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