Monday, February 28, 2011

Openly Gay Religion Professor Fired by Pennsylvania Catholic College

Back last spring when Marquette University rescinded a job offer to out lesbian scholar Jodi O'Brien, a national conversation about how LGBT employees and students are treated at Catholic universities in the U.S. began to develop.  In response to that conversation, the conservative publication Wall Street Journal published an essay which implied that Catholic universities are welcoming places for those who are gay, and which stated that openly gay or lesbian administrators hold positions of prominence in some of these universities.

Every scrap of evidence I run across indicates the opposite: that there is a serious problem with institutionalized, systemic bias against openly gay and lesbian faculty, staff, administrators, and students at a large percentage of Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S.  And that one can, in fact, still be fired at these institutions solely because one is gay.

And that is precisely what has just happened at Chestnut Hill College in Pennsylvania, where a partnered gay priest of the Old Catholic Apostolic church, Jim St. George, who was an adjunct religion professor, recently found himself terminated.  Because he's gay.

As Scott Jaschik notes at Inside Higher Education, St. George had been teaching at Chestnut Hill for some time and was not merely a popular professor but was considered an outstanding one.  The college also knew when they hired him that he was both gay and a priest in the Old Catholic church.  And then here's what happened: last week, a lay Catholic in the Philadelphia archdiocese, one James Pepper, sent an email to Cardinal Justin Rigali identifying St. George as "a heretic" and claiming that it was "scandalous" for an openly gay heretic to be teaching at a Catholic school. 

And very soon after the email was sent, Fr. St. George received a letter from the college informing him that his services were no longer needed.  Following St. George's firing, Sister Carol Jean Vale issued a statement implying that the college had not known that St. George was an Old Catholic priest and openly gay when he was hired, and that permitting those in same-sex partnerships to teach on Catholic campuses is "contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church." 

And that's that.  Since religious institutions benefit from exemptions that allow them the "right" to discriminate against those who are gay or lesbian in hiring and firing matters, St. George has very little recourse now.  One vicious letter from one mean-spirited Catholic to one influential Catholic leader: that's all it can take for the career of a gay or lesbian employee at a Catholic university--no matter how effective he has been, no matter how highly esteemed she is--to be over, in the twinkling of an eye.

You'd think, though, that the good cardinal might have other things to worry about right now than a bit of good old-fashioned gay bashing, wouldn't you?  Quite a bit more going on in the Philadelphia archdiocese now that ought to demand real pastoral attention and real pastoral responses, instead of vicious attacks on a partnered gay priest with a stellar teaching career, isn't there?  

We've recently become aware that there's a large number of priests with atrocious records of sexually abusing minors still in ministry in the Philadelphia archdiocese.  A top archdiocesan official is facing criminal charges for his role in keeping these priests in ministry.  As the Richard Sipe article to which I've just linked notes, the cardinal himself is lucky not to have landed in jail.

And the most important thing Catholic pastoral leaders and Catholic institutions can find to do in the wake of all that has just been revealed about the abuse situation in Philadelphia is find a partnered gay Old Catholic priest teaching religion, and fire him?  This stinks.  To high heaven.

P.S. Don't look for a similar purge anytime soon on Catholic campuses of heterosexual faculty members living with a partner without benefit of marriage, or divorced and remarried ones.  In my experience, these purges of faculty members whose lifestyles are "contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church" always involve gay and lesbian employees of Catholic universities.

No comments: