Openly Gay Catholic School Teacher Loses His Job After Filing for Marriage License

What would the Pope do?
What would the Pope do?

Michael Griffin dedicated 12 years of his life to teaching French and Italian at the Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Pennsylvania.

Griffin was also a student at the school before teaching so it nearly goes without saying that most people, including the principal, co-workers and even many students, were well aware of his sexual orientation.

Griffin is gay. In fact, he wears a wedding ring because he and his partner had a civil union five years ago. The couple recently applied for a marriage license so they could officially have a wedding. That’s when, according to Griffin, he was fired.

As reported on ABC, Griffin said he was terminated immediately after he had emailed administrators to tell them he was going to file for a marriage license and would be slightly late to work. Griffin tells Yahoo that Holy Ghost Preparatory School President Father James McCloskey gave him an ultimatum: “If you go through with that I have no other choice but to fire you.”

Griffin said the school administrators told him that the email sent on the school email server made his relationship public and therefore they had to fire him if he decided to get married to another man.

“I was in shock, I had no forewarning.” Griffin tells ABC.

McCloskey and Holy Ghost Preparatory School issued a statement to ABC saying Griffin was fired for violating his contract.

“Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment,” McCloskey said in the statement. “In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

The question at hand: should Catholic schools have the right to fire someone based on their sexuality? But that question, in this case, might very well be moot because Griffin signed a contract agreeing to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church knowing full well the Church considers homosexuality a sin. But a court can rule a contract unenforceable for any of a number of reasons, so perhaps the question should become: does a religious organization have the right to deny someone employment based on their sexuality? After all, religions have played a huge part in the national politics surrounding gay rights as we saw in the case of the Mormon church’s involvement in Proposition 8 back in 2008.

Does the contract infringe on Griffin’s right to freedom of religious beliefs or personal interpretations of his religious beliefs or his legal right to marry someone of the same sex? He and his partner have been a couple the entire time he taught at the school. The school knew he was gay.  Griffin says he loved teaching at the school and felt accepted by everyone. In a television interview Griffin talked about attending school functions as a couple and how at the last fundraiser they sat at a table including the Principal and his wife. At no time was his sexuality mentioned as an issue. Doesn’t that make the school’s argument that getting married was the last straw a bit disingenous? Could be an argument that makes the contract unenforceable…

Rita Schwartz, president of a local Catholic teachers union, describes the environment at church schools to ABC News as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Well. We’ve all seen how that particular policy ended up in the military …

And what kind of effect will Griffin’s firing have on gay students attending the school or does that not matter to an administration hellbent on looking in a rear view mirror instead of focusing on the future?

The verbal gymnastics that inevitably occur when it comes to arguing religion and state are so complex that easy answers are never forthcoming. However, this is clearly an argument we’re going to keep coming up against in the years to come. We’ve already seen it several times when it comes to Catholic hospitals refusing to perform life-saving abortions. It’s a sign of the times and times are a changin,’ as a letter lambasting the school and published by ABC News illustrates, “this apparent assault on diversity, this close-mindedness and this devotion to doctrine when change is happening all around you.”

Word to your mother. Or your father in heaven …

I think the recently named TIME Person of the Year, Pope Francis, just might be able to get on board that train headed into the future and ride it all the way to Equality Station. As the leader recently warned, the Catholic Church could lose its way by focusing too much on social stances, including opposition to homosexuality.

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Francis said in July to Chicago Tribune.

So, uh … Wait? The Catholic school says firing is necessary but the leader of the church says he’s not one to judge? Somebody needs to get the number to the Pope Hotline because something stinks in American Catholicism right now…

Let us all ask ourselves (or pray!) What Would Francis Do?

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