Pope Francis famously said in 2013: “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
His words were received as a gesture of acceptance, a welcoming back to the Catholic Church for the LGBT community. They were a refreshing change from Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who went as far as suggesting that homosexuality was an affront to world peace.
They easily come to mind now with the abrupt firing of a beloved Catholic school teacher in Miami for marrying her partner and lovingly posting about it on social media. Wasn’t the Catholic Church, under Francis’ leadership, supposed to be evolving on gay issues — or were the new pope’s musings merely a publicity stunt?
Whatever the case, the firing of first-grade teacher Jocelyn Morffi may be a contractually legal move for a private religious school, but it wasn’t right. Discrimination never is. Not even in the name of God, which if so done is pure blasphemy.
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This case is a slap in the face to Miami’s upstanding gay community.
Morffi was so loved by her students at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School that their parents didn’t take her firing lightly. They made inquiries, sought answers and called the media to expose what they believe is an injustice.
They want her back. Archbishop Thomas Wenski should reconsider the decision.
When Principal Carlota E. Morales — and the Catholic establishment that forced her hand and now stands behind her — fired Morffi, they didn’t practice what they preach: love and compassion. Instead, they went with “do what I say, not what I do” morality.
The day after she returned from her wedding ceremony in Key Largo, Morffi was mercilessly kicked out, reportedly not even allowed to pack her things, for marrying her same-sex partner — and, in the biggest affront of all to a church that thrives in secrecy, for daring to speak lovingly of her marriage in an Instagram post of her wedding.
The Catholics who fired her also didn’t follow their own teachings about truth-telling, a nasty institutional habit that led to decades of child abuse at the hands of pedophile priests.
In a letter to parents, Morales told parents that the firing was “a difficult and necessary decision.” She assures them that their children won’t be affected because Morffi’s replacement will arrive soon. Who is she kidding? By all accounts, Morffi was a teacher who engaged her children in the merciful work of feeding the homeless. That’s right. In addition to the ABCs, Morffi taught children by example and action to be giving, responsible, community-minded.
Her principal and the church hierarchy, however, are teaching them that honesty doesn’t pay if you aspire to be welcomed in Catholic circles.
Six-year-olds may not understand well enough the sexual politics of what went down, but older kids do. What you don’t tell kids they find out on the internet. And Ms. Morffi’s story has been told by practically every news outlet in the country.
They will be passing judgment, believe me.
The school says its mission — with a capital M — is “to empower and enable students spiritually and academically to live the Gospel message and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church while facing the challenges of the 21st Century.”
Homophobia is not a 21st century value.
A school is only as good as its teachers. A church is only as strong as its leaders. Both failed the children. The firing illustrates how quickly Catholics leave behind their own principles. The anti-gay slam undermines the church’s moral authority on other issues.
Which brings me back to Francis’ words, no longer filled with the same ring of hope for a more humane religious institution.
In more recent pronouncements about gay marriage, Francis has qualified his inclusive views somewhat. He told French sociologist Dominique Wolton that by definition marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. He said that there’s “critical confusion at the moment.” (Maybe his.)
“We cannot change it,” he said. “This is the nature of things.”
“Civil unions,” he calls gay marriage, a mixed message the Catholic Church quickly disseminated in its publications.
Fine, but by Francis’ definition, Morffi’s marriage is a legal union — and the church shouldn’t punish Morffi for hers.
“This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result,” Morffi said in an Instagram post tagged #GuiltyOfLove. “In their eyes, I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”
She’s the only kind of Catholic there should be: a loving and compassionate one. And that’s why church leaders should return to Sts. Peter and Paul’s first-graders the teacher they love.