Stories of Fired LGBT Church Workers “Breaking People’s Hearts,” Writes Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote about how the Catholic Church is breaking people’s hearts, including through its treatment of LGBT church workers like Shelly Fitzgerald who recently filed a second discrimination complaint against her Catholic employer.

Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, highlighted Fitzgerald’s case as one incident of many in which the Church is breaking Catholics’ hearts by mistreating LGBT people. Bruni said the Church is “too mired in its own hypocrisy” for there to be peace. He added that Fitzgerald and her father, Pat, have received “anything but” the compassion expected of Catholic from the officials at Roncalli High School, Indianapolis. The columnist explained:

“On Tuesday morning [Fitzgerald’s lawyer] showed me paperwork for a second charge of discrimination that he said he would be filing imminently; it cites what happened to her father as an unlawful act of retaliation meant to dissuade Shelly from pressing her case.

“Pat Fitzgerald, uncomfortable with media attention, declined to speak with me, preferring to let his daughter do the talking. ‘His struggle comes from caring about Roncalli and being in conflict with what they’ve done to me,’ Shelly told me. In October he attended a protest against the church’s treatment of L.G.B.T. people. His sign said, ‘Please treat my daughter Shelly kindly.'”

Pat Fitzgerald demonstrating peacefully in support of his daugher

In January, Pat Fitzgerald was barred from helping at Roncalli’s senior retreat this year, something which he had done for 26 years. Last year, administrators at Roncalli gave Shelly Fitzgerald the choice of divorcing her wife or losing her job, but ended up placing her on paid administrative leave while the situation was adjudicated. Since then, Fitzgerald and another employee, Lynn Starkey, have filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But the harm inflicted by Roncalli administrators and Church officials is broader, wrote Bruni. He reported:

“But one parent told me that students who question Shelly’s dismissal fear repercussions. ‘Seniors are being told that if they speak out, they take the chance of not being able to graduate,’ the parent, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, said.

“According to posts on the Facebook page, a small cluster of Roncalli students were invited last month to a lunch with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis, only to have him stress that homosexuality is a disorder and its expression sinful. One student called it an ambush. . .

“And they’re going to hurt people — like Shawn Aldrich, who attended Roncalli, just as his parents and his wife and her parents did. He has two children there now. What has happened to Shelly astounds him.

“‘She was phenomenal at her job,’ Aldrich told me. ‘So why are we dismissing her?’ He knows what church leaders say about homosexuality but noted, ‘It’s our church, too.’ Besides, he said, ‘All of us are made in God’s image.’

“He and his wife plan to end their family tradition. They won’t send their third child, now in seventh grade, to Roncalli. ‘And that breaks our hearts,’ he said. ‘That absolutely breaks our hearts.'”

Shelly Fitzgerald’s case is not the only time employment discrimination in the Church has harmed church workers and their loved ones, as well as entire parish or school communities. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, responded to Bruni’s column in The New York Times, writing:

“New Ways Ministry has chronicled the stories of more than 85 church employees since 2007 who have had employment disputes with Catholic institutions because of L.G.B.T. issues. (Not all were fired. Some had contracts revoked, some were forced to resign, some resigned because the abuse was too much to bear.) These are only the stories that have become public in the media. Our office receives many more calls from people who choose not to go public.

“American bishops and church leaders can easily follow the example of the German bishops, whose conference issued a policy in 2015 that church employees who were in same-sex relationships, civil unions and marriages would not be fired.

“Church teaching on human dignity, freedom of conscience and on the importance of work supports such a policy. There is no theological reason for the American bishops not to do likewise.”

You can find a full listing of the public employment disputes mentioned above by clicking here, as well as New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBT issues here. For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 27, 2019

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