One-on-One Pastoral Care Is Not Sufficient for LGBT Youth

An editorial in the St. Louis archdiocesan newspaper has commented on the controversy which erupted two weeks ago at Nerinx Hall H.S., a Catholic school, when the Nerinx president turned down a request from students to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). The editorial’s headline, “One-on-one pastoral care suggested for adolescents with same-sex attraction,” summarizes its main point, and it also shows the main problem with policies which deny students the opportunity to have a GSA in Catholic schools.

While some, and perhaps many, LGBT youth need one-on-one pastoral care,  such a model should not be the only one offered to them.  The problem is that if this is the only assistance provided, the method itself sends a message: your sexual orientation is a private matter which you should only talk about in secret and confidential meetings with authority figures.  When this type of pastoral care is the only kind offered, it can foster, even if unintentionally, feelings of shame, fear, and alienation.

A more public model, such as a GSA, helps students to recognize that they are not alone, that they have peers with whom they can discuss these issues, that the topic itself is not a taboo. Moreover, such groups provide social experiences for youths who are at risk of feeling isolated and alone.  GSAs help not only LGBT youth, but heterosexual and cisgender students who may have a close friend or family member who is LGBT.

At the heart of the controversy at Nerinx Hall was the application of a set of guidelines for working with LGBT youth, entitled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those With Same-Sex Attraction,” that the Archdiocese of St. Louis had developed.  Again, the title belies a negative assumption about LGB youth by referring to them as having “same-sex attraction.”  Fr. James Martin, SJ, noted the problem of such terminology in the talk he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award.  He said:

“. . . [R]espect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . . .

“Names are important. Thus, church leaders are invited to be attentive to how they name the L.G.B.T. community and lay to rest phrases like ‘afflicted with same-sex attraction,’ which no L.G.B.T. person I know uses, and even ‘homosexual person,’ which seems overly clinical to many. I’m not prescribing what names to use, though ‘gay and lesbian,’ ‘L.G.B.T.’ and ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ are the most common. I’m saying that people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

In the editorial, an archdiocesan official defended the guidelines document, saying that the goal is to help youth:

“Kurt Nelson, superintendent of Catholic education for the archdiocese, said the very idea that students requested a club signals that they ‘want more help and support.’

While it may be true that the students want help and support, the fact that they requested a club indicates that the kind of help and support they want is peer socialization, not one-to-one counseling.  If they wanted the latter, that is what they would have requested.

The editorial continued:

“But Nelson also said that ‘just because you don’t have a club doesn’t mean you’re not providing help and support to kids.’ However, many factors need to be considered, such as the adults who will lead the group, as well as providing content that doesn’t contradict Church teaching, thus posing the threat of creating a public scandal.”

When a church official speaks of LGBT issues and uses phrases like “doesn’t contradict Church teaching” and “creating a public scandal,” I always assume that they are discussing issues of sexual ethics.  Of course, not providing sensitive pastoral care to LGBT people or actively discriminating against them both also contradict Church teaching, but I don’t think that these are what Nelson had in mind.  I may be wrong, but I’ve never heard an official use those terms in the ways I described.

If I am correct, then the big problem here is that the archdiocesean officials are only looking at LGBT issues as relating to sex.  They are avoiding things like stigma, oppression, alienation, repression, family difficulties, mental illness, self-loathing–all of which are frequently experienced by youth who have no support for their LGBT identity.  And these are all things which a GSA would help to mitigate.

The editorial noted correctly:

“The one-on-one approach also provides students an experience of accompaniment in many individual aspects of their lives, beyond the issue of sexual orientation.”

Yes, one-on-one is a much-needed form of ministry with LGBT people, especially youth.  But social opportunities, community-building, group prayer, and mutual peer support are also very needed.  GSAs can help provide that kind of ministry.  And their model of openness, honesty, trust, courage, and pride which they inspire are things that one-on-one ministry simply cannot provide.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 28, 2017

 

 

Bishops Take Note: Marriage Equality Linked to Decreased Youth Suicides

According to a new study, suicide attempts by youth have decreased where marriage equality is enacted. Such data should be a wake-up call for Catholic bishops rethink their strong opposition to equal civil marriage rights and LGBT rights more generally.

web1_suicide-stop2JAMA Pediatrics, a leading medical journal, published the study, “Difference-in-Difference Analysis of the Association Between Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts,” in its February 20, 2017 edition. PBS Newshour reported:

“The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

“But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.”

PBS noted that overall deaths by suicide for all populations have risen during the period surveyed by this study, 1999 to 2015. Led by Julia Raifman of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers compared suicide rates between states that had and had not passed marriage equality. She told PBS:

“Raifman told the [PBS] NewsHour she was interested in studying same-sex marriage laws ‘as a marker of equal rights in general,’ adding that other laws that pertain to LGBT rights — such as employment and housing protections — still vary widely around the country.

“The study noted that the laws themselves reflected larger social trends toward support for the LGBT community, a possible factor in the fall in suicide attempts. But Raifman said that the decrease was especially concentrated around the time that same-sex marriage laws passed.”

What is left unexplained is why the decrease in suicide attempts is correlated to marriage equality. Raifman suggested it could be mental health improvements that come with being considered equal in society or seeing more representations in public life of married same-gender couples. PBS reported further:

“The feelings of being accepted and connected to society have “a protective effect in relation to suicide risk, suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviors,” said Dr. Victor Schwartz, a chief medical officer of the JED Foundation who works to reduce youth suicide. Schwartz wasn’t involved in the study. . .

“‘[Stigma is] a real risk factor, a feeling that you’re at odds with your family or community. . .It’s very painful, and can be very frightening. You feel like you’re going to be left out on your own.'”

Dr. Brian Mustanski of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, said the wider literature shows “positive health effects of social policies that affirm and protect the equality of the LGBT community, and those positive benefits extend beyond LGBT individuals to the general population.”

Will these findings affect the way U.S. church leaders relate to LGBT equality? They should. Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, have led the opposition against marriage equality and LGBT rights generally. But their opposition, as many pointed out, has the potential of causing harm to LGBT people, especially youth. Given the fact that 15 youths in the United States die by suicide each day and that LGB youth have an attempted suicide rate four times the average, this approach is no longer tolerable, if it ever was.

The U.S. bishops promote pro-life activities, but most often limit these to abortion. Many Catholics question bishops’ real commitment to social justice. But if the bishops are indeed pro-life, then why have they shown so little regard for the lives of LGBT people? If this latest research, which shows how much good legal equality can have on the lives of LGBT youth, does not move their hearts to end campaigns against LGBT rights, then their pro-life admonitions will ring empty.

Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 reported about the Vatican’s effort to gather input directly from youth and young adults for the 2018 Synod of Bishops. Pope Francis and the Curia seem to have the right approach to engage youth, who are much more strongly aware of the need for LGBT acceptance, inclusion and justice. The U.S. bishops need to change their approach to LGBT rights not just for the good of sexual and gender diverse people, but because doing so will save lives and help youth flourish.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2017

 

After Trans Student Shot, Catholic School Shifts Course

A British Catholic school is attempting to make itself a safer space after a transgender girl student was shot with a BB gun by another student. Though the school has responded with some positive steps, this horrifying incident is a reminder of the urgency with which Catholic education needs to become safer for LGBT students.

safe-schools_0A transgender girl in Manchester, England, was shot by a classmate after months of severe bullying, and just two days after the girl’s mother met with school officials about a previous bullying incident.

G, a pseudonym for the 11-year-old girl, had endured five months of harrassment and threats, according to her mother, identified as A. Gay Star News reported:

“Last Monday, G’s mother A was called into school following a ‘distressing’ incident [wherein students had written a series of anti-transgender slurs on her notebook, which we have chosen to omit here]. . .

