It seems as if Pope Francis has opened the door, ever so slightly, to a more open policy towards gays in the Catholic Church. When asked about gays in his airplane interview following his trip to Brazil, he famously responded: "If a person is gay and follows the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge?" While the interpretation of this statement has become a kind of theological Rorschach test -- people see in it what they want to see in it -- the pope himself has issued no clarifications. He seems to relish the ambiguity.
But if we see this statement as an olive branch, as an effort to accommodate to the Church people with same-sex attractions, then we are entitled to ask Catholic institutions to take the next step: Catholic entities, especially Catholic schools, should stop firing gays and gay-rights supporters. After all, the immediate context of Pope Francis' "who am to judge?" came amidst calls to fire Monsignor Battista Ricca from his position at the Vatican Bank after he was revealed to be gay.
Such a resolution, furthermore, would fit our back-to-school season. Just like New Year's celebrations, the back-to-school season is the start of a new academic year and the right time for fresh beginnings and new directions. And last year was a truly atrocious one for firings. Just consider:
In February, 2013, Mike Moroski was fired from his position as Assistant Principal at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati. By all accounts, he was well-regarded by students and colleagues alike. He kept a zero tolerance policy where school bullying was concerned and won respect for that. Furthermore, he did not shun students who got in trouble, but met with them, talked with them, and encouraged them to improve their conduct. He taught students leadership skills and helped encode in them the value of integrity -- being consistent in words and deeds.
But none of this mattered. Moroski harbored a forbidden political view -- a political view, not a theological one. He believed that the State should recognize same-sex unions and he said so on his blog. And for this thought-crime, he had to go. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati acted to discharge him from his position.
His students immediately noticed the flaw in the Archdiocese's reasoning: "They point out that his blog post supported gay civil unions but didn't ask the Catholic Church to sanction them." He had signed a promise not to contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church and his blog was careful not to cross that line. His stance was that the State -- but not the Church -- had the right and even the obligation to make marriage available to same-sex couples. This distinction, however, was lost on the Archdiocese.
Nor was this the only bleak news to come out of Ohio. In April, 2013, Carla Hale was fired from her position at Bishop Watterson High School in Clintonville, near Columbus. She had taught at the school for nearly 20 years when her mother passed away. Her mother's obituary made mention of Hale's long-time partner. Some parent, hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, sent the obituary to officials in the Diocese of Columbus. And the Diocese, acting apparently on a morals clause in Hale's contract, terminated her.
So much for the grief she must have been feeling from the loss of her mother. In mid-August, we learned that she settled a lawsuit against the Diocese but the settlement did not include the possibility of reinstatement.
And then this summer came word of the case of Ken Bencomo. Bencomo was a "star educator," a teacher at St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora, California. He had taught at the school for 17 years and for 10 of those years his superiors were aware that he was gay. Back in those happier years, he had even introduced his partner to school officials with no adverse consequences.
But in early July, following the Supreme Court's decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, striking down Proposition Eight, Bencomo took the apparently forbidden step of regularizing his relationship. He married his long-time partner Christopher Persky in a union that is fully valid under California law. Yes, St. Lucy's Priory High School probably has the constitutional right to terminate Bencomo for taking this step. But why do it?
Let us remember, once again, that Pope Francis made his statement about not judging gays in circumstances similar to the facts of these cases: Monsignor Ricca, in the pope's judgment, was just the man to help clean up the mess at the Vatican Bank. And he is gay. And 15 or so years ago, he had taken a lover, or two, or three. And the pope was willing to look past this history, and focus on Ricca's many fine qualities.
It is time, well past time, for Catholic schools to make this back-to-school resolution: No more firings of gays or gay-rights supporters in the new school year.