Friday, May 23, 2014

The Toll of Morals Clauses

Virtually all employees of Roman Catholic parishes, schools, and other institutions in the United States are working under contracts that contain morals clauses which require the employee, whether Catholic or not, to conform to the teachings of the Church and not speak out publicly against them, even in their personal lives and even when off duty. And the toll of those who have been fired or forced out for following their consciences rather than those contracts continues to grow.

This list is a work in progress and I would invite those who have knowledge of other cases (or updates to the cases listed below) to use the comment field. For the purpose of this article, we are focusing on paid lay employees, not people who have been dismissed from volunteer positions in the Church or priests or religious. Please supply references to mainstream news sources to document those cases.

Behind these public names are many many other Catholic church employees we will never know about. How many gay and lesbian employees are afraid to marry their loving partners because they can't afford to lose their jobs? Worse still, how many single women have terminated an unexpected pregnancy in order to keep their employment? And how many are demoralized and afraid to speak up for justice because the institutional Church, in practice, is not the liberating and merciful place Pope Francis wishes it to be? We need to work towards the day when our church workers and teachers don't have to trade their freedom of expression and association for a paycheck.

Name: Jeffrey Higgins
Diocese: Washington (DC)
Date of termination: November 2015
Case: Higgins had begun a part-time job as a music minister at Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in Germantown, MD, in June 2014. The Catholic University graduate never hid his homosexuality, nor did he publicize it, out of respect for church teaching. That job came to an end when some parishioners saw Higgins and his husband at a local theatre and then learned of their marriage from the husband's Facebook page. They complained to the pastor, Rev. Lee Fangmeyer, who asked Higgins to resign despite the fact that he was performing his job well. Higgins refused and was fired. Higgins appealed his termination to the Archdiocese of Washington but the appeal was denied. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington said that Higgins had "entered into a same-sex marriage, in public violation of Catholic teaching" and that this "violated the agreed upon terms of his employment in the archdiocese."
Source: Washington Post, 12/31/2015; Washington Blade, 12/23/2015

Name: Margie Winters
Diocese: Philadelphia (Pennsylvania)
Date of termination: June 2015
Case: Ironically, Winters had been quietly married to her lesbian partner virtually the entire time she served as a well-respected Director of Religious Education at Waldron Mercy Academy. Winters and her wife, Andrea Vettori, had tied the knot in Boston in 2007, before same sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania. Her eight-year academic career ended when a parent got wind of her marital status and complained to the school. Winters was asked to resign and when she refused to do so, she was fired. Principal Nell Stetser praised the educator's "amazing contributions" to the school but said the decision was made "to sustain the Catholic identity of Waldron Mercy Academy." Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput added fuel to the fire when he released a statement praising the termination, saying "I'm very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the Church." Many other parents have protested the school's decision and a Stand With Margie page has been set up on Facebook. Meanwhile, Vettori has written a letter on behalf of the couple to Pope Francis asking for an audience when he is in Philadelphia. She explains the couple's long association with the Sisters of Mercy and pleads for the pontiff to "intervene on our behalf and countless other faithful Catholics so that we may not be condemned to live a life exiled from a Church that we so love and want to serve."
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/9/2015, WPVI TV News, 7/13/2015, NY Daily News, 7/9/2015

Name: Fr. Warren Hall
Diocese: Newark (New Jersey)
Date of termination: May 2015
Case: Fr. Hall was removed by the Archdiocese of Newark from his position as director of campus ministry at Seton Hall University after he posted a picture on his Facebook page supporting the pro-gay marriage "NO H8" campaign. Fr. Hall, who subsequently revealed that he is gay although committed to his celibacy vow, told the media he was told by the Archbishop that he had a "further agenda" and that was why he was being removed from campus ministry. He has since requested a six-month leave of absence from the Archdiocese to contemplate his next move. Meanwhile, Fr. Hall has written a letter to Pope Francis, made public on Religion News Service, asking the Pope, when he comes to the United States, to "find time to listen to the challenges faced by LGBT people, especially those who are Catholic and wish to remain a part of the Church" and he makes a special plea on behalf of fellow educators and ministers: "Good teachers are being fired, pastoral and compassionate priests and religious women are being silenced and accept it out of fear of being disciplined by their superiors, and good, faith-filled people are leaving the Church as they witness all of this happening."
Source:, 5/15/2015, Outsports, 5/26/2015, Religion News Service, 7/20/2015.

Name: John Murphy
Diocese: Richmond (Virginia)
Date of termination: April 2015
Case: Murphy, a lifelong Catholic, thought he had found the right job when he was hired as Executive Director of a Catholic assisted living facility, Saint Francis Home ("The Place Where Love Never Grows Old", according to the facility's motto). He says he was told by the president of the home's board of directors that his relationship with his husband, retired social worker Jerry Carter, wouldn’t be a problem. He served in his new job for a week and his new employee paperwork was forwarded to the diocese for processing. At that point, two representatives of the Diocese of Richmond called Murphy to tell him he was fired because his marriage goes against church doctrine. He has received no severance pay. Murphy, who is 63 years old, hasn't been able to find a job since, and he and his husband are relying primarily on Social Security. In September 2015, Murphy filed a discrimination claim with the EEOC. Sam Dibert Sr., who had been vice president of Saint Francis Home's board and served on it for more than 20 years, resigned following the diocese's decision to terminate Murphy. Murphy himself sums it up well, "People being discriminated against because of who they love, when it has nothing to do with their performance, is outrageous."
Source: Associated Press/WTOP, 10/13/2015, WRIC/KSN, 10/14/2015

Name: Matthew Eledge
Diocese: Omaha (Nebraska)
Date of termination: April 2015
Case: Eledge had been an English teacher and speech coach at Skutt Catholic High School since 2010. In 2014, he became engaged to his same-sex partner, Elliot Dougherty. When he let the school administration know of his plans to marry, he was told that his contract would not be renewed for the next term and that if he told the students, he would be fired immediately. There were no complaints about Eledge's teaching. In fact, the Omaha World-Herald reports that the speech team Eledge coached "won the state Class B speech championship for the fourth year in a row." Speaking for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Deacon Tim McNeil explained that all teachers are required to sign a contract that includes a code of conduct that forbids same-sex marriage. When Skutt alumni found out about the termination, they mounted a petition in support of Eledge that has already garnered over 100,000 signatures. However, while Eledge is grateful for the support he has received, he will not be returning to Skutt. He has been offered and has accepted a position in the Millard Public School system.
Source: Omaha World-Herald, 4/7/2015, Omaha World-Herald, 5/6/2015

Name: Tyler McCubbin
Diocese: Des Moines (Iowa)
Date of termination: April 2015
Case: McCubbin had been working as a substitute teacher and volunteer track coach at Dowling Catholic High School since September 2014. The school's president made McCubbin an offer for a full-time teaching position, but later revoked it based, McCubbin says, on his sexual orientation. Bishop Richard Pates gave reporters a different spin on the case, saying McCubbin wasn't denied the job because he's gay, but due to the openness of his sexual orientation. Meaning that McCubbin had posted in the social media that he was engaged to a man, and that turned up on the background check when he received the job offer. "What's so shocking is in an institution where they preach tolerance and love and respect for everyone, no matter what your background is, they don't uphold to those teachings," McCubbin says. The school's decision has led to a flurry of protest. One alumnus, Sen. Matt McCoy immediately called for fellow alums to stop donating to the school, a Facebook page called "Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination" has been set up, and 150 Dowling students, alumni and others staged a walkout over school officials' decision not to hire McCubbin.
Source: KCCI, 4/7/2015 and Des Moines Register, 4/8/2015

Name: Lonnie Billiard
Diocese: Charlotte (North Carolina)
Date of termination: December 2014
Case: Billiard taught theater and English at Charlotte Catholic High from 2000 to 2012. After he retired from full-time teaching, he continued to work for the school as a substitute teacher. That ended when Billiard announced his plans on Facebook to marry Rich Donham, his partner for most of the years of his teaching career. He received a call from the principal informing him that he would no longer be called in to teach because his Facebook posting violated the agreement he signed not to publicly oppose church doctrine. Billiard's response: "It was fine when I was living with my partner. But I was wrong when I said we were getting married? The hypocrisy is ridiculous." And worse, the teacher says, is the message his termination sends to gay students at the school: "It sends the message that they don't matter."
Source: News & Record, 1/14/2015 and QNotes, 1/12/2015

Name: Jamie Moore
Diocese: St. Paul and Minneapolis (Minnesota)
Date of termination: September 2014
Case: Moore had served as music director at St. Victoria Catholic Church in Victoria, Minnesota, for 17 years. The parish asked him to resign under pressure from Archbishop John Nienstedt, following his marriage to his long-time partner, Garrett. Moore's pastor and employer, Rev. Bob White, sent a notice to parishioners explaining the circumstances of Moore's forced resignation and adding that "Jamie will be sorely missed, and we wish him every happiness." Moore consulted an attorney but then decided against suing the Archdiocese.
Source: KMSP/Fox 9/23/2014, Star Tribune, 9/29/2014

Name: Barbara Webb
Diocese: Detroit (Michigan)
Date of termination: August 2014
Case: Webb had worked as a chemistry teacher at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan for nine years, producing students who scored an average of 4.0 on their AP tests and coaching a league winning volleyball team. Then she and her female partner decided to start a family through "non-traditional means". Aware that her pregnancy might cause scandal, Webb went to her employer to ask for a leave of absence until she had given birth. Instead the high school gave her two choices -- resign or be fired. If she resigned voluntarily and quietly, she would be allowed to keep her health insurance through May of the following year. Webb responded through her Facebook page that she "wasn't going to sign something that said I willing was leaving and their $4k of health insurance wasn't enough to buy my silence." She is now seeking legal counsel.
Source: MLive, 8/29/2014

Names: Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro
Diocese: St. Louis (Missouri)
Date of termination: July 2014
Case: Reichert and Gambaro were both teachers at Cor Jesu Academy, a Catholic high school for girls in Affton, Missouri...that is, until they got married in New York over the summer and the school received a copy of their joint mortgage application. At that point Cor Jesu asked the couple to resign, finding them in violation of the school's morals contract clause. In a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Reichert responded that "we understand that, as a Catholic institution, Cor Jesu has an obligation to ensure that its employees serve as Christian role models. However, because they do not enforce the witness statement in any other way, this is a blatant case of discrimination." Alumnae of the school have formed a group called Chargers Allies which says it is "committed to sharing the love of Christ with those who identify as LGBTQ in the CJA community." The group is exploring ways to support the couple and many alumnae have withheld donations to protest the school's treatment of Reichert and Gambaro.
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/3/2014

Name: Colin Collette
Diocese: Chicago (Illinois)
Date of termination: July 2014
Case: Collette worked as director of worship at Holy Family parish in Inverness, Illinois, for nearly 17 years and prior to that, he worked for St. James Catholic Church in Bronzeville -- 23 years of service in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He did not keep his homosexuality a secret. His partner, Will Nifong, has been to mass at the church and even served as a lector occasionally. Then Collette, who began playing organ in Catholic churches when he was 12, has an M.Div. and even considered the priesthood, got engaged to his partner. When the Archdiocese found out, Cardinal George ordered the parish to request Collette's resignation. Collette refused to resign and was fired. The Archdiocese defended the decision saying, "Those that serve as Ministers of the Church, including worship ministers, are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the Church." According to Collette, the Church has a don't ask, don't tell policy. "I guess as long as you're willing to live the lie, you're safe," he said. "Actually, you're never safe. You live in fear every day someone is going to call the Cardinal or someone is going to turn you in."
Source: ABC 7 TV, 7/30/2014 and Chicago Sun-Times, 7/30/2014

Name: Flint Dollar
Diocese: Savannah (Georgia)
Date of termination: May 2014
Case: Dollar, who has a degree in church music, was a music teacher and band leader at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, GA, for four years. The school knew Dollar's sexual orientation when it hired him. On May 1st, he signed a new contract to teach next year that was initially accepted by the school. Then Dollar posted on his Facebook page that he was planning to marry his male partner of six years this summer in Minnesota. "I was told that because I was planning to marry my partner that I would not be returning to Mount de Sales next year," says Dollar. His students and their parents have been protesting on his behalf. Dollar has since filed a lawsuit for sex discrimination against his former employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Dollar, who is now playing organ part time at a Presbyterian church, says getting his old position back is not the goal. "I don't want anybody else to have to go through what I've been through," he says.
Source: The Telegraph, 5/22/2014

Name: Kathleen Purcell
Diocese: Oakland (California)
Date of termination: May 2014
Case: Purcell had been a history teacher and career partnerships program director at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland for six years. Now the 62-year old former constitutional lawyer's teaching career has come to an end. Purcell handed in her signed teaching contract with two new paragraphs containing faith and morals clauses crossed out. She was let go. Purcell told the East Bay Express, "I found the language to be way out of line and totally unacceptable...I look at this contract, and it very much looks to me like an attempt to universally remove all employees from the protection of civil rights and labor laws. I cannot put my name to that. ... I spent most of my life trying to move forward civil rights."
Source: East Bay Express, 5/13/2014

Name: Richard Miller
Diocese: Cincinnati (Ohio)
Date of termination: May 2014
Case: Miller was a Greenhouse instructor at St. Rita School for the Deaf, teaching about nature and gardening. Prior to that, he was an interpreter for the Hamilton County Educational Service Center. He is also a gay man who lives with his partner and the couple's six children. According to Miller, when he was hired at the Catholic school, he was open about his sexual orientation and was told "that what I did in my personal life was my business and I was being hired for my abilities and my capabilities as a teacher." Now the same director who was open to Miller has sent him a letter saying that his contract would not be renewed and "when I was asked why my contract would not be renewed his response was, it was just too risky." The decision was made in the wake of the new archdiocesan teacher contract with a very strict morals clause.
Source: WNKU, 5/22/2014

Name: Richard Hague
Diocese: Cincinnati (Ohio)
Date of termination: May 2014
Case: Hague, who has taught literature and writing for 45 years in various archdiocesan schools, most recently Purcell Marian, is resigning rather than signing the new teacher contract with moral clauses that the 66-year old teacher views as a rejection of his gay colleagues and students. In a letter to Superintendent Jim Rigg, Hague wrote, "I simply cannot believe that Jesus would require me to condemn my friends, nor that Jesus would require me to report any of my colleagues who supported, even loved, gay persons, nor do I believe for a moment that Jesus would punish me for my earlier ministry," referring to his personal ministry to gay students over the years.
Source:, 5/21/2014

Name: Colleen Simon
Diocese: Kansas City-St. Joseph (Missouri)
Date of termination: May 2014
Case: Simon, a lesbian, was asked to resign from her job as coordinator of social ministries at St. Francis Xavier Church after her marriage to Rev. Donna Simon of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church was publicized.
Source: Kansas City Star, 5/14/2014

Name: Molly Shumate
Diocese: Cincinnati (Ohio)
Date of termination: May 2014
Case: Shumate, a 14-year veteran teacher in the Catholic school system, elected to end her career with the diocese rather than sign the new teachers' contract that contains a morals clause prohibiting diocesan employees from publicly supporting homosexuality. Shumate's son is gay.
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/9/2014

Name: Tarn Duff
Diocese: Billings (Montana)
Date of termination: February 2014
Case: Duff, an assistant softball coach at Billings Central Catholic High School, coached the school's team for free during their 2012 season and then was paid for her part-time work in 2013. However, in November 2013, Duff began a second part-time job as a clinic assistant at Planned Parenthood, performing clerical duties. Because of her new job, the school decided not to renew Duff's coaching contract. Concurring with the school's decision, Patrick Haggerty, superintendent of Catholic Schools in Montana, said that "being employed by Planned Parenthood, an organization that by its nature violates Catholic moral teaching by providing abortions, is not being a good role model to the children attending Catholic schools." Duff said she signed a contract but couldn"t recall if it contained a morals clause. "My mission was to share my knowledge of softball with (players)," the two-time All-American outfielder from Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley College said. "I never mixed that with my personal life, and never put my beliefs on them."
Source: Billings Gazette, 2/18/2014

Name: Shaela Evenson
Diocese: Helena (Montana)
Date of termination: January 2014
Case: Evenson, a literature and physical education teacher with nine years experience, was fired from her job at Butte Central Catholic School after the diocese received a note informing them of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Evenson, a lesbian, and her partner Marilyn Tobin are now the proud parents of a baby boy, and Evenson has filed a pregnancy discrimination charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Source: Missoulian, 3/26/2014

Name: Brian Panetta
Diocese: Toledo (Ohio)
Date of termination: January 2014
Case: Panetta had been working for Sandusky Central Catholic School as music teacher and band and choir director for five years. He was told to resign after school officials found out about his engagement to his partner, Nathan David. The two plan to get married next year. The school's president issued a brief e-mail statement thanking Panetta for his service and, surprisingly, linking to a letter from Panetta himself. In his letter to the school community, Panetta says candidly, "As a proud and gay Catholic, I understand the Church's teachings on marriage and agree that my engagement is a public statement of my position for marriage equality, which the Catholic Church does not yet support. I am hopeful to see change in the future..."
Source: Sandusky Register, 1/11/2014

Name: Orlando Jimenez
Diocese: Las Cruces (New Mexico)
Date of termination: January 2014
Case: Jimenez was a pianist at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Las Cruces where he earned a small but steady income playing for weddings, quinceañeras, and other events. He also played for the Saturday Mass. When New Mexico allowed same-sex marriage in December 2013, Jimenez and his partner got their license. At that point, according to a statement released by Bishop Oscar Cantu, Jimenez was "at odds with the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality" and "it was agreed he would only be involved in supportive roles and not in more public ministry, such as leading the singing." He is also no longer being allowed to play for private church events, even though his stipend on those occasions is paid by the families and not by the church.
Source: KVIA, 1/20/2014

Name: Mark Zmuda
Diocese: Seattle (Washington)
Date of termination: December 2013
Case: Zmuda, a gay man, was fired from his position as vice principal of Eastside Catholic High School after it was found out he married his longtime partner Dana Jergens. The termination sparked numerous demonstrations and sit-ins by Eastside Catholic students and other supporters. Zmuda has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Seattle and Eastside Catholic claiming discrimination, breach of implied contract and wrongful termination.
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/8/2014

Name: Michael Griffin
Diocese: Philadelphia (Pennsylvania)
Date of termination: December 2013
Case: Griffin had taught high school Spanish and French for 12 years at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, PA. He was fired when he informed the school's administrators that he and his same-sex partner, with whom he had been more than 12 years, had applied for a marriage license in New Jersey. Source: NBC, 12/9/2013

Name: Sean Houlihan and Natalie Ferland
Diocese: Boston (Massachusetts)
Date of termination: November 2013
Case: Houlihan and Ferland, two teachers at the Lawrence Catholic Academy in Lawrence, MA, who were dating each other and plan to get married in 2015, were fired when Ferland got pregnant. The couple's initial offer to resign was rejected. When they were terminated, they also lost their health insurance. They sued and eventually reached an agreement with the school whereby they would continue to receive a paycheck and health insurance through August 2014. The baby is due June 2014. The school also agreed to let their records show that they had resigned rather than been fired.
Source: Eagle-Tribune, 12/8/2013 and WCVB, 12/15/2013

Name: Tippi McCullough
Diocese: Little Rock (Arkansas)
Date of termination: October 2013
Case: McCullough is a 29-year-veteran English teacher who taught at Little Rock's Mount St. Mary Academy for 15 years. After she went to New Mexico to marry her partner of 14 years, Pulaski County deputy prosecuting attorney Barbara Mariani, McCullough was given a choice: resign or be fired. McCullough resigned, but the Human Rights Campaign has taken up her cause, gathering over 50,000 signatures on a petition on her behalf. McCullough, who is now teaching at Central High School, says she just wants an apology from her former employer and for Mount St. Mary's to adopt a non-discrimination policy.
Source: Arkansas Times, 10/24/2013

