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Looking ahead to a New Year of Dignity

By Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director DignityUSA

May 2016 be a year of surprising blessings and deep joys for you! We anticipate it will be another busy and eventful year for DignityUSA. As 2015 drew to a close, we had some hints of what may lie ahead for this year.

Just as we headed into the Christmas season, DignityUSA began working with Jeffrey Higgins, who was fired from his job as Cantor at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Maryland, a church of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. A parishioner dug deeply into Jeffrey’s life to find information that proved he was married to another man, and made repeated complaints to the pastor. The pastor sought advice from the Archdiocese on how to handle this harassment and was instructed to fire Jeffrey. Horrendous! Persecution and invasion of privacy were rewarded, and a man was fired for exercising his civil right to marry the person he loves.

Unfortunately, we expect to see many more situations like this during 2016. At their Annual Meeting in November 2015, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops set about working to end same-sex marriage and defending their misguided concept of “religious liberty” as one of two top priorities for their work. This was seen as more important than anti-poverty efforts, work on behalf of immigrants and refugees, efforts to support sustaining our planet, or any of the other Gospel-based ministries that cry out for religious leadership. Thus, we anticipate that we will continue to see transgender people, married lesbian and gay people, and even supporters of LGBT equality dismissed from both paid and volunteer positions at Catholic churches, schools, and service agencies. DignityUSA will continue to provide support and guidance to those treated unjustly, as well as to the communities that rally in support of true Catholic teachings on the sacredness of work.

At the same time Jeffrey’s firing came to our attention, we were heartened by a ruling from a Massachusetts court, which found that a Catholic high school was wrong in not hiring another married gay man as a food services manager. The school’s claim of immunity from non-discrimination employment law based on “ministerial exemption” was rejected, as was its claim that it had the right to insist on compliance with Church teaching by its employees. Since the position did not have direct ministerial function, and since the school has long both hired and admitted non-Catholics, the court ruled that its action violated the civil rights of Matthew Barrett, the man who had been offered and then denied the management job. This ruling is significant in setting precedents that may be helpful to others who work at religiously-affiliated organizations, especially in roles that are not essentially involved with passing on the faith. Once again, we may see courts, legislatures, and other civic institutions correcting injustice within our Church. DignityUSA has long promoted appropriate application of religious liberty protections, but has also worked to ensure these statutes are not used to buttress discrimination. We’ll keep doing this work in 2016.

We are also awaiting Pope Francis’ response to the Synod on the Family deliberations. The Pope has an opportunity to call the whole Church to a much more expansive sense of ministry and accompaniment, which would be a blessing for LGBT Catholics and families. Despite the majority of the Synod Bishops’ reluctance to press for significant changes in teaching and pastoral approach, we know that longing exists in much of the Church, and that Pope Francis seems attuned to the cries of God’s people. DignityUSA will continue to call for a Church where all are welcomed, affirmed, and participate fully in worship, sacramental life, and ministry.

DignityUSA is all of us working together. Your voice, your energy, your participation, your prayers, your support are part of the progress we make. I trust that this year we’ll see the largest number of people ever contributing to our mission. Please be in touch with any member of our staff or leadership team with your ideas, offers of help, questions, or information on resources or new situations. I look forward to another incredible year!