Lesbian Teacher Reinstated in German School, As Georgia H.S. Band Director Wins Employment Case

Germany’s bishops at Mass during a conference gathering

The trend of church workers losing their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes is not slowing, but thankfully community responses and legal improvements are pushing back. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers updates on previous incidents, including the implementation of a German bishops’ employment policy more welcoming of LGBT church workers.

A German educator fired for her plans to marry a woman will return to her position as head of a Bavarian kindergarten, aided by a new church employment policy released by that nation’s bishops earlier this year.

The policy, which went into effect on August 1, was approved in May by 23 of 27 dioceses, reported the National Catholic Reporter, and will affect 700,000 workers. It cautions against firing LGBT or divorced and remarried church workers, and the policy was warmly welcomed by Cologne’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki at the time.

In a more recent interview, Hamburg’s newly appointed Bishop Stefan Hesse spoke positively about same-gender relationships:

“We must have an eye on the diversity of present lifestyles in today’s society. . .[if LGBT couples] seek us out, we must of course be here for them.

“What is their image of the church, I wonder? . . .Do we want to be a church that has its place in the middle of the world and take part in people’s lives in order to take as many people as possible with us, or do we want a ‘church of the pure,’ without any existential difficulties or breakdowns? That would be a very, very small flock indeed, with little contact with the world around it.”

However, not all bishops will be implementing this new policy, like Bishop of Stefan Oster of Passau who received a letter from twenty priests there “deploring his decision not to adopt the new law.” Civil marriage equality is not legal in Germany, but recent developments are inching the country closer against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s objections.

In the United States, fired teacher Flint Dollar settled a discrimination suit against Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, reported Valdosta Today. School officials fired the band director in May 2014 after Dollar’s engagement to his now-husband became known to them.

An investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Dollar had “reasonable cause” to claim discrimination because he was gay. The EEOC rejected school claims that Dollar was fired for failing to adhere to church teaching on marriage, citing a nondiscrimination policy in the employee handbook inclusive of sexual orientation and marital status.

Following the firing last year, parents, students, alumni, and friends at the Sisters of Mercy-sponsored high school took action on social media and launched a petition in defense of Dollar, but those pleas were ignored. Thankfully, the judicial system allowed some justice in this case where, we previously noted, legal ironies abound. To read previous coverage of Dollar’s case, click here.

With marriage equality now legal nationwide, American bishops should look to Germany for guidance on church employment and stem the crisis of LGBT-related firings. These firings are “bringing out the worst in the leadership, and its bringing out the best in the people,” said New Ways Ministry’s director, Francis DeBernardo, in an Associated Press article published on Crux.  

In a separate article published on The Huffington PostDeBernardo predicted a bleak future for Catholic institutions if firings continue:

“If Catholic bishops here in the U.S. do not do something to stop these firings, which they have often sanctioned and directed, the future of Catholic institutions — parishes and schools — is dismal as more and more people become disaffected with a church leadership which does not practice justice.”

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category 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

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