Name: Nick Johns
Diocese: Atlanta (Georgia)
Date of termination: Fall 2013
Case: In October 2012, Johns, who is gay, was hired as organist at St. Brigid's parish in Johns Creek, GA. Almost immediately someone complained to the pastor, Msgr. David Talley, about Johns' Facebook page which contained postings supporting marriage equality. Talley simply advised Johns to make his Facebook page private, which he did. Then Talley was promoted to auxiliary bishop and the parochial vicar at St. Brigid, Fr. Joshua Allen, phoned Johns and told him he was suspended and would likely be fired because his Facebook page dissented with the moral teachings of the Church. Fr. Allen, who had publicly criticized the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage saying that "the church is never going to stand by idly as society tries to turn [homosexual activity] into something that is not a sin," gave Johns a choice: resign or be fired. Johns resigned. He is now an organist at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church.
Source:, 9/24/2013

Name: Mike McMahon
Diocese: Arlington (Virginia)
Date of termination: Summer 2013
Case: McMahon, past president of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, worked as a musical director for about 30 years in various parishes in the diocese, including Blessed Sacrament, St. Mark's and St. Agnes. He was terminated in 2013 after the pastor of St. Agnes learned of his February 2013 marriage to his same-sex partner. He is now interim music director of the non-denominational Protestant National City Christian Church in Washington, DC.
Source: Washington Post, 4/6/2014

Name: Kristen Ostendorf
Diocese: St. Paul and Minneapolis (Minnesota)
Date of termination: August 2013
Case: Ostendorf worked at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, MN, for 18 years as campus minister, English teacher and coach. The school fired her after, prompted by the resignation of the school's gay president William Hudson, Ostendorf stood up during a teacher workshop and announced that she was a lesbian in a committed relationship with another woman. She was asked to resign and when she refused to do so as matter of principle, she was given a letter terminating her. Ostendorf is now teaching English at Highland Park Senior High.
Source: MinnPost, 9/11/2013

Name: Ken Bencomo
Diocese: Los Angeles (California)
Date of termination: July 2013
Case: Bencomo was head of the English department at St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora, CA, and had been a teacher there for 17 years when he was fired for marrying his partner of a decade, Christopher Persky. Bencomo, who was considered an "exceptional" teacher, has sued his former employer in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of the state Labor Code and breach of contract.
Source: San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 3/13/2014

Name: Matthew Barrett
Diocese: Boston (Massachusetts)
Date of termination: July 2013
Case: Barrett, an experienced food services professional, applied and was hired as Food Services Director at Fontbonne Academy, a private Catholic girls' school in Milton, MA, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Two days later, the offer was rescinded when the school administration realized that Barrett had listed his husband, Ed Suplee, as his emergency contact in his employment paperwork. In January 2014, Barrett filed a discrimination complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and sued the school in Norfolk Superior Court. Barrett, a Catholic, was never asked to sign a contract specifying that he would follow the teachings of the Church. In December 2015, a state judge ruled that Fontbonne Academy had indeed discriminated against Barrett. Judge Douglas H. Wilkins rejected the school's argument that hiring Barrett would infringe on its constitutional rights. "As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message...It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesperson for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage." Barrett, who is now head cook at the Collicot and Cunningham elementary schools in Milton, welcomed the court's decision. A further hearing will be held to determine damages to be paid.
Source: Boston Globe, 1/29/2014 and 12/17/2015.

Name: William Hudson
Diocese: St. Paul and Minneapolis (Minnesota)
Date of termination: July 2013
Case: After serving as an administrator at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, MN, for 9 years, first as vice president for mission and then as president, Hudson resigned after telling the school's board that he was in a committed same-sex relationship. Prior to coming to Totino-Grace, Hudson had been associate executive director of the secondary schools department of the National Catholic Educational Association. "I love the Totino-Grace community, however, I need to be truthful about my life," said Hudson, who says he can now live openly with his partner of 18 years and their two children. The school said that Hudson has "an excellent record of accomplishment and provided strong academic and financial stewardship at Totino-Grace during his tenure. [But] leading a Catholic school while living in a committed same-sex relationship is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic church..." Hudson has since accepted an offer to be director of institutional advancement at Mounds Park Academy, another private school.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/2/2013 and Pioneer Press, 9/5/2013

Name: Kourtney Liggins
Diocese: Los Angeles (California)
Date of termination: June 2013
Case: Liggins was an 8th grade teacher at Transfiguration School in Los Angeles. In 2012, she became pregnant out of wedlock. She alleges that her principal, Fr. Michael Tang, told her that her "pregnancy would morally corrupt impressionable teenagers." Although she had wanted to take one year of maternity leave, she was forced to return after 6 months. When she came back, her pay was cut, she was excluded from important meetings, and Tang produced a packet of unsigned and undated "complaints" about her pregnancy and performance. Finally, in June 2013, she was terminated. Liggins filed a lawsuit in November 2014 against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Transfiguration School, and Fr. Tang, claiming discrimination, retaliation and harassment. The suit is still in litigation but the Archdiocese has issued a public response saying that Liggins' dismissal was "the result of performance and classroom management matters separate from and unrelated to her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act."
Source: Courthouse News Service, 11/24/2014, CBS Los Angeles, 5/22/2015

Name: Carla Hale
Diocese: Columbus (Ohio)
Date of termination: March 2013
Case: Hale, a physical education teacher and coach with 19 years experience, was fired from her position at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus after an obituary for her mother listed her lesbian partner's name among the survivors. After her dismissal, she filed a discrimination complaint against the Diocese of Columbus which was resolved through mediation at the end of 2013. Under the agreement, Hale will not return to Bishop Watterson but will receive acknowledgement for her years of service there. She will be working as a substitute teacher throughout Franklin County. Hale is Methodist.
Source:, 12/4/2013

Name: Mike Moroski
Diocese: Cincinnati (Ohio)
Date of termination: February 2013
Case: Moroski, a 12-year teaching veteran, was fired from his job as dean of student life at Purcell Marian High School after posting a quote on his Facebook page from President Obama's inauguration speech supporting marriage equality. Moroski, who is heterosexual and married, was given an ultimatum by the archdiocese. He was told to remove the quote, recant his statements, agree to publicly not disparage the archdiocese, and create an "action plan" for himself detailing how he planned to live with morality. Moroski refused to compromise his conscience and was terminated. In November 2013, Moroski ran for city council but lost.
Source: ABC Good Morning America, 2/12/2013

Name: Marla Krolikowski
Diocese: Brooklyn (New York)
Date of termination: October 2012
Case: Krolikowski taught for 32 years as a man, Mark, at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, NY. Gradually she added feminine touches to her look until, in 2011, the school confronted her after a parent complained. She explained that she was transgendered and identified as a woman. One of the officials responded that "it sounds like you're worse than gay." She was told to tone down her appearance and did so but a year later she was fired anyway. She has filed a discrimination suit against the school. The school has tried to get the case dismissed first by arguing that Krolikowski was fired for insubordination, a claim the judge questioned ("Insubordination after 32 years of teaching? And the insubordination seems to coincide with the expression of being transgender?"), then by alleging that Krolikowski was a "minister" who didn't fall under employment discrimination laws.
Source: WABC-TV, 2/11/2013 and WABC-TV, 9/9/2013.

Name: Nigel Studdart
Diocese: Auckland (New Zealand)
Date of termination: September 2012
Case: Studdart, a science teacher at Pompallier Catholic College in Whangarei, New Zealand, was suspended and forced out after he reportedly encouraged students to wear wrist bands supporting gay rights. Studdart and the students were protesting comments by principal Richard Stanton in an article in the school newsletter titled "Keeping Marriage Sacred". Stanton wrote that same-sex couples might be more disposed to a mindset that sees children as an entitlement or right, and therefore as commodities or possessions, rather than gifts. Studdart called the principal's inference that gay people were inferior parents "untenable". "The issue raised in the school newsletter and what I stood up over was discriminatory and prejudicial and has no rightful place in a decent society," he said. He said he was told his teaching practice was not in question.
Source: NZ Catholic, 10/15/2012 and The Northern Advocate, 9/20/2012

Name: Trish Cameron
Diocese: Crookston (Minnesota)
Date of termination: June 2012
Case: After 11 years teaching fifth graders at St. Joseph's Catholic school in Moorhead, MN, Cameron filled out her annual self-evaluation honestly. One of the questions on the survey which is administered confidentially to school employees asked teachers to rate how well they support the teachings of the church. Cameron answered that, "I do not agree with all church teachings on a personal level, but I do not bring my own opinions into religion classes." She was called into a meeting with her principal and the superintendent and asked to explain. She told them that she differed with the Church's teaching on gay marriage, this at a time when Minnesota voters were considering an amendment to the state's constitution that would restrict marriage to heterosexuals. One week later she was asked to resign. She refused to do so and was terminated. She is now teaching in a public school.
Source: Minnesota Public Radio, 6/27/2012

Name: Al Fischer
Diocese: St. Louis (Missouri)
Date of termination: February 2012
Case: When Fischer, who had been teaching music for four years at St. Ann Catholic School in north St. Louis County, MO, as well as working part-time as a music director at St. Rose Phillipine Duschesne parish in Florissant, proudly announced to his colleagues that he would be celebrating his 20th anniversary with his partner Charlie Robin by going to New York City and getting married, he didn't know that an official from the archdiocese was present. The next day, Fischer was fired from both positions. He is now working at a secular private school while continuing to serve as artistic director of a gay men's chorus and musical director at a Reform synagogue.
Source: New York Times, 3/9/2012

