Jumping to Conclusions

Many newspapers are jumping to conclusions about the transfer of Father Warren Hall, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, from his position of director of campus ministry at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.

Father Hall claimed, via Twitter, “I’ve been fired from SHU for posting a pic on FB supporting LGBT ‘No H8”’ and “I’m sorry it was met with this response. I’ll miss my work here.”

The FB to which he refers is Facebook and the LGBT ‘No H8’ is a California-based advocacy group that was formed in 2008 to advocate against that state’s Proposition to ban same-sex marriage. Students and alumni have begun a Change.org petition to have Father Hall, who has ministered at the university for an academic year, reinstated in his position.

Of course, the issue is perceived to be about the big, bad Catholic Church coming down and repressing a priest who is kind and caring. It’s being seen as, ultimately, about the necessity for the Church to recognize same-sex marriage. This is not a proper perception. We do not know the full story. We should not rush to judge the archbishop and the Archdiocese of Newark, the Administration of Seton Hall, nor should we wish to judge Father Hall.

Indeed, we should pray for all those involved in this situation and for the many students to whom Father Hall has ministered in his role at Seton Hall. This is really not a story about LGBT rights; it’s a story about the appropriate use of social media by the clergy and by those who work in Catholic Church-related ministries and apostolates.

We, as a Church, support the dignity as human beings of every single individual, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Each human being is created in God’s image and likeness. Despite the presence of sin in the world – and unfortunately, at times, in each and every one of us ­– each person is fundamentally good. All people are called to chaste love, no matter what their state in life. We do not support the concept of same-sex marriage because we believe that it is against both God’s law and natural law. This does not mean that those who have same-sex attraction are rejected by the Church or hated. This means that those with same-sex attraction are called to a heroic life of chaste love. This is the good news – the Church does not hate anyone; she is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth; she is the People of God; the Church does not hate, because God does not hate.

We should examine how each of us uses the social media. Do we, especially the clergy and religious, truly represent Christ, His Church and His teaching in what we say and what we post on our Facebook and in our Twitter?

The priest, even when he is “off duty” is never “off duty.” By his sacred ordination, he is transfigured to Christ, called to be an alter Christus, not only sacramentally, but in all aspects of his life. He must represent Christ and the Church and all that she teaches, clearly and in its entirety, with no fudging and no disseminating ideas that are not what the Church teaches, for fear of leading the flock astray.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen reminds us “The Priest is not his own.” No, he isn’t, and this is why the title “Father” means that one is called not only to be kind and merciful, but also the “first and best of teachers,” as we are told in the Baptismal Rite concerning natural fathers.

Let’s be careful in our posts and let’s “Sentire cum ecclesia,” “Think with the Church.”

Because if our clergy and religious are not teaching clearly what the Church teaches, then how can the People of God be fed and led?