Gay teacher in Catholic school

A West Hollywood rally this year in support of same-sex marriage. (Los Angeles Times / December 10, 2013)

The Roman Catholic Church complains that it has been unfairly characterized as anti-gay. Let’s leave that discussion for another time, because a recent incident — involving the firing of a gay teacher at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania — is less about whether the church is anti-gay than whether it has a coherent or consistent position on the subject.

Michael Griffin, a 12-year language teacher at Holy Ghost Preparatory School, said administrators had known about his sexual orientation for years. One attended his civil union ceremony. He showed up with his partner at school functions.

But he was fired after he informed his supervisors that he would be coming to work late one morning because he would be in nearby New Jersey, where he lives and where same-sex marriage was recently legalized, to get a marriage certificate.

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A schools spokesman released a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer saying that Griffin had violated the terms of his contract, which “requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the church as a condition of their employment.”

But if that were true, why wasn’t Griffin fired many years ago? Isn’t being in a gay relationship against the church’s teachings?

Other reports have implied that the breaking point was that Griffin used the school’s server to send his message about the marriage license, thus making public what had been acceptably private before. But it’s hard to imagine that an email to supervisors explaining a forthcoming lateness to school has somehow broadcast Griffin’s sexual orientation to the entire world or even the school. And even if that's true, is the way he violated the church’s teachings by being more public about his relationship, rather than having it at all?

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The church is, of course, entitled to its beliefs and its teachings, and to require its employees to adhere to those teachings. But in this case, it’s unclear exactly which teachings were supposedly violated. The school doesn’t really owe the public any explanations — but without some kind of coherent understanding of what happened to this supposedly successful teacher, church leaders have to expect that most people will infer an anti-gay attitude on the church’s part.

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