If Marriage Equality Becomes Law, Archbishop Threatens to Fire Married Gay and Lesbian Church Workers

An Australian Catholic archbishop has threatened to fire any church employee that enters into a same-gender marriage, should the option for such a marriage become legal soon in that nation.  The threat comes as Australia prepares to host a postal plebiscite which could result in the country’s Prime Minister calling for a vote on the measure in Parliament.  [Bondings 2.0 reported on the plebiscite last week, and you can review that post by clicking here.]

The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Archbishop Denis Hart

“Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart. . . pointedly warned the church’s 180,000 employees they were expected to uphold its teachings ‘totally,’ and defiance would be treated ‘very seriously.’ “

” ‘I would be very emphatic that our schools, our parishes exist to teach a Catholic view of marriage,’ he said. ‘Any words or actions which work contrary to that would be viewed very seriously.

” ‘Our teachers, our parish employees are expected totally to uphold the Catholic faith and what we believe about marriage. People have to see in words and in example that our teaching of marriage is underlined.’ “

Hart is the chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  His remarks were supported by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, chair of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education.

Hart’s comments highlight the skewed view that some prelates have taken about the question of same-gender marriage.  Does he really think that a Catholic view marriage is the main reason that Catholic parishes and schools exist?  Don’t they also exist to teach salvation, God’s love, justice in the world, respecting the equality of all, and so many other things?  When did marriage become the litmus test for authentic Catholicism?

Does he really believe that church employees must “totally uphold the Catholic faith”?  What about other employees whose lives do not reflect church teaching on charity, on kindness, on justice for the oppressed, on care for the poor, not to mention many other sexuality issues?

Fr. Frank Brennan

While religious liberty protections may allow the Catholic hierarchy the freedom to fire such employees, that doesn’t mean that they must do so.  That’s the position of Fr. Frank Brennan, an Australian priest who is the chief executive of Catholic Social Services Australia.  Writing in The GuardianBrennan defended the hierarchy’s right to fire married lesbian and gay employees, but he recommended that they shouldn’t.  Speculating that the nation will legalize marriage equality, he wrote:

“Once the Marriage Act is amended, should a church school be able to decline to offer married quarters to a teacher in a same sex marriage? I would answer ‘yes,’ though I would hope a church school would be open to the employment of a gay teacher living in a committed relationship. Equally I would continue to allow a church school to make a free choice as to who best to employ as a teacher.

“Given the lamentable history of homophobia, I would think a good church school would be pleased to employ an openly gay teacher who respects and espouses the school’s ethos. Free choice is often better than legal prescription when trying to educate in the ways of truth and love.

“Should a church aged care facility be able to decline to offer married quarters to a couple who had contracted a same sex marriage? I would answer ‘yes,’ though I would hope a church facility would be open to providing such accommodation in Christian charity if it could be done in a way not to cause upset to other residents. After all, same sex marriage is a very modern phenomenon and I would favour ongoing tolerance of the residents in aged care facilities run by a church, wanting to live out their last days with individuals and couples in relationships such as they have long known them.

“However, even in Catholic aged care facilities, we need to admit that not all couples are living in a church recognised marriage, and it is no business of other residents to know if they are. We need to allow everyone time to adapt with good grace, provided only that we can be certain that appropriate services are available elsewhere if a church feels unable to oblige on religious grounds.

[Editor’s note:  Brennan first publicly supported marriage equality in 2013.]

Brennan’s argumentation points out a dimension sorely lacking in Hart’s statements:  situations are complicated and often involve intersecting values that must be weighed.  Why don’t Catholic leaders consider the other demands and truths of church teaching such as charity and justice? Why does sexuality have to trump all other Catholic values?

In addition to Brennan, another Catholic leader has indicated that the archbishop’s threats may not be enacted.  The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Suzanne Greenwood

“Catholic Health Australia, the country’s largest non-government, non-profit health group, distanced itself from those threats.

