Catholic Therapist Refused to Help Gay Couple, Sues Agency

A therapist in Saginaw, Michigan was fired after refusing to provide marriage counseling to a gay couple, citing her Catholic faith as the impetus behind her decision. Believing her dismissal was unjust, Kathleen Lorentzen has now filed a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination.

Lorentzen, who worked for HealthSource Saginaw from 2011 until her September 2017 firing, had counseled several gay individuals in the past, according to her lawyer, B. Tyler Brooks. After she began to counsel a married gay couple, however, she requested the couple be transferred to another counselor, saying her religious beliefs prevented her from counseling them. Her request was not accepted.

WNEM reported that Brooks said a request like the one Lorentzen made should have been easily remedied by higher-ups at HealthSource Saginaw:

“Even its medical director, upon learning that Ms. Lorentzen has been terminated, said not only should he have been involved before any decision like that was made, but that would have been very easy and that would have been the proper thing to do.”

Following her request, she met with her supervisor, Mark Kraynak, in which he told her she had to “be a social worker first, and a Catholic second,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Shortly afterwards, Lorentzen received a letter in the mail detailing her termination, which occurred in September 2017. Michigan Radio notes that the case was filed in federal court on May 11, 2018.

In the lawsuit, Lorentzen claims that she was fired because she was Catholic. Her former employer strongly disputes that claim. Thomas Vincent, who is the legal counsel for HealthSource Saginaw, stated to WNEM:

“HealthSource Saginaw steadfastly denies Ms. Lorentzen’s fundamentally false allegations and is extremely disheartened by her choice to knowingly publish a work of fiction disguised as a legal pleading.  Due to the fact that litigation is pending neither I nor HealthSource Saginaw will issue any public comment beyond this: HealthSource Saginaw is committed to prohibiting all forms of illegal discrimination and retaliation on its premises.”

In situations like these, immediately claiming “discrimination” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the word. Perhaps Lorentzen should put herself in the couple’s shoes and see that their marriage was being invalidated by a therapist, a person they should trust. No one is infringing upon her right to be Catholic, and to practice her religious beliefs. However, when these beliefs conflict with other people’s right to be respected and to seek help in the medical and psychological fields, such an affront to the couple’s inherent dignity is unacceptable.

Above all, Catholics are called to welcome and to embrace as Jesus did. After only two sessions, Lorentzen,in the name of religion, chose to turn away from a couple seeking helpEven if it was difficult for her to stay, perhaps she may have learned something about the nature of LGBTQ relationships: that they are just the same as straight ones, and equally as deserving of respect and care.

Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, July 13, 2018

11 replies
  1. Richard Boyle, OSM
    Richard Boyle, OSM says:

    So….here we go down that “slippery slope” which began with wedding cakes and other mundane things. Where does it (“religious freedom”) all end except in the pit of just plain ol’ discrimination? What happened to the “sacred” Hippocratic Oath? Are therapists not covered by the same? …And let’s not even go NEAR the Gospel of the Lord and its requirements for radical compassion!

    Reply
    • DON E SIEGAL
      DON E SIEGAL says:

      FYI, the Hippocratic Oath is only taken by physicians. By tradition, other health care givers do not take this oath; however, the principals of the Hippocratic Oath are indeed part of their training.

      In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts.[1]
      The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest and most widely known codes of ethics. The History of the Hippocratic Oath. The original text is attributed to Hippocrates, a Greek physician commonly credited with beginning the practice of medicine as a rational science.[2]
      The recitation of the oath attributed to Hippocrates is an integral part of medical school graduation in the Western world. Referred to as either the Hippocratic oath or the oath of Hippocrates, the oath exists in a variety of forms and has been translated and revised over the centuries.[3]
      Sources:
      [1] en.wikipedia.org·[2] onlinenursing.neu.edu·[3] encyclopedia.com

      Reply
      • Richard Boyle, OSM
        Richard Boyle, OSM says:

        Thanks for the clarification, but my point is really the same…that ALL healthcare providers ought, to me (to be clear), to function within the same values and proscriptions of the Oath. Again, IMO, even the “lowest bar” of adherence to the tenets of Christian morals and implementation of the Gospel would require it.