“The previous day, A said she had sent an email to staff about the escalating bullying. While she was bullied a little at primary, it got a lot worse when she joined secondary school. And she believes that email was ignored.

“‘Pupils have thrown water over her, spat at her, and kicked her to the ground. Not a day goes by without her being attacked, insulted or threatened with violence,’ her mother said.”

A said she told school officials that “something bad was going to happen,” and she faulted them for doing little to intervene against the bullying. When G was shot, her mother said the school did not notify A for over an hour. When she arrived at school, A found her daughter “extremely quiet, just shaking and not speaking.”

Though the physical harm was minimal, the emotional wounds of these incidents have left G in pain. She is unable to sleep because of nightmares, and she has vocalized thoughts about suicide. The family is seeking supports for her. A explained that it has been very clear since her daughter’s coming out that they would need to work hard to ensure G does not become one of the many transgender youth who die prematurely from violence or by suicide.

The Catholic school, which has gone unnamed in news reports, is now taking steps to educate students and staff towards creating a safer environment, reported the Manchester Evening News. The headteacher said the student who fired the BB gun has been expelled. In a statement, the headteacher said:

“The victim is a transgender pupil and sadly there have been incidents of bullying before this latest incident. We have worked with our pupils to respect and accept people of different sexual orientation and identities and will continue to do this. We have enlisted the support of a national organisation to help us further with our training of staff and pupils and support for our transgender pupils. We have met with the parents of the pupil to apologise and to see what we can do further as a school.”

These efforts have included inviting Stonewall, an LGBT organization in England, to do trainings for members of the school community. But school officials should not stop there or lessen their commitment to LGBT students. The mother was clear that the intense bullying G experienced is because of her gender, saying, “It is a hate of who she is and it is awful.”

At least one other British Catholic school has worked with Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s leading LGBT equality group, to make schools safer.  As Bondings 2.0 noted when we reported this news in 2013, such a relationship between a religious group and a secular group is a model for how the Church and the LGBT community could work together.

On a related note, a transgender student Mason Catrambone, who was rejected by a Catholic high school in New Jersey last year, recently began classes at a public school that welcomes him.

During National Catholic Schools Week in January, we featured an Australian gay man who thanked his Catholic school for helping him come out and feel affirmed. While this is not the experience of many LGBT Students, and certainly G has suffered greatly at a Catholic school, it is helpful to remember that the church’s education programs can be a source of tremendous good if done in welcoming and affirming ways.

For now, let us pray that G finds healing and can return, as she hopes to do, to her Catholic school — a place where, increasingly, every student is safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” will include a focus session on, “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions,” led by campus minister and researcher Michael Maher.  We will also host a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Ray Dever, Lexi Dever, and Nicole Santamaria. The symposium is scheduled for April 28–30, 2017, in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

Gay Alum Thanks Catholic School for Being “A Haven” for Him

National Catholic Schools Week begins today in the United States, a celebration of the church’s educational programs. In past years during this week, I have written about the need for Catholic schools to increase their supports of LGBTQ youth. You can read those commentaries here, here, and here. But this year, I want to highlight an Australian writer’s story about the good an inclusive Catholic school can do for LGBTQ students.

13-1420csw_logo_circle_cmykIn The Sydney Morning Herald, Joel Meares wrote about a new movement in Australia, Equal Voices, in which Christians are apologizing for the harm done by churches to LGBT people.of his gratitude for the Catholic school he attended, a place he called “a haven.” He elaborated on this topic by describing his childhood experiences with the people of faith:

“And yet the apology comes as no surprise to me. The Christians in my life – those in the pews who don’t make, nor seek, headlines – have been some of the most supportive people I’ve known. Of course they want to say sorry: it’s the Christian thing to do. . .As some of them get ready to say sorry this March, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you.”

