Crux leaves out crucial details in story on gay activists, Catholic education

Crux is the Boston Globe site that covers “all things Catholic” with a staff of six. They got everyone’s attention in 2014 when they snared famed Vatican scribe (formerly with the National Catholic Reporter) John L. Allen, Jr., to be their omnipresent front-line reporter, as well as a columnist and blogger.

Many of us who watch this beat were grateful that a large newspaper put time and money into covering a flock that is so dominant in their circulation area. And Boston is a very Catholic place, in many ways the heart of progressive Catholic life in this land.

Anyway, the Crux team just ran a piece about a council of war by five organizations that are concerned that crackdowns by bishops - specifically in San Francisco -- on who may or may not teach in Catholic schools will result in employees being fired.

CHICAGO -- A group of Catholic activists gathered in Chicago over the weekend for a brainstorming session aimed at stopping the firings of gay employees, Crux has learned.
The “Church Worker Justice Strategy Session” was held at the Catholic Theological Union Friday through Sunday.
Representatives from several organizations — Catholics for Choice, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA, and Call to Action — attended the meeting, along with workers from Catholic parishes, dioceses, and schools. About 30 people participated.
Participants discussed “discrimination, at-will employment, morality clauses, and how we might build some power to push for just employment practices in the workplace,” said Ellen Euclide, program director at Call to Action.

First, I think it’d be only fair to mention near the top of this piece that most if not the groups mentioned are not exactly considered Catholic by the leaders of the Catholic church itself. That factoid gives the story a lot less weight -- since the Catholic church remains, to say the least, a hierarchical church.

Still, it's interesting that the dissident groups are marshaling forces and talking strategy but their protest is hardly going to raise any eyebrows at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I did appreciate the reporter adding that several participants had their travel expenses paid for by the nation’s largest gay rights group, which says a lot.

The first question I had after reading this is: What firings?

So I called up this site. It mentions a food pantry worker in Kansas City and a church music director in Inverness, Ill. Both firings happened when the parties in question made some kind of public statement about their homosexuality. The music director had posted about his proposal to his lover on Facebook; the food pantry worker had her marriage to a woman mentioned in a magazine.

But the article inferred there were lots of firings happening, not two. And no one is being fired in the Archdiocese of San Francisco at this moment, which is where the current battle is raging that involves Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s new directive for the coming academic year. Employees teaching in Catholic schools will be expected to adhere to Catholic morality standards -- or at the very least not attack them publicly -- which effectively cuts out openly gay couples.

Still, contracts are signed every year, right? Teaching contracts typically last only for the present academic year and one’s status is always reviewed annually. So, by not signing the contract because one wishes to be openly gay is not the same thing as being fired. It may be just or unjust, but it’s not being fired. The groups meeting in Chicago may wish to spin it this way, but reporters need to be wary of using that language.

It is not new when religious groups seek to impose some doctrinal quality control on members or employees. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is similar in that if dissidents take a very public stand against the tenets of the faith (advocating for women’s ordination or running a web site that questions its rules), they are ejected. And we all remember the 2004 election when John Kerry was forbidden by some bishops to take Communion, because of his public opposition to key doctrines of the faith. The issue was Catholic politicians who consistently push abortion.

This is a very important topic, in the world of Catholic education at all levels. Journalists may, in fact, want to do some background study -- click here -- on Ex Corde Ecclesiae -- an entire encyclical on the topic by St. John Paul II.

It still amazes me when employees act surprised that they're expected to at least publicly adhere to the faith stance of whatever religious group -- left, right or center -- that has hired them. Apply at any conservative religious college or school and you should expect to see in your contract something that obligates you to act according to the standards of this organization. I see no evidence of reporters asking people such questions or challenging a gay person's decision to work for a religious group when he or she knows full well they're not living according to that group's standards -- often as described in detail in a covenant document that they signed of their own free will.

It's the job of journalists to those questions and they're not doing it.

Photo of Boston's Trinity Church by Shutterstock

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