        Reply
  2. Tim MacGeorge, LCSW
    Tim MacGeorge, LCSW says:

    As a Catholic Therapist and a Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) myself, this post is particularly interesting. From a perspective of professional ethics, there are several issues here worth noting.

    On behalf of the couple, I certainly concur that professions, as a whole, should provide services to the LGBTQ population. If the agency, HealthSource Saginaw, offers couples/marriage counseling in general, then they certainly should offer such services to gay couples as well as straight couples.

    On behalf of the therapist, however, she has both a right and a responsibility to ensure that her clients are receiving the services most appropriate to their needs, and that she is providing such services within her professional scope of practice. There are numerous reasons why a social worker (as the story indicates this is the therapist’s profession, and a search of the Michigan state license database indicates Ms. Lorentzen is licensed with a Master of Social Work/MSW degree) might transfer a client or refer the client to another professional. As the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) Code of Ethics states, “Social workers should refer clients to other professionals … when social workers believe that they are not being effective …” The Code also notes that social workers “… should provide services and represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, license, certification, consultation received, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience.” Lack of effectiveness and scope of practice / competence are two very legitimate reasons for a clinical social worker to transfer or refer a client(s) to another professional who is a better “fit” and whose education and experience would better meet the clients’ needs.

    If I could fault the social worker in any way, it would be in that she accepted this couple as her clients in the first place. If she knew that she did not have the competence to address the particular needs of a same-sex couple in couples counseling, she could have referred them to another therapist even prior to their initial meeting. As a clinical social worker, I do not have an obligation to accept everyone who is referred to me or seeks out my services. However, once I do accept them, they are then “my client(s)” and my level of responsibility increases, including my responsibility to avoid “client abandonment” and to do my best to ensure their clinical needs are met (which may include, as noted above, referring them elsewhere if it becomes evident through our work that my skills are insufficient for their needs).

    Reply
    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:

      Good summary of the factors. What is problematic about the actions of this therapist, is that after having met with the couple twice, she brought up her religious beliefs to refuse further treatment.

      Also, since she had counseled several gay clients in the past, one might wonder whether her counseling of those clients was guided by her religious beliefs. If so, how might she have counseled clients who were considering entering a relationship or marriage with a partner of the same gender? And how might she have tried to override her clients’ own self-determination in the process?

      Reply
      • Tim MacGeorge, LCSW
        Tim MacGeorge, LCSW says:

        You’re absolutely right; those are very important questions to be aware of. If I were her supervisor, I would want to know, specifically, what it was that got in the way of her providing the requested services. For example, if it’s the fact that her Church does not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, then I’d ask if she also felt she could not provide couples counseling to any couple — including heterosexual couples — whose unions were not “recognized” by her Church (e.g. unmarried couples? divorced/remarried couples? Catholics married “outside the Church”?). I’d also ask if there were other issues “against Church teaching” that prohibited her from providing couples counseling … e.g. couples practicing artificial birth control? couples who supported the death penalty?

        I suspect that perhaps she was able to provide services to individual gay persons because the mental health services they sought weren’t specifically related to being gay. Depression, anxiety, serious mental health conditions … these can all be address without reference to one’s sexuality and sexual life. However, she probably wouldn’t be a good “fit” for the teen or young adult dealing with “coming out” issues.

        Reply
  3. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    Here we go. From not making cakes to refusing therapy to a gay couple. It will never end. A Roman Catholic takes the anti-Jesus stand. And then thinks she’s discriminated against. This kind of activity and it’s publication will be the end of the RC Church.

    Reply
    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Just to comment, Mary Jo: If the ignorance, malfeasance and sometimes outright bigotry of Catholic professionals were able to bring about “the end of the RC Church”, it would have happened many decades ago! Human beings — ALL human beings, including priests and bishops — are prone to ignorant behavior which Jesus Himself would never have approved. We all need to calibrate our thoughts and our actions against the ultimate standard that Jesus Himself set forth for us, prior to his Ascension: “This Is My Commandment: Love One Another, As I Have Loved You!” If Catholicism has a “Prime Directive”, I don’t know what else it could be.

      Reply
  4. Patrick Riley
    Patrick Riley says:

    An important additional fact is that Ms. Lorentzen is represented by the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor.

    Reply

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