Meares shared about his time at the Catholic school, a place he landed because his parents did not want to send their children to public schools but could not afford more elite private schools. While the family was not religious, Meares said, “from Monday to Friday I was an evangelistic little Tracy Flick, biro in hand and halo on head.” He continued:

“I was also very gay. I didn’t realise this at the time – I was quite late to my own coming-out party – but I already ticked all of the cliche boxes. . .If my teachers had eyes and ears, they knew I was different. And these same teachers – not members of the clergy, but many of them laypeople of deep faith – were profoundly nurturing of that difference. . .And I was always protected.”

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Joel Maeres

No longer a practicing Catholic, except for “when I have to get up for the Eucharist at a wedding,” Meares remains grateful for the way he was educated by the church. He wrote:

“But I’ve always liked core Christian values, particularly the simple ‘golden rule’ I was taught back in [kindergarten]: ‘Treat others the way you like to be treated.’

“I know it’s not everyone’s story – and I know others whose time at religious schools was far less rosy – but I was able to grow up different and safe and proud because the people around me also subscribed to that idea.

“I don’t see much of that sentiment when I scan the statements of church leadership when it comes to LGBTQI issues today. But the Equal Voices apology is a reminder of the kinds of Christians who helped shape me growing up. These people put into quiet practice so much of what is beautiful about the religion, and did very little preaching as they went.”

These last words mirror a statement made recently by the head of Scotland’s Catholic school system, who said the church’s educational programs were to “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel.” Sadly, for too many LGBTQ students, faith-affiliated schools are places where they experience the Gospels being preached more than practiced. Either through direct harm or not providing adequate supports, Catholic schools have too often failed to be safe places.

This year’s theme for National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Joel Meares’ positive story gives educators a source of inspiration for what can be achieved when Catholic education is done well and inclusively, inviting students to faith, educating them well, and instilling in them Christian values.

Ultimately, the goal should be for every LGBT student who passes through the Catholic education system to be able to offer a story of gratitude similar to Joel Meares’ experiences.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 29, 2017

New #LGBTmercy Campaign Focuses on LGBT Catholics’ Good Works

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 2, 2016

LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies are gathering in New York City today for a “Pilgrimage of Mercy.” And around the world every day, LGBT Catholics perform works of mercy for the needy in their communities.  These works sometimes get overlooked by church leaders who don’t take notice of the good that LGBT people do. #LGBTmercy, a new campaign by New Ways Ministry, highlights the many ways by which LGBT Catholics and those who support them act mercifully.

Today’s Bondings 2.0 post invites readers to participate in this campaign, while also highlighting one lesbian woman whose Catholic roots have propelled her to do good.

#LGBTmercy

Building on the Vatican’s #BeMercy initiative in early September, which asked Catholics to share information about the works of mercy they perform, #LGBTmercy recognizes the many gifts and contributions which LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies offer to the church and to the world.

You are invited to participate in this campaign in three ways:

  1. Post on social media the acts of mercy yourself or others have done and use the hashtag #LGBTmercy
  2. Submit photos and/or text about the acts of mercy yourself or others have done to info@newwaysministry.org.
  3. Send this blog post to your family and friends, and ask them to help spread the good news of #LGBTmercy

New Ways Ministry will begin posting photos, videos, and text submissions in early November, leading up to  Christ the King Sunday, November 20th,  when the Year of Mercy concludes.

One Lesbian Woman’s Story

Covenant House, a leading non-profit with Catholic roots that aids youth experiencing homelessness, has named a lesbian woman as interim director of its newest shelter, which is located in Chicago, reported the Windy City Times.

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Teresa Cortas

Teresa Cortas, who herself has Catholic roots, began working with Covenant House after graduating college. She spent a year in Anchorage, Alaska, and then Los Angeles, before eventually ending up in Chicago. There, she worked with homeless populations and with HIV-positive women and children for nearly two decades.

