qnotes, the Charlotte-based LGBT community newspaper of North Carolina, is publicly responding to several objections to our reporting made by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. It is our belief that the diocese has acted in an unwarranted, heavy-handed manner, attempting to dictate to qnotes what it should report, bully the newspaper into parroting its theological views on homosexuality to our readers and seeking to recruit the newspaper into silencing gay teacher Lonnie Billard’s thoughts and reactions to the incident. The diocese’s actions are made even the more deplorable considering that they now seek to bully, intimidate and silence the editorial independence of a media outlet serving the LGBT community which shared the story, thoughts and words of a gay man against whom they discriminated. The following response is written by Matt Comer, editor.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has objected strenuously to qnotesMonday, Jan. 12, 2015, report on their decision to fire a gay teacher who intends to marry his same-gender partner.

The objection came after qnotes contacted the diocese on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, with several questions, including inquiries on the diocese’s equitable enforcement of church teaching against both LGBT and non-LGBT employees and questions regarding the anti-bullying/anti-discrimination policies in place at Charlotte Catholic High School.

Among the most primary of objections, the diocese has insisted that teacher Lonnie Billard was not fired for being gay or for seeking to marry his partner. Instead, diocese spokesman David Hains argued, Billard was fired for “breaking a promise,” by violating an employment contract that prohibited him from opposing church teaching.

In this instance, the diocese’s objection falls flat. The violation of Billard’s contract was his statement on his intention to marry. Without this statement, Billard wouldn’t have been fired. Therefore, it is factual and accurate to report that Billard was fired because he is a gay man who announced his intention to marry his same-gender partner — an act the church calls “disobedience,” but which is also a fundamental human and civil right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, as recently upheld by North Carolina’s U.S. District Courts and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the same vein, the diocese objects to our use of the term “anti-LGBT discrimination” to describe the action carried out against Billard. Again, the diocese’s objection falls flat. The diocese has acted to negatively impact another person, by taking away their employment, because of a certain characteristic or action. In this case, the action is a gay man who seeks to fully live out his life as a gay man by marrying his same-gender partner. This kind of discrimination is, indeed, legal, but, by definition, it remains discrimination.

The diocese has also complained that we did not reach out to them for comment before publishing our interview with Billard. We stand by our reporting decisions, which included a fair and equitable quoting and summary of the diocese’s positions and statements, as reported by the diocese’s official newspaper, the Catholic News Herald.

Other objections to qnotes‘ reporting were written by Catholic News Herald editor Patricia L. Guilfoyle. Her lengthy objections to our story were delivered by Hains.

The newspaper made only one minor correction and one clarification in response to the diocese’s responses. This correction and clarification are noted below. The newspaper confidently stands by its story.

Below is printed each of Guilfoyle’s objections and our responses. For context, we have included the specific excerpts from the original article with which the diocese takes objection. We have underlined the words, phrases or sentences objected to by the diocese.

The local Roman Catholic diocese is in hot water again for anti-LGBT discrimination, this time firing a gay teacher after he announced he would marry his same-gender partner later this year.

Diocese objection 1: “This implies the diocese is in some kind of legal trouble — story does not substantiate the lede. The lede is not supported by any of the facts in the article.”

Response 1: The term “hot water” isn’t a legal term and in no way insinuates “legal trouble.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term as “trouble” or “difficulty.” The Cambridge dictionary defines it more specifically as “to be in or get into a difficult situation in which you are in danger of being criticized or punished.” This terms seems accurate when used in this instance, a story of a firing of a gay man during a time when LGBT issues are a hotly debated social issue.

Diocese objection 2: “This is a legal-sounding term that not only is inaccurate, but implies illegal behavior on the part of the diocese.”

Response 2: The diocese has acted to negatively impact another person, by taking away their employment, because of a certain characteristic or action. In this case, the action is a gay man who seeks to fully live out his life as a gay man by marrying his same-gender partner. This kind of discrimination is, indeed, legal, but, by definition, it remains discrimination.

Billard, 68, had worked for 15 years as a full-time teacher at Charlotte Catholic…

Diocese objection: “Inaccurate. he began working in 2001, and retired in 2012.”

Response: Billard told us he worked there for 15 years. We have updated the story with this minor correction to read “over a decade.”

But officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte made the decision to terminate him after he said he intended to marry his partner this May. Billard’s announcement was made on Facebook earlier in the fall, and he says the decision came directly from the diocese, not the school. “This was not a decision by Charlotte Catholic High School,” Billard said…

Diocese objection: “Inaccurate. employment decisions are made at the school level, and we reported the school canceled his contract.” and “Did anyone contact CCHS to seek confirmation? Just because he says it’s so doesn’t make it true.”

Response: We have updated our story to further clarify this information. This clarification can be found in the third paragraph of the posted story. However, we don’t think the clarification or the diocese’s objection make a substantial factual difference. The diocese says the decision was made at the school, but Billard disagrees. We sought in this instance to allow Billard the opportunity to tell his side of the story, a courtesy not given to Billard by the Catholic News Herald. Also, the diocese here is splitting hairs, attempting to do nothing more than shield the diocese as a whole — whether the decision was made by a school official or an official at the diocese’s main office really has no bearing on the material facts of the case: a man has lost his job. Further, whether a school official or official at the diocese’s main office, both would be a “diocese official,” and both the policy and contract which caused Billard’s firing are controlled by the diocese, which has given authority, it admits, to diocese school officials to hire and fire, apparently, at will and in accordance with policies set by the diocese. It is not possible to separate the school and the diocese; they are one in the same. Unless, of course, the diocese is willing to admit a diocese school official is not a “diocese official” and, logically, could therefore disregard diocese policy and keep Billard in employment.

Billard said the newspaper never spoke to him.

Diocese objection: “We say why in our story.”

Response: No, the diocese does not explain anywhere in their Catholic News Herald story why they failed to give even the briefest opportunity for comment from Billard. We believed it was important to note that Billard was not contacted by the diocese newspaper as it sought to write a story about him, a fact which he brought to our attention in our interview.

In 2012, the diocese fired popular music director Steav Congdon after he married his partner.

Diocese objection: “Opinion.”

Response: Congdon’s firing prompted a deluge of outrage and sadness from those who knew him, along with many calls for his reinstatement, especially many calls for him to be granted the opportunity to participate in an interfaith service. It’s evident that he was “popular” among a great many Catholics and locals, though we recognize this might not necessarily include members of the diocese’s staff.

Last spring, the school invited a conservative nun to speak to a student assembly on sexuality.

Diocese objection: “Opinion.”

Response: There are certain beliefs and policy positions taken by individuals or institutions which are clearly understood to exist upon sociopolitical and theological spectrums, bookended in common usage by the terms “conservative” and “liberal.” A person who takes anti-LGBT positions certainly epitomizes a well-known, easily identifiable strain of conservatism.

Students reported that the nun said an absent father and masturbation make boys gay, and that gay men have 500-1,000 sexual partners in their lifetime.

Diocese objection: “Inaccurate summation of what was reported.”

Response: No. This summation is accurate and reflects not only qnotespast reporting and own interviews with students, but also those reported in other local media. Simply reporting on or recognizing the existence of an embarrassing moment in an institution’s history does not equate to inaccuracy.

[Students’ and parents’] opposition to the nun, the school priest and “church teaching,” resulted in an admonishment from diocese Bishop Peter Jugis. “There simply is no room in the Catholic Church for such displays of uncharitableness and disrespect,” Jugis said at the time.

Diocese objection: “Why is this in quotes?”

Response: Because, in this instance, the nun was teaching young people that masturbation turns boys gay, among other things, a “teaching” from an official of the church to students — a teaching that diocese spokesman David Hains himself said on the record last year is not church teaching. (From that past report: “Hains also confirmed it wasn’t official church teaching that masturbation makes people gay.”) Further, church teaching on morality was mentioned and defended in Jugis’ statement, though it’s likely he also did not mean to insinuate that the church teaches that masturbation makes boys gay.

[Students’ and parents’] opposition to the nun, the school priest and “church teaching,” resulted in an admonishment from diocese Bishop Peter Jugis. “There simply is no room in the Catholic Church for such displays of uncharitableness and disrespect,” Jugis said at the time.

Diocese objection: “Actually, his statement was directed to all sides in the controversy over their lack of charity; this inaccurately states he was talking only to those who expressed opposition to the program.”

