“Pope Francis’ positive and welcoming statements about LGBT issues have captured headlines and imaginations over the past year, seeming to herald a more inclusive Catholic church. Yet…In the last year or more, the Catholic church in the US witnessed a disturbing spate of Catholic institutions terminating individuals’ employment because of issues related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
That paradox is how Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, begins an essay in Conscience magazine which explores the firings of LGBT people and their allies from Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies. (You can read the entire article by clicking here, and turning to page 26. The article is part of a special issue of Conscience which focuses on religious liberty issues. Conscience is published by Catholics for Choice.)
These tragedies are increasing, from two public firings in 2011 to more than a dozen already this year. As LGBT rights, especially marriage equality, advance in the US, this problem could grow rapidly. DeBernardo explains one reason for this increase:
“The era of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in Catholic institutions is ending as LGBT people become known by the fact of simply living in mainstream society.”
Tied into employment disputes are questions of religious liberty and social justice, and the reality that excluding LGBT people from Church ministries is not supported by the faithful. DeBernardo notes:
“Religious liberty becomes a factor in these cases because all institutions that have fired LGBT people and supporters have used their identity as religious organizations to justify their discriminatory actions…In most cases, institutions are favored by the law…
“While most of these employers’ actions may be protected by the law, they are not supported by morality. In almost every one of these cases when someone has been fired, Catholic people have strongly protested. The fact that many of these cases happened in schools means that the younger generation, which is more progressive on LGBT issues than their forebears, has organized petitions and active protests…A movement of Catholics outraged by their leaders’ decisions and strategies has emerged…
“All these policies and actions are rooted in the Catholic social justice tradition: a tradition that values equality, human dignity, conscience and the rights of workers.”
To counter these firings, New Ways Ministry has encouraged the adoption of nondiscrimination policies by Catholic institutions which are inclusive of “marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation.” DeBernardo says of this effort:
“At the very least, proposing such an idea in a parish or a school will generate discussion of the issue, and perhaps help to forestall future terminations. At best, a Catholic workplace may adopt policies protecting LGBT rights. As strange as a Catholic work environment that does not discriminate against LGBT individuals may sound to some, it is not such a far-fetched idea. Indeed, there is a strong Catholic tradition of such support.”
Included within this tradition, DeBernardo cites St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York which protected gay employees as early as 1973. Now, Catholic institutions for healthcare and for higher education lead the way in extending full protections and benefits to LGBT people and their families.
There are hopeful signs elsewhere that resisting these firings is possible, and DeBernardo includes actions in Seattle, Santa Rosa, Clifornia, Vienna, Austria, and elsewhere as evidence. There is also the reality that “students have been almost unanimously opposed to the firings,” causing DeBernardo to observe:
“For this generation, LGBT equality is most assuredly one of the civil rights issues of today. It’s hard for them to imagine anything as discriminatory as firing a lesbian or gay person for marrying will still occur when they become adults.”
These firings are damaging not only those immediately affected, but the larger Church, as well. For one thing, the Church is weakened without gifted LGBT and ally employees. And the hierarchy risks further alienating youth who are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT equality.
In addition to promoting nondiscrimination policies, New Ways Ministry has been tracking each public firing on our “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page. Each person is fired has been listed there with includes links to more information for each incident. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating readers with the latest information on these employment incidents as they emerge. To stay up to date, enter your email in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand of this page. You can research all of these firings and related topics by checking out the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry