Catholic schools have “an obligation” to terminate employees who actively oppose Church teaching and whose conduct “undermines the Church’s ability to fulfill her mission,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., recently wrote in a blog post addressing the firing of a Church employee found to be in a same-sex marriage.
“The purpose of our parishes, schools, ministries and other Catholic entities — ‘and the task of those who work for them — is to lead people to Jesus,’” explained Cardinal Wuerl, citing his May 2015 pastoral letter Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge. “That purpose and task is challenged by a secular culture that is in contradiction to traditional concepts of marriage, family, the common good and objective right and wrong.”
In his blog post, Cardinal Wuerl responded to a recent employment issue at a parish in Germantown, Md., where a music minister was terminated after his same-sex marriage was discovered by the pastor. The termination prompted an organized protest from Dignity USA, a dissident group of LGBT Catholics, which cited the incident as a form of discrimination.
However, Cardinal Wuerl noted that the parish’s decision is not discrimination, but is an example of safeguarding the Catholic mission of religious institutions.
“[I]f one persists or effectively insists that they are right and the Church is wrong, in the face of such irreconcilable differences it is not discrimination or punishment to say that continued ministerial service is not possible,” he wrote. “When there is the potential for scandal that might lead people astray regarding the Catholic faith, continued service becomes untenable.”
Again referencing Being Catholic Today, Cardinal Wuerl said that those assisting the Church in her mission and ministries “have a special responsibility to ‘respect our Catholic identity and avoid behavior that contradicts the very mission of the Catholic institution.’”
The reference comes from a section in his pastoral letter about the importance of protecting the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.
“In recent legislation in various parts of our nation, efforts are being made to force the Church to accept on our teaching faculties, staff and charitable services personnel those who live in a way that publically repudiates the teaching of the Church,” he wrote in the letter. “Those who participate in the ministry of our institutions also share in the obligation to help them achieve their goals and purpose.”
Cardinal Wuerl emphasized in his recent blog post that when the words or public conduct of a Church employee has “an adverse effect on our mission” the Church “must be free to then take corrective steps,” and “has an obligation in charity and truth to do so.”
“The Catholic faithful, and the other people that our ministries serve, have a right to the Gospel and to receive authentic Church teaching,” he said. “Conversely, people are denied that right, and our mission and Catholic identity can be compromised ‘either through explicit dissent, miscatechesis or personal conduct that tends to draw people away from the communion of the Church.’”
“When people are faithful and give good witness, they lead people to Christ,” he added. “But when we give bad witness, we can lead people away from Christ.”
Cardinal Wuerl continued:
Every entity, religious or secular, has the right to its own identity, mission and message, including the freedom of association to retain only people who will faithfully serve those interests and not act in ways that prejudice what the entity stands for. It is not unusual for companies to part ways with employees who do something in their personal lives that puts the companies in an unfavorable light. And no official would ever continue to employ someone who in his off-hours publicly demonstrated that he was opposed to the official’s policies or campaigned for the official’s opponent.
Cardinal Wuerl added that “the Church also enjoys freedom of religion to decide who will carry out Catholic ministry. This includes the right to determine when conduct is otherwise adverse to the Church’s ability to fully pursue its mission and interests.”
The Cardinal Newman Society reported on numerous instances in the past year where Catholic schools were accused of discrimination for their hiring policies.
Most recently a court in Massachusetts ruled against an all-girls Catholic school for rescinding a job offer after it became known that the applicant is in a same-sex marriage.
The Newman Society also reported on the significant backlash Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco faced after releasing employment guidelines that stressed the duty of prospective employees to abide by Church teaching in their lives.
The Newman Society’s news team expects to see more challenges to Catholic hiring policies in the news throughout 2016.