How should the church respond when gay employees get married? Firing them is not the answer.

A same-sex couple exchange rings during a marriage ceremony in early October at the Salt Lake County Government Complex in Salt Lake City. (CNS photo/Jim Urquhar, Reuters)

In May 2015, one month before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of civil marriage for same-sex couples, a series of unexpected events unfolded in Germany. By a two-thirds vote, the German Catholic bishops’ conference voted to change church labor law so that employees of Catholic institutions who divorce and remarry or who enter same-sex unions will not be subject to dismissal.

Civil unions for same-sex couples have been legal in Germany since 2001. What sparked last year's policy change? The bishops recognized that the previous church law, which included a “morals clause” for Catholic employees, was being selectively applied.

“People who divorce and remarry are rarely fired,” Cardinal Rainer Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, said at the time, citing another common violation of the morals clause. “The point is to limit the consequences of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases [that would] compromise the church's integrity and credibility.”

Under the new law, the church in Germany can dismiss an employee who publicly expresses “opposition to fundamental principles of the Catholic Church—for example by support for abortion or for racial hatred” or who disparages “Catholic faith content, rites or practices,” on the grounds that these infractions would constitute a “grave breach of loyalty.”

Here in the United States, same-sex marriage has been legal for over a year. Many same-sex couples have chosen to enter into a legal marriage, a number that will surely grow larger with time. At some Catholic colleges and universities, employees who enter into these marriages have been able to keep their jobs. On the parish level, however, many married gay employees have been dismissed, an action often met with sadness or anger from parishioners. In some particularly unfortunate cases, individuals have been secretly reported to their supervisors by other members of the community.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, while teaching that homosexual acts cannot be morally accepted, also requires that homosexual persons be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (No. 2358). The high public profile of these firings, when combined with a lack of due process and the absence of any comparable  policing of marital status for heterosexual employees, constitute signs of “unjust discrimination,” and the church in the United States should do more to avoid them. In addition to any possible harm done to the employees who have been fired, the appearance of unjust discrimination weakens the church’s overall witness. The church will lose talented, devoted workers because of institutional decisions made under pressure or without sufficient discernment.

The church in the United States is living in a complex and challenging time. Regrettably, on a variety of subjects—from views on the death penalty to support for contraception and same-sex marriage—the teachings of the church and the practices of its members often do not match. Meanwhile, the church relies on a large number of lay employees to help administer parishes, schools and hospitals across the country. Very few of them subscribe to the totality of Catholic teaching. How can the church continue to sustain its ministries while bearing witness to the timeless truths of its teaching when its own employees do not accept them all?

The answer is not to downplay or gloss over these teachings. Catholics are called to preach difficult truths about a range of subjects, including but not limited to marriage and sexuality. But what is the best way to do that? It is true that sometimes an employee of a Catholic institution can cause scandal by his or her public words or deeds. But it is also true that treating employees unfairly, by holding them to different standards or dismissing them abruptly or without consultation, can itself cause scandal.

In a recent interview with America, Cardinal-designate Joseph Tobin offered some sound advice. First, it is wise to approach these cases one by one. Different standards may apply to a chief financial officer of a Catholic organization  than to a grade school teacher. It would be unwise to implement a one-size-fits-all policy for the entire U.S. church. Church leaders should rather circulate guidelines that can help people at the local level to navigate these difficult questions.

Formation is also critical. What does the training of employees look like at Catholic organizations? Do conversations about ethics and morals continue after a person is hired, or are they invoked only when there has been a violation? Do morals clauses account for a range of Catholic teaching, or do they give too much attention to an important but narrow range of issues related to sexual morality?

The church must be free to conduct its ministries without government interference and with room to challenge prevailing social mores. But we also have a duty to proceed with wisdom and mercy, attentive to the dignity of the individual and the common good.

This editorial is also available in Spanish.

