In the same week that Catholics in Cincinnati are protesting new teacher contracts which prohibit employees from supporting LGBT issues, another lesbian employee has been fired from her employment as coordinator of social ministries at St. Francis Xavier parish, Kansas City, Missouri.
Colleen Simon is married to Rev. Donna Simon, a Lutheran pastor, and their marriage became public when the couple were mentioned in a local magazine article, according to Kansas City Star columnist Mary Sanchez.
Ms. Simon is a former Catholic and now a Lutheran. The newspaper columnist reported that she maintained a low profile about her marriage at the parish:
“Colleen Simon kept a don’t-ask, don’t-flaunt attitude. She said she told the pastor who hired her in July 2013 (he is no longer at the parish) of her marriage. But day to day, she avoided pronouns that would highlight it, substituting ‘my spouse’ or ‘my beloved.’
“ ‘You don’t want your legacy to be one of division and ugliness,’ she said. ‘It’s awful. But there are laws, and until that law gets changed in the church, it is what it is.’ ”
Sadly, the 58-year old woman, who is three years cancer-free from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, now has no health insurance and a remaining pile of healthcare bills.
Firings such as this one highlight that, despite Pope Francis’ admonition not to be “obsessed” with gay marriage, some church officials persist in this regard. Why are they so willing to raise church teachings about sexuality so high above other church teachings on the importance and dignity of work, the care for the vulnerable and the sick, the respect for the human conscience? Why isn’t support for laws which seriously threaten the lives and dignity of LGBT people, such as the new law in Uganda, a cause for dismissal. Or, closer to home, support for the death penalty or anti-immigrant policies?
One Cincinnati commentator has tried to frame the situation as a debate between secular culture (which is pro-gay) and Catholic teaching (which is negative on gay issues), but this is not the case. The real issue is that some church leaders see teachings about sex as the only ones that matter.
For example, the quality of education will probably decline in schools which fire LGBT teachers or adopt new contract clauses which are anti-gay. In Oakland, California, which this week became the latest diocese to institute new contract clauses about sexuality, one school department head predicts a talent drain from his faculty. SFGate.com reports:
Tim Newman, who has taught science at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland for 23 years, says some of his colleagues won’t sign a contract forcing them to be disingenuous. Others worry the contract gives the diocese a reason to discipline them for actions outside the classroom.
“I will lose good teachers in my department,” he said.
Huffington Post columnist Charles Reid agrees that intellectual quality will diminish if such policies continue to reign. He laments the fact that Catholic schools no longer probe into questions, and instead, concern themselves with culture war issues. Reid states:
“Catholic schools were once places where such questions could be openly pursued. But a culture war is ravaging the Catholic primary and secondary school systems of the United States, and as I survey the scene I am increasingly convinced that these skirmishes represent an actual threat to the health and integrity of Catholic schools.
“In saying this, I have in mind particularly the schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. For what has happened in Cincinnati is absolutely tragic.”
And beyond schools, the entire church stands to suffer. He offers Cincinnati as an example:
“Just as sadly, the health of the Catholic Church in Cincinnati has been in a downward spiral since Archbishop Schnurr assumed office. Consider some statistics: In 2008, the year he became coadjutor, there were 6,362 infant baptisms. In 2013, there 5,523 such baptisms, a decline of 13.20 percent. In 2008, there were 7,534 First Holy Communicants in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. And in 2013, there were 6,686, a decline of 11.25 percent. At the same time, overall population in the Archdiocese inched upward from around 2,988,000 to around 3,000,000. And these numbers do not yet reflect the impact of the recent, entirely unnecessary struggle over the future of Catholic education in the Archdiocese. One hopes it is not too late revise that contractual language.”
The new, restrictive contract clauses have caught the attention of New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who notes that though Pope Francis seems to be offering change, local bishops seem to be maintaining an oppressive status quo. Bruni quips:
“The more things change, the more they remain mired in libido and loins.”
Bruni highlights that the new clauses erase a long-standing tradition in Catholic schools:
“Faithful Catholicism has never been a condition of employment in most Catholic schools, which have Protestant teachers, Jewish teachers, teachers of no discernible religion. They know to be respectful. They know to be discreet. But they’re there to decipher the mysteries of algebra, to eradicate the evils of dangling prepositions. They’re not priests.”
And instead of clarifying things, the new clauses make for a more perplexing future. Cincinnati teachers are confused about potential legal problems, Bruni observes:
“They wondered why religion gets to trump free speech.
“They also wondered about run-of-the-mill political activity: Can a teacher be canned for attending a rally for a candidate who’s pro-choice? The contract suggests so.
“Does a Catholic-school teacher relinquish the basic privileges of citizenship? The contract raises the question.
“And what constitutes ‘public support’ of a Catholic no-no? If a teacher’s Facebook page includes photographs of her niece’s same-sex wedding, is that cause to be fired?”
Like Newman and Reid cited above, Bruni sees that the damage these policies will cause spreads far beyond the individual educators harmed:
“There are so many losers here: kids — many from the inner city — who depend on parochial schools that will now be drained of talent; younger teachers who can’t afford to quit and will carry an embittered attitude into their classrooms; Catholics everywhere, forced to wrestle anew with their church’s archaic fixations; church leaders, who have such a sad knack for driving people away. Isn’t that what Pope Francis was urging an end to?”
If these firings show anything, they show that the decades-long practice of obstinately refusing to acknowledge the presence of healthy and holy LGBT people in church communities and institutions is now causing havoc in dioceses. Pope Francis has shown a way out of these problems, if local bishops would only pay attention.
(New Ways Ministry continues to urge Catholics to begin conversations towards adopting non-discrimination policies in their parishes and schools, as a way to prevent firings. At the very least, such conversations will let Catholic leaders know that lay people do not want LGBT people and their supporters fired.)
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry