The Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, New York City, N.Y. / Reading Tom via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
New York City, N.Y., Nov 5, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).
A music teacher at a Catholic school in the Diocese of Brooklyn was fired for violating a morality clause he agreed to at the time of his employment, said a statement from the diocese.
“Matthew LaBanca no longer serves as the music teacher at St. Joseph Catholic Academy or as the Music Director at Corpus Christi Church,” said a statement from St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Astoria and Corpus Christi Church in Woodside provided to CNA by Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“His contract has been terminated based on the expectations that all Catholic school and academy personnel, and ministers of the Church, comply with Church teachings, as they share in the responsibility of ministering the faith to students,” Rodriguez said.
“Despite changes to New York State law in 2011 legalizing same-sex marriage, Church law is clear. We wish Mr. LaBanca only the best in his future endeavors,” said the statement.
On Oct. 13, Matthew LaBanca was fired from his positions as parish music director at Corpus Christi Church and as music teacher at St. Joseph Catholic Academy. LaBanca had worked as an organist and choir leader off and on for 16 years at Corpus Christi, and had taught music since 2015.
LaBanca married his longtime male partner in August in a ceremony officiated by his father, who was ordained online by the Universal Life Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that marriage is between one man and one woman who are not previously married without an annulment.
While it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the “ministerial exception” or “ecclesiastical exception” means that religiously-based employers are not subject to these laws.
The contract for teachers at Diocese of Brooklyn schools, which was provided to CNA by Rodriguez, requires that employees agree that they are serving in a ministerial role.
“As a condition of employment, the TEACHER and the Academy are involved in the ministry of teaching and conveying the Roman Catholic Faith,” says the contract. “The TEACHER is essential to the ministry of conveying the Faith and acknowledges that she/he is a minister of the Roman Catholic Faith. ”
Additionally, the contract reads, “The TEACHER agrees to teach and act according to the laws and precepts of the Roman Catholic Faith,” along with U.S. and New York laws, as well as a Code of Pastoral Conduct and Guiding Principles printed in the employee handbook.
Teachers, per the diocesan contract, are “essential to the ministry of conveying the Faith” and must acknowledge that “she/he is a minister of the Roman Catholic Faith” to accept the job.
“The TEACHER is to teach and convey the Roman Catholic Faith by being a role model of the Catholic Faith to their students. The TEACHER is to be a practicing Roman Catholic. The TEACHER is to support and exemplify by his/her public conduct Catholic Doctrine and Morality,” says the contract. Further, teachers must “incorporate objects of Catholic Faith into the learning environment” and must “have religious articles displayed in the classroom at all times.”
Although the contract states that “The Teacher will also lead her/his class children in prayer at least two (2) times per school day” and forbids the teaching, advocating, encouraging, or counseling of any beliefs or practices against Church teaching, LaBanca disagreed that he was a minister.
LaBanca told the New York Times that he did not consider himself to be a minister at the school, and that he did not sign a similar contract for his job as music director at a parish.
“I would say that’s a strong label for what I do,” he told the New York Times. “I would never have labeled myself a minister. And at school I was Mr. Matt, or Mr. Matthew, I was never called a minister.”
He explained to the New York Times that his sexuality was never a secret at either job.
“I respect that some people in the community may not understand or may not be able to see beyond what their catechism or their culture or their parochial mind-set may have informed them about this issue,” said LaBanca. “I was respectful in that regard, but people knew I was gay.”
In July 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that Catholic school teachers fall under the “ministerial exception” and are not subject to anti-discrimination laws.
“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru.
“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate,” he said.