Jack Jenkins, Religion News Service NCR
A pair of schools in Indiana drew national attention to the Catholic Church’s attempts to grapple with LGBTQ relationships this month, highlighting the church’s complex position in a country increasingly welcoming to different sexual identities.
The controversy began when it was revealed that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis would strip Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of its status as a Catholic school because administrators refused to fire a teacher who is married to a same-sex partner.
Just a few days later, the nearby Cathedral High School — which is also Catholic — announced that it would fire a teacher who was openly gay after being threatened with the same result by the archbishop.
Then came the plot twist: The two teachers are married to each other.
But where did the controversy come from, why did only one school fire its employee, and what gives the church the right to do this in the first place?
As it turns out, the answers to these questions are a tangled web of both canon and secular law.
Catholic leaders have been firing gay employees for a while
The debate in Indiana is only the latest chapter in an ongoing controversy over gay Catholic employees that stretches back several years.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the first instance of an employee of a Catholic institution being fired for being in a same-sex relationship, the public debate over the issue began to heat up around 2014, when a food pantry worker and a music director were both fired from Catholic institutions for being relationships with someone of the same sex.
The following year, at least two openly gay teachers were either fired or denied jobs at Catholic schools.
While some institutions attempted to change policies after the firings garnered media attention, Catholic leaders and administrators generally justified their decisions by pointing to the catechism of the Catholic Church, which refers to “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.”
A solid majority of Catholics hold a very different view: As of 2017, 67% of American Catholics supported same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center.
Even as rank-and-file American Catholics expressed outrage at the firings, however, a subtext emerged: Catholic leaders were not necessarily probing the private lives of their employees, but appeared primarily concerned with whether their employees were gay in public.
In 2015, for example, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, head of the San Francisco Archdiocese, distributed a new handbook for teachers at Catholic schools under his purview instructing them to refrain from “visibly” contradicting the church’s teachings on homosexuality and other issues such as abortion or birth control.
Similarly, after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide that same year, the archbishop of Miami sent a letter to his employees warning that they could be fired for posting anything to social media that expressed support for same-sex marriage.
“Employees will witness by their public behavior, actions and words a life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” wrote the archbishop, Thomas Wenski.
Isn’t firing someone for their sexual orientation illegal?
Indiana’s religious freedom law, like similar laws in other states, does not grant religious employers carte blanche to fire anyone for their sexual orientation, but the legal justification that Catholic leaders typically invoke is something called the ministerial exception.
The designation has existed for some time and has traditionally allowed religious denominations and groups to control those hired or fired for positions typically filled by clergy. But in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively expanded the definition to include positions held by people who are not necessarily ordained religious leaders, but are nonetheless “ministers” in the eyes of practitioners.
Catholic leadership has since argued that this includes positions held by teachers, and as such exempts them from nondiscrimination laws that might otherwise bar firing someone simply for being openly gay. That was precisely the logic outlined by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson in Indiana when he argued Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School should fire its teacher for being in a relationship with someone of the same sex.
“To effectively bear witness to Christ, whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching,” read Thompson’s statement about Brebeuf. “The Archdiocese of Indianapolis recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers.”
Not everyone agrees with the church’s definition. At least two people fired from Catholic organizations have since filed lawsuits.
Whose call is it?
Some of the more prominent firings of openly gay teachers at Catholic schools have sparked pushback, but the case at Brebeuf has elevated a new debate about church authority.
Although the local archdiocese has stripped the school of its Catholic designation, Brian G. Paulson, provincial for the Midwest Jesuits, argued in a letter that Thompson shouldn’t be delving into the school’s personnel decisions. Paulson argued that since the school is considered a ministry of the Society of Jesus (an independent order of priests commonly known as Jesuits) and not the archdiocese, it should have greater autonomy over its own staff.
Paulson vowed to appeal this decision “through the formal appeal process established in church law: first, pursuing local recourse to the Archbishop, and, if necessary, hierarchical recourse to the Vatican.”
The situation is different over at Cathedral High School, which, although affiliated with the Brothers of Holy Cross, is not considered a formal ministry of a religious order the way Brebeuf is. As such, losing its Catholic designation would also mean the loss of Cathedral High’s religious affiliation altogether — and with it, its nonprofit status.
“Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours,” read a statement from the president and board chair at Cathedral. “Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf.”
It remains to be seen whether the Midwestern Jesuits will make good on their promise to elevate the case as high as the Vatican, or how officials in Rome would rule if it reached that point. But in the short term, it doesn’t look like the tension around the issue is going away anytime soon.
In Ireland many Catholic teachers live in fear of their bosses discovering they are gay or living in gay relationships.
I know them and talk to them.
In Northern Ireland the CCMS and Catholic schools and many principals are corrupt.
In a modern democracy NO CHURCH should be allowed to discriminate against any minority.
They are entitled to their medieval beliefs but the State should see to it that their beliefs do not affect places like schools where the State is paying.
Since starting to blog I have made every not to censor anything but the vilest comments.
However, a number of people are using the blog to carry on a daily battle with other people – which many other readers find very off putting.
From today I will not be publishing ongoing and crude battles between individuals.
Comment makes should criticise the views of others and not their person.
And I dont have the time to go through every comment removing unsuitable words or expressions.
43 replies on “WHY ARE CATHOLIC SCHOOLS FIRING GAY TEACHERS?”
Pat, I’m glad you are acting against some horrible, vile abusive commentators. I hope you will monitor your own words too!! On the topic for discussion: I believe that no school board of governors or school authority should have a right to make judgments or decisions about the sexuality of its staff, unless their behaviour or lifestyle is so outrageous as to warrant their dismissal. I’m also of the belief now that all religious beliefs and truths should be done by parents and a parish community. We must teach about moral and ethical responsibilities; we must inculcate respect and understanding for difference and diversity; in Catholic patronage schools we have a duty to teach Catholic beliefs and truths but must also be cognizant of other faiths and none. My life’s experiences have taught me that religious education should be done by parents and by a caring parish community, given to those parents and families who choose to be part of a believing/praying Catholic community. The next big battle will be to remove all religious patronage from schools. That is the next crusade and I wish the initiative would be taken by the Church with all relevant, interested parties. There is resistance among many school boards, principals, teachers and parents but the process will happen. If a church body is financially funding its schools and organisations, with the backing and support of parents, is the Church patronage, managing the school on behalf of parents, the only body who should enforce its ethos? Employees generally know the expectation of a school’s ethos.
If a Christian school’s ethos isn’t, fundamentally, about love (compassion, mercy, care, tolerance without moral approval or disapproval, etc), then it has no business calling itself ‘Christian’.
Since 2008, Catholic Church employers in the USA have fired 80 + employees for being in same-sex relationships (both co-habitational and marital), or simply, and cruelly, just for being LGBT. It is, of course, a moral outrage, because these same employers do not act impartially and consistently: to my knowledge, they have not fired any heterosexual employee, for example, for being divorced AND in a second relationship, either co-habitational or marital. These arrangements do not accord with magisterial teaching either.
There is something profoundly disquieting (perhaps even ‘self-outing’) about the focus of these acts of discrimination and injustice by Catholic clerics in the States. Why such inflexible and reactionary rigour against a particular demographic perceived to be in breach of magisterial teaching when, clearly, there most definitely are others? Why single out LGBT for disfavour? On first approach, it can appear more than doctrinally-driven; in fact, it can seem almost pogrom-like. As far as I know, this kind of social targetting exists nowhere else in the Catholic world; only in the States. It is probably (almost certainly) influenced by the so-called ‘culture wars’ that have been raging there for some years, a highly public, and bitterly divisive spat, between conservatives and liberals. (Catholic clerics there seem to have difficulty separating the political from the moral.)
With these discriminatory LGBT acts in mind, I asked an Irish priest, three or four years ago, whether he would sack an LGBT employee for being in a same-sex relationship. He answered with an emphatic ‘no’. So, too, did his colleague, and fellow priest. I asked the question for another reason : one of their employees was openly gay AND in a same-sex relationship (it may have been a civil partnership). I was pleased, and encouraged, by the answers of both priests.
There is greater than doctrinal assent required for Christians (in fact, this should be the least of their concerns); there is, supremely and redemptively, love.
Excellent comment Magna. At your best. Keep it up.
1 29: As a priest teacher for many years I encountered many gay teachers. I would never have countenanced making a judgment about their lives or sexuality. It is not my business as a chaplain or as a chairperson of the school board. I have never, in 40 years, been confronted by any situation that required such judgment. I would never agree to the sacking of a teacher on such grounds. My niece taught in a school with a gay principal, who, sadly, had huge personal issues around almost everything and made life very awkward for the entire school. He made accusations of all kinds against teachers re: bullying and harrassment. His behaviour required outside mediation, the end result after 3 years was a complete breakdown of discipline, standard of education and with many staff taking sick leave or early retirement. My niece stated despite his dislike of her because she had vision and imagination for the school and was respected by all pupils, parents and staff and spoke against him as his behaviour was outrageous . Eventually he had to resign having destroyed a great school. This situation required his removal from the school. It’s an extreme case but when any school is faced with similar cases by any teacher, irrespective of sexual orientation, hard decisions have to be made. I do not agree in this 21st century that being gay is grounds for firing a teacher unless their behaviour is extreme and unacceptable. But then I have on many occasions had to make decisions with the school board re: suitability of teachers, bad teaching, unprofessionalism, deliberate breach of ethos and other crazy behavioural patterns (drink/drugs) but never had to discuss issues around any teacher’s sexuality. Deliberate discrimination of this nature is something I would not agree with. Respect, tolerance, love and kindness are the values that I bring to my approach to everyone I encounter at a professional level.
Congratulations Father on a very balanced comment.
I am a gay teacher in a certain Scottish Diocese and the 3 years ago the Head got the Priest to try to talk me into transferring to a non denom school. Turns out that Father was gay too so told me he’d square it with the Head which he did. I heard no more!
I’m sure many gay teachers meet their gay PPs in gay saunas.
Why? would these people seek employment in a Catholic school, when they know full well The Church does not condone their lifestyle. All teachers seeking employment in Catholic schools must adhere to the teachings of The Church, it’s as simple as that.
That’s why we must abolish state funded Catholic schools.
Because that’s where the jobs are.
So all school principals are corrupt? Here you go again Pat with your blanket generalisations. At least you’re consistent.
And perhaps you might extend your battle against crudity to your own posts and comments…but then again, if you did, you’d be very quiet…
And I guess you won’t post this but you will read this and that’s enough.
7.10: Isn’t it amazing how Pat makes broadcswerping statementscabout prifesdional griups if oeoole in iur sicuety. Recently, social workers were condemned, priests are condemned every day and now we have blanket judgment about school boards of management or governors and principals. In 45 years of involvement in schools I experienced one awful principal. What world so you live in Pat? Please refrain from your unjust, ignorant, unfair judgments. When you have no involvement in schools you should mind your own business and shut up making outrageous judgments. If we were to parse your life to pieces under the bright lights of an xray, you mightn’t like what may be revealed…Just be kinder in your outlook.
On reflection I have put MANY before principals.
You are right to challenge me.
I have met and indeed in the past, appointed good Catholic principals.
CCMS principal are all corrupt. The evidence is out there.
That is my strong impression too. I am constantly hearing of corrupt and tyrannical CCMS principals.
Pat yr on the ball hi. Sure ‘‘twas worse on the old blog. People having a go in an inappropriate way. On here it’s slightly different at times but the principle is the same. It reads of a sad sick and bitter sub culture. About firing teachers! What about gay priests and bishops hi. Even going through history thauld Willie got more attention in some places than the God of heaven and Earth but
Because they are gay of course.
Why should that matter?
It doesn’t but that’s why they were fired
This is the last gasp of the anti-Bergoglio cohort of US bishops, appointed by Wojtyła or Ratzinger. They are resorting to desperate measure in desperation. An audit of the particular church leader should take place.
I think it is because there is room for only one gay in the Parish the pp.
Because the lgbt movement is now claiming love has no age.
Check out these 2 links
In a way live has no age.
Unfortunately Bishop Pat, I think the poster was insinuating something altogether seedy.
