When the topic of religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws comes up, some people will argue for such measures,citing religious liberty of church institutions. However, what often goes unnoticed in such a discussion is the effect on human beings who are affected by such exemptions.
The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia recently published a story in which the reporter interviewed lesbian and gay people who work in Catholic schools, and who, because their employers are allowed to discriminate, must live lives of secrecy and fear.
The stories are heartbreaking:
“When they first moved in together, Mike and his partner, who were both Catholic school teachers in Sydney, took some unusual steps to conceal their sexuality.
” ‘We set up our house with two bedrooms so if any colleagues came over we could pretend we were just flatmates,” he said.
“Mike now works in an independent school, where he is open with staff, though not students, about his sexuality. His partner, who still works in the Catholic system, is more guarded.
” ‘He’s not able to take a day off work if I am sick. He has to be very guarded as to who he reveals his lifestyle to.’ ” . . . .
“Daniel Torcasio openly discussed his male partner with colleagues while working as a teacher at a Melbourne Catholic boys school, but hid the truth from students: ” ‘They want to know about your life and what you’ve done on the weekend … there was one stage where I referred to my male partner as she or her … I remember thinking “I’m an adult here and I’m lying”.” He too chose to leave eventually.”
What is worse, though, is an almost cavalier approach to the problem that Catholic officials seem to take. Instead of acknowledging the complexity of the situation, one such official has tried to make it a case of black and white clarity:
“Greg Whitby, executive director of schools with the Parramatta Diocese, said expectations of Catholic schools were clearly communicated to applicants and that teaching contracts featured clauses stipulating employees ‘adhere and observe the principles and moral standings and teachings of the Catholic Church.’ ”
Such an attitude of clear-cut simplicity does not to service the variety of elements involved in such a situation: the faith of the employee, the desire to be of service, the emotional and spiritual needs of the individual, the opportunity for betterment that a school could have, to name a few.
Our church needs more leaders who are more pastoral in their approach, evaluating all of the factors involved in the situation. We certainly don’t need leaders who are bureaucrats.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry