With Christmas Approaching, Gay Cantor Is Fired from Parish Job


Jeffrey Higgins, right, with husband Robert

Just as we prepare for Christmas celebrations to begin, news has broken that yet another gay church worker lost his job because of marital status.

Jeffrey Higgins was fired last month from his cantor position at Mother Seton Church in Germantown, Maryland. The Washington Blade explained:

“Higgins told the Blade that Rev. Lee Fangmeyer, a pastor at the Montgomery County church, brought him into his office on Nov. 8 after a morning Mass and said ‘it had been discovered that I was gay and married.’

“Higgins said a family who worships at the church saw him and his husband at a local theater. He told the Blade the parishioners then went online and found pictures of his 2013 wedding in Connecticut on his husband’s Facebook page.”

Higgins refused the pastor’s request that the cantor resign and thus was fired from the parish. Higgins said that during his employment at the parish, he “felt rather accepted” and “didn’t think this would ever be a problem” in this community. Higgins is the fourteenth known church worker to lose a job in an LGBT-related dispute this year.

Higgins, raised Catholic, confessed his sexual identity fifteen years ago and was told by the priest then “this is the way God made [you].” He attended The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and it was there he met his husband, Robert Higgins, who told the Blade that his “faith in God and in the people of the church remains the same” despite some church leaders’ backward thinking.

The Archdiocese of Washington denied Higgins’ appeal for reinstatement in a letter from Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout dated December 7. The bishop said the cantor confirmed his marriage and therefore was disqualified as a liturgical minister because of the “potential for scandal that might lead people astray.” In another statement, the Archdiocese denied the firing was because of Higgin’s “sexual preference” and called his marriage a “public violation.” The fired church worker said he expected such a response, calling it “their standard response to discrimination” and “boilerplate.”

DignityUSA’s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke pointed out the darker side to this firing, namely the actions of the parishioners who saw Higgins and his husband at the movies. She told the Blade:

“Someone had to work very, very hard to uncover the truth of his situation, and then made several complaints to the pastor. . .This is harassment. I’d even call it persecution. Jeffrey was being actively targeted because he was a married gay man.”

Jeffrey Higgins’ firing is not the first case where anti-gay Catholics harassed LGBT church workers. Catholic institutions, including Catholic Relief Services, which forced the resignation of a gay vice president earlier this year when he was publicly outed by conservative critics, have bowed to the worst voices in our church and let the basest impulses dictate their actions.

Jeffrey Higgins should be leading congregations in song today and tomorrow, celebrating again the great mystery of the Incarnation. Instead, Higgins will celebrate Christmas with a greater understanding of the exclusion and harassment faced by the Infant Jesus in his earliest days. For LGBT church workers, there is too frequently “no room at the inn” but thankfully all are welcomed in and valued with Christ’s Coming anew.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

16 replies
  1. Don Larson
    Don Larson says:

    This story broke my heart, particularly because it happened at Christmas. I hope this young man and his husband do not lose heart. As a cantor his song to Our Lord, especially as the infant Jesus on His birthday, are of great worth. After all, isn’t singing praying twice? I certainly think so. At Midnight Mass today I will offer my Eucharist for Jeffery and Robert. I wish them a joyful Christmas despite the cross they bear and remind them how very much Jesus loves them. And I hope that Jeffery will still sing his heart out as his gift to baby Jesus.

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      Don, actually it happened six weeks ago – November 8 according to the story. It’s lousy to lose your job at any time, but it did not happen in this case at Christmas.

  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    Dear Jeffrey and Robert: You are loved by God as much as any one else. Don’t lose heart or faith . There are many Catholics who believe the Church’s leaders are on the wrong path. It may take the next generation of clergy to step away from hateful and judgmental statements and attitudes, but it will happen. What you are seeing in your parish is a pastor who has lost sight of his role. Let’s hope we are seeing the end of this exclusionary approach.

  3. Brendan Butler
    Brendan Butler says:

    We need courageous pastors to stand up to these self appointed’ moral guardians’. They are also active in Ireland when they found a favourable ear with the Bishop of Cork to prevent Fr. Tony Flannery from addressing addressing a gathering organised by the a parish pastoral council . Lord deliver us from evil

    Brendan Butler

  4. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    I am reminded of the words of Archbishop Romero. “You are not alone. Your suffering is Christ’s suffering. He is incarnated in you.”

  5. Cbensk
    Cbensk says:

    St Rose up the street doesn’t pay but you’d be welcome there if you can still go to Catholic Church. Otherwise UCC down on Clopper will extravagantly welcome you and your husband!

  6. M. Sala
    M. Sala says:

    It is so sad, but Herod still lives! Jeffery and Robert, don’t flee to Egypt, be strong in your love. You have a community that embraces and supports you. Sing the song of the angels and know your Savior not only is born, but lives and blesses you. The hurt will subside, but let the power of the injustice motivate you to continue your star-guided journey together. And yes, Merry Christmas.

  7. Vera Nugent
    Vera Nugent says:

    How very, very sad. Will the hierarchy ever listen to the words of Jesus in the Bible, His words of love with INCLUDE, not exclude. How sad that the “leadership” have lost their way.

  8. Larry
    Larry says:

    Worrisome especially in light of Pope Francis’ fading support for LGBT rights in the Church and civilly. I wonder why these self appointed watchdogs don’t investigate other parishioners who might be living together in sin, have had an abortion or divorced and remarried without an annulment etc. Sleuthing through public records could out these folks too. Obviously, they are just homophobes and sanctimonious to boot.

    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:

      Self appointed watchdogs is so true. I ran into people like this in a few parishes and church institutions. And usually they were too cowardly to talk directly to the person they were reporting. Instead, they took the sneaky way out. They were true snitches and tattletales. Unfortunately, clerics in higher places all too often listened to them and catered to their complaints.

  9. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    It is the archdiocese that is leading parishioners astray–discrimination, firing, harassing, spying–not of Christ. Catholics who love justice will not be able to support such horrific actions.

  10. Reese
    Reese says:

    From reading the article and the comments here, I can see that there is clarity of principles and force of mission. However, to simple refer to Catholic dogma as “….backward thinking’, clearly demonstrates a callous disregard – even an exclusive behavior – of the theological foundation of the Christian religion.

    The crux of the problem is a tough one: whether or not sexual acts, which lie outside of the realm of married, heterosexual relations, are a sin. Historical societies around the world have wrestled with this issue; making it, if nothing else, a subject that clearly has an argument embedded within, which has not gone away in some form of remediation satisfactory to the whole.

    Sins are forgiven where true repentance is valued and preserved, but for any self-proclaimed Catholic to assert that sin and repentance be reserved to their own held set of principles, and not that of the Church they assert obedience to, is to disregard and hold valueless the dignity of millions of Catholics and Christians of all persuasions who have embraced the historical, doctrinal foundation of the Christian religion.

    This is a tough one; where the positions taken are set deep within the subconscious of mankind. It might be best, if resolution is to be found that favors the inclusion of a broader sense of sexuality and marriage, that those committed to its advancement and acceptance, consider human dignity for all as likewise being something broader than the narrowness of their own principles.

  11. Fiona Bowie
    Fiona Bowie says:

    When will the Catholic hierarchy understand that the scandal is not two people who love one another choosing to marry but their homophobia, disrespect and lack of compassion.


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  1. […] fourteen church workers lost their job in LGBT-related employment disputes this year, including Jeffrey Higgins’ recent firing as a Maryland parish’s cantor. Nearly 60 church workers have lost their jobs since New Ways […]

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