What’s the Catholic church teaching us about love? That’s the title question of a recent article in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser, which features the story of Brendan, an Australian educator who recently resigned from a Catholic school administrative position after 22 years of service. Denis Moriarty, his longtime partner, wrote the article to share the buildup and reasoning behind Brendan’s difficult decision.
Until the end of this year, Brendan will serve as the deputy principal of an unnamed Catholic school in Australia. He has worked over two decades under a contract requiring that he officially ‘uphold the teachings of the Catholic church,’ which Moriarty explains would require that his partner not be public about their relationship. Moriarty says that Brendan has made the “brave and sad decision” to resign because, in his words, “Enough is enough—he can no longer live a lie.”
Moriarty notes that their home country of Australia is often a welcoming one for LGTBQ rights, and that Australian schools greatly benefit from a society that is “bubbling with energy and fueled by diversity.” The contrast to this, he says, is the Catholic school system, which he argues is ‘holding people back’ by not supporting some of their most devoted educators.
For Brendan, the final straw was when he felt the full force of the secret he was compelled to keep from his students. Moriarty writes:
“The breaking point came last week. Brendan set his class to drawing pictures of their family dinners, and talk turned to mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. When he took the chalk, he had to describe me as his friend, not his partner of 22 years.”
In expressing his frustration at the difficult choice his partner was forced to make, Moriarty reflects on his own history with coming out and the church. No longer personally religious, he was raised attending Christian Brothers schools, and he describes his mother as “a card-carrying Catholic.” When he was 40 years old, he told her that he had fallen in love—with Brendan. He says that she asked if Moriarty ‘really loved him,’ and when he replied that he did, she responded, “Well, that’s the most important thing in life.”
From his mother’s support, Moriarty learned that being Catholic and supporting gay relationships was not an either-or decision. He writes, “The lesson for me was that if the most ardent and faithful of Catholics could accept her gay son and treat his partner with respect and love, who else needed to butt in?” Even beyond their supportive family, Moriarty says that the couple counts many priests and nuns as among their ‘amazing friends.’
Yet despite ample support in his personal life, the stress of remaining closeted at work wore on Brendan in a way that isolated him from people who might otherwise have been key professional supports:
“Pretending takes its toll. You really can’t call your work colleagues your friends if you can’t have them around for dinner.”
Outside forces, too, seemed to drive Brendan’s ultimate decision:
“In the current Catholic climate, gender and sexuality issues are like Chernobyl. It would take only one culture warrior parent, priest or principal who didn’t want their child taught by a homosexual, and up it would all go. It’s not that Brendan was afraid of being outed but that—and this is very much the point—he loved his job and he loved his school community.”
It is indeed a great act of love to claim one’s own story and identify it publicly. Love involves acknowledging one’s partner and saying that no, this is not just a friend, but someone to share a life with. As a person with great responsibility for the students in his care, Brendan made a brave and essential choice to own the truth that love can be found in far more places than those officially sanctioned by his employer. As Moriarty notes, Brendan’s resignation will be a deep loss for both himself and the school. He ends with a praise of teachers that indeed sounds something like a prayer:
“May our communities, community groups and schools relish all the people who contribute to a better world and a better community. Here’s a toast to every brilliant educator.”
Raise a toast this back to school season and let us pray that stories of teachers leaving their schools become rarer, not because they remain hidden, but because they are finally celebrated for their work along with everything that makes them fully human in love.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, September 28, 2019