September 27, 2014
In the last month, the number of LGBT-related employment disputes at Catholic institutions topped twenty for the year.
Barbara Webb was fired from Marian High School in August for becoming pregnant outside marriage. Supporters have sustained protests online, with nearly 70,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, and by rallying at the school. Now, the leadership of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters who sponsor the school have responded.
Oakland Press reports that IHM president Sr. Mary Jane Herb released a letter to the Marian community which did not directly address Webb’s firing. However, the letter promised a review of the school’s policies and said a team of consultants would intervene before future employment decisions are made in similar situations. Citing Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and inclusion, Sr. Herb also wrote:
“Our Church and Catholic schools are confronted with a complexity of issues that have not been faced in the past….These are challenging times and times in which we feel God’s Spirit is working with us, encouraging us to respond to the signs of the times in new ways.”
In response, organizers under the name “I Stand with Barb Webb” have begun a crowd-funding campaign, which hopes to raise $65,000 so that Marian H.S. can institute diversity trainings for staff and a diversity club for students. While the IHM Sisters’ offering is a start, it does not do justice for Barbara Webb or ensure LGBT firings will stop at Marian High School. Hopefully, through this learning process, school administrators and IHM leadership will come to see what Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has seen: that these firings “need to be rectified.“
St. Mary’s High School coach Nate Alfson bravely came out as gay in an article for OutSports this summer, telling LGBT youth to “Be you. Be true. Never forget that you matter.” It then surprised many when the Dell Rapids, South Dakota school did not fire Alfson.
Sioux Falls diocesan spokesperson Jerry Klein said recently this outcome should not surprise anyone, and that the hierarchy’s teaching on chastity is key to understanding this decision. However, such a comment could imply that if Alfson dates or enters a civil marriage he would assuredly lose his job coaching.
Jill Callison, a columnist for the Argus Leader quoted Klein and commented on the import of his statement:
” ‘(L)iving a sexually active same-sex lifestyle, one that is not chaste, is not compatible with Church teaching,” the statement says. ‘The same is true for a sexually active, opposite-sex lifestyle outside of marriage. In either of these circumstances, employment or public ministry on behalf of the Church is not appropriate.’ “
Ben Brenkert’s story of leaving the Jesuits after ten years over injustices is spreading, after having been initially posted on Bondings 2.0. Brenkert had written an open letter to Pope Francis about the firing of LGBT church workers, specifically Colleen Simon, who was let go as food pantry coordinator at a St. Louis Jesuit parish. Now, his story has appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, The Advocate, and the Washington Post.
Case of Jamie Moore
The music director at St Victoria parish in Victoria, Minnesota, has resigned after marrying his husband last weekend, and the resignation was ordered by embattled Archbishop John Nienstedt. But as LGBT-related employment disputes top twenty in 2014 alone, are these firings and resignations making it more difficult for LGBT people and allies to remain Catholic in any capacity?
The church’s pastor, Fr. Bob White, wrote to parishioners explaining that upon hearing their music director, Jamie Moore, had entered into a same-gender marriage, the archbishop demanded his resignation and Moore complied. White added that Moore would “be sorely missed…we wish him every happiness.” The pastor said he would address the situation from a “pastoral perspective” during upcoming weekend Masses.
Nienstedt released his own statement, citing a document unusually titled “Justice in Employment” which allows church workers to be fired immediately for public conduct inconsistent with Catholic teaching. The archbishop added that his role was to make “painful and difficult” decisions to uphold Christian values.
However, St. Victoria parishioners do not quite see the archbishop’s actions in keeping with Christ’s message. Some compared this incident to the firing of Kristen Ostendorf, a lesbian teacher, from a Minnesota Cathoilc high school last year. Others like Chub Schmeig criticized the action outright, telling Fox 9 News:
” ‘I believe the church has more serious problems to be concerned with than whether a gay or lesbian person is in the church…It has lots of other issues to handle first.’ “
What might those problems be for Minnesota Catholics? Archbishop Nienstedt, a leading anti-LGBT bishop in the US, is facing increasing calls for his own resignation over his mishandling of clergy abuse that included moving a priest convicted of sexual abuse and offering secret payments to priests who admitted to the sexual abuse of children. As far as LGBT issues are concerned, Nienstedt has called marriage equality the “work of Satan” and spent tremendous resources mailing more than 400,000 DVDs during Minnesota’s debate on that matter. He has also been accused of making sexual advances on priests and seminarians, charges which he denied this summer.
And what to make of this situation, where an archbishop under pressure to resign personally forces a gay musician out? Two prominent gay Catholic writers, Frank Bruni and Andrew Sullivan, are tackling this question in the wake of so many LGBT-related employment disputes with church workers. Writing in his column for the New York Times, Bruni recalls the recent Communion denial and dismissal from volunteer services of two longtime gay parishioners in Montana, Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff, who quietly were married. He continues:
“Such punishment has befallen many employees of Catholic schools or congregations since the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states allowed them civil weddings. Teachers long known to be gay are suddenly exiled for being gay and married, which is apparently too much commitment and accountability for the church to abide. Honesty equals expulsion. ‘I do’ means you’re done…
“The Catholic Church does incalculable good, providing immeasurable comfort — material as well as spiritual — to so many. But it contradicts and undercuts that mission when it fails to recognize what more and more parishioners do: that gay people deserve the same dignity as everyone else, certainly not what happened to the Montana couple. If Francis and his successors don’t get this right, all his other bits of progress and pretty words will be for naught.”
Andrew Sullivan of The Dish writes about how these incidents have shifted his thinking about being gay and Catholic, moving from a minor blemish amid much greater goodness to a “defining wound…[that] may slowly wreck the whole church.” Writing about the Montana couple, Sullivan says:
“It’s kinda hard to portray these two as some kind of subversive force…And the action against the men came not because they are gay but because they decided to celebrate their love and friendship with a civil marriage license. So they’re not really being targeted for sex; they are being targeted for their commitment and responsibility and honesty. And the only reason they have been excluded on those grounds is because they are gay.”
“If the church upholds this kind of decision, it is endorsing cruelty, discrimination and exclusion. Pope Francis’ view is that this is exactly the kind of thing that requires the church to exercise mercy not rigidity. But allowing a married gay couple to sing in the choir as an act of ‘mercy’ would merely further expose the fragility of the church’s thirteenth century views of human sexuality. It would put the lie to the otherness of gay people; to the notion that it is essential or even possible for a tiny minority to live entirely without intimacy or love or commitment. It also reveals that gay men have long been a part of the church – and tolerated, as long as they lied about their lives and gave others plausible deniability with respect to their sexual orientation. It is an endorsement of dishonesty.”
Sullivan goes on to point out that these dismissals and firings are inconsistent with Catholic moral teachings on compassion, mercy, inclusion, and fairness — and that young Catholics view this “as barbaric and inhuman.” He concludes:
“There is only so much inhumanity that a church can be seen to represent before its own members lose faith in it. I recall the feelings of my own niece and nephew who lost a huge amount of respect for the church when they heard a homily denouncing the civil marriage of their own uncle. I notice the outcry among Catholic high school students when a teacher was fired for the very same reason. When a church responds to an act of love and commitment not by celebration but by ostracism, it is not just attacking a couple’s human dignity; it is also attacking itself.”
One final note is that Sullivan captures the hypocrisy in these situations perfectly when he writes: “Yes, the church is now in favor of divorce as a condition for being a Catholic!” (Divorce is required of the Montana couple to be allowed to return to communion.) Indeed, there is neither logic nor just cause for these dismissals.
As Pope Francis calls for greater mercy and his top US adviser, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, says these employment disputes “need to be rectified,” the hypocrisy inherent in denying Communion to LGBT people or forcing church workers out for their sexual orientation, marital status, or personal views only becomes more fully on display. I reiterate the prediction of former San Francisco Catholic Charities director Brian Cahill that these disputes will cause the church to become a ‘shrinking cult.’
For the sake of LGBT Catholics, their allies, and the good of the whole church, let us pray and act so this hypocrisy will end. Please consider beginning a discussion in your parish to enact employment non-discrimination policies. You can find out how to do that by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
September 23, 2014
When the pastor of St. Leo parish in Lewiston, Montana, found out that a gay couple there had been joined in a civil marriage, his response was to tell them they were not longer welcome at communion or to participate in any of the parish’s volunteer ministries, even though both had been actively involved in many of them for a number of years.
In the Great Falls Tribune, Rev. Samuel Spiering acknowledged he had learned about the relationship of Paul Huff, 73, and Tom Wojtowick, 66, through a rumor, though the couple did confirm it. To make matters worse, Spiering offered a resolution which requires the couple to deny their commitment to one another. The Tribune states:
“Huff and Wojtowick were also told that to regain full privileges within St. Leo’s, they must first obtain a divorce, cease living together and write a statement renouncing their prior marriage.”
Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings diocese supported the pastor’s decision, noting, in The Billings Gazette:
“Warfel said he knows Wojtowick and Huff ‘to be good people.’
“ ‘This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,’ he said. ‘A lot of people put those two together, and obviously there’s a connection, but it’s not the same thing.’
“Warfel called same-sex marriage ‘the issue of our era,’ acknowledging that in the U.S., polls show that support for it has edged higher than those who oppose it. But the fact remains that stands in conflict with Catholic teachings.
“ ‘As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman,’ Warfel said. . . .
“ ‘Either I uphold what Catholic teachings are or, by ignoring it or permitting it, I’m saying I disagree with what I’m ordained to uphold,’ Warfel said.”
For me, the bishop’s statements very clearly show the problem with this kind of thinking. While on the one hand, he knows, in reality, that these men are “good people,” his theoretical ideas about what are the proper uses of sexuality force him to reject them. His heart tells him one thing, but his head tells him something else. I hope that he would use this opportunity to discern a little deeper how to resolve that dividing of responses.
Although he claims to want to uphold church teaching, he seems intent on only upholding the church’s teaching on marriage, not any teachings on effective pastoral ministry, the human dignity of gay and lesbian people, the respect for people’s conscience decisions. When and why did the teaching on marriage trump all other teachings? When and why does church teaching ask the bishop to deny what he knows from his own experience that these two men are “good people” ?
As in similar cases of dismissal, many people in the parish have come to the support of this couple. Over the weekend, Warfel had a meeting with parishioners to discuss the situation, but according to The Great Falls Tribune, “No substantive changes have resulted.”
The dismissal occurred even though the couple had explained that their marriage was not intended as a challenge to church teaching. According to the Associated Press:
“Wojtowick said the men married in Seattle in May 2013 so they could make medical and financial decisions for each other.
“During an Aug. 25 conference call with Spiering, Warfel and other diocesan officials, Huff and Wojtowick agreed to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman, Huff said.”
Others have joined in support of Huff and Wojtowick. Patheos blogger John Shore thinks that Pope Francis should be involved in this situation:
“ ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’ Which means, of course, ‘Homosexuality is an abominable offense to God.’
“Which is a morally reprehensible thing to say—especially, of course, to a gay person—and especially to a gay person who has given their life to honoring the very God they’re now being told—and being told by His authorities on earth, no less—finds them, purely by virtue of them being the person they were created to be, repugnant to Him.
“Please, please join me in calling upon the good Pope Francis, in his role as defender of the weak and champion of the oppressed, to recognize the moral travesty being visited upon Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick, of the tiny parish of St. Leo in Lewistown, MT, as an absolutely stupendous opportunity for the Catholic Church to once and for all come down unequivocally on the right and just side of the homosexual issue.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA points out a list of injustices evident in the pastor’s decision:
- It is unjust for Church leaders to ban people from the Eucharist because of who they are or whom they love.
- It is unjust for Church leaders to single out LGBT people for dismissal from ministry and leadership roles, when others who disagree with Church teaching do not suffer the same penalties.
- It is unjust for Church leaders to bar LGBT people from exercising their civil rights.
- It is unjust for Church leaders to demand that a couple separate and divorce.
As our church leaders prepare to begin discussing marriage and family issues in the upcoming synod, one topic that appears to be attracting a lot of attention is doing away with the ban on divorced and remarried people from receiving the Eucharist. That would be a welcome change which would bring pastoral comfort to so many individuals and families.
Church leaders should also offer similar attention to gay and lesbian couples who choose to marry civilly. They, too, should not be denied access to the Eucharistic table.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry (source)