(An early reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013.)
Focusing on Pope Francis’ statement: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” the gay rights magazine The Advocate has now proclaimed Francis its person of the year.
The Bishop of Rome is getting enthusiastic press coverage at the end of 2013: on the cover of Time, the cover of The New Yorker, and now The Advocate.
When it comes to the local church scene, however, American Catholic leaders don’t seem to resonate well with the media’s gay-friendly perspective on Pope Francis.
At year’s end we can review some disturbing un-gay-friendly Catholic actions that raise serious questions about where the institutional church is really headed.
Francis may be trying to open doors. Many local church leaders, however, are still slamming them shut.
In suburban Philadelphia, a highly respected teacher has been fired from a Catholic high school because he informed the school administration that he intended to take advantage of New Jersey’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
Michael Griffin worked at the Holy Ghost Preparatory School for 12 years teaching French and Italian. He said that although administrators, including the principal, knew he was gay, he never had any major conflict with the Catholic administrators until announcing his marriage plans.
Griffin said he was fired after he had emailed administrators to tell them he was going to file for a marriage license. For many years it was no secret and no problem the teacher was gay. He and his partner were well-known among teachers, students, and parents. His Catholic supervisors, unlike the pope, decided they are to judge and have now terminated his 12-year employment.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, the Sisters of Mercy aren’t very merciful these days either….. Tippi McCullough has been fired after 14 years as an English teacher at a high school affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy. Her crime, as well, was to officially formalize a relationship that her Catholic co-workers had long known about. She and her longtime partner had even been overnight guests on the school principal’s houseboat. When school officials learned, however, that the couple had just been legally married they told her they had to let her go.
In August a Southern California man, who had taught at a Catholic high school for 17 years was fired days after he married his partner. Ken Bencomo was one of the most respected and well-liked teachers at St. Lucy’s Priory High School, an all-girls school in Glendora, California. He and his partner were one of the first couples to line up on July 1, 2013 at the San Bernardino County Assessor-Recorder’s Office to get married after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
There have been, of course, more such gay dismissals of teachers in Catholic schools, musicians in Catholic parishes, and educators in Catholic religious education programs.
Yet….the Roman Catholic Bishop-of-Rome-person-of-the-year says: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” Unless this is just so much empty rhetoric, American Catholic leaders in local churches need to do some serious soul-searching.
I note with interest….54% of U.S. Catholics now support gay marriage and support is growing. The more bishops protest, the more lay and ordained Catholic support increases. Future projections? Today 70% of U.S. Millennials support gay marriage. I mentioned this in my university master’s class this morning and my students all replied: “Of course…what’s the problem?”
Gay marriage is a civil reality, beyond the church’s area of responsibility. Over the centuries in fact there have been many forms of marriage. For much of the church’s history, no specific ritual was prescribed for celebrating a marriage. Marriage vows did not have to be exchanged in a church, nor was a priest’s presence required. A couple could exchange consent anywhere, anytime. The Roman Catholic Church only began to understand and control marriage as a sacrament in the twelfth century…..The first official declaration that marriage is a sacrament was made at the 1184 Council of Verona.
Love of course endures. And we know from the scriptures: “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in that person.” 1 John 4:16
Love, personal commitment, and mutual support, whether gay or straight, remain Christian values and Christian virtues to be encouraged and supported by all in the church: in Philadelphia, in Little Rock, in Glendora, and all points East and West…..
O Come, O come Emanuel
O come, Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night