In Atlanta newspaper story on fired Catholic music minister, the villain and bad doctrine are clear

A reader sent us a link to a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on a Catholic church music minister who was fired, presumably because he married another man.

The reader pointed out that the piece appears to be a personal column, which gives the writer some leeway in voicing opinions. At the same time, though, “the way it’s written is a real gray area.”

In other words, it looks and feels in a lot of ways like news reporting, not an op-ed. On the other hand, it’s clear from the beginning that the writer has chosen a hero and a villain in this scenario. The hero is the fired music minister. The villain is any church that would have a problem with two consenting adults of the same gender falling in love and exchanging wedding vows.

From a journalistic perspective, the question is: Does the writer — regardless of whether her article is opinion writing or news reporting or a hybrid combination of both — have any responsibility to demonstrate a basic understanding of Catholic theology?

More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let’s start with the top of the story. It gives a pretty clear idea of the writer’s point of view:

CHATTANOOGA, TENN. — If this were any other year, John Thomas McCecil would be busy prepping for another weekend service, planning Advent, the annual children’s program and Christmas Eve celebration near here at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church.

But after a decade as the minister of music at the church in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and in a sad turn of events a few months ago, John Thomas says he was forced to resign because, in church parlance, he was in a “questionable” relationship.

Let that simmer for a moment.

If you’re still wondering what that means exactly, here it is in more simple terms: John Thomas is happily married to a man. He’s gay.

That fact was known by church administrators at Our Lady, and as far as he could discern, no one really cared.

That paragraph that begins “That fact was known” is kind of confusing. Because it makes it sound like the fact that “Thomas is happily married to a man” was known by church administrators, and nobody cared. But really, it’s referring to the fact that he’s gay.

The writer shows no interest in exploring the nitty-gritty of how Catholic doctrine might differ concerning a celibate gay man vs. a sexually active one. Also, it appears no attempt is made to explore the question of lifestyle covenants, and whether any such agreement was made or expected by employees of the church.

Church officials don’t help the story any by refusing to talk. Whether they didn’t want to talk or simply couldn’t because of confidentiality law concerning personnel matters is unclear:

Neither Shuler nor the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which includes Our Lady as one of its member churches, would comment about why he was let go, saying they were bound by confidentiality rules.

“I can’t confirm or deny anything that’s a personnel matter,” Shuler said.

Asked if he knew John Thomas was gay, Shuler said yes, he’d known for at least the past five years. Asked if he had a problem with that, he said he did not.

The column/story/whatever it is ends on this theological note:

I know what you’re wondering. Other people have asked John Thomas the same thing. How does he reconcile his faith with his sexuality? His answer is always the same.

“Salvation only has to do with accepting Christ as your Lord and savior,” he said

The reader who contacted GetReligion was not impressed with the level of theological curiosity shown there at the end.

“That garbage kicker quote is exhibit No. 1 for how reporters don't understand theology and uncritically accept nonsense that suits their needs,” he wrote.

Obviously, the writer has a point of view. Again, the question is: Does quality journalism — even of an opinionated nature — demand more in terms of seeking to understand the theology involved in Catholic doctrine on homosexuality?

Just asking.

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