A newly formed right-wing group is doing its best to drum up outrage over an openly gay official at Catholic Relief Services.
Since mid-April, an organization calling itself the Lepanto Institute has been speaking out against Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' vice president for overseas finance. Estridge was married in Maryland two years ago to a man and has made comments in favor of marriage equality on Facebook.
“It is increasingly difficult to take CRS seriously as a Catholic organization,” Lepanto Institute president Michael Hichborn said in a press release. Hichborn may be the organization's only member; no other names are listed on the institute's website, and posts to the organization's Facebook page are written in the first person.
Tom Price, the relief agency's senior manager for communications, confirmed that Estridge is an employee there and has been for 16 years. “At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” he told Catholic News Agency April 20. Later in the week, he said nothing had changed and that the group would make no further comment. Price also confirmed that Catholic Relief Services does not have a policy regarding the employment of openly LGBT people or on nondiscrimination.
With the spread of marriage equality, many people who have entered into same-sex marriages has seen their employment at religious organizations jeopardized. They have faced termination or have had job offers rescinded, usually by churches or religiously affiliated schools.
Since its founding last November, the Lepanto Institute has dedicated itself almost exclusively to attacking Catholic Relief Services. In other press releases, Hichborn criticized the group for participating in a program that promoted condom usage in Africa and for having a role in a sex education program that mentions masturbation.
The Lepanto Facebook page recently posted an image headlined "Same-Sex 'Marriage'" with a picture of a plunger in a toilet and the caption "What it REALLY is!"