Early on, Cortas worked with youth around her age who were questioning their sexual identity and some who had suffered for coming out. She had journeyed herself, and explained that in adolescence church teachings had “essentially ‘shut down’ the exploration of her own sexuality.” Cortas grappled with questions of faith and sexuality while attending The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,saying:

” I was sorting out what my attachment was to the faith. . .as opposed to ‘is there a faith separate from the church and, if so, what does that look like?’ I lived a lot in my head. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I really began to realize who I was. Prior to that, even though I was approached by many women, it never really occurred to me.

“Then it was conversations of ‘God punishing drug addicts and homosexual men’. . .At the time, I was confused because you could have said the same thing about God giving a person cancer to punish who they were. I was also intrigued to find out more about the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic.”

Cortas eventually came out to her traditionally Catholic family, her parents expressing concern she would get HIV/AIDS or be damned for leaving the church. While she no longer identifies as a practicing Catholic, Cortas still struggles with being forced to leave because “the church has asked me not to be” a member.

Years later, Cortas’ connections with the church have made possible a Covenant House shelter in Chicago. She knew President Kevin Ryan from college and had connected with former president Sr. Mary Rose McGeady. DC, in her earlier work. Cortas pushed them to bring a shelter to Chicago, and now that it has finally happened, she expressed hope and readiness about this new venture:

“Is it going to be an easy process? Not at all. . .I think Chicago has extraordinary youth agencies. My experience with them has been phenomenal. The problem is there is not enough. There is not enough space. The number of homeless kids . . . is astonishing and unacceptable and we have to do something about that.”

Cortas added that it “takes a lot of courage for us to be something other than our families. . .I don’t think enough LGBT [people] realize that. But when you do, you can really begin to fight.”

 

Alberta’s Catholic Schools Receive Poor Grades on LGBT Policies

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Results from “Making the Grade” report

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 18, 2016

Catholic school districts in Alberta received poor grades for their LGBT policies, according to a new report from the organization “Public Interest Alberta.”

Professor Kristopher Wells authored the report, “Making the Grade,” after conducting an analysis of the LGBT policies for four school districts. Wells, who directs the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, studied the Grand Prairie Catholic Schools and the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools as part of the report. The Edmonton Journal reported further:

“Wells evaluated four policies based on six criteria, including whether it complied with provincial legislation, protected students and staff members’ privacy, and spelled out how schools will support transgender and non-binary people.

“He said shortcomings include apparent restrictions on requesting gay-straight alliances in some Catholic school districts. Grande Prairie and St. Albert Catholic districts both have policies saying the groups will ‘normally’ be established at the Grade 7-to-12 levels, that the principal has to agree to the club’s name, and must approve any material going before the group.

“The report also said some districts did not include protections for students’ families or staff who are gender diverse, and failed to spell out how transgender people will be directed to bathrooms or change rooms, and join sports teams.”

Both Catholic districts received a D, but have pushed back against Wells’ report. Karl Germann, superintendent of Grand Prairie Catholic Schools, said the provincial Ministry of Education had approved its policies on inclusion. Germann said students are “loved and cared for,” in addition to legal compliance. David Keohane, superintendent of Greater St. Alberta Catholic School District, claimed the report was incomplete.

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Professor Kristopher Wells

Wells criticized the lack of a unified policy in the province, which makes finding and understanding a given district’s policies on gender and sexuality confusing. He told the Edmonton Journal:

” ‘Unequivocally, any student who walks through any school in this province should be entitled to the same supports, the same resources, the same protections regardless of where they go to school.’ “

Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, suggested the Ministry of Education post every district’s policies in a central and accessible place.Every school system in Alberta had to submit their LGBT policies for review last March. Thus far, the Ministry and Minister David Eggen have not released which districts have LGBT policies which are legally compliant and which are insufficient.

