Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


A credibly Christian church would respect gay employees

  • 30 August 2017
  Debates about social issues tend to bring out blanket statements, sweeping claims, dire threats and feverish reporting. They usually carry historical baggage that needs to be unpacked and the contents tested against contemporary reality. This is true also of the coming plebiscite on gay marriage.

A threat reportedly made, and later denied, by some church leaders was to dismiss from employment in Catholic organisations people who contract same-sex marriages. Regardless of what was said the threat will be featured in the coming debates. It may be helpful to set it in its broader context.

The argument for taking such action is that Catholic organisations must uphold the teaching of the church, and that this implies living in a way consistent with it. Where the public relationships of people working in Catholic organisations are inconsistent with Catholic teaching they call into question the teaching itself.

Whatever the abstract merits of this argument and its applicability to dismissal in limit cases, its general use belongs to a past age. It presupposes a tightly bound Catholic world in which Catholic faith is accepted and shared, where the Catholic Church is a primary allegiance for its members and where Catholic schools, hospitals and welfare agencies are staffed by Catholics. Faith is maintained and transmitted through adherence to the close and disciplined Catholic community.

In such a world it is understandable that Catholic authorities might exclude from employment in their organisations people in relationships not countenanced by Catholic teaching. But even there such action undermined the church it was supposed to protect. It identified the Christian gospel with repulsion rather than attraction. The novels of Irish writer John McGahern show clearly how such authoritarian behaviour gave birth to resentment and bred the present disowning of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

To carry out such a threat would now be suicidal for the Catholic Church. In large Catholic institutions involved in education, health care or social services, neither the officers of the organisations —administrators, doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff, teachers etc. — nor the people whom they serve are united by religious or church allegiance. Some belong to other churches or religions; others have no religious belief.

In addition, few of the baptised Catholics among medical staff and patients, or among teachers and their students' families, are practising Catholics who have an adult understanding of their faith. They have only a secondary allegiance to the Catholic Church.

What attracts many people from diverse backgrounds