Lisa Weber
5 months ago
If you look at how Jesus treated issues of sexuality, he treated them as private matters. The church would do well to base its teachings in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, the church needs to speak out on issues of sexuality and morality, but it has obviously missed the mark on the issue of contraception and it seems to have no way to revisit the issue or to say, "Maybe we were wrong." The church also refuses to consider the idea that perhaps the laity knows more about sexuality than the leadership. The answer to the question, "What did I know about sex when I was a virgin?" is "Nothing." Failing to follow the teachings of Jesus, refusing to reconsider a question when the first answer is not accepted, and barring those with more experience from taking part in the dialogue all adds up to unnecessary difficulty in developing sound policies related to sexuality.
Tim O'Leary
5 months ago
Lisa – I agree we should follow Jesus’s example. He (a virgin, btw) was quite severe on sins, but gentle on sinners who didn’t deny their sins. Note His judgment on various sins, including sexual, (Mt 15:19). He loved the sinner while condemning the sin. His message was forgiveness AND (not so privately) “Go, sin no more.”
J Cosgrove
5 months ago
The problem is that things have changed dramatically. It was simpler 40-50 years ago when what was Catholic was run by Catholics who had a unified version of what being a Catholic was and nearly all practiced their faith accordingly. Now any Catholic institution is at best nominally Catholic especially Jesuit universities. Catholic hospitals are barely Catholic any more as few priest and religious are available to help, What is left that is still Catholic are parishes and even the schools are not totally Catholic. Many Catholic high schools are modestly Catholic. One solution that is abhorrent is to retreat and supervise only Catholic organizations. But the odds of anything like this happening are close to those for snowballs existent in a familiar place. Meanwhile we go through charades like this article is describing where Catholic values are mocked if they are adhered to. The last refuge of Catholic administration is the parish. When we hire non Catholics to run our parishes, we know it is over. Sort of like the Protestant minister who says she is an atheist but does not want to give up her church.
Jim McCrea
5 months ago
Will the last lesbian or gay employee of this sect who is still waiting to be treated fairly grow up and do what the rest of us have done? It's easier ... much easier .... to stay out once you get out.
Tim O'Leary
5 months ago
Jim - When it comes to Church doctrine, the just thing is to require all Catholics who represent the Church in some official capacity to preach the Catechism, or at least not to publicly witness against it. Also, easy is not best motive. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.(Mt 7:13-14)
Kevin Murphy
5 months ago
You're citing the German Church (which barely exists, and is reliably liberal) and Joseph Tobin, a Francis favorite and "progressive", as advocates? Weak sauce, my friends. You'll have to do better in your efforts to weaken Church teachings.
CASIMER LOPATA
5 months ago
Perhaps the USCCB needs to reflect on its own past words: "Some persons find themselves through no fault of their own to have a homosexual orientation.... They have a right to respect, friendship and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community." -- U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Letter, To Live In Christ Jesus, November 1976
Tim O'Leary
5 months ago
Casimer - you are conflating a predisposition to act against the Church's teaching and a public commitment to act against the same teaching. Anyone who has a public role in a Catholic organization should accept the Catechism, or find some other job. Almost all other jobs will pay more, so the only logical reason they would stay is to act as a counter witness, or to sue the Church, and try to extract a settlement paid for by the poor box.
Tim O'Leary
5 months ago
When I first read the title and subtitle of this editorial on the main page, I thought it was going to be about the increasingly common unjust discrimination of Catholic organizations for trying to live a consistent faith, to practice what they preach, in word and deed, in their leadership and their representatives. I am thinking of the Obamacare pressures to force Catholics to provide contraceptives, the shutting out of Catholic adoption agencies because they believe children are best cared for by being adopted by a married man and woman, the pressures on Catholic hospitals re abortion services, and the suits from college and parish employees who counter-witnessed by their public repudiation of Catholic teaching (multiple cases). But, it turns out it is the opposite – how Catholic organizations can find ways to preach the Catechism in words while permitting their representatives to preach the opposite in deeds, under the guise of justice. I suppose it is not surprising that the examples – colleges, hospitals and the German Church – all concern institutions who heavily rely on tax income and desperately want to find ways to maintain their income, whatever the doctrinal consequences, by surrendering to the Zeitgeist. But, as the mainline Protestant churches have demonstrated so often, this strategy has very short-term benefit, if any at all. It just doesn’t work. It is dishonest and a counter-witness. It pushes struggling sinners away, while appeasing prideful sinners in their denial of their sin. Note that the argument above suggests that those who enter into a public gay marriage be treated the same as divorced Catholics who publicly "marry" someone when they are still married in Church eyes to someone else. I agree, but in the opposite direction as suggested above. If evangelization of the unadulterated fullness of the faith is not the paramount principle of a Catholic institution, then to hell with it.
