May 21st’ New York Times Op Ed page ran a column by Frank Bruni, “One school’s Catholic Teaching” in which he told the story of Carla Hale, a woman who was fired from her teaching job at a Catholic high school for living with another woman. She had not made advances to the students nor had she “flaunted” her sexuality in the classroom. Rather, she had mentioned her long-term partner in her mother’s obituary, just as her brother had listed his wife as survivors. This heartfelt expression of family love and loss caught the eye of some moralistic parent who wrote an anonymous letter (how brave!) to the school, indicating that they had a lesbian teaching their children. Gasp. Well, apparently the school was aghast and fired Ms. Hale. Her life was teaching, as she eloquently explains in the article, and now she is bereft. Her students miss her and she misses the daily interchange with young people in the physical education classes. She has been dismissed for simply being herself and loving another human being.
Why did the school react in such a draconian way? Well, homosexuality is a sin according to the Roman Catholic Church and while they might not go so far as to say being homosexual condemns one to hell, the practice of loving someone of the same gender surely does.
Now, we could applaud this Catholic school for standing by Church teachings and acting consistence with doctrine. Yes, we could.
Or we could question how any caring individual could remain a Roman Catholic in the face of such cruelty and judgmental self-righteousness. What would Jesus do? Well, we do not know but according to the very scripture that the Roman Catholic Church upholds, in John 8.7 he says “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” In that story, the crowd stopped, dropped their rocks and slunk away, reminded by Jesus that mercy may be more important than justice, especially when one does not know the full story. Remember that?
We might also ask how a church which has hidden and protected pedophile priests can still proclaim the wrongness of a loving homosexual couple. Why were so many priests simply moved to other parishes and put right back in youth groups if homosexuality is so wrong? and note that this is preying on the weak and vulnerable–not a freely chosen relationship of equality.
I know many good Roman Catholics who would abhor the decision of this particular school but then I ask myself, why do good people stay? Why stay in a religious sect that narrowly defines what is good and condemns others for transgressions, even as they flaunt those rules themselves? Of course, the church–no church–is perfect. They are human institutions. And one might respond that they want to work for change from within. But meanwhile… grave injustices go on. At some point, must we not stand up and say, “Enough!”
I am reminded of a short story by Ursula LeGuin called “The Ones Who walk Away from Omelas.” There too the citizens of this wondrous community enjoy many blessings. But to do so requires complicity with a terrible and dark secret. Perhaps it is time to leave Omelas. Time to leave the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot help but think that indeed would be what Jesus would do.