When should an organization take a stand as to the morals and character of its leaders?
This question has been the stuff of lawsuits taken all the way to the US Supreme Court and debates in churches as to whether their clergy should be divorced, gay or have been convicted of drunk driving. It’s been the informal chatter for years that a good percentage of Catholic clergy are gay, but as long as they didn’t broadcast the fact it was a live-and-let-live situation between the priest and his bishop.
Now things are changing because the legal climate is changing. The U.S. Justice Department is stressing that religious liberties -- think the Health and Human Services mandate wars -- are linked to strong denominational ties linked to clear statements of doctrines. In Christian schools and non-profit groups, that means clear doctrinal covenants and, thus, bishops are starting to let dissenters go.
In reaction, one RNS news story openly bemoans this fact. A July 20 piece starts thus:
(RNS) In May, the Rev. Warren Hall was abruptly dismissed from his position as the popular campus chaplain at Seton Hall University in New Jersey because the Catholic archbishop of Newark said his advocacy against anti-gay bullying, and his identity as a gay man, undermined church teaching.
Now Hall has written to Pope Francis asking that when the pontiff visits the U.S. in September, he speak out against such actions because they are “alienating” gay Catholics and the many others who support them.
In the letter, which was dated July 14, Hall asked Francis to “find time to listen to the challenges faced by LGBT people, especially those who are Catholic and wish to remain a part of the Church they have grown up in, which they love, and yet which it seems is alienating them more and more.”
There has been plenty of press before this about Hall’s firing so only news is the priest’s letter to Francis which –- let’s be honest –- is a publicity stunt. Hall’s letter has almost no chance of actually reaching the pontiff, so what’s the point of this story? Is it just an update on what’s been going on since Hall’s firing?
Hall noted in his letter to Francis — which he posted on Facebook — that he has been given no other assignment by the archdiocese, and in a follow-up telephone interview he said his salary ceased on July 1. He has been living largely on savings and help from friends.
The priest said he had never intended to make his sexual orientation an issue or to advocate for gay Catholics. But he said he has decided to welcome the opportunity that the crisis presented him.
“I am not a theologian. I am not a politician. But I am gay. So I think I have something to say at this moment in time,” Hall said.
Many Catholic gays and lesbians who are school teachers and parish ministers have been fired in the wake of state, and now federal, rulings allowing them to wed their same-sex partners in a civil ceremony.
I am curious about the “many” gay Catholics we are told are being let go. As I searched around the Internet to get some kind of list, I saw elsewhere the implication that hordes of people are being fired because they’re gay but when it comes down to actual names, there’s a handful.
So, if we’re going to allege mass firings, we need to cite more than two or three people. In this case, it also would help to know if Hall is popular with traditional Catholics, as well as progressives.
Now, the part about Hall’s bishop cutting off his salary is indeed despicable; sadly it is not unheard of. In 2004, I reported on a priest in the Diocese of Arlington who was taking the opposite stance as Hall: to expose gay priests in the church. Well, his bishop put him on ice and cut off his salary. And Father James Haley didn’t have near the defenders that Hall has.
The article also says:
Yet many Catholics see such firings as a sharp contrast with the more nonjudgmental approach to gays and lesbians espoused by Francis.
However, the following paragraphs do not quote any Catholics, but revert back to quotes by Hall. It's at this point that the article has become an editorial and not a news story. There is not one quote here by someone who feels Hall was over the top or that the Archdiocese of Newark could have been right in firing him. What’s also missing, again, are quotes by conservative or traditional Catholics at Seton Hall –- assuming they exist –- as to what they thought of this priest.
If you click on Hall's Twitter account, you see someone who's not going to be agreeing, much less submitting, to his archbishop any time soon. Is it possible the archdiocese might have a reason for not wanting to re-employ Hall? Most of us know that if we're unfairly let go from a job and decide to appeal, mounting a social-media campaign against said employer isn't going to get you reinstalled any time soon.
I understand reporters may have strong feelings about the fairness or unfairness of what those in the Catholic hierarchy choose to do, but it's still our job to accurately present the views of strong, articulate voices on both sides. Think journalism.