An LGBTQ Catholic school teacher has shared his reflections on the church’s too-frequent problem of firing LGBTQ employees, following the recent dismissal of two of his colleagues. Though written before the Supreme Court decision on ministerial exceptions in employment, his reflections take on added urgency and poignancy now that the court has given broad latitude for church agencies to fire LGBTQ and other employees. His reflections offer recommendations for a path forward.
In an essay published by America, Luke Janicki, a gay Catholic English teacher at Kennedy Catholic High School, Burien, Washington, articulates the struggle working for a Catholic institution in light of the forced resignation of two fellow LGBTQ educators, Michelle Beattie and Paul Danfort:
“As a gay Catholic teacher, I have spent much of my life in a precarious balance. Growing up in a Catholic family, going to Catholic schools, I know what it is like to balance my deep-seated values as a practicing Catholic with the dictates of being a discerning gay person in potentially averse environments.”
Bondings 2.0 previously reported on the forced resignation of Health and Fitness teacher Michelle Beattie and English teacher Paul Danfort from Kennedy Catholic High School in February 2020 after the school’s administration learned of their same-gender relationships.
Janicki says that the firings must stop in order for a dialogue to begin between LGBT teachers and the church’s leaders. He points out the conundrum that the church’s policy creates:
“If the church continues to say that gay Catholics cannot work in church institutions, it is really saying that they must live dishonestly or leave the church.”
Janicki underscores that Catholic LGBTQ workers must be given the professional space to embrace every aspect of their lives, which includes their sexuality and their faith.
Janicki sees Seattle’s Archbishop Paul D. Etienne public statement in response to these recent firings as a sign of hope and encouragement. An excerpt from that statement reads as follows:
“‘Pastors and church leaders need to be clear about the church’s teaching, while at the same time refraining from making judgments, taking into consideration the complexity of people’s lived situations. . .to look at how we apply universal church teaching locally’ and to ‘examine how we remain faithful to our mission in a dramatically changing world.’”
To accomplish these goals, Archbishop Etienne has commissioned a task force to tackle the issue of LGBTQ firings in Catholic institutions. Starting this fall, the task force will focus on three areas, with an overarching review of the school’s “morality clause,” a ministerial contract that applies to all employees at Catholic schools across the country:
“(1) to study and discuss church teaching and tradition as it relates to sexuality and moral development; (2) to analyze the opinions of archdiocesan stakeholders (including students, families, alumni and the staff of archdiocesan schools) regarding the ministerial covenant; and (3) to recommend to the archbishop an informed approach to the ministerial covenant that respects the first two goals.”
Janicki’s reflections also pinpoint why summarily firing LGBTQ workers from Catholic institutions is discriminatory:
“Some Catholics wonder why being openly L.G.B.T. is the predilect offense to the covenant when other practices the church declares morally objectionable, such as using contraceptives, being divorced or missing Mass on Sunday, do not provoke the same scrutiny. Non-Catholics on staff wonder how the covenant even legally applies to them. (The covenant may also seem odd to the roughly 17 percent of Catholic school students nationwide who come from non-Catholic families.) Private battles of conscience brim to the surface for staffers who know that a punishment leveled at L.G.B.T. colleagues could just as easily have been applied to themselves.”
The integrity of church leadership is damaged when they single out a group of workers on the basis of their identity or marital status. Janicki’s additional inquiries about non-Catholic employees and his quickly brainstormed list of other Catholic “offenses” further highlights that church officials’ invidious discrimination against LGBTQ workers could easily – and tragically – be directed to other groups of employees.
Despite these professional uncertainties, Janicki’s commitment to an inclusive and loving church remains strong and vibrant:
“As Catholics, we want to know there is order to our lives, and that is what makes the firing of L.G.B.T. educators all the more perplexing. We have been imagining fuller gay inclusion for a long time. The church, as a vanguard for inborn dignity, should care deeply—and continuously—about finding ways for the baptized to live out the Gospel call.”
Janicki yearns to not only understand his place in society, but to build a church both institutionally and locally that embraces LGBTQ Catholics fully, rather than accepting them partially.
To that end, he offers four concrete recommendations:
“[C]oordinating task force recommendations nationally; asking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to recognize the harm of the recurring L.G.B.T. faculty removal decisions; unifying schools by standardizing the catechetical certifications and morality clause disparities that systemically divide them; and seeking to address exclusionary language in the church that enables any current injustice or breakdown in God’s work.”
Indeed, Janicki’s robust discernment provides a blueprint through which LGBTQ Catholics can continue to remain engaged in the church while acknowledging how church officials have sorrowfully contributed to what the teacher calls the “breakdown in God’s work” through dismissing of LGBTQ employees.
LGBTQ Catholics and LGBTQ employees at Catholic institutions can take comfort in the courageous work and bold vision of Luke Janicki. So can church administrators.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, July 17, 2020