fired Drumgoole in January because she had married her wife, Jaclyn Vanore, two years earlier. Their marriage came to light after Venore’s sister submitted pictures of the couple to Paramus Catholic social media pages and school president James P. Veil, following a family dispute.

By all accounts, Dean Kate Drumgoole was a respected and beloved member of the school community. With more than 3,000 signatures and growing on the alumni letter, Paramus Catholic officials will hopefully recognize the error of their decision and seek reconciliation.

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

 


Fired Lesbian Educator Sues New Jersey Catholic High School

August 22, 2016
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Kate Drumgoole and her wife, Jaclyn Vanore

A lesbian educator is suing a Catholic high school because earlier this year the school fired her for entering a same-gender marriage.

In January, Kate Drumgoole was fired by Paramus Catholic High School, New Jersey, reported ABC 7where she headed the guidance department and coached women’s basketball.  She was a longtime employee and graduated from the school herself.

Drumgoole said she and her wife, Jaclyn Vanore, “did nothing but fall in love with each other and exercise our rights” by getting married two years ago. She said she believes that when working with adolescents, “you need to keep your private life private . . . so I never brought it to the workplace.” She said that after photos of the couple were posted online against the couple’s objections, administrators called Drumgoole in during a snow day and fired her.

Particularly troubling is the manner by which those photos became public. The North Jersey Reporter explained that, in anger, Vanore’s sister  sent photos of the couple to school administrators.

The lawsuit charges not only the school itself, but its president, James P. Vail, and the Archdiocese of Newark, for non-discrimination violations and “intentionally inflicted emotional distress,” reported Crux.

Drumgoole claims she was discriminated against in part because other employees have not been fired for failing to abide by church teaching in their private lives. She noted there are Paramus Catholic employees who “are divorced, at least one has a child out of wedlock, various employees cohabit with members of the opposite sex, at least one other teacher is gay, and nude photographs of another teacher have been circulated online.”

The lawsuit may hinge upon whether the Catholic school is exempted from state non-discrimination law because it is a religious institution. Christopher Westrick, a lawyer for Paramus Catholic, argued for such an exemption in court. But Drumgoole’s lawyer, Eric Kleiner, pushed back and noted her positions at the school were not religious in nature.

ABC 7 reported on Drumgoole’s exemplary work record:

“As a guidance counselor, she set up tutoring for struggling students, provided counseling on academics and preparing for college, ensured that learning-disabled received help and intervened in bullying incidents. But her role became more administrative after promotions in 2013 and 2014, such as running department meetings and organizing award ceremonies.”

Kleiner said Drumgoole was “loved by her students, loved by her peers,” and his law partner Lawrence Kleiner added:

” ‘I don’t think there could be any doubt that anyone from Paramus Catholic could say that she was anything other than an exemplary role model. . .This is absolutely disgusting, in this day and age.’ “

Many in the Paramus Catholic community are unsettled by the firing. Anna Shea, a parent whose daughter was coached by Drumgoole, said it was “extremely jarring for the children. . .When the team took the floor you could see they were extremely upset.” Drumgoole has found a temporary position at a local public school for the coming year, but she is yet unsure what impact the firing will have on her career. A  court ruling on whether the case will proceed is expected this week.

Drumgoole adds to the growing list of more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in recent years because of LGBT-related employment disputes. Each time these firings and resignations occur, they do tremendous damage, especially true when they occur at schools since young people are impacted.

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 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

August 17, 2016
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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

 


Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

August 9, 2016
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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Cardinal Schönborn: “Amoris Laetitia” Evolves Catholic Doctrine on Family Life

July 8, 2016
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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, right, holding Amoris Laetitia when it was announced in April

A top cardinal who was closely connected to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, has again affirmed the exhortation’s authoritative status, and said it evolves understandings and expressions of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican, made these remarks and others in an extensive interview with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro of the Vatican-reviewed Italian journal, La Civita Cattolica. Excerpts, available here, have been translated into English.

