Of Church Firings, Catholic Columnist Asks: “Have you left no sense of decency?”

In calling the “outing” of LGBT church workers so that they will be fired a replay of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, The National Catholic Reporter’s columnist Michael Sean Winters may have launched the strongest statement yet opposing these tactics used by conservative Catholic organizations and the bishops who listen to their complaints.

Noting that we are approaching the 62nd anniversary of  Joseph Nye Welch’s famous retort to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s badgering of Welch’s colleagues–“Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”–Winters has resurrected this powerful response to bullying tactics to discuss the U.S. Catholic Church’s ongoing scourge of firing LGBT church workers, of whom a number had been living quiet lives until conservative groups reported them to bishops.

Winters writes:

“I bring Welch’s famous and unsordid intervention up this morning because yesterday LifeSiteNews published a story about yet another “report” from the Lepanto Institute, charging two employees of Catholic organizations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] and Catholic Relief Services [CRS], with supporting gay rights in their social media usage. I shall not link to the story nor shall I mention the names of the two employees: They have been victimized too much already. I will denounce both the “report” at Lepanto and their hand-in-glove relationship with LifeSiteNews for perpetrating this witch hunt.”

The statement of Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel of the U.S. Army, can be viewed here:

Lepanto Institute and LifeSiteNews are the organizations behind the forced resignations of Tony Spence, editor of Catholic News Service, and Rick Estridge, vice president of Catholic Relief Services.

Winters calls on the bishops to end the terror wrought by these groups:

“I do not know what will happen to the two latest victims of these attacks, but I do know what should happen. The leadership of the USCCB and of CRS should publicly condemn these attacks and let the employees in question know that their jobs are secure. Otherwise, the witch hunts will continue. Being a bystander or a collaborator is, or should be, a crime too, not just being the principal perpetrator.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

He even offers the bishops a concession, noting that the “outings” and firings are doing great damage to the bishops’ policies:

“Even if some bishops are sympathetic with the idea that promoting gay rights in one’s private time is an offense worthy of terminating employment, the bishops should at least recognize that they cannot tolerate these attacks and also make the claim that their opposition to gay rights is not bigoted. Whatever your thoughts on gay marriage or gay rights, no one can justify the kind of social and cultural climate that demanded gay people be closeted, and these outings are precisely an attempt to recreate that climate. What is more, the issue of religious liberty has moved on from the fight over contraception insurance to the fight over gay rights. If you really want to lose that fight, then fire these two employees and send the signal that you are willing to do the bidding of the Lepanto Institute and LifeSiteNews.”

Winters recounted President Dwight Eisenhower’s great error in refusing to confront McCarthy, reminding the bishops that they risk the same grievous error that Ike made:

“Whether Ike did the politically necessary thing, he did the morally corrupt thing, and the leadership of the USCCB and CRS both know enough moral theology to know that they should not do the morally corrupt thing, especially when it is also a politically stupid thing. Archbishop Kurtz [USCCB president] and Dr. Woo [CRS president] need to step up to the plate and confront this witch hunt. Both Archbishop Kurtz and Dr. Woo are rightly held in high esteem, but they did not liberate Europe, and failure to act will cost them much of that esteem in which they are held. They need to have a Joseph Welch moment now and if they fail to do so, their colleagues need to disassociate themselves from complicity in these McCarthyite tactics. The indecency of Lepanto and LifeSiteNews is there for all to see. They are willing to destroy other people’s lives. There is no concern for human dignity in these outings. Will the bishops and their organizations be complicit in these indecencies or not?”

This essay plainly names the tactics of these two conservative organizations use against LGBT church employees:  bullying.  Even more so, though, these organizations are also bullying the bishops into acting against not only Catholic moral teaching regarding human dignity and the meaningfulness of work, but also plain human decency.

The bishops’ ability to be effective, credible church leaders is at stake if they follow the path of witch hunts and bullying.

