OPINION: Regardless of your LGBT position, Seton Hall would have been justified firing posting priest

By Matthew Gilson | The Save Jersey Blog

As a recent graduate of Seton Hall, Save Jerseyans, it is hard for me to not notice all the national attention the school is receiving after one of its priests, Rev. Warren Hall, was reportedly dismissed following a pro-gay marriage post on social media. I had limited if any interaction with this priest during my time at Seton Hall, but perhaps that allows me to be a bit more objective about the firing.

So far, almost every post, perhaps even every post, I have seen on social media came from students and alumni furious over the decision of the archdiocese’s decision to relieve this priest of his duties. And we don’t even have all of the facts.

I do not consider myself part of that group; even if Hall’s account is correct, I think the decision was not only justified, but the right one.

An image of SHU's Immaculate Conception Chapel (Photo credit: shu.edu)
An image of SHU’s Immaculate Conception Chapel (Photo credit: shu.edu)

In full disclosure, my position on gay marriage is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. I do not oppose allowing homosexual couples to enter into legally recognized relationships, to the point where I think the government has no business marrying people; it should be a strictly religious ceremony. My position from a civil standpoint perhaps would best be classified as “civil unions for all.”

If other churches or institutions want to recognize gay marriages, more power to them, but the Catholic Church is not one of them and most likely will not be any time soon. The honest trust is that our respective positions on this issue are actually irrelevant to the issue at hand. This priest was reportedly terminated because he was rendering social media posts which directly were at odds with the stated mission of his employer.

There is nothing uncommon about people not being hired — or being terminated — from jobs because of things they post on social media. 

If someone, for example, working as a representative of a charity promoting adoption over abortion started authoring posts supportive of initiatives to increase access to abortion, would anyone have any qualms over their termination? If the priest was posting pro-abortion posts, would the reaction be quite the same? While the overall attitude on what constitutes marriage has changed drastically in this country, the Catholic Church has not changed their position. This priest, a representative of the Church, is directly in conflict with this position.

The archdiocese would have been in the wrong had they retained him any longer than they did.

Wedding RingsOur choices carry consequences. This priest was likely aware of them. In the public arena, how many politicians have we even seen who have faced significant backlash, to the point of resigning at times, because of things they have posted on the Internet?

As another priest at Seton Hall once told a class of mine, you can support gay marriage or abortion and think it’s moral, and I will respect your opinion, but I am not going to tell you it is moral or that the Church thinks it is.

Likewise, Father Hall is entitled to his own opinion, but when he made it public and publicly (there’s that word again) went against the mission the Church is trying to promote, he should have expected the termination. If a priest sees himself as a crusader for marriage equality, then like others who have left the Church before him, he should realize his place is not as a Catholic priest. It’s a free country; he’s free to go fight for that cause elsewhere.

But his employer has every right to deny him the opportunity to use his position in the Church to advance a cause in which it doesn’t believe.