Catholic Church

Changing The Conversation On Catholic Church Workers’ Rights

by Robert Shine

It seems as if every few months, and sometimes weeks, Bondings 2.0 covers the story of a Catholic church worker who lost a job in an LGBT-related dispute made public. There are more than fifty such cases since 2008, but there are signs of hope as ecclesial forces increasingly resist these firings.

Augustinian Father Paul Morrissey is helping to shift the conversation in his recent National Catholic Reporter article, raising an often overlooked point:

“The world could not hold together for a month without the loving devoted care offered every day by all the LGBT teachers, counselors, nurses, doctors, sisters, brothers, priests, artists, authors, postal workers, police, politicians, adult children, parents — and, yes, even bishops, whom God has sent to help the heterosexual married community raise and nurture its children. . .

“Rather than focus on the love and respect that LGBT people need from the church, at least equal time should be put into the love and respect that LGBT people give to the church and to the world, and how this has been going on throughout history. The world could not continue as a loving and caring place without the gifts of the LGBT people in our midst, often in vocations of healing, such as the medical profession, the counseling profession and the priesthood itself.”

At a minimum, a heaping dose of mercy is needed in the church’s reflection about church workers. Scott Alessi writes about this in U.S. Catholic, ending his reflection in on a similar note as Morrissey:

“Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a church of mercy, one that does not focus on the faults of its members or obsess over a narrow set of doctrinal issues. The church’s employment policies should take a similar approach. . .

“It is time to end the witch hunt for employees within the ranks of the church who may not always be living according to the letter of the law. If such a strict test were truly applied across the board so that anyone who sins were to be fired, everyone from the pope on down would lose their job. Instead of trying to purge the church of employees who may not meet the ideal, it is time to craft a new approach that appreciates their gifts and talents, recognizes the value of their contributions, and helps to point them—and all whom they encounter in their work—toward the gospel.”

A recent survey in U.S. Catholic shows Catholics widely oppose LGBT discrimination, choosing instead Morrissey’s and Alessi’s calls to focus on church workers’ contributions to the church community. 83% of respondents said church institutions should not fire employees whose personal lives differ from the bishops’ teachings. 90% agree that the secret tip-offs which had lead to many firings are “poisonous to the church” and 84% oppose contracts with enhanced morality clauses.

These numbers affirm what anecdotal evidence reveals to be true: Catholics in the United States appreciate church workers, cognizant of the commitment and sacrifices ministers, educators, and social service providers make to advance the church’s mission.

The bishops and their middle managers who enforce discriminatory policies forget such gratitude in place of their zealously anti-LGBT agenda. A little more gratitude could greatly help church leaders understand the true costs of their “purity” crusade, which not only discriminates against church workers for LGBT identities, but also sends a message to all in the church that all are not welcome, and some will be expelled for who they are and whom they love. These firings greatly undermine the church’s mission.

If church leaders do not start showing gratitude for the numerous and essential contributions of LGBT Catholics to the church and to the world, there may at least be hope in the American legal system. Fired music teacher Flint Dollar has filed a discrimination suit against Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, reports The Telegraph. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Dollar had “reasonable cause” for claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation earlier this year, a finding potentially strengthened by the EEOC’s June finding that existing federal civil rights law covers sexual orientation.

Yet, church leaders should not wait for U.S. law to ensure that they respect the rights and dignity of LGBT and ally church workers.The time is now to change the conversation on church workers’ rights. Church institutions should start implementing Gospel-based employment policies as soon as possible, welcoming all who are qualified and committed to enhance the church’s mission.

To get started, consider getting an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy passed at your Catholic parish, school, hospital, or social service agency. You can find more information on making this change here.

Originally published on Bondings 2.0