Metro Weekly

Indianapolis Archdiocese criticized after calling for firing of two gay Catholic schoolteachers

One school fires teacher at archbishop's request, while another chooses to sever ties with the archdiocese

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson – Photo: Archdiocese of Indiana, via Facebook.

The Indianapolis Catholic Archdiocese is currently in the midst of purging gay teachers in same-sex marriages from its schools.

The Archdiocese has been criticized for forcing schools to fire the individuals in question, or otherwise revoke the schools’ ability to identify as “Catholic.”

Most recently, Cathedral High School was forced to fire a married gay teacher after Archbishop Charles Thompson ordered them to do so or risk forfeiting their “Catholic identity.”

In a letter to the community, Cathedral High’s board of directors explained their decision to “separate from” the teacher.

“Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedrals continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage,” the board wrote in the letter. “If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community.

“Additionally, we would lose the privilege of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel’s tabernacle, we could no longer refer to Cathedral as a Catholic school, our diocesan priests would no longer be permitted to serve on our Board of Directors, and we would lose our affiliation with The Brothers of Holy Cross,” the letter continues. “Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as a nonprofit school.”

The decision to comply with Thompson’s demands by firing the teacher came one week after the archdiocese severed ties with Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School over its refusal to fire a similarly situated teacher in a same-sex marriage.

Last year, two teachers in same-sex marriages who taught at a third school, Roncalli High, were fired under similar circumstances, reports The New York Times.

In a statement on its website referring to the firing of one of the Roncalli employees posted last August, the archdiocese explained that the issue surrounding the dismissed teachers had nothing to do with their sexual orientation, but Catholic Church teaching that marriage is a covenant, blessed by God, between a man and a woman.

The statement said that employees of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools are expected, and obligated, to act as “ministers of the faith” who must “convey and be supportive” of the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. The archdiocese released a similar statement this week echoing those sentiments. 

By choosing to retain the openly gay married teacher, thus forfeiting its “Catholic” identity, Brebeuf will no longer be formally recognized by the archdiocese as a Catholic school, bringing the number of formally recognized high schools down to 10. In a short video message posted to Facebook, School President Father Bill Verbryke announced the archdiocese’s decision to sever its relationship with the school, but assured members of the school community that Brebeuf would continue to operate as an “independent, Catholic” school.

What makes Brebeuf unique from its fellow Catholic schools is that it is sponsored and run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order with a liberal reputation known for their emphasis on intellectual curiosity and questioning authority. Additionally, Brebeuf was never financially dependent on the archdiocese, thus allowing it a degree of freedom to defy the archbishop’s orders, whereas Roncalli and Cathedral were forced to comply when the archdiocese threatened to withdraw financial and institutional support.

Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School – Photo: Facebook.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue, a conservative firebrand who frequently appears on television to defend the Catholic Church’s stance on various issues, including its opposition to same-sex marriage, issued a statement praising Thompson’s decision to revoke Brebeuf’s Catholic status, arguing he acted “wisely and with great restraint.”

“Archbishop Thompson did not act impulsively. Two years ago, the teacher’s gay marriage became known on social media. It was therefore no longer a private matter,” Donohue said in a statement posted on the Catholic League’s website. “It is important to note that the archbishop did not demand that the teacher be fired, though he could have: the teacher flagrantly violated the terms of his contract. Thompson simply asked that his contract not be renewed.”

Donohue also criticized Fr. Brian Paulson, S.J., the head of the Jesuits’ Midwest Province, for his comments in support of allowing Brebeuf to make its own decision to retain the teacher.

“Those who defend the insubordination of the Jesuit school argue that lots of teachers in Catholic schools violate Church teachings in one way or another, yet they are not treated the way those who are in same-sex marriages are. That’s a lame defense,” Donohue wrote. “The difference is that in most cases Church officials would have to monitor the private lives of every teacher, often violating their privacy rights, or subject them to an inquisition. In the instance of the teacher in the gay marriage — and this is typical of such cases — the contractual violation was made public, thus inviting a showdown. That’s not a small difference.”

Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Ind. – Photo: Facebook.

New Ways Ministry, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ reconciliation and inclusion within the Catholic Church, praised Brebeuf for its “courageous” stance and decision to follow its conscience, even at the risk of being penalized by the archdiocese.

“In Catholic teaching, violation of conscience is one of the most serious errors one can commit, certainly more serious than any violation of sexual ethics,” Francis DeBernardo, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “They were faced with a choice: lose the name ‘Catholic’ or lose what it really means to be Catholic. They chose the path of conscience, integrity, and justice.”

DeBernardo, who notes that New Ways Ministry has catalogued over 80 similar cases of LGBTQ employment disputes in the Catholic Church, dating back to 2008, also criticized the archdiocese for its “punitive policies.”

“What the archdiocese, and many other church officials, don’t get, is that firing LGBTQ teachers and pastoral ministers is a losing and self-defeating policy,” DeBernardo said. “Instead of accomplishing the task of defending a narrow orthodoxy focused solely on sexuality and gender issues, firing LGBTQ church workers causes more and more Catholics to see that the Church’s teaching on these matters does not reflect human reality or the mercy of God.  And these leaders ignore the demands of the Church’s social justice teaching, so clear to Catholics in the pews, that every person’s human dignity must be respected.”

DeBernardo added that the move could potentially alienate Catholics, particularly those of younger generations who value tolerance for LGBTQ individuals.

“Having already faced an uproar from the Brebeuf situation, the archdiocese would have been wise to avoid a second conflagration by having another LGBTQ employee fired. They did not,” he said of the decision to fire the Cathedral High teacher. “They should have chosen the path of pastoral reconciliation with a community already hurting, instead of exacerbating the wounds and extending them to yet another school community. Grave pastoral harm has been done, and it is now up to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to reverse its decisions, and help heal the damage that they have created.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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