Name: Steav Bates-Congdon
Diocese: Charlotte (North Carolina)
Date of termination: January 2012
Case: Steav Bates-Congdon began working as music director of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte in 2004. Eight years later, he was fired after marrying his partner of 23 years, Bill Bates-Congdon, in a ceremony in New York in October 2011. The two went on a January honeymoon to Mexico and when Bates-Congdon returned to St. Gabriel, he was handed a note by his pastor which read, "Employees of St. Gabriel ...are expected to live within the moral tradition of the Church... Your civil marriage stands in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church, therefore ending your employment with us." Bates-Congdon is now music director at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fort Mill, and his presence still riles the Catholic Church. Another parish in the diocese, St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne, refused to host Mecklenburg Ministries' 38th annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service in 2013 because it was reluctant to invite Bates-Congdon to participate in the program as he had done in the past, since "in no way would we give the impression that the Catholic Church approves of same-sex marital covenants."
Source: Charlotte Observer, 2/20/2012 and Charlotte Observer, 10/20/2013

Name: Kathleen Quinlan
Diocese: Cincinnati (Ohio)
Date of termination: December 2011
Case: Quinlan began working as a teacher at Ascension Catholic School in Kettering, OH in August 2011. When the unmarried Quinlan's pregnancy began to show, she offered to take a "behind the scenes" job and resume teaching after she had given birth. The offer was rejected and she was fired at the end of December 2011, thereby also losing her health insurance. Quinlan was told she was fired for violating a section of her employment contract that requires employees to "comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." The teacher, who subsequently gave birth to twin girls, sued Ascension School and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for pregnancy discrimination. The case was eventually settled out-of-court in November 2013 for an undisclosed amount.
Source: WHIO, 1/3/2013 and Dayton Daily News, 12/5/2013

Name: Emily Herx
Diocese: Fort Wayne-South Bend (Indiana)
Date of termination: June 2011
Case: Herx had received exemplary performance reviews during her eight years as a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul school in Fort Wayne. Despite this, Herx, who is married and not a Catholic, was fired after she underwent in vitro fertilization. The school found out that Herx was using IVF because she told them about it when she used sick days for the treatments, according to a lawsuit Herx filed against the diocese alleging discrimination under the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act based on gender and on infertility, which is considered a disability. In December 2014, a  jury ruled in favor of Herx and awarded her almost $2 million, covering medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress. The diocese says it plans to appeal the verdict.

Source: Associated Press/Fox News, 4/26/2012 and Journal Gazette, 12/20/2014

Name: Christa Dias
Diocese: Cincinnati (Ohio)
Date of termination: October 2010
Case: Dias, a lesbian who became pregnant through artificial insemination, was fired from her job teaching computer classes in two archdiocesan schools. Dias argued that as a non-Catholic, she was not aware that artificial insemination violated church doctrine or her employment pact. She sued the archdiocese for discrimination and, in June 2013, won her lawsuit and was awarded $71,000 for back pay and compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.
Source: Associated Press/WCPO, 6/13/2013

Name: Laine Tadlock
Diocese: Springfield (Illinois)
Date of termination: October 2010
Case: Benedictine University says she voluntarily resigned. Tadlock says she was forced out. A assistant director of the Education Department at the university, Tadlock's problems began not with her marriage to her partner Kae Helstrom in Iowa but when the couple decided to announce their wedding in the newspaper in July 2010. The following month, Tadlock was offered early retirement -- an offer that included a confidentiality clause and a waiver prohibiting her from suing the university. She declined. She was then placed on administrative leave, followed by an offer of an alternate position for which she was not qualified and which she could either accept or resign from the university. In a letter to Tadlock's attorney, Benedictine President William Carroll wrote that "by publicizing the marriage ceremony in which she participated in Iowa she has significantly disregarded and flouted core religious beliefs which, as a Catholic institution, it is our mission to uphold."
Source: Springfield State Journal-Register, 11/10/2010

Name: Jodi O'Brien
Diocese: Milwaukee (Wisconsin)
Date of termination: May 2010
Case: O'Brien, who is a professor of Sociology at another Catholic institution, Seattle University, was offered and signed a contract accepting a position as Dean of Marquette University's College of Arts and Sciences. The offer was rescinded after Marquette learned that she was a lesbian who wrote about sexuality and gender issues. The university claimed O'Brien "the ability to represent the Marquette mission and identity", saying that they had found in her writing "some strongly negative statements about marriage and family." Marquette eventually reached a confidential settlement with O'Brien with President Fr. Robert Wild writing a letter apologizing for the way her case was handled.
Source: New York Times, 5/7/2010 and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/9/2010

Name: Sylvia Mulherin
Diocese: Arlington (Virginia)
Date of termination: January 2010
Case: Mulherin was music director at St. Leo the Great parish in Fairfax, VA, until she was quoted in a Washington Post story about ARCW Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan and the women's ordination movement. According to the Post, "Mulherin said that Jesus was progressive in his treatment of women but that, over time, men unjustly pushed women out. 'Maybe the women don't have to come in the back door, but we still have to sit in the pews...'". Her pastor then called the former nun into his office and demanded her resignation. Mulherin is now an organist at St. George's United Methodist Church in Fairfax.
Source: Washington Post, 1/28/2010

Name: Ruth Kolpack
Diocese: Madison (Wisconsin)
Date of termination: March 2009
Case: Kolpack had worked for St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Beloit for 26 years, including 10 years as pastoral associate. She was terminated for refusing to recant her thesis - written for her master's degree in divinity from Milwaukee's St. Francis de Sales Seminary - that challenged the church's noninclusive language in the Catholic Mass and its ban on women's ordination. Kolpack tried unsuccessfully to appeal her firing to the Vatican. She is now working in hospice care.
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/12/2011

Name: Emily Prigge
Diocese: Winona (Minnesota)
Date of termination: February 2008
Case: Prigge was in her first year teaching at St. Felix School in Wabasha, MN, when she told her principal she was pregnant. Because she was unmarried, the school said she had failed to live up to the Catholic Christian Witness Statement she had signed, in which she agreed to set a good example as a Christian. It forced Prigge to resign.
Source: Associated Press, 2/14/2008

Name: Jan Buterman
Diocese: Edmonton (Canada)
Date of termination: 2008
Case: Buterman was fired from his substitute-teaching job after he informed the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools about his sex change. Despite have previously received a letter praising his teaching abilities, Buterman received a new letter informing him that he would be terminated because "the teaching of the Catholic Church is that persons cannot change their gender" and that his sex change violated that teaching and would create confusion with students and parents. He is now working on his master's degree in policy studies at the University of Alberta and has filed a discrimination complaint with the human rights tribunal. The school division made an offer to settle for $78,000 in 2011 but Buterman deemed the offer unacceptable. "There was stuff in there like I would no longer speak of this in any way shape or form, that I would no longer refer to me having ever been fired, or that I would be responsible for anyone else who would ever speak about this...Ultimately it comes down to me not being comfortable agreeing to be silenced." Gender identity is a protected area for teacher employment in that jurisdiction.
Source: Edmonton Sun, 1/12/2014 and CBC, 1/12/2014

Name: Tom Girsch
Diocese: Dubuque (Iowa)
Date of termination: August 2006
Case: Girsch had taught social studies and coached football at Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo, IA, for 32 years. Girsch was asked to resign when school officials found out he had remarried in August 2006 after having been divorced in 1997, in violation of Catholic Church teaching. To rectify the situation, he sought an annulment from his first marriage but when that was denied, he was forced to resign. Girsch subsequently sued Cedar Valley Catholic Schools and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque for breach of contract and in April 2010, he was awarded $606,380 in damages. The Archdiocese challenged the amount of the settlement and Girsch agreed to accept $372,330.
Source: Catholic News Agency, 8/8/2007 and WCF Courier, 10/26/2010

Name: Michelle McCusker
Diocese: Brooklyn (New York)
Date of termination: October 2005
Case: McCusker was a preschool teacher at St. Rose of Lima in Queens, NY. A single woman, McCusker became pregnant and informed the school that, as a pro-life Catholic, she would be keeping the baby. The school fired McCusker, saying that her out-of-wedlock pregnancy violated the teacher handbook which specifies that a teacher "must convey the teachings of the Catholic faith by his or her words and actions." The New York Civil Liberties Union joined McCusker in a complaint against the school, claiming gender discrimination. In October 2006, the EEOC ruled that St. Rose of Lima had engaged in unlawful pregnancy discrimination by firing McCusker.
Source: ABC News, 2/20/2006 and NYCLU press release, 10/11/2006

Last updated: 1/2/2016

General Secretary of the Brazilian Bishops says unions between persons of the same sex need legal protection

By Marina Cohen (English translation by Rebel Girl)
O Globo (em português)
May 22, 2014

Since taking over the leadership of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has been addressing the issue cautiously, but has signaled a willingness of the institution to accept gay believers. In an unprecedented move towards openness, the Pontiff said, shortly after his trip to Brazil in July last year, that homosexuals should not be marginalized -- "If someone is gay and is searching for God, who am I to judge him?". In an interview with GLOBO, the auxiliary bishop of Brasilia and general secretary of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), Dom Leonardo Steiner, reiterates the Pope's statement that "people of the same sex who have decided to live together need legal protection in society."

The statement could be interpreted as a change in the CNBB's tone. About a year ago, when the National Council of Justice (CNJ) issued a resolution stating that Brazilian notaries should celebrate marriages between persons of the same sex, CNBB was against the measure, which came after a 2011 decision by the Federal Supreme Court (STF).

O GLOBO: Pope Francis said recently, "Who am I to judge a homosexual who is seeking God?". Is the Catholic Church open to accepting its homosexual faithful today?

Dom Leonardo Steiner: You could say that the Pope is echoing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about gay people: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." It's understood that accepting them with respect, compassion and sensitivity means walking and being with the homosexual person and helping them understand, deepen and guide their condition as a son or daughter of God.

Is it important for the Catholic Church not to marginalize homosexuals?

Acceptance and walking with them are necessary to reflect on what fits or doesn't fit the reality experienced by homosexual people and what, in fact, is rightfully theirs, for their own good and that of society.

The Pope also wants to study homosexual unions to understand why some countries have opted for their legalization. Does this represent the beginning of a dialogue about marriage between people of the same sex?

