GERMANTOWN, Md. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Bishop Barry Knestout, an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is supporting a parish priest's decision to fire a choir director discovered to be in a same-sex civil marriage.
A fellow parishioner saw part-time choir director Jeffrey Higgins and his partner together at public events and found pictures of their civil marriage online. The parishioner brought the matter up to Fr. Lee Fangmeyer, the pastor of Mother Seton parish, who called Higgins to his office immediately.
Higgins recounts the interview:
He told me it had been discovered, that's the word he used, that I was gay and married and would I resign. I told him I wouldn't resign, that I liked my job, that I was good at my job, and I didn't see the need to resign. He told me I'd been an asset to the music program at Mother Seton and that I'd be missed, but that I was terminated as of that moment.
After appealing the decision, Bp. Knestout responded for the archdiocese, asserting that those who work for the Church "are to support Church teaching and practice," and that those who live publicly in a way that contradicts the Faith makes their continued ministry "untenable."
Your entering into a civil same-sex marriage is a public act contrary to Church teaching on marriage and is incompatible with a position as a liturgical minister in the Church. While you claim the freedom to act as you choose, you can recognize that the Church, too, has the freedom and also the obligation to teach and live according to Her identity.
The archdiocese also claims Higgins violated the terms of his employment. "The issue, in this case, clearly became not the sexual preference of the music minister but his ability to publicly and authentically manifest the teaching of the Church."
Higgins, a lifelong Catholic, has not yet pursued legal action. He maintains that when he "came out" 15 years ago, he told his pastor, and his pastor responded positively. "He took my head in his hands and told me that God made me and loves me the way he made me," he says. "My sexuality and my religion have never been at odds before."
Bishop Knestout was involved in the controversial decision to remove Fr. Marcel Guarnizo from public ministry in the D.C. archdiocese after the priest denied Holy Communion to a lesbian Buddhist. In March 2012, Fr. Guarnizo, a visiting priest in the archdiocese, quietly withheld Communion — in conformity with Canon 915 of the Catholic code of canon law — from a woman at Mass whom he had learned was a practicing lesbian Buddhist.
She complained, and Bp. Knestout, writing on behalf of the archdiocese, informed the public that the priest had been stripped of his faculties and placed on leave for allegedly "intimidating behavior." On the other hand, the archdiocese apologized to the lesbian for Guarnizo's actions.
In a public letter written in his own defense, Fr. Guarnizo included the detail that "the letter removing me from pastoral work ... was already signed and sealed and on the table when I met with Bishop Knestout ... even before he asked me the first question about the alleged clash."