LGBT are easy targets for this kind of snide, underhand abuse, given the strength of prejudice and homophobia already against them.
I agree. Thinly veiled homophobia. I am 67 and my partner of 12 years is 41. We are blessed with a very happy and stable relationship.
I checked out those links. The first concerns ONE person who took advantage of a Snapchat campaign for Pride Month by inserting a ‘Love Has No Age’ filter. It was taken down within days.
The second link concerns an Irish county council which had to cancel a drag-queen storytelling for children in a local library owing to serious homophobic threats.
If you are the poster at 11:30, you have unjustly defamed the entire ‘LGBT movement’ with outrageous and false paedophilic slurs.
If you defend drag queens being near children you should be in prison yourself.
For the record glitter hole did not have police background check and bragged about that online also.
What about drag queens who have children?
And if you would defend Roman Catholic priests’ being around those same children (and I suspect you would), many might think that you should join me in the same prison cell.
BTW, the event has a history; it wasn’t just a ‘one off’. And it was always well received, especially by the children.
You aren’t one of those who made homophobic threats, are you?
The evidence supplied by commenter 3:46 is revolting, however it has set david disky free.
Bishop Buckley, the answer to the question posed in your blog heading today “Why are catholic schools firing gay teachers?”” is a simple one; it is because their chosen lifestyle is incompatible with the Catholic Ethos. Many other Christian denominations follow a similar. course of action in the US. As a gay man in a same sex relationship yourself sir you are hardly a dispassionate observer. The church has a right to regulate it’s own workings, whether you or anybody else likes it.
I agree the RCC has the right to regulate it’s own inner workings. But the state should not be funding homophobia in any way. If the RCCs want their own schools let them pay for them privately.
Thaddeus at 4:50pm
You are quite right, very well put an excellent post concise and to the point. God Bless You.
It’s outrageous, Bp Pat, especially when we know the hierarchy are all undercover-fags. KOB was a prime example.
The abuse scandals are nothing compared to the glitter hole and love has no age scandals.
Hopefully the vast majority of people of all sexual hues agree that the basic ground rule is for people to have sex with people over the age of consent.
5.51: You are right. The “have what you want”; “do what you want” and “be what you want to be” ideology has arrived. And 8f questioned, you are pilloried, ridiculed and abused. The “love has no age” philosophy is a permission to sexual abuse permissiveness, promiscuity and a complete disregard for the sanctity and gift of sexuality. Sex as a pathway to interpersonal happiness, you and fulfilment – yes. But what’s thrown in our face today and accepted as normal is a moral perversion. The definition of sex as promoted by a liberal society exposes children to abuse, exploitation and utter confusion about their sexuality and gender. Adults in their pursuit of “have what you like” desecrate their bodily integrity and endanger not just themselves but others too.
Oh dear, I’m so tired of the Catholic Church and it’s obsession with sexual and relationship morality ! It’s just so irrelevant and inappropriate. Why do they have to view the value of pretty much everything and everyone through the prism of the loins. It’s an unhealthy obsession. Do they realise that most Catholics chose to dissent in some form or other from this Catholic moral and sexual teaching? It’s not that they want to undermine the important relationships and love in their lives but they understand its context and how to apply it in lived situations, including being able to make decisions in conscience that may be a compromise. Maybe the celibate and sexually obsessed men ( yes, all men) of together Church who pronounce on these matters should listen to the rest of us for a while then they might develop a more healthy, natural and human understanding of these matters.
That’s a good aspiration Anon@ 7.46, but one I think unachievable while the RC church continues its outmoded clerical training structures. The Western RC churchcontinues its obsession with a self imposed forbidden fruit of sex.
I’m reminded of a long ago perspective of an English pub co-owner in Kanchanaburi. “If we’re hungry we eat: thirsty we drink. Sex is simply another compelling appetite….like food and drink: not to be abused. They’ve a more sensible view of it here in Thailand ” said Colin, retired SAD colonel.
In travelling, particularly in Asia and Africa, I have found a very much more relaxed perspective in relegating sex to a much more realistic factor in the hierarchy of significances in how we conduct ourselves.