Terry Gonda has been a loyal member and supporter of the Catholic church for decades, serving as musical director of her parish for over twenty years. She is gay, but never hid the fact from her family, friends, church or pastors. She was also married, to another woman, naturally. This wasn’t a secret.
However, somehow the word got to the Detroit Archdiocese, where it was deemed that her same-sex marriage made her morally unfit to keep her job. On June 12 she received an email reading, “The Archdiocese is choosing to activate its morality clause to terminate your employment.”
The blow came just three days before the Supreme Court ruled that employers couldn’t fire workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Whether the ruling will apply to religious organizations is the subject of other cases before the Court, which heard oral arguments last month in Our Lady of Guadalupe School vs Morrissey-Berru, a case about whether teachers at private, religious schools are subject to the exception in the Civil Rights Act.
Gonda says that her Catholic mentors and employers always modeled Pope Francis’s compassionate and tolerant attitude toward homosexuality. She was never shunned for being gay, nor after her 2011 marriage to Kirsti Reeve, 51. (That’s Kristi on the left, Terry on the right.) Terry told an interviewer that she is certain the Church believes “they’re doing the right thing — they’re trying to protect the church.”
That’s one hell of a way to do it: fire a loyal employee and devoted Catholic for private “immorality”—this from an institution that went to outrageous lengths not to fire pedophile priests world-wide. Firing Gonda looks petty, cruel and hypocritical, because it is.
What Gonda finds especially maddening is that instead of just not renewing her contract when it expired on June 30, the church chose to fire her instead.
“They’re trying to send a message. This is a major shot across the bow,” she said. “They’re trying to sweep the gays out of the church,” added her spouse. “Would they rather we live in sin?”
The firing came after a crackdown on liberal Detroit parishes. Church leaders sent a letter to priests in metro Detroit, forbidding them to hold masses for Dignity Detroit and Fortunate Families, support groups for parishioners in the LGBTQ community. Under the last two pastors at Gonda’s parish, the church had gained a reputation as progressive and committed to the progressive agenda.
Retired parish pastor Father Brzezinski told reporters that Gonda’s marriage was never an issue while he was pastor at St. John Fisher, saying
“There was never a time that we were proclaiming it publicly, nor we were we trying to hide it. It’s unfortunate that the church hasn’t come to a fuller understanding of human sexuality and what’s going on in our lives in terms of the person, their faith and goodness and basically seeing each person in the image and likeness of God. We’ve never seen anything except that likeness of God in Terry.”
Although other members of St. John Fisher say they will look for another place of worship now, Gonda is determined to stay and try to reform the Church from within. The job was not a full-time one, paying only about $5,000 a year to supplement her full-time job as an engineer at the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive and Armament Command facility in Warren, Michigan. She and Kristi no longer feel welcome at the parish, she says, but they want to to stay and change people’s hearts.
“I’m uncomfortable with having laws determine these decisions. I think the church needs to do this,” Gonda says.
She’s obviously an impressive person, and an ethical one. Religious institutions that treat people like Gonda so unfairly are, little by little, step by step, undermining the place of organized religion in society, and it has an essential role to fill in conveying and strengthening values.