The latest story of church worker being fired over LGBT issues is a case study in micro-management that should not be part of the way religious institutions are administered.
Over the weekend, News 5 Cleveland reported that a gay diocesan employee was fired because he “liked” a Facebook post about a gay couple’s wedding and he also posted a photo from another gay couple’s wedding he attended, with a message of well wishes for them. You can view both posts by clicking here.
The news report stated that the employee, Keith Kozak, responded to the news initially with bewilderment, saying: “I really wasn’t even thinking about it at the time, that it would be anything detrimental.”
And he is correct. Something so minor as two Facebook actions should certainly not be the basis for church employment being terminated. If the Cleveland Diocese believes that such actions are important, then to be fair and consistent, they must monitor the social media posts and responses of all their employees, and take action against anyone who, in the slightest way, displays an opinion or action of which the magisterium would disapprove. Such policing would not be practical, nor would it be Christian. But to single out the Facebook interactions of an employee who made two posts on a gay topic and then to fire him because of them is simply discrimination.
ABCnews.go.com reported that Kozak was employed by the dioceses as a campus minister and outreach coordinator at Cleveland State University. He said he had not previously disclosed his gay orientation to his employers.
I will admit that the post which Kozak responded to by “liking” it, contains some slang, borderline explicit language, which some would find offensive. But to fire someone for such an error? That seems rather harsh. I can understand a diocesan official wanting to offer a soft reprimand for such an action, but to fire someone? Would they fire any other employee who has ever associated themselves with someone who used socially inappropriate language? If they did that, there would likely be no employees left.
This case, more than the over 80 public church employment disputes caused by LGBT issues over the last six years, is particularly galling because the actions were so minor. And because it is hard to believe that a heterosexual employee would have been fired for responding in a similar manner to a post that contained questionable language regarding heterosexual relationships. Cleveland diocesan officials have blown the inappropriateness of the post totally out of proportion because of the gay dimension of this case.
Kozak is understandably shaken by the diocese’s action. News 5 Cleveland captured some of his reactions:
“Kozak said this move by the church rocked how he views his religion. ‘I still have a strong faith, still believe in God,’ said Kozak. . . .
” ‘The church in Cleveland has just been very discriminatory in my opinion,’ said Kozak. . . .
” ‘It’s a wake-up call for me, it’s a wake-up call that I didn’t really realize the Catholic Church would act like this,’ said Kozak.”
Yes, our Catholic tradition requires that we treat human beings with greater respect than the way Kozak was treated. Perhaps it is a sign of the tense times in our church that church officials would respond in way that was so out of proportion to what they perceive as an offense. For some leaders in the church, offenses against church teaching on marriage, sexuality, and gender, no matter how small, have become the most important part of Catholicism. By this narrow focus, such church leaders are putting on blinders to the human lives that are part of any issue they consider controversial.
This incident should be a “wake-up call” for church officials, too, that they need to remember the humanity of their employees and also the humanity of LGBT people.
To learn more about employment issues for LGBT and ally church employees, click here.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 1, 2018