Fr James Martin SJ has tweeted his rage against the firing of a gay teacher from a Catholic School.
The story is here in the New York Times. It concerns a female Catholic school teacher who “married” her girlfriend and was then dismissed from her job.
Fr Martin tweets:
Again, where are the comparable firings of straight employees who do not follow Catholic church teaching? Men and women living together before being married? Divorced and remarried without annulments? People using birth control? This is discriminatory.
I will try to cut through the fog of sentimental grandstanding here to try to clarify matters.
There are five common sense and simple objections to Fr Martin’s tweet, but first I should make clear that I am not discussing homosexuality per se, but the underlying logic (or lack of it) in Fr Martin’s twitter comment.
I have no opinions about the homosexual condition nor about homosexual activity that differ in any way from the clear statements of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
First of all, Fr Martin’s charge that straight employees are not removed from their jobs at Catholic institutions for breaking their employment contract over matters of sexual morality is simply wrong. The comments on his Twitter feed provide multiple examples of heterosexual employees being fired for breaking their contract by giving bad moral example and violating Catholic morality.
I worked in a Catholic school where a man and woman who worked there were in a relationship that destroyed the man’s marriage. They planned to re-marry, but had the dignity and respect for the school community to realize their plans contradicted their terms of employment and their example as Catholic school teachers. They resigned quietly and found new employment. They didn’t attempt to stay on in their job and play the public victim.
The second problem with Fr Martin’s tweet is to equate all sin–suggesting that gay people are discriminated against because the church does not fire Catholics who use artificial contraception or Catholics who are living together while not being married.
There are two aspects to this second objection. The first aspect is the common sense observation that not all sins are equal in value. We don’t blame someone on the same level for breaking the speed limit as we do for rape and murder. Some sins are, by their very nature intrinsically evil. What we mean by that extreme sounding phrase is that some sins, by their very nature go against nature itself.
Abortion, for example, is worse than stealing a pencil because, although stealing a pencil is wrong, you went on to use a pencil for what a pencil was made for: to write a note. Abortion is worse because a mother and father kill their own child–which goes against nature. Furthermore, you could return the pencil. You can not bring the aborted child back to life.
These distinctions are not complicated or difficult to understand. Any eighth grade confirmation candidate could master them. I’m surprised therefore that a Jesuit priest cannot.
The second aspect to this objection, is that all sins are not the same because some are formal and public while others are private and informal. Formal, public actions can be judged objectively because they are public and can be seen, and they are formal because there is actual paperwork that is signed saying this particular thing happened.
Someone’s use of artificial contraception or a couple fornicating or a person masturbating or a couple living together for a time is not right, but these sins are informal and private.
When a couple marry, however, they are making a formal, public statement about their lives. When they adopt a child or sign a mortgage together to buy a house where they are cohabiting, they are also, in a lesser way, making a formal, public statement about their sexual choice.
Furthermore, when they marry they are making a formal, public statement that is binding for life because that is what marriage is. It is a formal, public, lifelong commitment. Therefore, from a Catholic point of view, if the marriage is in any way illicit, they are saying, “We know what we are doing. We know it is wrong. We are making this formal and public, and we intend to stay in this sinful condition for the rest of our lives.”
In that respect their action is formal, public and irreformable unless they repudiate their decision and change their life. This second aspect of the objection therefore applies to both heterosexual couples who remarry after divorce as well as to homosexual persons who attempt to marry.
Connected with this formal, public and irreformable action is the fact that an illicit marriage (whether it is between two people of the same sex or two people who are already married) is a violation not only of the marriage rules of the Catholic Church, but of the very sacrament of marriage itself. A Catholic would not take the sacred host, throw it on the floor and urinate on it, but when they marry illicitly they are blaspheming a sacrament of the church. Shall we turn a blind eye and treat this lightly?
The third objection is that the person who is fired from a Catholic institution for breaking the morality clause of their contract has errrm…broken their contract. They knew what they were getting themselves in for when they signed the contract. If they could not keep those rules or found out later that they were burdensome, they should either not have signed up in the first place or resigned when they realized they could no longer fulfill their duties.
The fourth objection is to note that Fr Martin is, no doubt correct, when observing that there are heterosexual Catholic employees who are not fired despite the fact that they are living in violation of their Catholic faith and their contracts. This objection opens up a whole new can of worms.
Does Fr Martin object because there are morality clauses in Catholic contracts or simply because such contracts forbid same sex marriage? If the latter, then he should stop being coy about his support for same sex marriage. So far he has held back from full fledged support of gay marriage, but this is clearly disingenuous. If he supports same sex marriage he should say so. If he does not, then he should not object to people being dismissed from their jobs for breaking their contract in this way.
Fr Martin’s stance is therefore extremely confusing. Is he suggesting that all morality clauses be removed from Catholic employment contracts, or is he suggesting that only clauses involving sexual morality be removed? If only sexual morality, then why exempt other forms of morality? Is sexual immorality acceptable but embezzlement is not?
This fourth objection is the tip of an iceberg because when we push this question further we must ask, “If there is to be no clause in Catholic employment contracts for sexual immorality does this mean all sexual behaviors are permissible by Catholic employees?” If a twenty one year old coach has a consensual affair with a seventeen year old student will that be wrong? If so why?
The fifth and final objection is to observe that while some heterosexual Catholics who are in violation of the church’s rule are not fired, it is also true that in various places homosexuals who are in violation also continue in their employment. Fr Martin’s real difficulty therefore, would seem not to be homosexuality or heterosexuality, but the inconsistency of Catholic employers to enforce their rules. In which case, does Fr Martin want them to be stricter with everyone?
That would not be very merciful!
The fact of the matter is, Fr Martin is a Jesuit. Jesuits are smart. However, his tweet is sentimental and shallow. We must therefore conclude that Fr Martin is either not smart or that he is intentionally deceitful, disingenuous and manipulative.
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