The recent firing of two gay church workers has prompted new reflections on where the scandal lies in these employment disputes, as well as the damage they are causing.
In Commonweal, John Gehring of Faith in Public Life inquired as to what exactly is scandalous when an LGBT church worker is fired. Observers of Catholic LGBT issues know well that institutional church leaders’ often argue that a church worker’s same-gender marriage or relationship is what provokes scandal.
But the term “scandal” is more complex, according to Gehring. He cited theologian Christopher Vogt, who noted that Thomas Aquinas “makes the important observation that scandal sometimes can be caused by the malice of the scandalized.” Commenting on the Church’s handling of same-gender relationships, Vogt told Gehring:
“An understanding of scandal more fully informed by the New Testament should lead us to ask whether the phenomenon of gay men and women promising loving, lifelong commitment to each other should be an occasion for Christians to be scandalized in a very different sense: of seeing long-held certainties unexpectedly overturned by the living God. This is not a call to retreat into moral relativism. It is a suggestion that punitive actions against gay men and women by principals, pastors, and bishops are inconsistent with Christian charity, are likely to cause ‘opposite scandal,’ and do not reflect the fact that we are at a moment that requires prayerful discernment.”
Citing several bishops’ pastoral outreach to LGBT people in recent years, Gehring acknowledged the ongoing presence of LGBT church workers but said they are forced to live in what theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale calls “the open closet.” Gehring commented:
“This selective policing of behavior and disproportionate response to gay employees who are not living in full accord with church teaching leaves Catholic institutions open to criticism that homophobia plays a larger role in these decisions than is ever acknowledged.
“Catholic schools have every contractual right to fire teachers who are in same-sex marriages. But failure to discern a different, more pastoral response will only continue to privilege a culture of exclusion over a culture of encounter, leaving Catholic officials to stumble in explaining why rigid religious legalism—rather than justice—is the essence of Catholic identity.”
Such firings are incredibly damaging to the individual church workers and their families, as well as the affected communities. But, as public scandals, they also hurt the Church. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told America Magazine:
“‘With each new firing, the injustice of these actions becomes clearer and clearer to Catholic people in the pews. . .While these actions hurt those that are fired and the communities they serve, they also hurt the church as a whole because our credibility as voices of justice is weakened, and our image as a community of love and compassion is destroyed.'”
Theologian and law professor Cathleen Kaveny told America there are “lots of things you can do that are legal and not wise,” adding:
“‘Is this a prudent and charitable way of communicating the Catholic message, or is it something that’s going to make it harder to hear Catholic teaching and receive the good news?
In recent weeks, the firings of gay pastoral minister Mark Guevarra and lesbian teacher Jocelyn Morffi have made headlines. They join more than 80 church workers and volunteers who have lost their positions in LGBT-related employment disputes over the last decade. In nearly ever instance, Catholics have been clear from the outset that the true scandal is not LGBT love but the discrimination LGBT people face at the hands of the institutional Church and the damage inflicted on affected communities. It is past time for Catholic leaders to have such clarity, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 26, 2018