Thank you, Michael Sean Winters, for bringing these fear-mongering tactics into bold relief.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Bondings 2.0:  Bishops’ Employment Action Against Editor Has Troubling Consequences for U.S. Church

Bondings 2.0:  A Look Into What Drives the Conservative Public Policy of the USCCB

Bondings 2.0:  Tell Catholic Relief Services Not to Discriminate Against Gay Employee

11 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    Just to note: the reference to Joseph Welch, Roy Cohn and Sen. Joe McCarthy is problematic in multiple ways. (For the record, I was a kid when the hearings were “live” on TV, and I remember seeing them, even though I didn’t understand the politics.) In point of fact, Welch ACCUSED Cohn and McCarthy of being closeted homosexuals — he called them “pixies” –, and he used this public attack to try to shame and discredit them. Cohn was indeed later outed as being in fact gay. The situation with McCarthy’s sexual identity remains murky and unproved to this day — although (as I recall) he did marry a woman late in his life. But the gay-bashing tactics used by Welch cannot possibly be viewed as anything but shameful and disgraceful. A very full examination of the entire issue is readily available at this link:


  2. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    The bishops write the policies that say LGBT people should be fired – – and then say “their livew are against church reaching”.

  3. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    BRAVO Michael Winters! May your words echo through the halls of these Bishops and silence these right wing attackers.

  4. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    The right wing in the hierarchy are creating a climate of fear for all priests, nuns and employees of Catholic organizations. This is not OK with me. No one should be afraid to love justice and to call for it. I just read that Cardinal Dolan spent millions lobbying so that laws favoring sex abuse victims would not pass. Dolan once wrote a letter saying that just as people wash their hands before they come to the dinner, LGBT people should “wash their hands” (of sin) before entering his church. There is so much wrong here. I sometimes despair. My kids constantly ask me to justify having any connection to the church at all. What should I tell them?

    • lynne1946
      lynne1946 says:

      Only that we must work from within to effect change. The Church is good. It has been mis handled and mis led by fearful angry men, and we the people must lead it back to where it started, with love. Love is the soul of the Gospel, and must be the heart of the Church. As hard as it is sometimes to stay, I feel I have no choice. I’m a Catholic, and where else would I go to be Catholic? Pray for all of us!

      • lynne1946
        lynne1946 says:

        It is so difficult! First we had to face the contraception thing, then the divorce thing, Things that should be settled in families with the consultation of the family priest if needed. Now the LGBT problem, where we should be rejoicing that people have found love. I’m not sure sometimes who people think God is. Just this mean pinch faced person writing down every little fault, rather than the Grand, Open Heart of Love that we know Him to be.I do believe that the people are the church, and we must not allow ourselves to be driven out! Keep heart!

        • Barry Blackburn
          Barry Blackburn says:

          Well said! As adult believers our lives, even our Faith, is not lived outside of ourselves in structures or institutions. We are the Church and we must embrace with courage our responsibility as prophetic believers. Sometimes we find ourselves almost alone in this stance of our Faith.

  5. brianmhager
    brianmhager says:

    I grew up in the Catholic Education system. I learned about courage in the face of uncalled for bullying. This became especially poignant when I would enter the Seminary in 1979, then returned in 1994 after earning my BA in Comparative Religious Studies from the University of Florida. Everything I learned back then tells me this kind of behavior is wrong, even coming from the Bishops. After my mom died in 1996, I began to experience an intense anger as I finally came to grips with my own sexual orientation. I did not Come Out until 2010, after having spent 40 agonizing years in the Closet in a DIY effort to change who I was.

    I am left with only one conclusion. The reason for this continued unrelenting attack on the part of various elements of the Church hierarchy serves only one purpose: force us back into our closets so we will eventually repent of our “choice,” which it isn’t. And willingly enter into Conversion “therapy” programs to subject ourselves to Right Wing Bully tactics.

    I for one do not care one little bit, if never set foot back inside a normative RC Church again. I am currently worshiping with a local DIGNITY chapter, and if necessary will join the Episcopal Church.


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