Alfred Chavez
5 months ago
As O'Leary says here, the public nature of a gay union makes it different from more private sinning. Jesus was very direct when the woman was caught in a sin that was made public: "Go, and sin no more." Still, there are many sins that are public--especially these days. Unmarried couples living together; thieves caught red-handed; witnesses lying under oath; healthy, registered members of the Church who never make it to Mass; the list could go on and on. Why indeed are gays such targets for public censure? Jesus was a just judge, but can we say that about ourselves? Finally, given that we should treat sinners more charitably and non-judgmentally, what are we doing to teach the right path? Do we stop at treating others with justice? To what extent do we enthusiastically both treat others with justice and teach "them to observe all things that I have commanded you" [Mt 28:20]?
Tim O'Leary
5 months ago
Alfred - I might add that I would be surprised to hear that convicted thieves or perjurers, or people who publicly live together unmarried, or are in a publicly known adulterous relationship, would keep their job at parishes. However, they probably do keep their jobs at colleges and hospitals (and the German church). There are, however, many employees even in Catholic school theology departments who preach all sorts of heterodoxy, and certainly live counter-witness lives, even (?especially) at Jesuit schools. Unfortunately, I don't think the motive for keeping these counter-witnesses there has anything to do with mercy.
Roberto Blum
5 months ago
I am so tired of reading 3 or 4 regular trolls' opinions on every possible subject. They are always attacking US government -- Obama especially --, gays, gay marriage, progressive bishops, priests -- especially jesuits and jesuit institutions -- even pope Francis, etc. These individuals, who constantly opine, seem to have an agenda which tries to turn back everything to the "good old times" in which "white heterosexual (?) males" ruled everything. Fortunately those times are forever over.
Tim O'Leary
5 months ago
Roberto - this is a little rich coming from a regular blogger/troll on this site. As to an agenda, I would say every blogger has one, consciously or not. Your racist charge is pretty standard fare but hardly advances any point. But, I guess that is your point. My agenda, on this Catholic website, among other things, is to celebrate the fullness of the faith, to defend the Church and its teachings from unsubstantiated attacks. I recall you recently described heaven as "fool's gold" and the only life is this one " Nothing before it and nothing after it." Jesus would strongly disagree. There are nearly 140 references to heaven in the gospels and nearly every one of them came from Jesus. Here's two: “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3) and “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:2-3).
Roberto Blum
4 months 4 weeks ago
Tim, the Apostle's Creed says: I believe in ....the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. and the Nicene Creed says: We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. I copy below our interchange just to remind you what I wrote at the time: Roberto Blum | 10/1/2016 - 2:45pm Salvation incorporeal? Individualistic salvation? Man without a body is nothing. Man alone is not a man. The Church -- the people of God -- have to build the Kingdom not anywhere else but here and now. Disembodying man was the gravest mistake that Christians have done. People have now realized that our collective mission is to build here and now a Kingdom of mercy and justice for all sentient beings. Tim O'Leary | 10/3/2016 - 1:53pm Roberto - even the vegetables? as the Buddhists might want? It sounds like you have a political/environmental solution in mind. But, we will all die very soon, so any Kingdom that is limited to this life is a fool's gold. The real thing is to see the face of God, forever. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Mt 24:35. Roberto Blum | 10/3/2016 - 7:26pm Tim, I wouldn't say vegetables are sentient beings. Anyway, this life although limited in time, is eternal -- meaning outside of time -- if you consider the wholeness of it. Nothing before it and nothing after it. So, I would say the only chance "to see the face of God" is in this temporarily limited but in fact eternal life. So, let's don't waste the only opportunity we have hoping for somekind of "fool's gold" after dying. It's evident your ideological agenda and position to try diminish the importance of this earthly life and project it to a future "heavenly" life that has no basis in the Catholic faith as it appears in the creeds. I am glad you accept being a "troll" with a particular agenda. Great, so there will be no mistake. Everything is clear.
Tim O'Leary
4 months 4 weeks ago
Roberto - Troll is your epithet, not mine, and your accusations of racism fits that word. Your interpretation of the Creed is weird. A belief in the resurrection of the body is not a denial of heaven. How you could think it teaches heaven is a fool's gold, is odd, to say the least. Also, I wouldn't be blogging on human rights for the unborn, religious and family rights, politics, etc., if I didn't think this earthly life was important. I have no idea what point you are trying to make.