It's important to understand unions of persons of the same sex. It's not just a concern when it's about people. It's necessary to talk about the rights of ordinary life among persons of the same sex who decide to live together. They need a legal protection in society.

The CNBB, however, opposed the resolution of the National Council of Justice that ruled that notaries should celebrate marriages between people of the same sex. Why?

By giving legal recognition to stable unions as civil marriage between persons of the same sex in our country, the CNJ resolution is interpreting the 2011 Federal Supreme Court decision. Certain rights are granted to persons involved in such unions, as were already provided in the case of civil unions. The difficulty is in deciding that unions of people of the same sex are equivalent to marriage or family. The strongest statement regarding the decision of the National Council of Justice was that such a decision does not belong to the Judiciary, but rather the whole of Brazilian society, democratically represented by the National Congress, which is responsible for proposing and passing laws after an in-depth discussion, which didn't happen.

Must the Church change to adapt to changing times?

The Church always changes, it's changing. It's not the same over time. Having the Gospel as the power illuminating its actions, the Church looks for answers for the present time. Like all people, the Church always seeks to read the signs of the times, to see what should or should not be changed. The truths of faith do not change.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Spirit of Truth

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 25, 2014

John 14: 15-21

Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. They look sad and dejected to him. Soon they won't have him with them. Who could fill his space? So far he's been the one who has taken care of them, defended them from the scribes and Pharisees, sustained their weak and wavering faith, showed them God's truth and initiated them in his humanizing project.

Jesus talks to them passionately about the Spirit. He doesn't want to leave them orphaned. He himself will ask the Father not to abandon them, to give them "another advocate" to "always be with them." Jesus calls it "the Spirit of truth." What is hidden in Jesus' words?

This "Spirit of truth" must not be confused with a doctrine. You don't have to seek this truth in the theologians' books or the documents of the hierarchy. It's something much deeper. Jesus says it "lives with us and is in us." It's breath, strength, light, love...that comes to us from the ultimate mystery of God. We are to welcome it with simple trusting hearts.

This "Spirit of truth" doesn't turn us into "owners" of the truth. It doesn't come so that we might impose our faith on others or monitor their orthodoxy. It comes so that we aren't left as orphans of Jesus, and it invites us to be open to his truth, listening, accepting, and living out his Gospel.

Neither does this "Spirit of truth" make us "guardians" of the truth, but rather witnesses to it. Our duty is not to argue with, fight, or defeat adversaries, but to live the truth of the Gospel and "love Jesus by keeping his commandments."

This "Spirit of truth" is inside each one of us, defending us from all that could separate us from Jesus. It invites us to simply be open to the mystery of a God who is Friend of life. Whoever seeks this God honestly and in truth is not far from Him. Jesus once said, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." It's true.

This "Spirit of truth" invites us to live in Jesus' truth amid a society where lying is often called "strategy", exploitation "business", irresponsibility "tolerance", injustice "the established order", arbitrariness "freedom", lack of respect "sincerity"...

What meaning can the Church of Jesus have if we let the "Spirit of truth" be lost in our communities? Who will be able to save it from self-deception, deviations, and widespread mediocrity? Who will proclaim the Good News of Jesus in a society so much in need of hope and encouragement?

"Celibacy should not necessarily be mandatory for celebrating the Eucharist": An interview with Dom Erwin Kräutler

A wonderful interview by Dietmar Neuwirth with Dom Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of the Xingu, Brazil, in the Austrian newspaper Die Presse last week. Blogger Luis Miguel Modino has produced a Spanish version. We bring it to you in English.

You survived an attempt on your life and have been under police protection for eight years. How do you deal with the fear of death?

If I were just afraid, I couldn't live. My greatest protection is the people.

Which of your experiences could be brought to Europe? To Austria?

The keyword is lay people. In Brazil, much is demanded of men and women. I have 800 communities and 27 priests. That says it all. If the lay people don't assume responsibilities in their communities, the communities don't exist. Ten years from now, it will be like that in Europe too, that men and women will lead communities.

Does the administration of the sacraments remain reserved for the priests?

Not exclusively. I can give anyone permission to baptize or officiate at a wedding. Ninety percent of all the communities in Amazonia don't have Eucharist on Sundays. Seventy percent have Eucharist once or twice a year, or sometimes they have a Liturgy of the Word.

The Second Vatican Council speaks of the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life. The praxis you mention is very far from this proposal.

Not at all. God is also present in His Word, but the Liturgy of the Word is just one part of the Eucharistic celebration. In most of the communities, unfortunately, the second part is missing and that's the biggest problem.

For Catholics, there's also a right to the Eucharist. How is that problem solved?

Yes, there's a right to it. This is not a privilege.

Might it be necessary to change the access rules?

Exactly. That's what I said to the Pope too. The Pope is very open. He won't have a solution overnight. But the Pope told me that the bishops, the regional bishops' conferences should make bold proposals.

How do you reconcile the access rules with the priestly function?

What are the possibilities? Celibacy should not necessarily be mandatory for celebrating the Eucharist. Celibacy means a man or a woman is obliged to live without getting married. When I think about what I've experienced, how could I have done it if I had had a wife and children? Wouldn't my first task have been being at the side of the wife and children and not risking my life? One proposal might be disassociating celibacy from the Eucharistic celebration. That the celebration of the Eucharist becomes dependent on a celibate priest, this I don't agree with.

But you have to agree.

That's already changing to the point of being able to make proposals to the Pope. My visit with the Pope was extraordinary. I had a private audience with him. I told this to the Bishops' Conference. It's highly probable that a commission will be created to address the problem and make suggestions. How can we help the Pope? He's asking us for suggestions. He wants them.

Are you counting on this, that Francis will implement such reforms?

I hope so. This process wasn't allowed until now. Benedict XVI used to say that we should pray for priestly vocations. It's different with this pope. He wants to initiate a process. That's new. So there are doors being opened.

On women's ordination, Francis thinks that door is closed.

As long as there's a door...The door isn't bricked in. But women's ordination happening with this Pope? I don't think so.

Should the door be open?

Yes, but I'm not going to anticipate it.

Have you ever denied communion to anyone?

Never. That would be a scandal. Who am I to deny communion? Those concerned have to decide in their own consciences.

Francis criticizes the economy harshly. How much criticism of capitalism is bearable for the Church?

Here, the Pope is talking like a Latin American. He asks who is the agent, the economy or man? For whom should it exist? Here things get confused too.

Some have noted a leftist tendency in the Church...

The madness is condemning liberation theology as Marxist. Liberation theology is biblical.

"Pope Francis, it's time to talk": Statement on the 20th Anniversary of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

An international delegation of groups supporting women's ordination is in Rome to present a joint statement to Pope Francis on the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which restricts the Roman Catholic priesthood to males only. The group is also delivering letters from supporters of women's ordination. Participating in the delegation are Erin Saiz Hanna, Executive Director of the Women's Ordination Conference (United States) and the organization's Assistant Director, Kate Conmy, Miriam Duignan of, an academic website on women's ordination based in the United Kingdom, and Alicja Baranowska, a Polish activist with Women's Ordination Worldwide. The statement reads:

Today, May 22, we mark the 20th anniversary of John Paul II’s papal no, his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that was designed to categorically ban women from priesthood and prohibit discussion about it.

Pope Francis knows people don’t feel right about it. On a flight home from Rio World Youth Days in 2013, he spoke about the document when he said, ‘On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul, in a definitive formulation said the door is closed.’

For 20 years now Catholics have been forbidden from discussing women’s leadership. For 20 years, employees at Catholic institutions have risked job security if they talk about women’s ordination. For an even longer time, Catholic women called to priesthood have had door after door slammed in their faces. People around the world are deprived of sacraments only because male Church leaders reject the women God is calling. This is wrong.

We are here in Rome to deliver to Francis hundreds of letters from ordinary Catholics from around the world who want an end to the ban. They write about the pain it causes and the vast potential lost since it was imposed. Many letters come from women who are called to serve as priests. Others come from people fed up with a Church they see as bullheadedly complicit in the oppression of women. People are ready for women priests. If some are not, it is the duty of leaders of the Church to lead and show them what is right.

Recently we heard Pope Francis say about gay men in the priesthood, ‘’Who am I to judge?’ Yet of women in the priesthood, he turns his head away and says, ‘My predecessors say the door is closed.’ Although Pope Francis says that women should gain greater power in the Church, although he praises women, the reality is that he does not walk the talk. His current failure to speak against the bullying of U.S. nuns is just one sad example. As internationally loved as Pope Francis is, the status of women in our Church is his blind spot.

Some important things about Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: When the ban was announced 20 years ago, it came just 2 months after Anglicans voted overwhelmingly to open the door to women priests. Pope Francis describes Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as ‘definitive’ but not infallible. The reality is that it never was declared infallibly nor did it use the word infallible. Canon lawyers know that it does not stand up to scrutiny. It can more than easily be undone. Pope Francis could open discussion if he wanted to. It’s in his power to do it today. Male Church leaders defend exclusion by saying that ‘it’s what Jesus wanted’. We wholeheartedly reject this. We know it is not because of Jesus but instead because of men who cling to a clerical culture of male privilege. We are daughters of God calling you to open the doors to discussion and change. Hear our voices. Talk to us.

Why the ban on discussion? Pope Francis, we need to know:

  • If you have confidence in exclusion, why are we prohibited from talking about it? If the exclusion of women is justified because ‘it’s what Jesus wanted’, why do we read a very different message from Jesus?
  • In 2010, the Vatican changed Church law so that the so-called crime of attempting to ordain a woman must now be considered as serious as priest paedophilia. This stretches beyond belief. Why are supporters of women priests pursued with more zeal than we have seen applied to those who tortured children with sex abuse?
  • What is this teaching saying to young boys and girls?
  • What pastoral help are you providing to women whose calls to priesthood are ignored?
  • We want to know: ‘Why is so much time and money being dedicated to the control and punishment of those who dare challenge the exclusion of women?’
  • Who are you really serving by excluding women priests?
  • Why are some men of the Church so afraid of restoring women to equality?

Pope Francis and all male Catholic Church leaders are part of an ancient system of male privilege created by misguided, theologically indefensible doctrines that were once propped up by bad science. This system is harming women around the world wherever they are and whether they are Catholic or not. Perpetuating a system that excludes women from sacramental ministry contributes to political, social and economic structures where leaders passively accept a spectrum that includes shocking levels of violence against women and girls, a worldwide sex slave trade, and inequality in the workplace and the classroom. It is the same spectrum that recently motivated the tragic abduction of almost 300 Nigerian girls. All of these are indefensible human rights tragedies. Because of exclusion, the world’s largest organised faith community, the Roman Catholic Church, is endorsing a tragic message about women’s place in the world.

We can’t let this define our faith! Desmond Tutu recently congratulated the Church of England for its 20 years of ordaining women. When he pointed out how men and women are equally icons of Christ, he lamented the exclusion of women priests. He candidly admitted, ‘We realised how much we had denied ourselves. Now we are asking ourselves why we were so stupid [his word] for so long.’

We ask Pope Francis and all male Catholic Church leaders, ‘Why are you being so thick headed about women? If you have confidence in what you say, then open the doors to talk to us.’

We applaud President Jimmy Carter for his call to action to change the harmful teachings and practices that hurt women in religious and secular life. He rightly observes, ‘The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive unaddressed human rights violation on earth largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts.’ By distorting the true teaching of Jesus to reinforce a message of inferiority, our male Church leaders participate in this spectrum of oppression of women.

The reality is that there is fierce aversion among many male Church leaders to admit that this spectrum exists, that they are part of it, that it’s deeply troubling, that it’s serious, and that it needs to be courageously addressed. In encouraging the priesthood and our Pope to speak out -- we know there is support for women priests among you -- we remind them of what Jesus said, ‘Be not afraid.’ Be courageous. Do not try to shield yourself from the truth by hiding behind the mistakes of your predecessors.

Thanks to the work of historians, scripture scholars and theologians, we know there is nothing in our Church or its history that can defend an all-male priesthood. Though the Pope and his curia know this, they perpetuate wrong teachings. The early Church included women leaders and recognised the worth of women. Mary the mother of Jesus, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Phoebe -- many of these women have been disappeared throughout the centuries. Only now are we recovering their stories and voices. As Christianity moved forward in time, it took shape in the culture of the Roman Empire where elite men held power over lesser men, women, children and slaves. This pyramidal social structure is called patriarchy where power is always in the hands of a dominant man or group of men. As the church grew, its leaders adopted this pattern for its internal life. Within the system, some men may be very respectful of women and even love them. But it puts women in unequal, predetermined roles. Men teach and decide; women listen and obey. This is not of Christ. The problem is not with God or women but with a clerical elitist all male culture where a small but influential minority still view women to be lesser than men, as lower class citizens and unwelcome participants in Church life.

The Church should not be afraid to re-examine customs -- even those with deep historical roots -- when they do not serve as a means of communicating the Gospel. A male only priesthood goes against so much evidence of women's leadership in the early Church. It goes against the teaching of Jesus and his inclusion of women in his mission and his inclusion of women in his mission and legacy.

WOW encourages Pope Francis to stop making Jesus the Vatican’s partner in gender discrimination. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is an outdated, fallible and painful document created by his predecessors to diminish the leadership of women. We are asking Pope Francis to open the doors of dialogue to talk with us about women’s ordination.

Photo of delegation courtesy of Women's Ordination Worldwide

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" (1) - Paths to Ecclesial Renewal

By Olga Consuelo Vélez Caro (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Biblioteca Amerindia
March 2014

One year after the beginning of Francis' pontificate 2, we are facing expectations of ecclesial renewal. From the expression "ecclesial winter" 3 which had been coined in recent decades, we moved unexpectedly, quickly, and defiantly to speaking of an "ecclesial spring", basing that expression on the gestures and words of the pope since his election 4 and, even more, with his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium 5 which has stimulated the most positive and hopeful allusions.

There have been quite a lot of commentaries -- mostly brief ones -- written about the Exhortation, some of which we will repeat here. 6 We hope that these perspectives can enrich our vision and help us to understand "the advance of the Church that Francis wants to undertake in the next few years," signaling it as "a new evangelization stage marked by the joy of the Gospel." (1) 7

Next we propose to give a brief presentation of the document to then linger on a few keys to its interpretation which we think mark the ways to ecclesial renewal that the pope is aiming for. These keys are: One perspective: divine mercy, The poor as center of the new evangelization, The social dimension of evangelization, A necessary ecclesial conversion to the evangelizing mission, A word on women. We will end with a brief conclusion.

1. A brief presentation of the document

The exhortation Evangelii Gaudium consists of 288 paragraphs distributed in an Introduction and five chapters. In the Introduction (1-18), it points out joy as the source and fruit of the faith experience and from that perspective it proposes a pathway to ecclesial renewal for the following years. In the first chapter, "The Church's Missionary Transformation" (19-49), it puts forward the urgent need for ecclesial renewal but not as the result of a human plan, of ecclesial organization, but as the consequence of a decisive conversion of the Church towards mission. 8 In the second chapter, "Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment" (50-109), it presents a prophetic discernment of the signs of the times, pointing out the economic aspect as determining a reality that produces exclusion, idolatry, and inequality. It also refers to religious diversity and the need to strengthen popular piety as well as the task of pastoral agents, greater participation of the laity and, among them, women, all with a view to ecclesial renewal. The third chapter, "The Proclamation of the Gospel" (110-175), focuses on specific aspects of evangelization: The entire People of God as object of evangelization, the means of evangelization (here it dwells on the homily), the relationship with science and cultural diversity. It emphasizes the centrality of the Word of God in the task of evangelization -- a task that includes "turning an ear to the people", and the importance of spiritual accompaniment. The fourth chapter, "The Social Dimension of Evangelization" (176-258), is perhaps the exhortation's most challenging one because it points to the poor as the center and privileged recipients of the gospel and emphasizes the social inclusion they are due. It also deals with the ecclesial challenges in face of the common good,social dialogue and peace building. Finally, the fifth chapter, "Spirit-Filled Evangelizers" (259-288), tries to indicate the basic motivation of all missionary ardor -- the personal encounter with Jesus, the strength of his call, the experience of being a people, and it puts forward Mary as star of the new evangelization. This final chapter and the second part of the second one, are like a compendium of pastoral spirituality that should go with the evangelizing task of the Church.

It is a long document but with pastoral, exhortative, simple and colloquial language. In some parts, it speaks in the first person and shows not only theoretical reflection but existential implications. It is a pastoral document, written by a pastoral worker.9 Just to give us an idea of the words most used by the Pope, we can look at how often he uses certain terms: Life (295), God (249), Church (209), People(s) (167), Jesus (132), Gospel (116), Spirit (108), Faith (108), Christ (103), Missionary (75), Evangelization (75), Poor (74), Joy(s) (72), Social (59), Peace (46), Mission (43), Mercy (30), Man (Men) (29), Justice (27), Woman (Women) (23), Kingdom (21), Bishop(s) (21), Prayer(s) (19), Law(s) (14), Layperson (Laypeople) (8), Priesthood (5), Injustice(s) (3) Magisterium (3), Catechism (3), Natural Law (1), Abortion (1). [Translator's Note: The numbers in the author's word count refer to the incidence of the terms in the Spanish version of the apostolic exhortation. They may be different for the English version.]

The input of this exhortation, as the pope himself has indicated, are the conclusions of the Synod on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith" 10, consultations he has had with other people, and his own concerns. (16) The scope and limits of the exhortation are well indicated -- faced with innumerable subjects related to evangelization in today's world, the pope will only deal with some of them because he's aware that many themes involve study and careful delving and because the papal magisterium doesn't have the complete and definitive word on every issue affecting the Church and the world. Moreover, consistent with his desire for ecclesial decentralization, he points out that "it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. " (16) Further down, he points out again that "neither the Pope nor the Church has a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems" and he invokes Paul VI's words in Octogesima adveniens (1971): "In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity (...)It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country." (184)

In short, it is a true missionary letter with imperatives, invitations and methodological and pedagogical suggestions aiming to advance the new evangelization.

2. One perspective: Divine mercy

Mercy is the key or the starting point guiding the Pope's pastoral proposal. Behind that perspective is surely his own personal experience. His episcopal motto is based on the text of Matthew's calling (Mt 9:9), mentioned by the Venerable Bede, who in referring to this call says, "He looked at him with mercy and chose him." 11 That's why in the introduction he begins by inviting all Christians to an encounter with Jesus Christ and recalling that "God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy." (3) When he begins to talk about the necessary transformation of the Church, he puts the mission in "the endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father's infinite mercy." (24) He states, quoting Saint Thomas, that "mercy is the greatest of all the virtues" (37) and acknowledges that the church precepts that had been very effective in other eras, might make life a burden for the faithful which would lead to turning religion into a form of slavery, whereas God's mercy wants it to be free." This must be one of the criteria when thinking about Church reform and its preaching reaching everyone." (43) The Pope doesn't pretend to diminish the gospel ideal but rather to "accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth" and he reminds priests that "the confessional is not a torture chamber but rather the place of the Lord’s mercy." (44)

The Pope goes on to point out that the salvation God offers is the work of His mercy (112) and the Church's task is to joyfully proclaim that that salvation is for all. (113) Moreover, the Church must be "a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel." (114) The Beatitudes push us towards that merciful love. "Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful" because our brothers and sisters are the extension of Jesus' Incarnation for us (179). Mercy towards others allows us to emerge triumphant in the divine judgment because the one who was merciful, will obtain mercy. (193) Precisely because the gospel is a gospel of mercy, the Church hears the cry for justice and wants to respond to it with all its might. (188) This attitude leads to keeping continuity with Sacred Scripture which deems mercy towards the poor a source of holiness and faithfulness to the God who proclaimed it. (193)

For the Pope, the gospel of mercy towards the poor is "so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent" that he asks us "not to complicate something that is so simple" or "cloud what is so clear" and he warns of the risks run by those who are only concerned with orthodoxy without realizing that they often become accomplices in intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes which prolong them, because of losing that "light-filled path of life and wisdom." (194) In effect, "God granted His mercy first to the poor" and that's why "the preferential option for the poor" (198) is part of the Christian experience.

3. The poor as center of the new evangelization 12

Speaking of the poor takes us back immediately to Latin American theology which put the poor at the center of its reflection. The Pope is not a liberation theologian but his words have stirred real enthusiasm among those who follow that theological current because, in some sense, they have found papal backing after so many years of persecution, questioning, and suspicion against their theological work. It must be noted that this turnaround had been coming in some ways since 2007 when Benedict XVI in his inaugural address at the Aparecida Conference reaffirmed the "preferential option for the poor", indicating that this option is implicit in Christological faith. 13

The Pope indicates in the Exhortation that "the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one" and this is because "God shows them his first mercy." (198) The poor have a preferential place in God's heart (197) and that preference has consequences for the life of believers. They have a lot to teach us -- they evangelize us, they know the suffering Christ through their own pain and the new evangelization must put them at the center of its journey, recognizing the salvific power of their lives. (198)

For Pope Francis, the poor are the real poor, not the poor "in spirit" as one so often hears from those who seem to be fleeing the radicality of the gospel. The poor are those in whom we are to discover Christ and lend them our voices for their causes, as well as be their friends, listen to them, interpret them, and gather the mysterious wisdom God wants to communicate to us through them. (198). The authentic option for the poor doesn't use the poor but really loves them and accompanies them properly on their road to liberation. (199) Moreover, no one can feel exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice, nor can they remain distant from the poor arguing that their life choices involve paying attention to other matters. But the Pope is not naive. He knows these words might not lead to practice and so he calls upon the good will of Christians to look for new ways to carry out this proposal. (201)

For the Pope, "there can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish." (48) The poor are also "a people" and in that sense one must listen to the cry of whole peoples. It's the task of all to grow in solidarity so that all peoples might come to be artisans of their destiny." (190)

All of these proposals underlie the Pope's wish for the Church -- "I want a Church which is poor and for the poor" (198) and not just because it's his own wish but because of the radicality of the incarnation of Jesus who made himself poor and chose a road of salvation from them, expressed in the programmatic text of Lk. 4:18: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. He has sent me to proclaim the Gospel to the poor." (197)

4. The social dimension of evangelization

In a social context where the most conservative religious movements are growing, those more concerned with orthodoxy than orthopraxis, the Exhortation continues to surprise by devoting so much space to the social dimension of Evangelization. We aren't claiming that this dimension has been absent from the Church's concern. We simply have to go back to the Social Doctrine of the Church and various statements the Church has made throughout its history on these aspects. But we do want to highlight that perhaps the papal authorities have never spoken so bluntly about the economic system in force. In this sense, criticism was swift on this point as soon as the document came out. 14 To refer to this social dimension, the Pope addresses four points: the social impact of the kerygma, the inclusion of the poor, the common good, and dialogue for peace building.

4.1 The social impact of the Kerygma

The Church's missionary work begins with the proclamation of the kerygma. And that proclamation inevitably has a social dimension because "community life and commitment to others" is at the heart of the Gospel. (177) Now, these statements are not a new requirement. They take us back to Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi 15, a document that spells out this intrinsic relationship between human advancement and evangelization. Specifically, this document shows that concern for the liberation that millions of human beings need comes particularly from the "Bishops of the Third World." (EN 30) Today, curiously, it's a Pope born on the Latin American continent who is stressing again the explicitness of the social dimension of evangelization because not doing so "runs the risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelization." (176)

The Trinitarian God in whom we believe invites us necessarily to salvation in community and that reinforces the "intimate connection between evangelization and human advancement, which must necessarily find expression and develop in every work of evangelization." (178) The words of Sacred Scripture confirm it: "What you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done unto Me." (Mt 25:40) (179). The Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus consists above all in "loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns among us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity." (180). As the Aparecida Document says (380), this proclamation of the Good News must encompass "all existence, all individuals, every dimension of coexistence, and all peoples. Nothing human can be alien to it." (181)

Delving deeper into this social dimension of the kerygma, the Pope, quoting Benedict XVI, points out that although the just order of society and the State is the main job of politics, "the Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines of the fight for justice" 16 and he urges all Christians, but also all pastors, to concern themselves with building a better world. (183) Now, he makes two things clear: (1) The Church has to say something about social issues -- the Social Doctrine of the Church, and (2) The Church "doesn't have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems." (184) The human task belongs to everyone and the Church must work with others, offering its words boldly and courageously, but also with humility and the ability to learn from others.

4.2 The social inclusion of the poor

The Pope states that the current economic system worships success, is privatist, and prevents the slow, the weak, and the less talented from making their way in life. (209). The structural causes of poverty are not solved without "rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and attacking the structural causes of inequality." (202) "The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies." (203) Words like ethics, solidarity, distribution of goods, etc., disturb the prevailing system. We can no longer trust in "the invisible hand of the market" which only aims to seek economic growth without taking into consideration that something more than free competition is required to create programs and projects that defend the weakest (204). The Pope, perhaps anticipating criticism, says he doesn't meant to offend anyone with his words, nor does he view the people who manage these economies as enemies, but he wants "those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth." (208)

Because of all this, the Pope affirms that today we have to "say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality" because "such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" (53) We cannot defend "trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.his opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system." (54) Much like the liberation theologians' recourse to the social doctrine of the Fathers of the Church, the Pope recalls St. John Chrysostom who said "Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs." (57) He asks that there be "more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!" (205)

The criticism expressed in the document is not only pointed at the market as such but at the dichotomy between the latter and political systems that do not limit the excesses of some over others. The culture of consumerism and individualistic greed is growing and there is no concern for cooperation and inclusion of the weak in society. Hence the "inclusion of the poor" is one of the current challenges and the ecclesial community cannot ignore this. "Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk." (207)

4.3 On social peace

For Pope Francis, talking about peace is not maintaining the status quo, but ensuring a dignified life for all. Peace goes hand in hand with a prophetic voice that looks out for the rights of the dispossessed. Nor is peace reduced to the absence of war. It involves the creation of nations where citizenship with the free exercise of rights and duties is possible. (218-220) Along these lines, the Pope proposes four principles that "derive from the pillars of the Church's social doctrine" to advance the construction of a people in peace, justice and brotherhood: (1) Time is greater than space, (2) Unity prevails conflict, (3) Realities are more important than ideas, and (4) The whole is greater than the part. (221-237)

4.4 The need for fruitful dialogue for peace building (with nations, science, other religions)

The Pope sees dialogue as an indisputable means for peace building and the Church is called to a sincere dialogue in pursuit of the common good. It is necessary to establish dialogue with nations, with society -- including dialogue with cultures and science -- and with other believers who are not part of the Catholic Church. (238) In these dialogues, the Church is to promote seeking and finding consensus and agreement but without ceasing to be concerned about a just, responsive and inclusive society. (239) The Church knows that it doesn't have the solution to every particular issue but must support those proposals that best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good. The Church proposes fundamental values that can be translated into policy actions. (241)

In its dialogue with other sciences, the Church does not fear reason but seeks and trusts her "because the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God." 17 There is no reason to leave scientific advances aside without examining them, showing that a true scientific theory does not contradict the choice of faith. (243)

Ecumenical dialogue is one of the edges where the credibility of the denominations is most at stake today. But it has to be a sincere dialogue, trusting in the companion on the journey "without suspicion, without distrust," seeking peace in the face of the one God. (244) We can not add more divisions to countries already torn apart by violence. Rather, this unity will be an indispensable path of evangelization to the extent that what the Spirit has inspired in each denomination is accepted.

Interfaith dialogue is no less important in this unity task. This dialogue is not merely tolerance or relativism but openness from one's own identity, able to stand firm in the deepest convictions but willing to understand and appreciate other religious confessions. (250-254)

This dialogue with Christians and non-Christians invites us to work for religious freedom, considered a fundamental right. A freedom that guarantees the public presence of religion in healthy diversity. At the same time, those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, must be our allies "in defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation." (257)

5. A necessary ecclesial conversion to the evangelizing mission

As was noted at the beginning, the Exhortation aims to chart the route for a new evangelization stage, allowing much-needed church renewal. This can not be done without deep pastoral and missionary conversion18 (25) that starts from rediscovering the Gospel as a source of joy and the encounter with Jesus as a call to to mission which is the purpose and meaning of the Church. (1) It is clear that the Pope is going back to the spirit of the 5th Conference at Aparecida, "being a Church in a permanent state of mission." (25) Therefore, the transformation that is needed comes from a conversion to the missionary dream of reaching all, the ultimate reason for the church community. (31)

Primacy in the ecclesial transformation proposed by the Pope is given to the dynamism of the Spirit that "is able to make all things new." (Rev 21:5) And that Spirit calls us to be "a Church which goes forth." In fact, that's the title of the first part of the first chapter of the Exhortation. There, the Pope turns to the history of salvation with Abraham, Moses, and Jeremiah to show how in God's Word that dynamism of "going forth" appears permanently. So the mission to which Jesus calls us implies "going forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel." (20) Not being afraid of being bruised, wounded or dirty by going outside because this is preferable to being a Church that is "unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security." (49) "The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking." (22) "Let us dare a little more to 'take the initiative!'" And one could conclude from the whole paragraph, "get involved", "accompany", "bear fruit", "smell like sheep", "celebrate." (24)

To be able to change into a Church that goes forth, on mission, aware of its need for perennial reform (26), a transformation of everything is required -- "customs, styles, schedules, languages and every ecclesial structure" -- to be put at the service of evangelizing today's world rather than self-preservation. (27) You have to leave the comfortable pastoral criterion of "that's how it's always been done" and dare to be creative and bold to rethink the whole ministry. (33)

And the Pope says explicitly that if all structures need conversion and renewal, the Papacy must also come within this dynamic. The term "Bishop of Rome" instead of "Pope" or "Supreme Pontiff" that the Pope has been using since the beginning of his pontificate, is also used here, recognizing that the Bishop of Rome also must "be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of his ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization." In line with reviewing the role of the Bishop of Rome, he goes back to what was said at Vatican II and wasn't able to be implemented in ecclesial practice to some extent. He refers to the active role which the bishops' conferences must have, being recognized as "subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority." Actually the Pope is indicating the decentralization that is needed for a more agile missionary experience committed to each situation.(32) It should be noted that in the same text the Pope begins to treasure the contribution of the Conferences by using them as bibliographical references in the Exhortation.19

In this same sense of participation, he speaks of the People of God as "agents of evangelization" and so by referring to each member of the Church, he claims their existential role and involvement. He invites the bishops to go "before, with, and after the people" to pay attention to what the "flock" is saying because it "has a nose for finding new ways." (31) With respect to the laity, who are the vast majority of the People of God, they have grown in identity and commitment. However, they fail to take on their evangelizing mission more not just at the church level but in the social, political, and economic world. He acknowledges that one of the reasons for little lay protagonism is the excessive clericalism that still persists. (102) About women, the Pope is aware of the need to "create broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church... and in the various settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures." (103)

The importance of the Church as "People of God" is also central and that means recovering this very decisive expression from Vatican II 20 that had been obscured for years by verticalist ecclesiologies. The importance of the "People" is one of the great contributions of the text, and is crucial to Latin American ecclesiology. God has chosen "call us together as a people and not as isolated individuals." (113) "Being Church is being the People of God." (114) "The People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture." (115). And in this sense, one should also celebrate the emphasis given throughout the document to popular piety -- " true expression of the spontaneous missionary activity of the people of God. This is an ongoing and developing process, of which the Holy Spirit is the principal agent." (122)

Ecclesial renewal also involves looking at the contents of a missionary pastoral ministry. The latter "is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed...concentrates on the essentials...becomes all the more forceful and radiant.(35) We also have to remember the order or hierarchy of truths -- true for all dogmas and doctrine, including moral teaching (36) -- which helps to distinguish the essential from the secondary and find new ways to proclaim those truths that are certain but no longer speak to contemporary people. We must remember that "the expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning." (41) You can not lose sight of the proper proportion of what is being proclaimed -- "you can't speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word." (38)

The inculturation of the gospel is a felt need, because "does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, remaining completely true to will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root." (116). Cultural diversity does not threaten the unity of the Church (117); on the contrary, the multiplicity of cultures enriches the Church like the "bride adorned with her jewels." (cf. Is. 61:10) (116)

And in this ecclesial renewal, the Pope is explicit in naming some specific attitudes and methodological proposals that ought to be adopted. Regarding attitudes, pastoral agents have to be open to the challenge of missionary spirituality (78-80), leaving all selfish acedia and all sterile pessimism (81-86). The encounter with Jesus must lead them to commitment to their brothers and sisters (87-92), freeing them from spiritual worldliness (93-97) and jealousies that arise among the evangelists themselves. (98-101) Recognizing the pending challenges with regard to women, the laity, youth and the emergence of vocations, joy and hope must prevail, above all. The realities of the situation cannot take away missionary strength from the pastoral agents. (102-109) On methodological proposals, the Pope dwells on missionary strategies ranging from person to person dialogue to the radical novelty with which catechesis, preaching and, of course, homilies, should be prepared. In everything, the proclamation of the Kerygma, the centrality of the Word of God and personal accompaniment in all processes of evangelization, should prevail. Definitely, the part about the homily is paramount for clergy who are not sufficiently prepared, are not renewed in their ministry, and don't keep themselves constantly up-to-date to meet the needs of their hearers. (127-175)

6. A word about women

As the Pope himself said, the Spirit of the Exhortation is not to talk about every issue or address all the aspects. However it's important here to raise a subject which at least in some women's circles, remains pending. The Pope talks about women and says their presence is necessary, in the decision-making bodies as well. (103) He acknowledges that "demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded." But he makes it clear that the priesthood is reserved for men, noting that this statement becomes divisive when sacramental power is identified with power in general. And he adds that it's the responsibility of pastors and theologians "to recognize what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life." (104) In the Exhortation, he doesn't talk about the theology of women that, according to his words in other contexts, is needed to understand how women can find a more prominent place in the Church. All this leaves questions: Doesn't the Pope know about the theology from women's perspective that has been done in the Church? And ultimately, how will ordained ministry be renewed so that it isn't the only power and decision-making body in the Church? How will the clergy work for this change?


It would be very difficult to draw a conclusion from what is laid out here because what the programmatic nature of the Exhortation produces is an invitation to put ourselves on the road and translate what is laid out here into life. But questions remain which can initiate this journey: Will there be time? Will the Church today and in the future take it on when Francis is not there? Will the Pope be able to imprint this "spirit" on Rome and on the local churches? Will many people in the Church who have very different, not to say opposing, pastoral and social notions stand aside? Are many of us Christians in a position to flex our minds and habits to these calls? Will we focus on this ecclesial renewal from a missionary awakening? Will our apostolic works and ecclesial commitments effectively work for the inclusion of the poor? Will we become a poor church and for the poor? As is beautifully expressed in the Song of Songs, the Spirit through this Exhortation seems to be saying to its Church: "Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!" (Song 2:10-13) This ecclesial spring that seems to be coming and that we hopefully wish would stay, depends largely on our faithfulness to the blowing of the Spirit.


1. This title make an immediate reference to Evangelii Nuntiandi and Gaudete in Domino, both by Paul VI (1975) and to the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965) of Vatican II.

2. His election was on March 13, 2013, and the solemn Mass of inauguration of his pontificate was on the 19th.

3. Expression attributed to Karl Rahner.

4. On March 13, during his first appearance in St. Peter's Square, he greeted the crowd in the most normal way -- "Good evening" -- and before blessing the people, he asked them to pray for him. Moreover, the austerity of his wardrobe was notorious -- he didn't use the red velvet mozzetta trimmed with ermine that had been used by his predecessors, but a sober white cassock and a silver cross on his chest.

5. We know that his first document was the encyclical Lumen Fidei (June 29, 2013) but, as he himself pointed out, it was written with Benedict XVI. As such, the exhortation may be rightly considered his first papal document.

6. We are not going to cite the authors throughout the text because we aren't taking textual references but rather, some of them have inspired the organization and/or emphasis in this work. We will summarize the name and the title of the article, sufficient data to find them on the Internet and thus streamline the references here: Antonio Spadaro, "Las cuatro tensiones internas de la ‘Evangelii Gaudium’" (free registration required); Monseñor Fabián Marulanda, Obispo emérito de Florencia, "Evangelii Gaudium: carta de navegación”; Pablo Richard, “Otra Iglesia es posible. El Papa Francisco nos abre nuevos caminos”; Hans Küng, “Francisco e o vento contrario a Curia”; J. Ignacio Calleja, Jorge Costadoat, S.J. y José Ignacio González Faus, S.J. “La primavera eclesial de Evangelii Gaudium”; José Arregi, “Evangelii Gaudium. Una lectura”; José Manuel Vidal, “Evanagelii Gaudium: una Iglesia casa, no aduana. Apuesta por una Iglesia a la intemperie, que se arriesga y que sale”; Josep M. Roviera Belloso, “La renovación eclesial pasa por el Evangelio”, José Ignacio González Faus, “Lo mejor de la alegría del Evangelio”, Luis González-Carvajal Santabárbara, “El programa del Papa Francisco”; José Luis Gutiérrez, “La economía que mata”; Paulo Suess, “Vinho e vinagre na alegría do Evangelho”; Eduardo de la Serna, “Una lectura esperanzada de la nueva Exhortación Apostólica”; Consuelo Vélez, “La alegría del evangelio: Nuevos caminos de renovación eclesial”.

7. Henceforth the paragraphs of the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium will be cited in parentheses.

8. Here we can echo the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Carribbean Bishops (CELAM) in Aparecida, a conference in which the pope actively participated, particularly in drafting the final document. That Conference proposed a "Church permanently in a state of mission" (DA 551).

9. The Pope was professor of Pastoral Theology at the Colegio Máximo in San Miguel (Buenos Aires).

10. Synod of Bishops XIII Ordinary General Assembly, October 7 to 28, 2012. It avoids the term "post-synodal" which is used to include the conclusions of the synods, possibly because he adds that he will include his own concerns and the thoughts of other people he has consulted. The footnotes on page 217 talk about the references that have inspired him.

11. You can read the text in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of St. Matthew, September 21st. Cf.

12. According to the Argentine theologian Carlos María Galli, the theme of the poor in this Exhortation is one of the best documents that the magisterium has written on the poor. Cf. Address given at the Universidad Católica de Buenos Aires, March 13, 2014.

13. Opening Address of the Aparecida Conference, No. 3, and Aparecida Document, no. 392.

14. Rush Limbaugh, a conservative talk show host in the United States, criticized the pontiff's statement about economic inequality in the Church, accusing him of preaching "pure Marxism." See

15. Published on December 8, 1975. It will be cited as (EN).

16. Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est, 28.

17. John Paul II, 1998, Fides et ratio, 43.

18. As the Aparecida Conference already delineated it, DA 366.

19. Ecclesia in Africa (notes 57, 92); Ecclesia in Asia (notes 58, 77, 78, 95, 99, 134); Ecclesia in America (note 149), Ecclesia in Oceania (notes 91, 94); Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (note 203); Bishops' Conference of Brazil (note 158); Congo Conference of Catholic Bishops (note 184); Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (note 176); Bishops' Conference of France (notes 60, 174); Bishops' Conference of India (note 194); United States Catholic Bishops' Conference (notes 59, 180); II Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops (note 211).

20. Specifically, the category "People of God" was decisive in the structure of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (Chapter 2).