A pastoral associate with the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton says he’s been fired for having a male partner and for helping start an LGBTQ Catholic prayer and support group.
“Wherever you stand on the same sex issue, I believe my termination is unjust,” Mark Guevarra wrote on Facebook on Feb. 6. “I believe the denial of a prayer and support group for LGBTQ Catholics is unjust. I believe being terminated for conscientiously and respectfully disagreeing with a church teaching is a slippery slope for all church workers and therefore unjust.”
“Worse still, it sends a damaging message to all LGBTQ Catholics that they have no place in the Church.”
Guevarra is still listed as a pastoral associate on the St. Albert Catholic Parish website.
He said he was investigated by the archdiocese two months ago for his involvement with the LGBTQ prayer and support group Catholic Outreach of Edmonton (CORE), and for an allegation that he has a male partner and a daughter.
“I have been able to work through the years because I have kept matters private,” he said in the Facebook post. “However, through the years my opponents have been carefully scrutinizing my life and with the formation of CORE found their reason to formally lodge a complaint.”
In an interview with Global News, Guevarra said he was never asked about his sexuality, but said many people in the archdiocese knew he was gay.
“I think there were some opponents that saw this as a threat,” said Guevarra after he started his support group.
“I’m disappointed to be honest with you. I’m shocked, I’m torn that simply forming a prayer group amongst like-minded Catholics who want spiritual support and guidance and support from each other — that that was the impetus for me being fired.”
The archdiocese posted a statement online defending an unnamed employee’s dismissal and citing privacy concerns for the lack of details.
“Anyone who comes to work at the Archdiocese or one of its parishes agrees to live in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church and its sacramental theology,” Lorraine Turchansky, chief communications officer, said. “For example, the Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is a sacrament, in which a man and a woman promise before God to enter into a committed, exclusive and permanent relationship.”
“It is particularly important, and understandable, that someone who serves in a leadership or teaching role in the Church be a practising Catholic who lives in accord with its teachings. In human rights legislation this is referred to as a ‘bona fide occupational requirement’ for a particular position.”
Irfan Chaudhry, a MacEwan University professor, called this case “unchartered territory.”
“You aren’t able to just flat out fire someone because they aren’t following or complying with something you have as a standard rule, especially a bona fide requirement.”
Chaudhry said typically that bona fide argument overrides discrimination in health and safety matters.
An example he said, wearing religious headgear but having an operational requirement of needing to wear a safety helmet.
Still, and employer has a duty to accommodate.
“In this context, I’m not sure how the person’s private life impacted their application and successful operation of doing their job.”
Chaudhry suggested this case could potentially challenge Alberta’s Human Rights legislation and shape how it could be changed.
“I’m sure this will not be the first or last time something like this will occur.”
Guevarra said he will not be filing a human rights complaint and will not be taking legal action.
Nor has he lost faith in his religion.
“There’s a great sense of freedom in now being able to be open about this and I feel called now to reach out to all LGBT Catholics.”
Guevarra said the next support group meeting will be on Feb. 25 at the Edmonton Pride Centre. By speaking out, Guevarra said he wants other Catholics struggling and seeking guidance to reach out.
“This is your church too,” he said,”We all have a place here.”
Guevarra’s post has been shared more than 1,000 times and prompted hundreds of comments. It has garnered attention throughout North America, including from Jesuit priest and New-York-City-based author, James Martin.
“Straight employees do not have their sexual lives targeted, policed or examined in this way. As such, it is “unjust discrimination,” Martin wrote on Twitter.
According to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation may be allowed if an employer can show that a standard, policy or rule is a “bona fide occupational requirement.”
The employer must prove the standard was adopted for a purpose that is rationally connected to job performance; in an honest and good faith belief that the standard is necessary; and that it is impossible to accommodate the employee without the employer suffering undue hardship.