Brooklyn Diocese Fires Gay Church Worker Described By Supporter As “Love Incarnate”

Matthew LaBanca

The Brooklyn Diocese has fired a church worker over his same-gender marriage, a church worker who one supporter described as “love incarnate.”

Matthew LaBanca shared in a YouTube post that he was terminated from two church positions in the diocese. According to the New York Daily News:

“LaBanca was booted as music teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Astoria and as music director at Corpus Christi church on Oct. 13 after someone told Diocese officials he’d gotten married to a man in August, LaBanca said in a Youtube video posted over the weekend.

“‘I’m stripped of both of my jobs, all of my employment, my health insurance and, most importantly, the community life that has meant so much to me, not because of my work performance — not in the slightest — but because I’m gay,’ he said.

“LaBanca, a stage veteran who has appeared in Broadway shows and on TV, said the trouble started when a community member reported his Aug. 1 wedding date to Rowan in ‘an apparent act of righteousness.’

“LaBanca said a ‘Diocesan committee of high-ranking officials met for almost six weeks to discuss the fate of my employment and to answer the question, “Should Matthew be allowed to remain at his jobs?” ‘

“‘The answer turned out to be no.'”

According to LaBanca, he rejected a three-months severance package because it would have prohibited him from speaking publicly about the firings. He commented, “I realized no price could be placed on my personal integrity.” He called the firing a “capricious, discriminatory practice against the LGBTQ community.”

The diocese confirmed LaBanca’s firing in a statement in which it described the musician and teacher as a minister who was in breach of contract for failing to to “support an exemplify by his/her public conduct Catholic doctrine and morality.”

New York Daily News shared about the protests beginning against LaBanca’s firing:

“Collete Martin, the mother of a former student at St. Joseph’s, described LaBanca as ‘love incarnate. The kindest, most talented, gifted music teacher ever.’

“‘This teacher was instrumental in bringing joy to a school that was not joyful for my son,’ she added. ‘He has a lot of community support.’

“Martin also objected to the secrecy surrounding the termination, which she says was ‘done under the cover of night.'”

ABC 7 reported further:

“Labanca’s friend, Mary Ann Daly wonders what has become of the church she loves.

“‘It’s just so hypocritical — we know it’s been going on, so why do you make him a victim? It doesn’t make any sense,’ she said.

“‘The people on the ground in these communities are more wonderful than I ever knew … they have reached out to me, students, parents, parishioners, my family,’ Labanca said.

“He has not decided yet if he will sue the diocese but he misses his job and misses the students and wonders just what kind of moral and spiritual lesson the church is teaching its youngest members.”

A Change.org petition against the firing, which you can find here, has gained nearly. 2,000 signatures. LaBanca concluded his YouTube post with a message to supporters, stating:

“I love you all so much, I miss you. I’m still your friend, I’m still your colleague, I will always have been your teacher and, of course,  I’m still your neighbor. I hope that I will be seeing you. I hope that you’ll be on the look out for me too.”

More than 100 church workers have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes that went public in the last decade. To view the full listing, click here. For resources on how Catholics can act to protect LGBTQ church workers, including implementing non-discrimination policies, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 27, 2021

13 replies
  1. Richard J. Rosendall
    Richard J. Rosendall says:

    As I lie in the dark reading this story, the question wells up: where is Christ in this story? The only answer is that Christ is with the fired teacher.

    When I read the justifications for these cruel firings, they are meaningless sounds echoed by a bird amid rubble that was a church. If the Church lives, it is not in diocesan committees of high-ranking officials but in the person who recognized the righteousness of LaBanca’s marital act. Where does the faith live except in the conscience that tells us this love is a godly thing? It certainly does not live in the offer of severance pay in exchange for silence. The officials are left with their rules and the trappings of a faith that they have betrayed.

    Bless the people of conscience who spoke up for Matthew. They are the keepers of the flame.

    Reply
  2. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    I am awed and inspired by Mr. Bianca’s demonstrated willingness to forgo the short-term gain of three-months’ severance in order to maintain the life-long gain of integrity and self-respect. He was fired not because he is married, but because he is a man who is married a man, because he is a husband who has a husband.

    After reading this post, I spent some prayer time with today’s readings and reflections from “Give Us This Day” — a prayer resource which I know many find very positive and affirming. I was triggered, however, when I read the brief bio of the author of today’s reflections. It describes her (Natalia Imperatori-Lee) as someone who lives “with her spouse and two sons.” While I understand, to some extent, the forces that drive some in the LGBTQ+ community to use non-gendered terms, I also must be honest in sharing that seeing the word “spouse” triggered me. It reminded me of all the years, before same-sex marriage was legal, when I would struggle to find words to describe the man with whom I lived and shared life. Especially in work settings or other places that might not be so LGBTQ+-friendly, I would use “roommate” or “housemate.” Later, when “domestic partnerships” were legalized, I sometimes would use that term. None of these, however, satisfied. None of them described the relationship that was most significant to me. Today, while “spouse” may be accurate, it does not fully describe one’s relationship to the extent that “husband” and “wife” do.

    I’ll never forget when a friend asked me for the first time, “how’s your husband?” While we were not married and he was legally not my husband, that moniker felt right and accurate. I was grateful that he used the most specific term he could think of — even more accurate and specific than the non-gendered “spouse.”

    The integrity Mr. Bianca demonstrates is a reminder and a challenge that we all may have the courage to be who we are, to name our relationships with specificity, and to press our Church to recognize that the loving relationships have the right to be named for what they are.

