Archbishop: LGBT Teachers Should Stay Quiet about Relationships, Keep Distance from Schools

Archbishop Peter Comensoli

An archbishop in Australia suggested that LGBT church workers should keep their relationships relatively private and live a distance from their place of employment if they wish to keep their jobs.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne made his claims while speaking to Australian legislators about potential non-discrimination laws that would bar religiously-affiliated schools from terminating LGBT employees or expelling LGBT students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or marital status. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

“Asked if a gay teacher at a Catholic school could get married without being fired, Archbishop Comensoli suggested it would depend on how visible their relationship was at the school and whether the teacher would still publicly support the school’s teachings.

“‘Someone [who] lives in one part of Melbourne up in the north, and they might be a maths teacher in southern part of Melbourne – there’s no connection in terms of relationships of location and so on,’ he said.

“‘They’ve made it known privately to the principal that they’re in a same-sex relationship, but the person themselves is quite willing to speak publicly and act publicly within the school context in accordance with the mission and identity – there would be no question asked there I don’t think.'”

But Comensoli, who played a key role at the Synod on Youth as a member of the final report drafting committee, followed up in his testimony by saying it is not about one’s “attribute,” but “what one does with it that makes a difference.” In particular, the archbishop said a problem would arise if the employee was public about sexual orientation as an “act of advocacy.” Gay Star News reported that the archbishop made a similar argument about LGBT students, quoting him as saying:

“‘Our schools would not expel a student just because of their sexual orientation but we want to maintain laws that would protect our capacity to teach the Christian understanding of sexual ethics and marriage according to our own faith tradition.'”

At issue is proposed legislation that would strengthen non-discrimination protections by curtailing existing religious exemptions. Australia’s governing leadership has said it wants to pass such legislation before the end of 2018. LGBT advocates also testified before legislators. Anthony Odgers of the Independent Education Union explained the pro-equality position:

“‘Many staff and students at faith-based schools fearing persecution have suppressed their sexual orientation or gender identity and/or their marital status and have been, and are being, harmed as a result. All staff and students and schools deserve safe work places and learning environments.'”

News reports about Comensoli’s testimony have included quotes from Christian education officials outside the Catholic Church, many of whom have been more explicit in suggesting they want to maintain existing religious exemptions so they can continue to have the right to fire LGBT employees or expel LGBT students at will.

Against these Christian leaders remarks, the archbishop’s testimony may appear moderate. Comensoli may be well-intentioned in suggesting that LGBT church workers and students should not face discrimination (a step which most church leaders have been unwilling to make), but his approach remains problematic. Asking people to remain closeted, even partially, with the implied threat they could be fired or expelled for coming out and living truthfully is wrong. And even with softer rhetoric and seeming pastoral concern, Comensoli and other LGBT-negative voices still seek the power to fire LGBT employees, despite just laws which protect their liberty and dignity.

It seems clear that in preparing his testimony, the archbishop did not listen to LGBT church workers or students about how present religious exemptions have negatively affected their lives. Such a process would have enacted the synodality which Comensoli and his fellow drafters included so prominently in the Synod on Youth’s final report. Next time, before the archbishop speaks on LGBT issues, he should practice what the Synod bishops preached about listening and learning from the people of God.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 24, 2018

9 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    The Archbishop needs to reflect upon his words, their impact and his message. Is he heeding the directive to accompany ‘pastorally’ ? Does that change if the person is an employee? What message does it send to children ? It smacks of a kind of segregation. You can work for us, but keep your head down and live ‘ across the tracks’ . What chutzpah !

  2. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    Staying quiet is not the answer. That would be like keeping one’s head in the sand, not allowing first-hand information and serving no purpose. Education is key – education for everyone who values truth and justice and acceptance of God’s creation. Not listening to those directly affected is squandering a valuable resource – and what better source of information than GLBTQ themselves? God help us all to understand and to love one another as He continues to love us.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    If I remember correctly, Australia has recently extended actual marriage rights to same-sex couples. So this bishop — like so many of his socially retrograde colleagues — has short-circuited whatever moral or social authority he might claim to possess. The people themselves — including progressive Catholics — will possess the final judgment on this vital issue of fundamental human rights. The integrity of LOVE, as always, is the Prime Directive.

  4. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    To be simply. so it is understood, the Archbishop is suggesting that LGBT people should be as hypocritical as the RC Church often is, that do not be themselves (deny themselves?) and remain in the proverbial closet. Let us consider that a presumably Christian leader said that.

  5. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Just hide. Keep your secrets secret. Suppress your real self. Lie.

    Sounds like what the archbishop is saying. But that is an unhealthy way to live, and that is not acceptable.

  6. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    Perhaps the archbishop is used to living a duplicitous life, or is used to covering up for those who do. LGBTQ people do not want to live like this; they are not ashamed of their lives. Likewise, the faithful are quite capable of understanding that each Catholic must live according to conscience. Many know that being gay is not a choice, but a biological reality. Most Catholics want our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to seek happiness, and this includes committing to a significant other. LGBTQ people living their best lives will not impact the faith of other individuals in a negative way. Each Catholic must engage in daily lifelong conscience formation, and if we do, each individual will be busy enough with his/her own life, and will not have time to judge others.

  7. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    If the archbishop sees a partial approval/deniability of same sex coupling if separated by the distance of the sides of Melbourne between where one lives and works, why can’t he and other religious leaders see that the ability to teach math (to use his example) has nothing to do with one’s sexual relationship? Did none of them learn logic? They keep thinking is they hide homosexuality it will simply not exist yet they need to see that if God gave us a blessing we can’t deny it.

  8. Peter
    Peter says:

    Guess his grace feels that hiding ones identity gives rewards to self and hierarchy far superior to any damage it does to the person and the value of truth. Perhaps he feels If he can do it, why can’t anyone else.


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