Each year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops releases a statement for Labor Day. The bishops’ statement is strong this year, emanating from Pope Francis’ own strong calls for economic justice.This year’s statement is particularly strong in its defense of workers, migrants, and people of color.
But if the bishops’ statement also addressed the unjust firings of LGBT church workers (more than 60 of which have had their cases made public in the last decade), their claims would be even stronger. In today’s post, I highlight two sections of the Labor Day statement that are most relevant for LGBT church workers and the institutional church.
First, the bishops’ letter contains a section which proposes “Greater Legal Protections for Vulnerable Workers and ‘Good Entrepreneurs.'” In this section, they affirmed that a “powerful way to protect the dignity of the person is through law.” The statement continued:
“Legal protections cannot solve all problems when the culture itself must also change. Nevertheless, legal protections and important gains that humanize the workplace are vital and should be supported and strengthened. . .The law should also seek to avoid wage disparities for women, and exploitation of any kind. It should also encourage work environments that recognize and seek to end racism and its effects. . .workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights.”
The bishops rightly desired protections against discrimination based on gender and race within a larger affirmation of legal protections for workers. But when it comes to LGBT and Ally church workers, the bishops have opposed similar protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They have exploited religious exemptions far beyond intended parameters to justify discriminatory firings. And, of course, there is the longstanding pattern of discrimination against women in our church.
Second, the bishops write of “Recovering the Sacredness of Work.” Work, they say, “can be a place of great sanctity, giving expression to the deep yearnings of the human person” and even allow co-creation with God. The statement continued:
“This notion that work is sacred is essential, not only to understanding our work, but also to coming to know God himself; nowhere do we see this more powerfully than in the Eucharist.”
But where is their concern for LGBT church workers’ co-creation with God when these workers are summarily dismissed for living by their consciences. These firings are corrosive to the Body of Christ, and they show little pastoral concern for the flourishing of the church workers, their loved ones, and the affected communities.
The U.S. bishops labeled our current historical moment “a time of kairos,” or a decisive moment of both crisis and opportunity. They are correct in this assessment as economic inequality remains high and workers’ rights are under attack.
Catholics should join their bishops in continuing to demand a just and humane economy. To offer the most credible witness in this effort, the bishops should abide by the same principles they advocate for outside the church by practicing them inside the church. LGBT-related employment matters in the church offer them a wealth of opportunities to do so.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 4, 2017