“Chief executive Suzanne Greenwood . . .[said] she would not expect doctors and nurses to adhere so strictly to the church’s teachings, though conceded it may be different for teachers.

” ‘We’re not converting people to Catholicism,”‘ she said. ‘It’s not really relevant to the jobs people are performing within the care environment at a hospital or an aged care facility.

” ‘It’s not like people are currently screened [for sexuality or marital status]. I would see absolutely no reason why that would change.’ “

Terry Laidler

And Terry Laidler, a psychologist who is a former priest, took a more pointed stand against the threats to gay and lesbian employees.   In an essay for The Sydney Morning Heraldhe wrote:

“Consistent the archbishops may be, but they are entirely out of touch with society generally, and with their own staff and people.

“Hart and Costelloe should not be surprised at the cries of hypocrisy that have echoed in mainstream and social media when they have appeared to threaten people’s livelihoods like this while those in leadership positions like theirs have previously proved inept or craven in ridding the very same institutions of child predators.”

Part of the archbishops being “out of touch,” Laidler pointed out, is that 60-70% of Australian Catholics support marriage equality.  And worse than being out of touch, is the harm that the archbishops’ words can have:

“. . . .[T]hey appear so lacking in insight into how their words would affect a young LGBTI man or woman considering contributing to our nation as a teacher.”

The possibility exists that in at least one part of Australia, Tasmania, married lesbian and gay church employees would be protected against discrimination and firing.  NT News reported:

“Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said the state’s anti-discrimination laws meant the church and other religious organisations would not be able to sack employees in a same-sex marriage if the latter was legalised.

” ‘Tasmanian law makes it very clear that there can be no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or relationships status, including in faith-based schools or hospitals,’ Mr Croome said.”

The Catholic Church should not have to be coerced by civil law to practice fairness and equality.  Those values should spring from the hearts and souls of Catholics, and we hope they would spring especially so from their leaders.   As Bondings 2.0 has reported before, the German bishops have found it in their hearts to protect lesbian and gay church employees in committed unions.  When will the bishops of other countries follow their shining example?

Francis DeBernardo, August 22, 2017

Related article:

Gay Star News: Australian Catholic churches threaten to fire people who marry same-sex partners”

18 replies
  1. Ann
    Ann says:

    Somewhat ironic given the Australian Catholic Church’s history of offering pastoral support to paedophile priests and the role of religious houses in the maltreatment of children. Are these not against Catholic teaching?

  2. Edward Poliandro
    Edward Poliandro says:

    Good morning, Let’s us pray for The Guidance and wisdom of the Spirit for the Australian people and Church in Australia.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    It is very sad that some in the RCC are so far behind social realities. I like to think that they have good intentions and don’t understand scientific and social truths. This saddens me.

  4. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God and God in them.”

    Unless, of course, they are lesbian and gay married couples. Because if such couples be loving couples, the archbishop would have to admit that they abide in God and God in them, and could not fire them for being married, lest he be going against God.

    So complicated. Betwixt and between. So sad to see so many supposed men of God being so far behind their own people. Like shepherds calling to their flocks: “Come back here, right now!”

    Where are the dogs who will bring these sheep back into the fold? The sheep have awakened to the facts that they are not sheep, and these shepherds do not have their best interests at heart.
    And the dogs are mere yapping puppies.

  5. Larry
    Larry says:

    Once again legal committed gay relationships are the litmus test while teachers in Catholic schools are not threatened for their use of birth control, remarriage after divorce, living with a partner while not married or their views on social justice etc. So it is very clear [and I believe clearly meant to be so by the hierarchy] not a device to make employees adhere to Catholic teaching but a bludgeon against gay employees. Nothing new here and unfortunately Pope Francis will once again be silent and thus complicit in this hypocrisy.

  6. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    During the four years that I worked toward marriage equality, the most common impediment was always terminology.

    The term “same-gender marriage” is always the wrong term for this public policy discussion, because it encourages strident opposition from some religious groups, which makes equality for all much harder to achieve politically.

