Seattle Task Force Releases “Mixed Bag” Report on LGBTQ Issues in Catholic Schools

An archdiocesan commission set up to examine LGBTQ issues in Catholic education, especially regarding employment policies, has issued its “mixed bag” findings.

The Archdiocesan Ministerial Covenant Task Force for the Archdiocese of Seattle published a final report recently after having been established in the wake of LGBTQ-related employment disputes in 2020. The task force’s chair, Fr. Ronald Nuzzi, called the report a “mixed bag,” according to America.

Drawing on a survey of nearly 5,000 non-students involved with Catholic education, the report makes recommendations in four areas: formation, pastoral care ministries, school leadership initiatives, and the ministerial covenant.

The task force came about because of the last area’s relationship to church-related employment. In 2020, Kennedy Catholic High School forced teachers Michelle Beattie and Paul Danforth to resign over their respective same-gender relationships and protests ensued.  Fr. Nuzzi, a Notre Dame University professor emeritus of education, was chosen by Seattle’s Archbishop Paul Etienne to chair the Task Force.

In the report’s section on the ministerial covenant, the idea that employees be considered ministers is affirmed, as well as the idea that “a commitment to such ministry is most accurately articulated in the form of a ministerial covenant rather than a contract.” Several reasons are given, such as preserving “discretion in evaluating the suitability of all employees” and “current tensions in the application of constitutional law.” The report also recommends church employers  offer a period of professional development and discernment so employees sign “with full knowledge, complete transparency, and a clear and informed conscience.”

The task force was divided on the “lifestyle provision” of the covenantal relationship.  Some members wanted to retain a provision which says that an employee’s lifestyle must conform with church teaching, and some who wanted to discard such a provision.

Those arguing for retaining the provisions claim that “it is not discriminatory” to base employment on church teachings. All lifestyles deemed inconsistent with church teaching, including, but not exclusively, same-gender marriages, must be considered a violation of the covenant. They added that “no one is fired or non-renewed from employment due to their orientation, identity, desires, or ideas,” but only for “breaking of the covenant through actions, public witness, and lifestyle choices.”

For the side that wishes to jettison the lifestyle provision, reasons given appeal to accompaniment in the model of Jesus and Pope Francis. Other reasons given include:

“4. It is fundamentally discriminatory to single out certain behaviors for summative employment decisions while ignoring other behaviors. The current ministerial covenant has been inequitably enforced, resulting in grave injustices. The archdiocesan employment benefits policy is an example of this inequity, defining those qualifying for coverage as a dependent as ‘an opposite sex legal spouse who is not legally separated,’ while being silent about all other lifestyle issues. . .

“7. The pain and heartbreak of current students weighs heavily on us. Dozens of unsolicited letters to the task force detailed harassment, ridicule, bullying, and discrimination in Catholic schools, leading to the conclusion that for some students, Catholic schools are not safe places.

“8. The pain of the adult church is also clear, many of whom find the Church tone deaf to their concerns, a situation that retaining the lifestyle provision will only exacerbate.”

Luke Janicki, a former teacher at Kennedy Catholic who authored America’s analysis, provided some commentary:

“Many will accuse the report of not going far enough in recommending specific steps to Archbishop Etienne, but in a deeply Christian sense, its restraint is perhaps its greatest strength. In laying bare all their struggles and ideas, the task force is giving our own hand back to us to remove any beams blocking our vision. Its lesson is: We must learn—and relearn—how to hold tensions.

“Its restraint could also be seen, in a Christian sense, as cowardice or sloth. It may communicate that task force members are reluctant to suggest ways forward because the church will do what it wants regardless. Or that members are too overwhelmed to channel what they have brainstormed into integrated, actionable steps.”

Janicki calls the report “disappointing.” I would agree: to call for greater pastoral care without an accompanying demand for church worker justice misses the mark.

I would go further in suggesting Janicki’s reading is overly optimistic. He is correct that there is a time for Catholics to “learn–and relearn–how to hold tensions” on complex matters. But incidents of discrimination are not that time. Indeed, the way to address LGBTQ church workers is fairly simple: implement non-discrimination policies inclusive of LGBTQ people and then follow them, even if civil law does not mandate doing so.

