Another Fired Employee

pink slipI have a hard time mustering what to say about church employees being fired for announcing engagements to people of the same sex, being pregnant outside of marriage or normal conception activity. The truth is that many of us sign church employment agreements that stipulate good moral conduct. The employer is always the arbiter of that.

I remember being faced with such an arbitration with the pastor and business manager at the end of my first year of employment–and the day before I took a June vacation to visit my hometown. I was informed that a married couple in the parish was poking around my new living situation with a male roommate. Their daughter, whom I was dating, had asked me my political opinion about a university professor at a Christian college who had declared himself “out.” I hadn’t been offered a new contract on the date my old one said it was to happen–the pastor was actually more than two months late.

Funny how those pieces all fit together in retrospect.

But it also confirmed my long skepticism about church management: you might think you work for a system that employs a higher moral standard, but don’t be fooled. Clergy are just as petty and sinful as the people they fire or try to pink-slip. And in the case of my first boss, who fancied himself a strong and decisive manager, just as easily manipulated by gossip and invented folklore.

I did go into my vacation the next day with a signed contract for the coming year. But I warned my roommate to watch his back with the parish staff and a certain parish family. And I felt better having written and delivered a scathing letter of criticism to the pastor on my way out of town.

I suppose I could have returned to find myself terminated, but at least I was getting a vacation out of the guy. He might have been too easily manipulated by these people, but he was moral enough to accept he was in the wrong. Firing me would have just compounded his cooperation with, as my roommate described it, evil. He got to stew on my accusations of him for a few weeks, then he blew up at me at our next meeting. I called it even.

I did notice that Cardinal George consented to a meeting with another fired gay musician. Fired, it seems, not for having sex, which seemed to be taken for granted by absolutely everybody who knew the man, including his pastor. But for announcing a legal reality in the state of Illinois that still seems to me to be morally neutral, despite Fr Michael’s protestations to the contrary.

My early experience certainly colored the way I’ve handled myself as a church employee. I’ve admired most of the guys who have employed me. But they’ve never been my friends, advisors, or spiritual directors.  I don’t socialize with people who are my bosses. I remember one priest being surprised when my future wife and I announced our engagement. I certainly didn’t include him in our discernment–we spoke with other friends. Before I was married, I didn’t bring women I was dating to parish staff social events. I wouldn’t subject a friend to moments like that. (Taking women home to my family was traumatic enough.)

Cardinal George doesn’t have a spotless moral record of his own on which to stand. I suspect that more people have called for his job termination than for Mr Collette’s. That may be some small measure of comfort when a body is standing in the unemployment line, but there you have it.

Cardinals, priests, music directors, teachers: all fall short of the ideals of the Gospel. That some classes of folks are cashiered out of a job and some not isn’t always because of differing levels of moral conduct. All too often, the decision happens not because of moral misconduct as much as because it can happen. And don’t we all know it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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19 Responses to Another Fired Employee

  1. Jen says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the Church, but there’s no way I could teach at a Catholic college/university for the reasons you mention with extra scrutiny into one’s life. (Never mind that my field is far removed from theology.)

  2. FrMichael says:

    “But for announcing a legal reality in the state of Illinois that still seems to me to be morally neutral, despite Fr Michael’s protestations to the contrary.”

    Substitute “the Catholic Church” for “Fr Michael.”

    From n. 5 on the CDF’s 2003 “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons”–
    “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”

    Since you seem to live in ignorance of why the Church teaches as She does in this subject, n. 6 of the same document explains the “why.” Well worth reviewing at the website.

    • Todd says:

      A few comments here.

      First, the recognition of same-sex unions is largely judicial, not legislative, and is based on existing civil law regarding civil marriages.

      Second, the CDF doesn’t detail what is immoral about a civil status between two persons. The Church does teach that sexual activity between two unmarried persons is morally wrong. Yet same-sex unions and civil marriages do not presume a change in status in a couple’s sexual activity. Granted, there is a strong implication, but the same situation exists when two people live together.

      Third, I have yet to see a clarification along the lines of how the Church teaches there is nothing inherently wrong with a person’s sexual orientation, merely the acting out of that orientation in a sexual way. A legal union does not prescribe sexual activity; indeed many marriages lack such activity.

      The CDF statement is worth considering, and while I’m sure it is an earnest and heartfelt position, it doesn’t seem to align completely with existing Church teaching. It seems to be a new fabrication.

      Perhaps you could address the question as to why a morally neutral act, such as the announcement of an intent to commit to a lifelong legal union is somehow more serious than the committed sexual activity that presumably preceded it and that “everybody” knew about.

  3. FrMichael says:

    Numbers 6-9 of the Vatican document answer your question in depth.

    Ah, the famous “everybody.” Well, if “everybody” included the pastor then an injustice was done– the man should have been terminated long ago. But in my personal experience and observation around here accounts for anything, “everybody” is not usually everybody. It may be most people, but it usually isn’t all and often it is simply widespread hearsay. Nobody should be fired on hearsay.

    • Todd says:

      They do not answer the questions adequately. They make a good try in #6. But the sniff test fails on the potential threats to heterosexual or sacramental marriage. As for #7, the CDF doesn’t have the competence in biology to make assessments there. #8 has statements that a number of people might effectively argue against. #9 is just false.

      When the CDF argues for theology, it is on traditional and firm ground. But this statement has too many holes and seems beyond the abilities of its author.

      And worst of all, the focus on same-sex unions and the use of adoption as a tool for arguing rather than letting the matter stand on its own merits has caused the Church to miss a golden opportunity to give more help to children who lack parents, while railing against a small minority of people who do adopt.

      That church documents often only mention adoption in cases where there is perceived abuse, ignoring the plight of children without parents worldwide is a glaring moral error. Children in homes and institutions remain invisible and unconsidered, unless they can be used in someone else’s arguments. Somehow the CDF has lowered itself to the level of a party in a civil divorce case. So much for the legacy of our pope emeritus, eh?

  4. FrMichael says:

    Hmm, looking at number 7, which is in three paragraphs. The first two paragraphs are basic biology and theology– homoesuxal acts are not procreative. It doesn’t take a PhD in biology to figure that out. As for the third paragraph, do you not think that child have a right, no matter how often violated, of having a mother and father?

    Number 8 refers to something unfortunately we face on the ground here in California– a complete divorce between marriage and procreation in the legal rationale for marriage in California. Knowing, as we do as Catholics, that the unitive and procreative ends of marriage exist by the natural moral law, I don’t know how a believing Catholic would argue against most of this number.

    “#9 is just false.” Nine seems reasonable to me in the California civil law context. SSA folks have plenty of legal options to defend their legitimate rights. I suppose you are arguing that is not so elsewhere.

    • Todd says:

      Lots of sexual acts are not procreative: when the female is not fertile, when either partner is unable to conceive. There are also aspects of marriage which are procreative in a larger context, and perhaps superior in some ways for some couples. Generativity is what human beings can do to imitate and model the creative power of God. We are not animals, confined to simple means of creating biological offspring. The separation between marriage and procreation is a reality in many instances. But a spouse caring for an ill or elderly partner is procreation in a different form: bringing to birth the love and example of Christ, not only for the ailing partner, but for the family and wider community.

      Natural law is overused as a rationale in many instances. Many theologians lack a depth in the reality of marriage as a sacramental witness in the Church and world. And, of course, the whole issue of biology has moved on past what was considered “common knowledge” in previous generations. The CDF does not show competence in biology. If they get the biology wrong, if they get the basic sacramental witness wrong, the whole edifice collapses.

      By all means, let them preach and teach virtue, Christ’s witness, and tradition. But it must be tempered with natural and anthropological reality. Not ancient constructs no longer held to be true.

  5. FrMichael says:

    “There are also aspects of marriage which are procreative in a larger context, and perhaps superior in some ways for some couples.” With respect to marriage– negative. Now you are just being a sophist. The Church knows what She means by use of the phrase “and the procreation and education of offspring” in Canon n. 1055 or Gaudium et Spes n. 48. The “procreation” spoken here is clearly speaking about children, not some abstract procreative power in the arts or intellect.

    Now sometimes this end is frustrated by various reasons caused by the broken world we inherit. And as you point out, God put a limiting feature in the reproductive powers of our species in that women are fertile only a small percentage of her cycle. Nonetheless, pseudo-sexual acts (such as same sex and human-animal) lack procreativity not because of Original Sin and its after-effects, but because they violate the design of the human person. Even if we were still free from Original Sin, attempted male-male or female-female coupling would still not be procreative. It’s not a design bug, it’s a feature.

    • Todd says:

      I’m being a sophist? If so, maybe you’re being intentionally dense. Are you sure you have experienced the Catholic sacraments? As a sacrament, marriage is an encounter with Christ, and Christ is not limited by human ideas about biological offspring or institutional expectations. Marriages do not end after the last child is out of the nest or, God forbid, dead.

      And to be clear, it’s not that Church teaching is totally wrong. It’s just drastically incomplete. Even aside from civil marriage or unions, the theology of marriage has barely been explored.

      • “And to be clear, it’s not that Church teaching is totally wrong. It’s just drastically incomplete. Even aside from civil marriage or unions, the theology of marriage has barely been explored.”

        I completely agree. If one reads the section of the catechism on the sacrament of matrimony, it’s mostly about natural marriage. Imagine turning to the section about baptism and reading about hygiene. Or turning to the section about the Eucharist and reading about nutrition.

  6. crystal says:

    The church’s stance on marriage equality isn’t Christian, per se … other Christian denominations like the Episcopal Church, the Quakers, the UCC, the Lutherans, accept marriage equality … so why is it so grimly held on to?

    The fact that gays can be in romantic relationships and keep their jobs with the church, but will lose their jobs if they marry seems like an effort to try to keep gay relationships marginal, unrecognized by the community, “abnormal”.

    The thing that’s wrong with natural law is that it assumes that the way everything *is* is the way everything *ought* to be, that everything is this way because it the way God wants it to be. It’s not surprising that Aristotle thought this and not surprising that Aquinas jumped on it, but given evolution, it can be seen that most of what *is* is this way simply because it made the survival of the species more likely. Theologian Keith Ward has a lecture that touches on this …

    The church has lost this battle, not just with the secular world but with Catholics too, as has been shown by polls and response to the Vatican’s own survey on family life. The church’s refusal to even reconsider the basis of their stance only seems to support the worst ideas about their motives.

    Sorry the comment is so long, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

  7. FrMichael says:


    You demonstrate something I learned when interacting with Episcopalian clergy and others who believe that same-sex marriage is possible: this erroneous teaching doesn’t exist in a mind as a single theological aberration. To hold it, a person must have other false understandings as well for him/her not to recognize the theologize absurdity of same-sex marriage. In your case, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the place of the Catholic Church in comparison with the denominations you list. All of them are man-made inventions whose origins date many centuries after Christ. On the other hand, the Catholic Church was founded by God Himself with the mission as serving as the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15). God doesn’t care what we think about marriage: He designed it for us long before the creation of our first parents, He raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, and He certainly didn’t seek human opinion when formulating the moral universe in which the human race lives. It is our task as disciples to adjust our intellect and will to His, not vice versa. Appeals to man-made religious organizations or to a public opinion poll is not the path to holiness.

  8. crystal says:

    Fr. Michael,

    Actually, there are biblical examples of Jesus/God changing his mind based on input from human beings (Mt 15:21-28). Jesus was not a Catholic ;) and the natural law theory on which the church’s beliefs about same-sex marriage is based is not revelation but Greek philosophy. I’m willing to admit that what I think about all this is indeed a belief …. I don’t know for sure what The Truth is … but the church’s refusal to even consider different possibilities seems pretty arrogant to me, especially in the face of other Christian opinions.

  9. FrMichael says:


    I’m sure St. Paul would be surprised (Romans 1-2) to discover that the natural moral law was the product of Greek philosophy. That the formulation of the natural law theory owes much to Greek philosophical categories (and Roman jurisprudence as well) is no big surprise anymore than the Creeds do so as well. That’s the ambiance in which the Patristic Church developed. That doesn’t mean that natural law takes the Greeks and Romans as its source. As a matter of fact, St. John Paul II treated the natural law in Veritatis Splendor, the constitution so-to-speak of Catholic moral theology, in nn. 46-50 without reference to any classical writer or theory.

    I would also have you think about the groups you list. Do you think that Martin Luther would rejoice in churches bearing his name accepting same-sex marriage as ordained by God? How about the Puritans, forerunners of many of the UCC congregations? What are the sources of the contemporary positions held by these denominations? I’m most familiar with the Episcopalians and Lutherans of the groups you list, and to say that they don’t have a tight Biblical exegesis backing their new position is a gross understatement. They can’t figure out among themselves whether St. Paul was an incorrigible sexist homophobe or whether the universal Christian condemnation of sodomy throughout history was a misinterpretation of certain ambiguous Greek words (by native Greek speakers no less). And there are umpteen additional explanations in-between.

    Time to apply Occam’s Razor here. What has changed in the past 20 years we’ve been having this controversy? Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition through which we Catholics receive Divine (public) Revelation? Or the cultural winds? IMNSHO you might want to apply your “hermeneutic of uncertainty” (I think that’s a fair description of where you are coming from, I don’t mean it as a pejorative) to the mainline Protestant interlocutors as well as to the Catholic Church.

    Your comments on evolution and its theological implications are worthy of its own thread, but (1) since I’m not the blog host and (2) I’ll be offline due to pastoral commitments over the next several days I, for one, cannot pursue that interesting theological thread.

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  11. crystal says:

    Fr. Michael,

    I’m sure you are more up on all this stuff than me … I’m just a lay person with an interest in theology/philosophy. But I’ll try to address what you wrote about the biblical arguments against same sex acts …
    – about Romans 1-2, here’s what Fr. James Alison wrote on it … “But the Bible says…”? A Catholic reading of Romans 1 …
    – about the OT, Sodom and Gomorrah, here’s something from Susan Neiman …
    – and here’s a one of a series of papers by Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson … “What does the Bible really say about homosexuality? Reading “texts of terror” …

    My understanding of the issues is that the scriptural passages thought to be against same sex attraction are 1) open to interpretation or not fully understood, and 2) also open to question: The OT believed eating shellfish was wrong, Peter believed that slavery was ok … does that mean we must believe these things now?

    But anyway, I’ve gone on too long, and I know that these argument almost never lead to anyone changing their minds, so I’ll shut up now :)

  12. Charles Blanchard says:

    It seems that the Natural Law Theory is an antiquated argument leveraged by the majority to extinguish the minority.

    Such a theory juxtaposed was applied to the treatment of other minority groups in the USA.

    Take for example, African Americans who were excluded from holy orders because they were considered subhuman and lacked the intelligence to become priests; unable to effectively manage the scholastics.

    Was this representative of one’s nature, one’s constitution, or rather was it an antiquated theory leveraged by the majority ; to be exclusive and separate?

    God is love and all who live in love live in God. All people regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, abilities, etc., are created in the image and likeness of God.

    Let’s stop trying to develop theories of exclusion and embrace all God’s people!

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