alan macdonald
4 months 4 weeks ago
Again, the American Jesuits are advancing and promoting one of their goals, same sex marriage, in a tangential manner. They never come right out and support it as that would be unorthodox.
Luis Gutierrez
4 months 4 weeks ago
As long as the Church keeps insisting that the male-only priesthood is a matter of faith (IT IS NOT!) I am utterly unable to understand how we can denounce any unjust discrimination with a straight face. It is NOT about justice for women; the injustice to PREVENT the Lord from calling women, now that the patriarchal era is passing away. Consider the following, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St John Pail II's Theology of the Body: Appeal to Pope Francis ~ English http://pelicanweb.org/CCC.TOB.120.html#english The Church has been commodified to suit the norms of the patriarchal culture long enough. The Catholic faith is that the Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." The Church is a communion, not a patriarchate. It is ludicrous, and objectively immoral, to keep deceiving people into believing that the apostolic mark of the Church is dogmatically patriarchal. For the new evangelization in the post-patriarchal era we need women deacons, women priests, and women bishops; not for expedient cultural adaptation, but for the glory of God and the good of souls!
Tim O'Leary
4 months 4 weeks ago
Luis - the Church has said for 2000 years that the priesthood is a male vocation, following Jesus, limited to a small subset of men who are called to be priests. Women cannot be priests because God wants to teach humanity something deeper about ourselves.The infallibility of this doctrine was confirmed by St. John Paul II. You are adamant that this teaching is wrong and that a careful reading (by only you) of his work contradicts his teaching. The evidence you posit is a Capitalized denial and a link to your own website! You are positing your own self as a one-man magisterium that can overrule the Church, and even Scriptures. Well, good luck with that. Here is what I think is going on - moderns have a very superficial idea of sexuality, a false anthropology that leads to false doctrine. They read the Scriptures that "male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27) and think it some accidental property, like the color of one's eyes. At the same time, they think one's psychological sex is independent of the biological sex (a thoroughly unscientific and anti-evolutionary concept). The psychological sex is argued to be: 1) built into one's DNA (a gay gene(s) to counter a hetero chormosome) and immutable, and should never be judged by any objective criteria (the very idea of requiring objective criteria is homophobic). OR 2), in the brave new world of gender identity, it is just a psychological predisposition severed from biology and the latter is subservient to shifting desire (e.g. bisexuality), ideological conviction (some forms of feminism) or personal discovery (shifting in-and-out of love(s)). To paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet advice to Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth, Luis, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Luis Gutierrez
4 months 4 weeks ago
It is simply NOT TRUE that Pope St. John Paul II infallibly confirmed the infallibility of anything, since he never defined anything infallibly; and it is deceiving to keep pushing this error down people's throats. Rather than just repeating the usual cultural and pseudo-scientific rationalizations for the patriarchal priesthood, please let me know if you find any *specific* dogmatic error in my appeal, by quoting my text and providing a refutation based on the Creed or an infallibly defined Catholic dogma: Appeal to Pope Francis ~ English http://pelicanweb.org/CCC.TOB.120.html#english Indeed, there are more things in heaven and earth than any humanly articulated theory or philosophy, including any of the ancient or modern gender theories. My opinion is by no means authoritative; but yes, I believe in my heart, based on my personal discernment and diligent study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Theology of the Body, that the sacramental priesthood of the New Law is not dogmatically restricted to males, and that apostolic succession is not contingent on masculinity. Unless a cogent dogmatic refutation is offered, we should fraternally agree to disagree, and pray for each other.
Tim O'Leary
4 months 4 weeks ago
Luis - I agree with your last exhortation that we should pray for each other. but, on the issue of infallibility, Rome has spoken. The CDF Prefect Ratzinger (future pope Benedict XVI) confirmed this teaching is infallible, definitive, part of the deposit of faith and forever, in a formal way: "This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. LG 25:2, VCII). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith." Here is a more detailed explanation on why this teaching is infallible: http://jimmyakin.com/library/womens-ordination-its-infallible Here is what Pope Francis said today: “On the ordination of women in the Catholic church, the last word is clear…It was given by St. John Paul II and this remains.” So, the teaching is confirmed by the all 3 popes since its declaration. If you believe the Catholic Church teaches the true faith, I am not sure what else you need to hear to be sure about this doctrine: "roma locuta est, causa finita est"
Sam Sawyer, S.J.
4 months 4 weeks ago