Amoris Laetitia is “the great text of moral theology” the church has awaited since Vatican II, America quoted Schönborn as saying. It is moving the church from ” ‘a defensive pastoral style in which evil becomes an obsession’ toward one that focuses on recognizing the value of encouraging what is good.” Asked about the exhortation’s authority and the exhortation’s relation to Catholic doctrine–in light of criticisms that it is a minor document, or even only the pope’s opinion, as Cardinal Raymond Burke claimed–Schönborn said:

“It is obvious that this is an act of the magisterium. . .I have no doubt that it must be said that this is a pontifical document of great quality, an authentic teaching of sacra doctrina, which leads us back to the contemporary relevance of the Word of God. . .

“In this sphere of human realities, the Holy Father has fundamentally renewed the discourse of the Church – certainly along the lines of Evangelii gaudium, but also of Gaudium et spes, which presents doctrinal principles and reflections on human beings today that are in a continuous evolution. There is a profound openness to accept reality.”

Schönborn said Pope Francis rejected doctrine which is “abstract pronouncements that are separated from the subject who lives,” saying the exhortation’s “bedrock” is understanding that families are not ideals but rather are journeying. He continued:

“The complexity of family situations, which goes far beyond what was customary in our Western societies even a few decades ago, has made it necessary to look in a more nuanced way at the complexity of these situations. To a greater degree than in the past, the objective situation of a person does not tell us everything about that person in relation to God and in relation to the Church. This evolution compels us urgently to rethink what we meant when we spoke of objective situations of sin. And this implicitly entails a homogeneous evolution in the understanding and in the expression of the doctrine.”

In short, Schönborn clarified, “There is no general norm that can cover all the particular cases.”

Other bishops have affirmed Amoris Laetitia‘s authority as they consider how it should be implemented. Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo, Malta, called church ministers to exercise “cautious discernment and respect” when encountering people in irregular situations, reported the Independent. Naming LGBT Catholics in civil unions, Grech said:

“Our pastoral activity should be based on four actions – accepting, accompanying, discerning and integrating. The Pope tells us it is important that we help divorced people who are in a new relationship to feel part of the church, that they are not excommunicated or regarded as such, because they also form part of the ecclesiastical communion.”

Grech, whose record on LGBT issues is generally positive, encouraged church ministers not to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “torture chamber.” Instead, he said the church must engage people as people, not situations, and to “[be] mindful of the language you use.”

Yet despite Schönborn and others’ insistence that Amoris Laetitia represents a development of doctrine, especially in its respect for the complexities of family life today, not all bishops have treated it as such.

Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on new guidelines from Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput establishing general norms in the archdiocese that ban LGBT people from parish ministries and seek to deny Communion to Catholics in non-traditional families. You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement on these guidelines here.

Debates about Amoris Laetitia will certainly continue for months, if not years. What is important for LGBT Catholics and their advocates, however, is the growing admission by church leaders that doctrine can and has developed when it comes to family life. Opponents of same-gender sexual activity, relationships, and marriage equality frequently say church teaching is unchanging. But Cardinal Schönborn’s interview makes clear such a view is false, and that beyond the clear pastoral recommendations there are doctrinal implications, too. His voice possesses tremendous weight. He was the spokesperson at the April press conference that made Amoris Laetitia available to the public.  He appeared alongside a married Italian couple and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri, the Synod of Bishops’ secretary general.  In the 1990s,  Schönborn oversaw publication of the most recent edition of the Catechism.

The progressive changes sought by many Catholics on gender and sexuality issues were not accomplished in or by Amoris Laetitia. And Archbishop Chaput’s guidelines are evidence the document can and will be misinterpreted by church leaders who wish to suppress pastoral and doctrinal evolution. But there is tremendous hope in the reality that a growing number of church leaders are admitting change is possible, and even needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Accepts Resignation of Dominican Cardinal Infamous for Anti-Gay Remarks

July 6, 2016
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Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of a cardinal in the Dominican Republic whose anti-gay record has sparked repeated controversies on the island nation and beyond.

