School years close with graduation ceremonies, which are now followed by a painful rite for some Catholic educators and bishops: headlines about teachers losing their jobs after celebrating same-sex marriages.
Catholic school leaders in Indianapolis recently refused to extend a teacher’s contract after people saw social-media notes about his marriage. A nearby Jesuit school’s leaders, however, refused to remove that same teacher’s husband from its faculty.
A CNN headline said this teacher was fired for “being gay.” Reports at The New York Times and National Public Radio referred to a “fired gay teacher.” A Washington Post headline was more specific, stating the teacher was “fired for his same-sex marriage.”
At issue are canon laws requiring Catholic schools to offer education “based on the principles of Catholic doctrine,” taught by teachers “outstanding in true doctrine.” Church leaders, usually local bishops, are charged with finding teachers who are “outstanding ... in the witness of their Christian life,” including “non-Catholic ones.”
It’s hard to have constructive discussions of these cases since they are surrounded by so much scandal, secrecy and confusion, with standards varying greatly across the country, said Eve Tushnet, a gay Catholic writer who says she accepts the church’s teachings on sex and marriage. Most of the “gay celibate Christians I know have lost or been denied” jobs in Christian institutions, she said.
The Catholic Catechism, citing scripture and centuries of tradition, states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and contrary to “natural law.” However, it also says those who experience “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
Far too often, argued Tushnet, “gay sins are treated as serious sins in a way that heresy or other non-gay sins aren’t. I can think of reasons you might, as a Catholic school, hire Protestants, but fire someone in a same-sex marriage. But ... when one already-marginalized group is so often singled out for penalties, it seems more like targeting than like prudence.” Far too many church leaders, she added, will “fire you if you marry,” but they “otherwise look the other way.”
One thing is clear: The term “gay Catholic” — as used in news reports — is too simplistic, if the goal is to understand the doctrinal issues driving these debates. After four decades of covering these Catholic-school conflicts, I have concluded there are many kinds of “gay Catholics,” including these:
» Those who are celibate and accept church teachings on moral theology. They have no problem signing explicitly Catholic job contracts.
» Those who are celibate and openly discuss their same-sex orientation. They accept church teachings, but want to see realistic discussions of how the church relates to all single adults, including gay Catholics. They freely sign Catholic job contracts.
» Those who are sexually active, but keep this secret when dealing with students, colleagues and their job managers.
» Those who are sexually active and whose school leaders know this or suspect it, but do not care, or believe they can do nothing about it. There is no public scandal — for now.
» Those who take stands — usually in social-media posts about same-sex union rites — that symbolize their opposition to church teachings. This leads to public discussions or conflicts. The key, in these cases, is whether their managers (including bishops) are willing to take public stands to defend church doctrines.
Obviously, journalists and church leaders could create similar lists when describing the actions and beliefs of heterosexual Catholics who are single or married. Cohabitation? That’s a doctrinal issue. Premarital sex? Ditto. Adultery? Obviously.
Once again, it’s logical to ask why some Catholic leaders appear to be concerned about the struggles of gay Catholics, but not straight Catholics. Meanwhile, some bishops openly defend these church teachings on sexuality, while others are silent.
“When an archbishop singles out gay people who live out of line with Catholic beliefs and ignores straight people who do the same thing, what message does that send?” asked Gabriel Blanchard of the “Mudblood Catholic” website. He is a celibate gay Catholic who defends church teachings.
Concerning canon laws, he added: “The thing is, Catholic schools habitually hire non-Catholic and even non-Christian employees, up to and including teachers, and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis hasn’t made a peep about that, to my knowledge. I’d be surprised if they had, given that it’s a longstanding practice of Catholic schools, hospitals, charities and even parish offices.”
Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.