Luis & Tim — this whole thread is not on-topic, since it began by using the question of discrimination as a jumping off point to something entirely different than the focus of the editorial. Also, these comments are starting to get longer than our comments policy allows for. If you want to continue this discussion, please take it into private conversation or onto your own social media pages, but it shouldn't go any further on this page. Thank you.

Ken Collins
4 months 2 weeks ago
The Catholic Church has a lot of experience with sexual immorality, but not the type that confers expertise. In any event, the rules of the church do not apply to non members: 1 Corinthians 5:12. The Catholic Church is way out of line. It should concentrate in loving their neighbors as themselves and stop the underpants inspections.
William Rydberg
4 months 2 weeks ago
Mr Collins, You wrote off one billion Christian souls...and it's not even...noon, your time. God forgive you. in Christ Jesus, the Lord...
THE CHRISTOFFERSONS
3 months 1 week ago
The editors have spoken with the kind of wisdom and discernment that bishops and pastors would be similarly wise to emulate. The value of focusing on "unjust discrimination" is that it brings the particular situation to light within a context which draws upon the judgment of the heart, where the Spirit resides. It is not that the law is not useful in its place, but its place is within a hierarchy of truths with love of God and neighbor at the top. The Church is in transition, trying to grapple with what in the end amount to conflicts between love of God and neighbor and subordinate laws. Jesus preached a reign of God where the human heart submits to the Spirit. It is not simply "unjust discrimination" that scandal from violation of the principle of indissolubility does not lead to dismissal whereas scandal from violation of the principle that marriage is between a man and a woman does lead to dismissal. In both these "scandals" there is an underlying scandal that has been difficult to negotiate. Francis has approached this difficulty by a pastoral approach, and Cardinal Tobin is following that lead by suggesting that these cases be handled one by one. The underlying difficulty is that, in particular circumstances, these principles are in violation of love of God and neighbor but the conflict can be swept under the rug by a focus on law. Perhaps greater clarity will emerge as the pastoral approach builds a track record of justice that resonates in the hearts of the people.
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