Response: Bishop Jugis’ statement praised the school’s chaplain, who had invited the nun to speak and defended her and her views, while at the same time failing to directly, openly and compassionately address the concerns of LGBT parents and LGBT students. The bishop did not even once mention LGBT students or parents in his statement, nor did he offer an apology for the extreme statements from the nun. Further, Jugis’ statement does not exist in a vacuum. At the time, another church official was specifically chastising students and parents who opposed the nun’s teachings.

But more than his own treatment, Billard said he is concerned about the message being sent to LGBT students.

Diocese objection: “What?? This is a real overreach.”

Response: In what conceivable universe can anyone imagine that the firing of a gay man who seeks to wed his partner is not going to impart at least some sort of message to a young LGBT student who will find themselves in a much similar circumstance as an adult?

“I know exactly what message it sends. I’ve heard from them. It sends the message that they don’t matter,” Billard said. “One of the counselors there actually had a kid come into their office after this announcement and asked, ‘Am I going to be expelled because I’m gay?’ It sends such a destructive and hurtful message to kids, instead of validating them for their beauty and validating them for the love they bring. It tells them they don’t count.

Diocese objection: “This is irresponsible and lazy reporting, putting up an emotionally overwrought image of ‘hurting kids’ without anything to back it up. No comments from students, no comments from admins. And it completely fails to note accurately Church teaching on homosexuality. It’s stereotyping the sides in the issue: either you’re for us or you’re against us, as if one side is all right and the other is all wrong. Reality is never so simple, and this article does not reflect those nuances.”

Response: We’ll repeat our response from above, for the sake of emphasis: “In what conceivable universe can anyone imagine that the firing of a gay man who seeks to wed his partner is not going to impart at least some sort of message to a young LGBT student who will find themselves in a much similar circumstance as an adult?” This “message” might be positive or negative, depending upon a person’s own individual perspective. It is Billard’s perspective that the message is negative. Quoting Billard’s thoughts are not irresponsible. The diocese might not think its teachings are destructive or hurtful, but Billard does. The diocese is free to disagree, but it is not free to dictate to qnotes which of Billard’s thoughts or feelings should or should not be reported.

Yet, he never expected to be treated so badly by the diocese.

Diocese objection: “Did the reporter ask him if he ever thought what might happen if he openly violated the employee ethics policy? What did he think would happen when he publicly announced his opposition to Church teaching?”

Response: It’s not qnotes‘ role to defend church teaching or its anti-LGBT discriminatory actions. This role belongs to the church alone, and it seems to have done a fine job of defending its positions in the Catholic News Herald‘s article, nearly half of which was spent recounting their legal right to discriminate against LGBT people and their justifications for doing so.

“I knew the Catholic Church is behind the times when it comes to understanding and acceptance of gay people,” Billard said, “but I thought with the current pope saying, ‘Who am I to judge?’ that maybe things would be better, but apparently that’s not the case.”

Diocese objection: “Reflects unfortunately common but inaccurate reading of Pope Francis’ interview.”

Response: Again, Billard is sharing his thoughts and feelings in reaction to his experiences, and, yet again, the diocese continues a pattern of objecting to words not from qnotes, but instead directly from Billard himself. We see no issue in allowing Billard to share his thoughts and feelings. Why does the diocese seek to silence him, and why does it seek to recruit us into doing the same?

Billard said he’s certain he’ll teach again, but he’s less sure now how safe he’ll feel worshiping in his own church.

Diocese objection: “What?? Does he feel physically threatened by anyone?”

Response: Feelings of safety (or lack thereof) can be physical, verbal, emotional, spiritual or psychological. This sentence is an introduction to a quote from Billard in which he explains further what he means by feeling “safe,” another of Billard’s own words the church seeks to silence. See below.

“Frankly, I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that,” he said. “It got to the point where every time something came up, the diocese was so negative and so hurtful to LGBT people. It’s very difficult for me to go into church and find the peace to worship when I know that everything they stand for behind that service is wrong.”

Diocese objection: “If he is coming to Mass and professing the Creed, but opposing Church teaching, then he doesn’t understand Catholic teaching or his responsibility as a Catholic very well.”

Response: Though this might be an internal spiritual or pastoral concern between the diocese and this particular parishioner, this isn’t a hinderance to the reporting of this story. Again, it is not our role to defend church teaching or its anti-LGBT discriminatory actions, nor is it our role to justify or explain these teachings to an interview subject like Billard. The diocese seems desperate to make qnotes a spokesperson for its positions. We are not.

