Catholic prep school loses discrimination hiring lawsuit

This case is disturbing to me. I expect a higher standard of ethics from any Catholic school. Here’s the story: Court To Catholic School: No, You Can’t Fire People Because They Are Gay

“Plaintiff Matthew Barrett had applied for a job at Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic prep school for girls in Milton, Massachusetts, as a Food Services Director. After several interviews, he was offered the job. On his new hire form, Barrett listed his husband as his emergency contact. Two days later, Fontbonne informed him that he could not have the job because his marriage was inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

In my opinion, Fontbonne Academy had no theological or moral grounds for firing Barrett (or withdrawing the job offer). They initially offered him the job, indicating that they found him to be qualified. He was not hired to teach religion, nor to serve in any ministerial role in a parish or diocese. The school does not have a policy of hiring only Catholic faculty, nor only Catholic employees. Their student body includes many non-Catholics. And there is no magisterial teaching stating that Catholics must refuse to hire, work with, or work for non-Catholics or Catholics who do not adhere to Catholic teaching. The Gospel does not require us to live apart from non-Catholics, like the Essenes living on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jesus’ time.

Yes, this man’s same-sex marriage is inconsistent with Catholic teachings. But if the Church expelled from Catholic schools all faculty members and staff who also violated Catholic teaching in their beliefs and practices, they would lose perhaps 80 to 90% of their employees and administrators. If Catholic parishes expelled all paid staff and volunteers who used contraception, had sex outside of marriage, or committed other grave sins, along with all who hold heretical views, there would be hardly anyone left to run the parish. Perhaps 80 to 90% of Catholics who attend Mass regularly are unrepentant from one or more objective mortal sins, and/or they hold heretical views on one or more issues of faith or morals. To hold a non-Catholic working in a food services job to a higher standard than persons who have teaching or ministerial positions is immoral and hypocritical.

But I don’t believe that Barrett had his job offer revoked because he is gay, nor because his marriage violates Catholic teaching. I think the real reason is that same-sex marriage is a hot-button political issue, and Catholicism has become highly politicized in recent years. So when there is a lot of political controversy over an issue, they are willing to fire someone, whereas if the same person committed a similar grave sin, absent the political controversy, they would not fire him. If Barrett were merely cohabitating with a man (without same-sex marriage), I think he would still have the job. The real concern of the school administrators — and this is very hypocritical of them — is that Barrett was on the wrong side of a political controversy, not that he was sinning gravely.

I’ve read a few other stories in the press lately along similar lines. In each case, an openly gay teacher at a Catholic school was fired for planning or obtaining a gay marriage. The school knew and did not object to the fact that the teacher was gay and cohabitating. So the reason for the firing was not that the person committed a grave sin, or was living a life contrary to Catholic teaching. If the school refused to hire anyone whose life was inconsistent with Catholic teaching, that would be a good policy. But it is sinful hypocrisy to hire teachers with no regard for whether they believe or practice the Catholic faith, and no regard for sexual sins, and then only fire those who are on the wrong side of a political controversy.

Catholic schools should choose to operate under one of two models, each of which is moral (and perhaps also legal).

1. Some Catholic schools should offer a fully Catholic environment, where all students, faculty, and staff are expected to be believing and practicing Catholics. They should hold all faculty and staff to the same standard: no contraception, no abortion, no grave sexual sins, no unrepentant grave sins of any kind, and no heretical belief, then for teachers of religion, a greater scrutiny to make certain that they have a sound and thorough understanding of Church teaching.

But there are not enough faithful Catholics to staff even a small percentage of all the Catholic schools in this way. Most Catholics today have gone astray from Catholic teaching, and are unrepentant from heresy and/or from objective mortal sin.

2. The other option is to have a Catholic school, which teaches the Catholic faith and has a high percentage of Catholic students and faculty, but which is also open to non-Catholics. The students and faculty would not be held to the standard of believing and practicing the Catholic faith, with the exception of teachers of religion. Even non-practicing, minimally-practicing, and dissenting Catholics would be admitted in this type of school as faculty, staff, and students. In this way, the Church could interface with those who are formally outside the Church and with those on the fringes of the Church.

If you decide on the second option, you cannot fire your staff when you find out that they are on the wrong side of a political controversy. If you decide on the first option, you must fire any and all staff, if they violate any grave teaching, not only the issues that are presently in the news.

By the way, I think it is dishonest for Catholic schools to try to extend the ministerial exception beyond ordained persons, religious, and teachers of religion or ethics. The claim that a director of food services holds a ministerial position is a blatant lie.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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