As we all know, the leaders of the American Roman Catholic Church are engaging in an all-out campaign of spiritual bullying and religion-based bigotry against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, couples, and families:
- New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, recently elevated to the rank of cardinal, made the (ultimately unsuccessful) fight against marriage equality in New York state a top priority of his episcopate.
- When he United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- of which Dolan is president -- met in Baltimore in November, the issue to which they devoted the bulk of their discussion was that of marriage equality and how they could stop it from spreading across the country.
- Also in November, Dan Avila, then serving as the USCCB's "Policy Advisor for Marriage and Family," resigned in disgrace after he was widely condemned for writing that homosexuality was caused by Satan entering the wombs of pregnant mothers and messing with their hormones.
- Early this year, Chicago Cardinal Francis George apologized after an uproar surrounding remarks he made comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan.
- Minnesota's Catholic bishops have diverted tax-exempt church resources to push for the passage of a constitutional marriage discrimination amendment in that state, silencing dissent in the clergy, injecting a prayer for marriage discrimination into the Catholic Mass itself, and embracing "ex-gay" propaganda in their efforts to oppose marriage equality.
- And just this week, we heard about a Maryland lesbian who gave her deceased mother a Catholic funeral according to her final wishes, only to be denied communion by the priest. Fr. Marcel Guarnizo also refused to deliver the final blessing at the woman's grave.
And now this: Al Fischer, a popular, openly gay music teacher at a St. Louis-area Catholic school, was fired earlier this month after an archdiocesan official overheard him talking with co-workers about his upcoming plans to marry his longtime partner in New York. To add insult to injury, Fischer's firing will take effect on March 9 -- get this -- the day of the couple's 20th anniversary and their wedding day.
The report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch makes it clear that Fischer's sexual orientation was no secret at St. Ann Parish. Fischer directs the local gay men's chorus. His partner, Charlie Robin, noted that the two attend school functions like concerts and staff parties as a couple. In a letter he emailed to the school's parents shortly after receiving his pink slip, Fischer wrote, "I think the word has been well spread that this is not the fault of St. Ann School or its leadership, and I want to emphasize that I get that, too." He said further that the school principal and parish priest "are still there for me in a big way." Parents at the school are said to be very upset.
In the midst of all of this, Mr. Fischer is taking the high road and doing what a good teacher does: thinking not about himself but about how his very public firing will impact the children he teaches. His letter encouraged parents to talk to their kids, to make sure that they don't let what's happened to him make them scared to be themselves. "A family conversation about whether or not justice was served here could be a great thing. I do not want the lesson from this for the kids to be, 'Keep your mouth shut, hide who you are or what you think if it will get you in trouble.'"
Stories like these are intensely personal for me. I'm a musician and former Catholic who, like Fischer, was dismissed for (in my case) being married to my soulmate -- simply because that person is another man. I know dozens of wonderful, dedicated, talented LGBT musicians serving the Catholic Church as organists, music directors, liturgists, cantors, choir members, and teachers. Al Fischer's story could happen tomorrow to any one of them. I also know dozens more kind, compassionate, gay priests who understand that their church is out of touch and protect their LGBT employees as best they can, as the priest at St. Ann Parish appears to have done.
Unfortunately, many pro-LGBT Catholics do not speak out when people like Fischer are attacked, because they don't think they have the authority to challenge their bigoted bishops. Gay and pro-LGBT priests often cannot stand up against these injustices unless they are prepared to face the very real risk of being silenced, fired, or moved by their bosses, the bishops (who also control their retirement plans, by the way).
But until more lay Catholics, priests, and even bishops start to stand up and speak out against the Catholic hierarchy and its persecution of LGBT people, the bullying, oppression, and repression will continue unabated, and we'll continue to hear more sad stories like that of Al Fischer.