He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fair Questions: Should Catholic schools fire people in same-sex marriages?

Today I came across an article in America magazine, the premier Jesuit publication in my country.  The article asks: how should the Catholic Church respond when one of their employees gets a civil marriage to their same-sex partner?

This question is being asked for a few important reasons:
  1. Catholic schools and other Catholic organizations have, on a rare occasion, fired people for violating the morality clauses in their contracts.
  2. While the reason has not always been that the employee contracted a same-sex civil marriage, that's the one grabbing headlines recently.
  3. Progressive politicians and citizens have been pushing for legal protections against discrimination toward same-sex couples that infringe on the ability of private religious organizations to enforce their religious moral codes.
Some people may find it concerning because they don't believe that private organizations should be able to fire people for their sexual choices in general.  That's a principled stand to take, and I understand why people believe that, but it's not my perspective.  My perspective is also not the perspective of the politically progressive members of the America magazine staff.

While I agree with them about our need to reach out to the marginalized and meet people where they are in a merciful way, I no longer share the heterodox positions of some Jesuits on the ordination of women (you can read why I change my mind on that issue here), and I also don't share the views of some of our clergy that homosexual sex acts are good or acceptable within a Christian moral framework (and you can read my reasons for that here).

So what are my concerns?  One of the immediate dangers of this situation is that the Catholic Church in the U.S. may lose its ability to enforce the morality clauses in contracts in general.  I am concerned about this for a couple of reasons.
  1. I firmly believe in upholding our civil liberties in general and our Constitution in particular, primarily because without robust civil liberties we cannot work for justice and peace. 
  2. I firmly believe that contracts should be honored by all parties and that private organizations should enforce their contracts, and also that, no matter what the industry, employees should conduct themselves in a way that doesn't conflict with the core values of their employer.
I certainly had to do this when I was working in the corporate world.  One of their values was a studious neutrality on the topics of politics and religion by their management staff, and I was willing to abide by that even though it wasn't always convenient for me and required constant vigilance and self-awareness.

And obviously, I'm not in fact neutral on topics of politics or religion, so it wasn't easy to refrain from doing what I was inclined to do and avoid conducting rational dialogue on those topics on a regular basis.

But these issues of legality aren't my foundational concern.  That has to do with Church teaching and the integrity of the Church.  Because I'm a devout Catholic, those are my primary concerns.

This is not a question to be considered in isolation, as the authors of the article point out.  The Church's teaching on marriage isn't just that marriage is for a man and woman, but also that it is permanent (for life).  And also that the couple should be open to life (e.g. not use artificial contraceptives for selfish reasons).  And also that a couple should not engage in sex outside the bonds of marriage.

If the Church were to consistently enforce Her teachings on marriage by firing those who openly violated them, employees who are married and use contraception, but never mention to their co-workers that they are doing so because they want the money for an expensive car or jewelry for themselves might avoid getting fired.  But plenty of divorced and remarried employees, not to mention many employees who are known to be having sex outside of marriage with a boyfriend or girlfriend, would rightly be fired for violating their contracts.

If the Church were to consistently enforce Her teachings on marriage by firing them, then it would look much less like the unjust discrimination referenced in America magazine (which in turn was referencing the Catechism's admonition not to unjustly discriminate against people who have and/or act on their same-sex attractions) when Catholic schools fire teachers who contract civil marriages with their same-sex partners.

The Church has two options if She wants to act with integrity and in such a way that it is clear that there will be no unjust discrimination.

  1. Enforce the Church's teachings on marriage consistently by firing both heterosexual and homosexual couples who flagrantly violate those teachings.
  2. Remove the morality clause from the contracts and rely on civil protections that allow employers to fire employees at will for misconduct as specified under relevant employment law.

The Church could also take Archbishop Joseph Tobin's suggestion which was referenced in the article, looking at these cases on an individual basis.  But this requires that these individualized decisions be based on clear and transparent standards that are consistently applied to these individual cases in order to avoid unjust discrimination.

I'm perfectly fine with the Church going in any of those 3 directions, provided that it is done with integrity and as much consistency as human beings can muster.  The important thing isn't that one side or another gains a Pyrrhic victory in the culture wars, but rather that the Church gives witness to the integrity of the faith.

Integrity is more important than winning a fleeting temporal victory.  Keeping the Church standing firm on Her teachings is more important than a false mercy.

By User:Julian Mendez - User:Julian Mendez, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2547972

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