Firing LGBT teachers from Catholic schools must stop, says a National Catholic Reporter columnist, at the same time that the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s disputed teaching contract controversy nears resolution.
Jamie Manson, award-winning NCR columnist, recently called for the firings to end because it feels “like every week brings a new story” about these troubling incidents.
Citing the expulsion of Margie Winters from Waldron Mercy Academy near Philadelphia, Manson highlighted a central issue in so many of these employment disputes:
“Even a Catholic institution that strives to be inclusive and nurturing can’t protect an LGBT employee. As long as Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that same-sex relationships are sinful and a violation of God’s plan for humanity, LGBT employees will not be safe in their jobs in Catholic institutions.”
Indeed, in the more than fifty LGBT-related employment disputes made public since 2008, many involved church worker whose relationships were known by employers and co-workers for years. Then, when complaints are filed or these relationships become “too public,” schools fail the Gospel and expel teachers out of fear for the institutions’ own well-being:
“While not saying it explicitly, [Waldron Mercy principal Neil] Stetser’s letter strongly suggests that a serious threat was looming over Waldron Mercy if they refused to fire Winters. Though few Catholic schools will go public about it, the truth is that many of them are forced to fire LGBT employees because the presiding bishop threatens to revoke their canonical status.
“According to Canon 803 §3, ‘No school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.’ That ‘competent ecclesiastical authority’ is the bishop who presides over the diocese in which the school is located, even if a religious community sponsors the school.
“A loss of canonical status would, of course, have financial repercussions, such as the loss of funding or even the loss of the school’s property. Even more tragically, it has sacramental consequences. It is unlikely that the Eucharist or the sacrament of reconciliation could be celebrated at the school, for example.”
Given that Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput said he was “grateful” Winters was fired and the decision showed “character and common sense,” his evaluation of the school’s decision is clear. Yet, Manson points out that such “bullying” of school officials into discriminatory acts is not the worst part of this situation. The “darker irony” is school officials choosing to prove Catholic identity by “destroying an LGBT employee’s livelihood.”
Manson suggested a way forward that all Catholic schools should seriously consider lest no change happen in this increasing trend:
“It is time for us to encourage school leaders, both religious and lay, to refuse to comply with demands that they fire LGBT employees. . .
“Why, then, not call the bishops’ bluffs? Imagine the pushback and negative press a bishop would get if he stripped a Catholic school of its identity for refusing to fire an LGBT employee. Imagine the momentum that could be built and the empowering precedent it could set for other schools facing the same turmoil. . .
“For the sake of the integrity of our church and the future of Catholic education, it is time to defy the threats and bullying, have the courage of our convictions, and refuse to perpetuate this injustice inside the walls of our Catholic schools.”
Manson’s call comes as teachers in San Francisco’s Catholic high schools reach a tentative agreement in a months-long dispute, though this has not softened fears that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone will not end his campaign on their private lives. Proposed language, yet to be voted on by the teachers, includes phrasing that ties teachers’ personal conduct to their professional position though some protections for teachers were introduced as well. The contracts are not, however, a done deal, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
Manson argues convincingly that these church worker firings must stop, given the tremendous harm they cause and the hypocrisy exhibited. The voices of those fired speak powerfully to this need too. Margie Winters described her expulsion as “like a death” in a recent Crux report.
Too many Catholics and those affiliated with the schools feel similarly when such injustices occur. Regular readers of this blog will remember the growing response by affected communities who organize and resist when discrimination occurs, but such outcry is still not stopping new disputes.
The firing of LGBT church workers must end, and we must all do our part to answer Manson’s call by ensuring ecclesial institutions protect their workers and will find support among the People of God if they stand firm against a bishop’s discriminatory desires. A first step? Consider implementing an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Winters and San Francisco stories and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ group to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry