Do all ‘gay Catholic’ teach­ers have the same be­liefs?

The Saline Courier Weekend - - OPINION - TERRY MAT­TINGLY

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 that the teacher was “fired for his same­sex 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 “non­catholic 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.”

Terry Mat­tingly is the editor of Getreli­ and Se­nior Fel­low for Me­dia and Re­li­gion at The King’s Col­lege in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Ten­nessee.

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