Like every bishop, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of Santo Domingo submitted his letter of resignation on his 75th birthday five years ago. Pope Francis has just accepted it and named his successor. Catholics and LGBT advocates alike have made repeated calls for the cardinal to retire since he began his high-profile anti gay remarks in 2013.

López has attacked LGBT communities, and specifically gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, on multiple occasions. He used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  Last December the cardinal said that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.”

López’s visibility has diminished since late 2015, referenced in Dominican media as “the cardinal’s lone silence.” His resignation now comes a day after Santo Domingo Pride celebrations concluded, and many LGBT advocates expressed relief. Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos told the Washington Blade“I feel a great piece of mind.”

López will be succeeded by Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macorís. Austin Ivereigh of Crux noted that, with this move, Pope Francis has appointed a “low-profile pastor from a small diocese” into the symbolically powerful position of Primate of the Americas.

Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta

Ozoria is not well known, even in the Dominican Republic. He acknowledged this fact to the media, saying “I’m sure this has been a surprise to you all. . .most surprised of all was me.” But he is above all a pastor, reported Ivereigh. He studied and then taught pastoral theology before becoming a parish priest and, later, a pastorally-oriented bishop. Ozoria identified himself as a “passionate follower of the Second Vatican Council, above all of the ecclesiology of communion” and invoked the Council’s affirmation of the universal call to holiness to stress how all baptized Catholics should participate in the life of the church. Leslie Torres, director of Televida, a Catholic television channel in the Dominican Republic, offered this description:

” ‘He’s a pastor who’s approachable, humble and straightforward, with a great capacity for listening and dialogue. . .[he is] able to look at his people with a big heart.’ “

LGBT advocate and politician Deivis Ventura also praised Ozoria. He called the archbishop-elect “a man who is known for his moderation and prudence in the management of religious and social issues,” reported the Washington Blade. Ozoria reflects the mixed-race identities of most Dominicans, and has controversially championed migrants’ rights. Ventura was certain the archbishop-elect “will show a distinct vision of the church.”

This shift in pastoral priorities is significant in at least three ways for LGBT Catholics in the Dominican Republic and abroad.

First, in accepting his resignation, the Vatican did not acknowledge the harm that Cardinal López has caused. There is no evidence this move is linked to his anti-LGBT behavior, a notable omission given its pattern and severity.  It is especially disappointing given Pope Francis’ expressed desire for the church to apologize to lesbian, bisexual, and gay people it has harmed.

Second, Pope Francis’ appointment of Archbishop-elect Ozoria emphasizes the pope’s commitment to church leaders who are foremost pastors serving God’s people, with love through dialogue. That Ozoria has a reputation for listening and dialogue, and was even welcomed by a prominent LGBT advocate are hopeful signs.  We hope this is another sign that the pope is intent on replacing hard-line conservatives with pastoral listeners.

Third, López’s resignation and Ozoria’s succession are positive steps, but they do not eliminate a Dominican hierarchy whose alienation of LGBT people, and specifically Ambassador Brewster, has been deeply problematic. Bishop Victor Masalles, an auxiliary of Santo Domingo, recently led protests against the Organization of American States’ meeting for its alleged promotion of “ideological colonization.” He said previously that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power,” sentiments echoed in the Dominican Episcopal Conference’s letter against the diplomat. A Catholic school in the capital posted three signs just before Holy Week this year announcing it had banned Brewster and his husband from campus.

These incidents reveal the deep wound that López’s lengthy tenure has afflicted on LGBT people and on the Dominican church. Thankfully, he has been removed from leadership, even though it could have been done sooner. Archbishop-elect Ozoria should begin a reconciliation process after being installed in September. He might start by listening to Pope Francis’ recommendation and offer an apology to those people the church under Cardinal López had hurt.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Fired Lesbian Teacher Wins Discrimination Case Against Catholic School in Italy

June 28, 2016
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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


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