Going forward, Archbishop Paul Etienne has said in a letter that he will enter a “discernment process” with the report, leaving it unclear what, if anything might come of the task force’s work. Hopefully, the archbishop will break from his fellow U.S. bishops and choose justice for church workers instead of more discrimination.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 15, 2021

3 replies
  1. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    The obsession of so many Church leaders over homosexuality to the exclusion of all other considerations calls into question their fitness as pastoral ministers and moral leaders and their intellectual honesty. So much of the institution is about ownership and control at the expense of care and understanding, it is breathtaking and dispiriting. The bottom line for me is that regardless of what they say, my gayness is part of how God made me. To which I add: and David loved Jonathan.

    The persistence and depth of my love for and commitment to my partner are an affirmative moral good in defense of which I am prepared to stand against the whole world. How wonderful is that? Why do they refuse to see this? It is because they have blinded themselves, and all their fancy words only make clear the extent and aggressiveness of their folly.

    I am in a binational relationship with a man from DR Congo who lives in Brussels, and we are separated most of the time. A few days ago he was suffering from a terrible migraine headache (from which he has since recovered), and at one point he called me just to hear my voice. That simple impulse meant the whole world to me. In the midst of his suffering and my concern for him, there was joy. That this does not easily trump everything else for these so-called religious leaders says nothing good about them. In contrast, the sustained witness and engagement by the people at New Ways Ministry says only good things about you.

    I quote the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

    “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
    I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
    so I love you because I know no other way
    than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
    so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
    so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.”

    I was at the LGBTQ Victory Fund brunch in April 2019 when Pete Buttigieg said, “My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.” With some notable exceptions, including lovely statements by Pope Francis and the work of Father James Martin, the moral leadership on this issue has come from the laity. Or, I should say a portion of the laity, given the ferocity of some conservative Catholics in presenting a strict, monolithic, all-or-nothing view of their faith, where no discussion or dissent can be tolerated.

    What are those conservatives afraid of? Indeed, what are they conserving? There are plenty of examples in the Gospel, for those prepared to see, of a more humble and receptive perspective: the discussion of children, the washing of feet, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the use of a Roman coin to distinguish between religious obligations and secular ones.

    From whence comes the angry fist of the Church, the cruel firings, the legalistic insistence that a teacher is in the same category as a clergy member? One of the worst aspects of this struggle is the insistence by Church authorities that the objects of their crackdowns lack humility, as if true humility requires abject submission to whatever the hierarchy says. I humbly suggest that this is terribly false, that in my fiancé’s quiet statement over the phone, “Hi, my Ricky, I just need to hear your voice,” is the whole universe in microcosm.

    There is something beautiful and powerful in this simple bond, in defense of which my lover nineteen years ago braved a murderous attack by his own family. The reflexive authoritarianism of so many in the Church hierarchy in treating our love as disordered is akin to that violence. On that awful day in 2002, in response to his uncle’s declaration, “You have brought shame upon our family,” my Patrick replied, “I have a right to live my own life,” whereupon his uncle lunged at him with a knife, which he kicked out of his uncle’s hand.

    The next time I was with Patrick, I kissed the place where the knife had gone in. There have been many obstacles in our path, but the rightness of our love has never been in doubt. And on that rock we build our church. Years later, the same uncle apologized to Patrick for what he had done; it turned out that he had a gay son of his own, and needed Patrick’s help. The beauty of this is in its reminder that those who are so busy slamming doors on us are powerless to prevent the opening of windows at unexpected times and places. Thus, ultimately, they are defeated by the simple, powerful witness of our love—the love, as Dante wrote, that moves the sun and the other stars.

    Reply
  2. Bob Hare
    Bob Hare says:

    Justice demands an end to discrimination for catholic employees. There might be a fine point. If they are teaching catholic religion not english or mathematics is an argument. If they are employed in a catholic organization/company and not teaching something that could be considered in the realm of passing on doctrine and the person or persons are terminated, I think their rights are violated.

    Reply

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