In related news, the leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party, David Swann, has said school districts which do not meet new LGBTQ standards should potentially have their funding and charters withdrawn. He told CBC:

” ‘The legislation, supported by every provincial party, and the policies set forth by the government, were created to provide kids with the right to be who they are. . .No organization, especially a school, should have the ability to take those rights away.’ “

Swann also said reparative therapy should be banned. His comments come after a Baptist leader said LGBTQ policies should and would be refused as they violate religious freedom.

Disputes about implementing policies supportive of LGBTQ students in Alberta have been ongoing for two years now. All 61 districts in the province submitted draft policies last March, but preceding these submissions there were debates in several Catholic systems. Particularly intense were disputes among the Edmonton Catholic School Board, whose meetings erupted in shouting and eventually necessitated outside mediation.

Alberta’s bishops weighed in, too, with one describing the LGBT guidelines as “totalitarian,” though the bishops eventually met with Minister Eggen. It should also be noted that the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District has spent nearly $400,000 defending its discriminatory firing of transgender teacher Jan Buterman.

The disputes in Alberta have been detrimental to students, faculty, parents, the church, and the wider community. Wells’ failing grades for these two districts may be deserved, but they should not be the case. Catholic education should receive straight A’s when it comes to welcoming and supporting its students–especially LGBTQ students. The good news is that it is never too late to reverse bad policies and renew a commitment to ensuring every student can flourish in Catholic schools.

 

 

Officials Placed on Leave After Catholic School Fired Lesbian Educator

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President James Vail

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 16, 2016

Top officials at a Catholic high school which fired a lesbian educator have been placed on leave, according to the Archdiocese of Newark, though why this has happened is unclear.

Paramus Catholic High School President James Vail and Principal Stephanie Macaluso were placed on leave Monday amid uncertain circumstances. Archdiocesan spokesperson Jim Goodness only referenced a “personnel matter,” reported NJ.comand said top archdiocesan education officials would be supervising the school for now.

There is speculation, however, that the removal of Vail and Macaluso may be tied to the firing of lesbian educator Kate Drumgoole. The Record reported that some students suggested Vail and Macaluso had supported the educator against the Archdiocese. Drumgoole was fired last January after an estranged family member leaked to school officials photos of the educator’s wedding to her wife, Jaclyn Vanore.

The Archdiocese may have influenced the decision to fire Drumgoole. Archbishop John Myers is on record supporting the dismissal, saying the educator’s marriage could “create confusion and uncertainty in the moral formation” of students. His Vicar General said the couple’s marriage was “odious.”  But Goodness pushed back against this most recent personnel decision and Drumgoole’s firing, saying, “If you try to link everything together it might not be accurate.”

Christine Robert, a parent at Paramus Catholic, said the handling of this incident “shocked and unnerved” her:

” ‘Once again the archdiocese manages to mismanage a situation and create friction with the very people who spiritually and financially support it. . .All we want is a little respect. We know because of privacy laws that they can’t give details, but give us an idea of what’s going on.’ “

The firing became public in August when Drumgoole filed a lawsuit against the school and archdiocese, and an alumni letter supporting her received more than 3,000 signatures in just a day. Later, Fr. Warren Hall was suspended from priestly ministry in part because of his public support for Drumgoole and LGBT Catholics. They are among the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2008.

Like other church worker incidents, the firing at Paramus Catholic has caused divisions in the community and harm to those involved. Commentaries have sharply criticized the school and the archdiocese, pointing out that while the school may be legally exempt from state non-discrimination laws, it is not exempt from the New Testament.

Transparency is a prerequisite for justice and reconciliation to be possible, and placing top administrators on leave without any explanation only hinders that cause. It would be especially tragic if more church workers lose their jobs for defending a peer against unjust discrimination. The Archdiocese of Newark should clearly and publicly explain why President Vail and Principal Macaluso have been placed on leave tor the good of all involved, the Paramus Catholic community, and the credibility of the church.