Despite the firing, Billard’s moving ahead with plans for his wedding.

Diocese objection: “This implies his wedding was dependent on his job. Lazy transition writing.”

Response: Could be read as “despite facing a hardship, Billard is moving forward,” unless the diocese would instead argue that a loss of a job and income isn’t a hardship.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

10 replies on “QNotes responds to Charlotte Catholic diocese objections to report on fired gay teacher”

  1. I could go on about several items here but I think what struck me most was the abosolute denial of the harm they are causing to those who they are hurting in the name of the church. I was at the parent meeting over the nun who spoke and I know the pain that caused. I know from first hand accounts of students there the way they feel in their own school and church. I watched people in the pew in front of me write on their offering envelope week after week in mass ” no money because you were unfair to steav”. it saddens me as an alum, a parent of a child in the MACS system and a catholic that this is how the diocese treats those who have served and who wish to worship and who also happen to be gay.

    1. Thanks Lisa, I agree, see comments below. People that are not GAY do not understand the trials we go through, the hiding, the shame, the acceptance, the belief, the acknowledgement, and most of this during middle/high school. Without the empathy, these comments from their church are hollow and deter the growth of certain children…this is unacceptable and I agree.

  2. Didn’t the Pope have something to say about this? Like how Catholics should be understanding. It would seem the locals are going against Rome and the Holy See.

    Just saying…

    1. We have to accept that the diatribe came from the diocese’s newspaper, and we are left to believe that the official church had nothing to do with, well the firing, or the rebuttal, They knew nothing, and by that are held to no staff. I was under the impression that the catholic church could be open to me, I was certainly wrong in this community. Maybe the diocese would stand for me if I attended church and committed an offering, but I am afraid that I would be attacked at any point that I disagreed with something, so would feel stifled. Not for me..

  3. In reading the diocese’s over-the-top-defensive nitpicking, the phrase “squealing like a stuck pig” comes to mind. qnotes threw a bright spotlight on their unChristlike inhospitality, and now they’re DESPERATE to have that light shine elsewhere. Advantage, qnotes: keep at them, for the win!

  4. In this instance, qnotes needs to rebut the diocese false claims of a violation of church doctrine by the teacher. There is no breach by the teacher of a promise to abide by church doctrine. Doctrine is defined by the written Catechism. It states in 2358 [Homosexuals] must be ACCEPTED with RESPECT, COMPASSION, and SENSITIVITY. EVERY SIGN of UNJUST DISCRIMINATION in their regard SHOULD BE AVOIDED. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives. So it seems that the diocese is in violation of doctrine, not Mr. Billard. The diocese is clearly showing signs of unjust discrimination, and that is a violation of the promise they made to their flock. It is the diocese that is in breach of contract.

  5. You might want to rebut the Catholic News Herald’s misstatements in their article. I wrote to them:

    to plguilfoyle

    You do a disservice to your readers when you misstate the ruling of the Supreme Court ​covering church employees in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. ___ (2012)​. You correctly note that there is a ministerial exception to anti-discrimination and labor laws for [a few] church employees. However, you error in stating the Supreme Court ruled that “religious groups should be free from government interference when they choose their employees.” Your statement if false because the Supreme Court has simply not clarified which employees fall within this narrow ministerial exception, other than to note in a concurrent opinion footnote that a dictionary definition of a “minister” is “a person officially charged with spiritual functions in the Christian Church.” (Alito Concurrence, note 2) Surely school custodians are not a ministers, and so they have the protections of state and federal labor laws. It is very likely that teachers of exclusively secular subjects are also similarly protected. Contrary to what you stated, the ministerial exception is not a blanket rule that exempts religious groups from laws of general applicability, including labor and anti-discrimination laws. You should not have spread this common fallacy.

    1. Law (Constitution and the US) and the Church do not mix well, we should not try to apply one to the other in any case. I can be married in one church and condemned as a GAY in another. Until religion can begin to understand itself, if ever, been waiting a couple thousand years, the government does not belong in it.

  6. It tells them they don’t count, a statement, the objection was that it is a poor image of hurting kids. The response missed that this is a further example of the misunderstanding of LGBT youth, with no regard for their emotions, other than you are wrong, hide who you are, marry a woman we won’t recognize the divorce.

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