    The correct terms are only “same-gender CIVIL marriage” and “same-gender RELIGIOUS marriage.”

    Many faiths accept same-gender RELIGIOUS marriage, many others reject it, and many others are slowly moving from rejection to acceptance, but in any event, CIVIL marriage and RELIGIOUS marriage remain independent of each other. All the nations that already adopted same-gender CIVIL marriage did so as a legal status administered by government, equally for all citizens, with each faith tradition left to revise its own theology regarding same-gender RELIGIOUS marriage on its own timetable.

    Whenever an advocate for same-gender CIVIL marriage mistakenly argues in public for “same-gender marriage,” that terrifies some religious groups and incites them to strident opposition, because with no distinction between civil vs. religious, “same-gender marriage” implies — incorrectly — that new CIVIL laws will change RELIGIOUS traditions.

    The way to avoid people’s terror and opposition is to advocate only for “same-gender CIVIL marriage” because that defuses the threat, and confirms that faith traditions would remain unaffected, while all citizens would get treated equally.

    Message to Australians: The current question is whether to legalize “same-gender CIVIL marriage” for consenting adult citizens, without any impact upon any faith. Moreover, faiths set their own doctrines and choose their own members, and Australia is not pursuing any nationwide public policy question about revising anyone’s religious practices, so “same-gender RELIGIOUS marriage” is not even part of the public policy discussion.

    Once CIVIL marriage is separated from RELIGIOUS marriage, equality for same-gender couples is far easier to achieve.

  7. Friends
    Friends says:

    Ned’s well-informed and well-calibrated analysis is extremely useful — but what continues to appal me is the shocking combination of mean-spirited hatefulness, ignorance and lack of pastoral discernment on the part of Hart and his fellow-travelers. These high-level clerics lead lives which are too often emotionally frustrated and truncated and outside the parameters of basic universal human experience. It also tells me something that it is mostly retired or former priests who truly understand what’s at stake here: uplifting the spiritual primacy of bonds of love and fidelity between human being who genuinely love one another. Hart — such an ironic name in this circumstance — absolutely and utterly fails to understand the primacy of all loving bonds within our human existence. It’s such a pity, but also such a powerful explanation of why most younger adults who were raised Catholic, particularly those under 30, no longer want to have anything to do with the version of the Church which is envisioned by Archbishop Hart.

  8. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    What Christ died for was a radical view that love went beyond the law and it went from that day forward, not some far off time. We should be calling for .marriage equality in all its forms. As we are seeing by allowing for the construction of the first memorial to the Confederate cause its myth of rectitude continues to this day and we are having to deal with it again. Asking for civil marriage as enough today denies the blessing of being a child of God to those who are LGBT Scaring the stunted hierarchy by laying claim to love is better than the judgement they may face before God for not standing firm to deliver His message.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Archbishop Denis Hart, speaking as president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, had threatened to fire church workers who enter same-gender marriages, should marriage equality be approved. A later report clarified […]

  2. […] Archbishop Denis Hart, speaking as president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, had threatened to fire church workers who enter same-gender marriages, should marriage equality be approved. A later report clarified the […]

  3. […] far, church leaders, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and the Australian Bishops’ Commission for Catholic Education, have refused to […]

  4. […] this week, Bondings 2.0 reported that Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart had threatened to fire church workers who entered same-gender civil marriages, should marriage equality be legalized in […]

  5. […] also reported on Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart’s threat that he would fire church workers who entered […]

  6. […] harmful, including a neo-Nazi poster targeting LGBT parents. Australia’s bishops have had a mixed record engaging marriage equality, and there have been prominent Catholic figures speaking out on both […]

  7. […] also reported on Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart’s threat that he would fire church workers who entered […]

  8. […] this week, Bondings 2.0 reported that Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart had threatened to fire church workers who entered same-gender civil marriages, should marriage equality be legalized in […]

  9. […] far, Australia’s bishops have been silent. Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart last week threatened to fire church workers who entered into civil same-gender marriages. The question is why is he not now […]

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