What is the Catholic church teaching us about love?
By Denis Moriarty, group managing director, Our Community
Australia has a vibrant civil society, bubbling with energy and fuelled by diversity. In general, our schools recognise this, drawing on that energy and diversity to help every person to reach their full potential - which is why it stands out when they deny this diversity and hold people back.
I'm proud of a number of things in my life. I've built Our Community, a company that reaches over 400,000 community groups every year, helping them with things like governance, insurance, banking, fundraising, and grants. That comes second on the list.
The first, the achievement I'm proudest of, has to be my relationship with my partner of 22 years, Brendan, and now having our 14-year old foster child living with us.
Brendan is deputy principal of a Catholic school, and an amazing teacher. As all Catholic school teachers do, he's signed a contract to uphold the teachings of the Catholic church by not being - in public at least - a practising homosexual (or, indeed, an unmarried heterosexual with a live-in partner).
Last week he made the brave and sad decision to tell his principal he was resigning, effective from the end of this year. Enough is enough - he can no longer live a lie.
I'm sad about this, because Brendan is a great teacher and the school is a wonderful community, and both are going to lose a lot.
I remember the day I came out to my mum. I'd been worrying about it for months: will I, won't I. A good Christian Brothers education had driven me out of the church at the age of 13, and by then I was 40, but you don't shed ingrained Catholic guilt easily.
Our Community's Denis Moriarty
I warmed up by telling my sister, who was thrilled. But Mum was a card-carrying Catholic, and I was worried about how she'd react. I sat her down and said, "Mum, I have something very important to tell you. I've fallen in love." Deep breath. "But there is a complication. He's a man."
My mother looked at me and said, "Do you love him?"
"Do you really love him?"
"Well, that's the most important thing in life. "
I'm sure she hoped it was just a phase, and her acceptance probably didn't stop her from saying the rosary over me for the next ten years, but the lesson for me was that if the most ardent and faithful of Catholics could accept her gay son and treat his partner with respect and love, who else needed to butt in?
And she did love Brendan. It was Brendan, not me, who received the panicked phone calls late at night when her beloved beagle Seamus ran out into the garden with her false teeth. It was Brendan who, when she had dementia, dashed over when she accused the meals-on-wheels lady of stealing her tawdry but oh-so-precious Princess Diana bag (he found it in the oven).
The family wasn't a problem. Most other people weren't either, as individuals. We have lots of amazing friends, including Catholic priests and Mercy nuns. So why, then, after living a lie for 22 years, break out now?
Pretending takes its toll. You really can't call your work colleagues your friends if you can't have them around for dinner. Brendan went to the school, he taught, he led, and he stayed out of conversations about what he'd done on the weekend.
The pressure had been building, too. In the current Catholic climate, gender and sexuality issues are like Chernobyl. It would take only one gay-bashing culture-warrior parent, priest or principal who didn't want their child taught by a homosexual, and up it would all go. It's not that Brendan was afraid of being outed, but that - and this is very much the point - he loved his job and he loved his school community.
"Pretending takes its toll.
Eventually, the charades and the heartbreak have to stop."
The breaking point came last week. It's always the children who get through your guard. Brendan set his class to drawing pictures of their family dinners, and talk turned to mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. When he took the chalk he had to describe me as his friend, not his partner of 22 years.
Eventually, the charades and the heartbreak have to stop.
In 2020, Brendan will start over, and he won't need to conceal secrets from a hierarchy that is so out of touch with what really makes up vibrant communities. He's in a loving relationship, and our son John is amazing. These are things to celebrate, not to hide.
Still, this is not the way things should be. I don't know what is the educated equivalent of recovering someone's false teeth from the dog, but whatever it is, Brendan has done it, and led schools and loved educating children for years and years. And now he won't. Discrimination is straightforwardly bad, and no schools should be subsidised to practice it.
May our communities, community groups and schools relish all the people who contribute to a better world and a better community. Here's a toast to every brilliant educator.
Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au
What Our Community thinks about other big issues facing the community
Our Community contributes a monthly column that's published in 160 rural and regional titles across Australia, from daily newspapers such as the Bendigo Advertiser and the Illwawarra Mercury, to weekly publications such as the Goulburn Post, the Cootamundra Herald and the Jimboomba Times.
We're proud to take a stand on progressive issues, which we're able to do as a social enterprise that's not tied to the purse strings of any government or corporate organisation.
Here's a taste of some other recent commentaries as they've appeared in some of those publications, as well as our own.