There have been a number of recent firings of gay or lesbian employees within the Catholic church in the United States. Principals, teachers and a variety of parish ministers are among those who have been fired. Gay priests and women religious have been dismissed from significant positions of influence. Fr. Warren Hall, a gay priest and chaplain at Seton Hall University, was removed from his position by the archbishop of Newark, N.J.
Hall has written a letter to Pope Francis requesting a meeting with the LGBT community within the church when Pope Francis visits the United States in September. In his letter, Hall writes, "Good teachers are being fired, pastoral and compassionate priests and religious women are being silenced ... and good, faith-filled people are leaving the Church as they witness all of this happening."
It is clear that bishops have the power to make these decisions and to hire and fire for any reason or for no reason. Having the power to do something, however, is not the same thing as it being the right thing to do. It is interesting to note that the bishop, not the school, made the decision regarding Hall. At a minimum, there is a question of disregarding what should be an expectation of academic freedom at the university level. Many of the firings taking place have been at the level of the bishop dictating his authority over the educational and hospital communities within his diocese. Schools, hospitals, universities, etc. have often been pleased or satisfied with their own employees, yet bishops have seen fit to intervene.
There is also the issue of firing people who are doing a good job, as Hall himself notes. We are talking about staff members who have worked loyally for the church for many years and are being cast aside because of a same-sex marriage or simply acknowledging that they are gay. The service they have been providing has been considered satisfactory or even exemplary, but now, that service is lost to the church because of a personal choice they may have made.
It is also clear that the church depends a great deal on the ministry of gays and lesbians and has done so for many years. Firing those who are serving the church well is a strange way of building up the body of Christ. Do we have enough workers in the vineyard that we can summarily dismiss those who have been providing quality service and are more than willing to continue providing those services?
Finally, the bishops appear to be ignoring the words of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has made no attempt to change any church doctrine, and there is no indication he has any plans to. Conservatives should be happy about this.
However, Pope Francis has also made clear that there does need to be a dramatic change in the way the church does business. Gone are the days of wholesale condemnation. Instead, we need to live in the world and embrace God's creatures and creation as good. A new openness is needed, and a recognition that all God's creatures have something positive to offer in renewing the church and the whole of God's kingdom.
Why are the bishops not hearing or responding to this message? Do they simply not get it? Do they just not agree with the pope and are choosing to defy or ignore the Francis message? Do they believe that Francis won't be around that long and they will just wait it out until a pope more to their liking comes along?
What they need to understand is that this is not just about Francis. This is about coming to grips with the world around them. Bishops need to recognize that today's culture has moved to a different place on a number of issues. They can choose to stand on the sidelines and become more and more irrelevant. In doing so, they will find that fewer and fewer members even of the faithful will bother to listen to what they have to say.
The alternative is to be more welcoming to the world around them. Bishops need to stop the knee-jerk reaction of forcefully condemning every statement that they don't understand or disagree with. One doesn't have to agree with everything one has to say in order to work with them or allow them to provide a service to the community. How refreshing it would be if the bishops were to choose to be a part of the world rather than isolating themselves and ensuring that their utterances are not seen as constructive or helpful to the wider world around them. Ultimately, the bishops need to shed their attachment to power and learn to serve as did the Lord Jesus.