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 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?
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 Guardian, Brennan 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:
“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.’ “
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 Herald, he 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
Gay Star News: “Australian Catholic churches threaten to fire people who marry same-sex partners”