Gay man sues Catholic church for withdrawing job offer

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The Roman Catholic Church faces a damaging legal challenge after one of its charities refused to employ a gay man. The case is believed to be the first to use same-sex discrimination laws which came into force late last year.

The 27-year-old social worker who has brought the case says he was offered a post by the Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic group which visits and supports the crews of ships in British ports. But when the charity was told about his long-term relationship with another man, the job was withdrawn, according to this week's The Tablet magazine, the Catholic weekly.

Now the social worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, is taking the charity to an employment tribunal.

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which came into force in December, make it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. But the change has been a matter of controversy for religious groups, which maintain that their churches, schools and charities should be free to turn down non-believers and other applicants who do not conform to church teachings.

Pressure from faith groups helped to force a special exemption from the regulations, but this exemption has already been taken to judicial review in the High Court by a group of unions, including Amicus, which has a section for clergy. A decision is pending. It is understood that a second employment challenge to the Catholic church using the same legislation is in the pipeline.

The Apostleship of the Sea advertised for five full-time port chaplains last autumn at salaries of £16,000 to £25,600. The advert described seafarers as "a forgotten element in the globalisation debate" and said the charity aims to make clear the church's "care and concern for their well-being".

Although described as a chaplaincy, the job was a lay post with a strong element of social work. The alleged victim told The Tablet that he had paid a heavy price for being honest. He was refused the job on the grounds that his lifestyle was not in keeping with the teachings of the church.

"Within 24 hours I had gone from a man who had a great deal of voluntary service to offer the church and different community bodies to someone who was left out in the cold.

"It is a question of whether or not I choose to accept love into my life or whether I don't. For me there is no choice. I can't choose to live another lifestyle that rejects love. That is too high a price to pay and I am not convinced that my God has asked me to pay that price."

He was advised by Martin Reynolds from the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement. "He's a committed Roman Catholic who's been in a committed long-term relationship for many years," said Mr Reynolds.

"This is the first case we have come across. It's sad because this man seems to be eminently qualified for the job."