In the last month, the number of LGBT-related employment disputes at Catholic institutions topped twenty for the year. Bondings 2.0 has been covering these stories, and today provides follow-up for several of them. You can find further details about each person’s story by clicking their name.
Barbara Webb was fired from Marian High School in August for becoming pregnant outside marriage. Supporters have sustained protests online, with nearly 70,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, and by rallying at the school. Now, the leadership of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters who sponsor the school have responded.
Oakland Press reports that IHM president Sr. Mary Jane Herb released a letter to the Marian community which did not directly address Webb’s firing. However, the letter promised a review of the school’s policies and said a team of consultants would intervene before future employment decisions are made in similar situations. Citing Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and inclusion, Sr. Herb also wrote:
“Our Church and Catholic schools are confronted with a complexity of issues that have not been faced in the past….These are challenging times and times in which we feel God’s Spirit is working with us, encouraging us to respond to the signs of the times in new ways.”
In response, organizers under the name “I Stand with Barb Webb” have begun a crowd-funding campaign, which hopes to raise $65,000 so that Marian H.S. can institute diversity trainings for staff and a diversity club for students. While the IHM Sisters’ offering is a start, it does not do justice for Barbara Webb or ensure LGBT firings will stop at Marian High School. Hopefully, through this learning process, school administrators and IHM leadership will come to see what Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has seen: that these firings “need to be rectified.”
In a news article in The Guardian, a legal specialist stated that firings like Webb’s are on shaky legal grounds:
“Dana Nessel, a Detroit attorney specialising in gay and lesbian civil rights issues, says that these cases ‘highlight the fact that there are no LGBT protections’ in these states. She says morality clauses often create legal jeopardy because they are often unclear and are applied indiscriminately.
“ ‘What these places need to do is outline and say ‘here’s what behavior we’re specifically talking about’. These places run into trouble when they don’t define what [morality] means,’ she says. ‘If the definition is ‘violating Catholic precepts’ then you better be consistent about it and it has to remain within the confines of federal and state law.’ “
St. Mary’s High School coach Nate Alfson bravely came out as gay in an article for OutSports this summer, telling LGBT youth to “Be you. Be true. Never forget that you matter.” It then surprised many when the Dell Rapids, South Dakota school did not fire Alfson. Sioux Falls diocesan spokesperson Jerry Klein said recently this outcome should not surprise anyone, and that the hierarchy’s teaching on chastity is key to understanding this decision. However, such a comment could imply that if Alfson dates or enters a civil marriage he would assuredly lose his job coaching.
Jill Callison, a columnist for the Argus Leader quoted Klein and commented on the import of his statement:
” ‘(L)iving a sexually active same-sex lifestyle, one that is not chaste, is not compatible with Church teaching,” the statement says. ‘The same is true for a sexually active, opposite-sex lifestyle outside of marriage. In either of these circumstances, employment or public ministry on behalf of the Church is not appropriate.’ ”
“Yet, Alfson is coaching the Cardinals volleyball team for the second year. Can we interpret that as a loosening of church rules? Even a little?
“Don’t go there, Klein essentially cautions, also declining to answer the question ‘what would Pope Francis do?’ What you should do, if you’re of a mind to rant about the Catholic Church, Klein advises, is to take a fresh look. He quoted the late Bishop Fulton Sheen, who said, ‘There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.’
” ‘Maybe this is an opportunity, a moment when people can take another look at what the church does teach,’ Klein said.”
Callison added a more cautionary note to Klein’s recommendation:
“Or maybe wait to see if Alfson returns as coach for a third year.”
Ben Brenkert’s story of leaving the Jesuits after ten years over injustices is spreading, after having been initially posted on Bondings 2.0. Brenkert had written an open letter to Pope Francis about the firing of LGBT church workers, specifically Colleen Simon, who was let go as food pantry coordinator at a St. Louis Jesuit parish. Now, his story has appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, The Advocate, and the Washington Post.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or click here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents made public since 2008 by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry