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