Earlier this autumn, over 600 students at a Catholic secondary school in Germany have protested the dismissal of a popular teacher whose contract renewal was rescinded when he disclosed his intent to marry his male partner.
Students at Gymnasium Mariengarden in the town of Borken assembled outside the school with a rainbow of balloons. They held a banner that said, in German, “Mariengarden Ist Bunt” (“Mariengarden is colorful”).
The teacher, who has remained anonymous, had been teaching English and biology at the school and was popular among students, according to a news report from Deutsche Welle.
Michael Brands, the school principal, told the public:
“We would have liked to employ him here…But his decision to marry a man caused me to withdraw the contract. It does not comply with the holy sacrament of marriage. But I think what the students are doing is good. The issue is being talked about openly among us.”
The decision to not hire the teacher reflects similar patterns in the global church: a fear of LGBTQ-identifying adults in positions of leadership, religious or otherwise, especially when students are involved. Indiana guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald is the most recent on the list of LGBTQ employees at Catholic institutions who have faced discrimination.
The school is run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Christoph Heinemann said the religious community’s hands were tied on the matter.
It is interesting that the school’s principal has welcomed the discussion that the controversy has sparked. Discussion is always good, but administrators have to be truly open to honest dialogue if discussion is going to be beneficial. Simply listening with no intent to change will not suffice.
Similarly, the religious community which operates the school should not simply wash their hands of the matter by saying that they had no choice. They should either admit that they support the teacher’s firing or speak out that they believe it is wrong. Religious communities have often found creative solutions when the church is faced with impasses. Religious communities have an obligation to be prophetic in the church.
The religious community cited church doctrine and German labor law which allows religious institutions to make employment decisions based on faith. However, a news report in Frankfurt Rundschau pointed that in 2015, the German bishops issued a statement allowing church employees in lesbian/gay relationships to remain in their jobs under many situations:
“The Basic Law grants the churches a broad right of self-determination. The Catholic Church expects her co-workers to agree with its beliefs and morality in private life as well. A violation of these loyalty obligations can lead to graduated employment law consequences up to the termination. However, . . . [a] church ordinance in 2015 stipulates that only those who are close to pastoral care and specially appointed by the episcopal ministry must reckon with consequences when entering into a civil partnership or remarriage. However, there is room for discretion about which employees fit this category.”
Recently, church leaders have been making statements conflating gay identity with sexual abuse and immorality. Most recently, Pope Francis’s remarks banning gay priests have caused outrage and confusion on what facets of LGBTQ identity are acceptable in the church. Such statements also add fuel to the fire of allowing firings of LGBTQ church workers to continue.
LGBTQ individuals have many gifts and insights to bring to classrooms, and these qualities should not be limited or censored merely because one teaches at a Catholic school. Instead of immediately falling back to “Church teaching,” perhaps school administrators should reflect on what kind of discomfort is caused by employing LGBTQ individuals at their schools. If a teacher is clearly a positive influence on students, it should not matter what their identity is.
—Lindsay Hueston and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2018