Saturday, June 29, 2019

Indianapolis Archbishop Claims Firing of Gay Employees Necessary to Address "Public Situations": My Response

Masha Gessen, "Coming Out, and Rising Up, in the Fifty Years After Stonewall," on the Supreme Court ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)

Archbishop Charles Thompson said during a news conference that he didn't seek out information about the marriages involving the teachers but had to respond to what he called a "public situation" of Catholic school employees not following church doctrine.

Archbishop Thompson added that Catholic officials don't go "looking for these situations," and that they apply the same rules to heterosexual Catholic employees who are living together without being married or are divorced and remarried.

A story for you: it has just come out that the Catholic diocese of Little Rock settled this past May with a group of men who were sexually molested in the 1970s in Holy Souls parish in Little Rock. I live in that parish and was going to Mass there when this abuse was taking place — was going to Mass there when I visited my family while I was living and teaching in New Orleans. I remember Father John McDaniels, who abused several boys in the Holy Souls school, as we now learn.

Holy Souls happens to be one block down the street from Mount St. Mary's Catholic girls' academy, which fired teacher Tippi McCullough in 2014 when she married her partner Barbara Mariani. At the time of the firing, multiple sources reported that the school took this action at the direct order of Bishop Anthony Taylor — the same bishop who settled last month with Father John McDaniels' victims from Holy Souls school, though this information was not disclosed to the public until the media just got wind of it. When Tippi McCullough was fired, she stated to the media that Mount St. Mary's officials had called her right before her wedding took place and told her that she would be fired if she continued with the wedding, and that this was being done at Bishop Taylor's orders.

As it happens, the very day before this news about Holy Souls broke, Steve and I were walking our dogs to the park and stopped to talk to a nice new neighbor who lives in the townhouse up the street that formerly belonged to another neighbor we also knew. That neighbor taught for years in the Holy Souls parish school.

She told us several times as we visited with her that her husband had been previously married — sacramentally, in a Catholic marriage — and that her marriage to him was "irregular," since she could not marry him in a sacramental marriage, given his previous Catholic marriage. She also told us that his family shunned her for this reason. She had not been raised Catholic but had become Catholic when she married him, as best as I can recall.

As I say, this former neighbor taught very happily, as she said, at the Holy Souls school, though she was in what Catholic moral teaching regards as an "irregular" marriage (read: a non-marriage, in the strictest interpretation of Catholic moral teaching). As far as I ever knew, there was not ever any peep of discontent from anyone — school officials, diocesan officials, fellow teachers, parents — about her "irregular" marriage and how it contravenes Catholic moral teaching. 

I would also be very surprised if the people with whom she taught, her supervisors, and even diocesan officials did not know about this irregular marriage. I'd be as surprised to learn, in fact, that Catholic institutions require employees to submit proof of valid sacramental marriages before they are hired as I'd be surprised to learn that they ask them to submit pharmaceutical receipts to show they are not buying contraceptives.

In every Catholic school in which I have ever taught or know anything about, these are (rightly, it seems to me) regarded as "private" matters. People — heterosexual people — are afforded the right to their private lives and prying questions are not asked about them. Even when, as I'm certain was true in the case of my neighbor, those lives are not private at all, but everyone knows about them, about the "irregular" marriage or the co-vivant to whom the heterosexual employee is not married but with whom she is living….

So back to Archbishop Thompson's defense of what he has done to gay employees of Catholic schools in the archdiocese of Indianapolis: he defends what he has done because the married gay teachers created a "public situation" that he could not ignore, he claims.

This is the nifty new tool that the Catholic hierarchy and homophobic Catholic right think they can use most effectively to justify targeting gay employees in a way that straight employees of Catholic institutions are not targeted.

The claim is that Catholic institutions apply the same standards to straight and gay employees, and are not singling out gay ones — until they have to, because the gay ones make who they are and whom they love public.

This is balderdash, and anyone with eyes open and a functioning intellect and conscience knows it's balderdash.

I attended a Catholic college as an undergrad and then again at the M.A.-Ph.D. level. I taught for years in Catholic schools. I have seen it all:

1. Unmarried straight faculty members living together without benefit of marriage.

2. Unmarried straight faculty members having affairs with each other.

3. Faculty who are straight, divorced, and remarried in "irregular" marriages.

4. Straight faculty members making public passes at female students — going so far as, in one case I saw with my own eyes at a faculty student party on the Catholic campus, to lift a young woman over the faculty member's shoulder and cart her off while making lewd comments about what he'd do to her when they got to his apartment. This faculty member was a Catholic man who had been married and divorced.

Catholic institutions have typically treated all these situations as "private" and have — rightly, to my mind — refused to invade the privacy of employees, even when everyone knew the score.

They do not and never have afforded the same courtesy to LGBTQ employees.

When I discussed this on Twitter several days ago, someone who styles himself in his Twitter profile as a "faithful Catholic" jumped into my Twitter feed and informed me that I was simply spreading untrue information. He helpfully provided me with a list of several heterosexual people who have purportedly been fired by Catholic institutions in the U.S. over the course of a number of years because they infringed Catholic moral codes re: sex and marriage.

He then blocked me when I told him that anyone with much sense can see that gay people are not being treated in the same way straight ones are in Catholic institutions, even when both sets of people are not abiding by the very same moral rules — and that we'd be hearing all sorts of stories in the news about the multiple firings of errant straight folks (who vastly outnumber gay ones) if such firings were actually taking place. 

But the list he had presented me with was obviously a pre-fab list being circulated now in some Catholic circles to make it appear that straight people are being treated in the same draconian way by Catholic employers as gay ones are. He had the list ready to hand and did not compile it in the course of our Twitter exchange.

Not all the litle lying lists about all the straight people supposedly targeted by Catholic institutions over a period of years for failing to adhere to Catholic moral teaching will not whitewash the ugly history of what has been happening for some time now in Catholic institutions in the U.S. 

The fact is, the rules are not applied and have not been applied equably to straight and gay employees. There is a reason we read one story after another of the firing of yet another gay employee of a Catholic institution, but hardly ever see a story about the firing of a straight one,

Even when both have infringed the same moral code….

The reason: straight people are not being targeted in this way by Catholic institutions. 

This is about homophobia. It's not about upholding Catholic moral teaching. And people with sound heads and consciences see this.

And don't even get me started on what bishops have known — and hidden — about priests sexually abusing minors at the very same time they've gone after gay employees of Catholic institutions with a vengeance, claiming they had to do this to uphold Catholic moral teaching.

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