In a homily on May 8, 2013, Pope Francis exhorted us to build bridges, not walls. He described the exclusionary attitudes when he was growing up. They were not to enter the homes of atheists, socialists or those married outside the church. Such an attitude was a defense of the faith, Francis said, but it was also one of walls. The Lord calls us to make bridges.
Sadly, walls of exclusion continue to be built in our church. The new employment contract for Catholic school teachers in the Cincinnati archdiocese is being promoted as a defense of the faith, but its judgmental and exclusionary spirit is causing some to question if there is a place in the church for them. Matt is one of these people. Matt is a man of deep faith, a man of prayer. Those of us who are privileged to call him our friend know him as a warm and passionate advocate for those on the fringes of society.
Matt shared his personal struggle with both the tone and possible far-ranging implications of this contract in a Facebook post. He gave me permission to share some excerpts.
I've long considered myself an anomaly that could live in two worlds. My justification was always that the local church (welcoming and inclusive), not the institution, was my faith community. But now, my local church is being required to impose rules that go against the very inclusiveness that we espouse. I'm not a teacher. But I'm active. Volunteers can be fired. The contract is about teachers, but how far will the church go to alienate its members?
My spirit is crushed. Not only am I angry, but also I feel as though my bishop is not open to dialogue. His actions are hurtful and make me feel less than made in God's image. I don't have a lifestyle. I have a life. It's lived with integrity and with God at the center. I witness that to others in the church and I witness that to my LGBT brothers and sisters when I attend public events like dinners and parades, designed not to flaunt a lifestyle but to celebrate with pride that it's okay to accept ourselves when so many others want to oppress and crush us.
The church makes a distinction between orientation and acts but by lumping everything together as a lifestyle, the Archbishop has essentially made them one in the same. This is unjust and certainly not pastoral in the way Pope Francis wants the church's shepherds to be. It could even lead to other forms of discrimination and prejudice by those who will use the logic of the morality clause as a club to beat others down in the name of upholding church teaching.
I honestly think the contract will damage souls irreparably. People will turn away from the Church and not return. I'm sad for the teachers, I'm sad for LGBT parents, LGBT educators, and most of all LGBT kids who won't find the support they need because that support could get adults fired. The logic of the morality clause is exactly the logic that some high schools employ when not allowing LGBT clubs for students. People automatically get concerned about sex rather than affirm the legitimacy of the need for students to find support among themselves. Based on the contract, to whom (or what) are those kids supposed to turn? The Internet? Drugs? Sex? Low self esteem? Falling grades? All these things push them away from God.
I officially registered in my parish after attending for a few months when I heard in the Pastor's Christmas greeting a welcome to women, those divorced, sons and daughters of the parish who were visiting, Christmas and Easter Catholics, non-Catholics, gays and lesbians and anyone who has been hurt by the church. I've been proudly attending ever since. More recent priests have mentioned sexual orientation and other minority groups in their homilies. Should they be fired for being inclusively supportive of the homosexual lifestyle?
The teacher contract clearly was designed to protect the Church from employment lawsuits. And yes it is necessary for church employees to uphold teaching in the classroom and in parishes, etc. However, I wish the Archbishop had thought about the ramifications of his approach. He's well within his rights; but above and beyond controlling the public actions of teachers this contract, now played out in the public, has given life and credence for Catholics and the Church to tell certain segments of the population that we aren't welcome.
I love the Church, I love my worship/faith communities, and I love the pope and have been impressed and inspired by him. Sadly, however, I'm not proud to call myself Catholic.
Perhaps this is all just playing with my psyche but it sure would be easier if I knew there was a place for me at the Lord's Table. I used to think there was. Now I'm not so sure.
In his homily, Pope Francis went on to say that evangelization is not proselytizing. I agree. Proselytizing, sadly, often morphs into inquisitorial practices that build walls, not bridges. There are many good women and men hovering around the doors of the church. Some are contemplating joining us for the first time or returning after long absences. Others are struggling with a growing desire to leave. Hard-handed tactics and judgmental pronouncements will not convert hearts. Sadly, they might provide the final push out the door.