If Australians end up legalizing marriage equality, such a victory might actually increase the risk that church workers could lose their jobs in LGBT-related incidents. And with a postal survey on the marriage question underway, there may be increased risks even if church workers are public about their support for equal marriage.
Though the postal survey Australia is non-binding, the marriage debate has been just as heated as if it were binding. In one incident, it was reported that Melbourne’s 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 archbishop’s statement, mitigating the reported threat but acknowledged that individual bishops are free to act as they wish in their dioceses.
Fr. Andrew Hamilton, SJ, a consulting editor for the Catholic magazine Eureka Street, has said even if Hart’s statements were misreported, the possibility that church workers would be fired remains alive.
Writing in La Croix, Hamilton said the argument that employees at Catholic institutions should live publicly in a way consistent with church teaching, lest they undermine that teaching, “belongs to a past age.” Catholic institutions now readily employ non-practicing Catholics, people of other faith traditions, and non-believers. Hamilton commented on this new reality:
“What attracts many people from diverse backgrounds to work in these Catholic organizations with children, the ill and people who are marginalised is their ethos. The tradition they inherit appeals to the unique value of each human being regardless of faith, worthiness of life, gender or sexual preference.
“That appeal is rooted in the belief that each human being is deeply loved by God. It is embodied in the story of Jesus Christ, and in the stories of the religious congregations inspired by him to found the organizations.”
Hamilton’s concern is to protect this ethos of care for marginalized and vulnerable people. If this ethos is to continue, then Catholics charged with transmitting the faith from which it emerges must be “enthusiastic about living its values, and able to commend them effectively and ensure that they govern their relationships with the people whom they serve and with one another.”
Transmission, Hamilton wrote, is based on trust, which “would certainly break down” were church workers to lose their job over LGBT issues. Indeed, the author said Australian lesbian and gay people are specifically vulnerable with the postal survey underway, and the church therefore has “a particular responsibility” to offer respect for and care to them. Hamilton concluded:
“The credibility of Catholic organizations as Christian and as humane is at stake.”
More than 70 church workers have come forward that they have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes in the last decade. Often, these firings occur when a church worker enters into a same-gender marriage. Other times, it is a church worker’s public support for marriage equality that led to their firing. Whatever the reason given by church officials, Hamilton is on point when he wrote that nothing less than the church’s credibility is at stake when these unjust firings occur.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage LGBT-related employment issues in the church, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of such church workers and volunteers, as well as other information and resources about the topic..
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 26, 2017