    Reply
  3. Tony Floyd
    Tony Floyd says:

    One of the troubling aspects of this story is that the church offered a three month severance package in exchange for his silence. What is it with the church and secrecy. The sex abuse crisis was made far-far worse due to decades of secrecy and the church paying for victims silence. The most recent crisis brought promises of transparency from church leaders. Yet here again more secrecy. If they are claiming ministerial exception, why try and hide it if they feel they have done nothing wrong? More importantly what else are they still covering up?

    Reply
  4. Brother Doug Roach
    Brother Doug Roach says:

    When a gay married person is fired from a diocese, those in authority always use church law as the reason for dismissal. It always amazes me that church authorities never quote a word of phrase from Jesus or the Christian scriptures.
    I guess church law, made by men only, is more important than the teachings of Jesus.

    Reply
  5. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Consider this: a competent, well liked teacher offering music to students is fired because he got married. It is legally accepted in this country that anyone can marry another person. This diocese has taken the position to oppose his marriage. This is spiteful, unnecessary and mean. Who wins here? Definitely not the disocese. The Church seems bent on alienating everyone except the angry and righteous.

    Reply
  6. Susan M. Grimes
    Susan M. Grimes says:

    Mr. LaBanca is not only a talented musician – extremely talented – but is also the MOST Christ-like individual I have ever met. I have not see him be anything but loving towards everyone, ever. Even in this situation, he is encouraging us (his choir, parish, school community) to be forgiving towards those who have wronged him. He urges us “this is not a war zone, this is a love zone”. This is a disgraceful act against a wonderful person and outright discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Bishop DiMarzio should be ashamed of himself.

    Reply
  7. Ann Marie Connolly
    Ann Marie Connolly says:

    Such a sad loss to students and the communities of faith where this talented and generous man served! I am so done with these firings that so transparently focus on discrimination against LGBTQ persons! Stating that employees must exemplify solid Catholic values in their personal lives seems to only be applied to those trying to live out their lives with integrity as gay children of God. Those who “fail” to follow Church moral guidelines — use of artificial contraception, “living together” outside of a sacramental marriage, engaging in any number of abusive behaviors (including economically undermining the welfare of others) are exempt from threat of loss of job/income/inclusion in the community! What would Jesus do???????

    Reply
  8. Richard J. Rosendall
    Richard J. Rosendall says:

    Ann Marie, a most excellent point! The selective invocation of “Catholic doctrine and morality” against married gay men contrasts strikingly with the Vatican having looked the other way for years when a friend of JPII, Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, was credibly accused by several former seminarians of having sexually abused them. Benedict XVI finally responded to pressure and took action against Degollado, but his elevated position and connections protected him for years, and—unlike the present case—he had actual victims.

    Reply
  9. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    The good news:
    A growing number of Catholics-‘when given the choice between the gospels and legalism (made from whole cloth)–are chosing the teachings of Christ.

    *We* are the Church–not clericalism.

    Reply
  10. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    Mr. LA Banca’s cruel experience of injustice by a Catholic diocese is a story within a story. The way to expose secrecy is by national attention brought to what is going on. This is tough love in action. Coverage by more major newspapers, magazines, cable and network television, evening news and by national TV shows such as Ellen. The more exposure the better as we experienced when the Boston scandals broke amidst the same secrecy. Fighting darkness goes nowhere, while letting the light shine in dissolves all that is foul. Truth, beauty, love always win eventually. The real story behind all this is how the personhood and compassionate teachings of Jesus got thrown under the bus and replaced by man made doctrines of the Catholic Church. What a story within a story — one that would require a whole series of episodes covering as much time as is needed. So many are frightened that God will be upset if having these ideas expressed candidly were to take place. In a deeper more true nature of the heart is the wish to finally do what it takes. Rachel Maddow might love exploring this hypocrisy in a way which combines truth and humor. Jesus and Francis need more comrades who thirst for justice to make the goal to weed out the garbage and make some space and freedom for every person to blossom and recognize their authentic, beautiful self that God has created.

    Reply
  11. Marc Magis
    Marc Magis says:

    Could this have happened because of his marriage rather than being gay? The catechism is o.k. , well, claims as a disorder it is not that the problem is being gay, but gay sex. It’s tragic – I had to choose between Catholic Church and my gay son. I felt like I couldn’t take him to my church. And he has disdain for Catholicism. It was Church or my son. I left the church behind. It makes me sad.

    Reply
    • Tim MacGeorge
      Tim MacGeorge says:

      Technically, you are correct: I’m sure that officially, those who fired Mr. LaBanca would say exactly as you state, that he was fired “not because he is gay” but because he acted in a way (i.e. married a man) that they would say is not consistent with Church teaching. BUT … this illogical hair-splitting is exactly the point that those of us who are LGBTQ+ find so offensive. It’s a position that asks us to separate who we are from how we live. All of Christian theology and the Gospel itself (as well as a healthy understanding of human development) preaches just the opposite, i.e. that to be fully integrated, fully healthy, fully human, means to recognize and accept “who we are” and to live our lives in accordance with that self understanding. If we are truly created “in the image and likeness of God” (which the Church teaches), then doesn’t it follow that there must be something good, something holy, nay something divine even in those of us whom God chose to create as LGBTQ+??

      The Church has failed to listen to the actual, lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people, and therefore has a flawed and limited theology when it comes to human relationships in general and human sexuality in particular.

      Only by listening to LGBTQ+ people — as Pope Francis reminds us must be the stance of Church leaders — only then will the Church’s theology and teaching catch up with where God’s People already are.

      Reply

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