A Jesuit high school in Indiana can no longer call itself “Catholic” because it employs a teacher engaged in a same-sex marriage, the Archbishop of Indianapolis says.
Archbishop Charles Thompson’s decree, dated June 21, means that Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis will no longer be recognized or identified as a Catholic institution within the archdiocese.
Thompson said the church considers Catholic school teachers to be “ministers” of the faith.
“To effectively bear witness to Christ, whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching,” the Archdiocese of Indiana said in a statement on Thursday.
The Archdiocese said they tried but failed to reach an agreement with the Jesuit school.
The conflict pits the Jesuits, an order of priests known for educating generations of Catholics, against the church’s powerful hierarchy. It’s also the latest battle between Catholic schools who want to employ gay and lesbian teachers against bishops who insist that all employees toe the line on Catholic doctrine.
What makes this conflict unusual is that Jesuits and their schools enjoy a degree of independence from the church hierarchy. In contrast to other Catholic schools forced to fire gay teachers, the Jesuits rejected Thompson’s request to remove the teacher.
“It is rare for a Catholic institution not only to side with its LGBT faculty members, but also do so in the face of such fierce opposition from a bishop,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”
“In this case, it is also rare that a bishop would go so far as to publicly remove the designation ‘Catholic’ from the school,” continued Martin, who is based in New York and not affiliated with the school.
The Catholic catechism teaches that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” but also that LGBT people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
In a statement, leaders from Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School said it has “respectfully declined the Archdiocese’s insistence and directive that we dismiss a highly capable and qualified teacher due to the teacher being a spouse within a civilly recognized same-sex marriage.”
The Rev. Brian Paulson, who heads the Midwest Province of Jesuits, said that the teacher does not teach religion and “is a longtime valued employee of the school.” The teacher is not named in any of the statements.
“To our knowledge, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented,” said the letter from the school’s president, the Rev. William Verbryke, and two members of the board of trustees.
“This is a unique action among the more than 80 Jesuit secondary/pre-secondary schools which operate in dioceses throughout North America.”
In 2014 the Archdiocese of Cincinnati ordered teachers at the city’s Catholic schools to sign detailed morality clauses if they wanted to stay on the job. The revised contracts forbid teachers from – among other things – exhibiting a gay “lifestyle.”
Paulson said the Jesuits will appeal this new decision, first through Archbishop Thompson, and then, if necessary, at the Vatican.
Leaders of Brebeuf, founded in 1962 as an independent Catholic school, said they have always had control over their personnel decisions.
“Whereas the Archdiocese of Indianapolis may choose to no longer attend or participate in the school’s Masses and formal functions, Brebeuf Jesuit is, and will always be, a Catholic Jesuit school,” the school’s leaders said.
In a tweet on Thursday, the school used the hashtag #BeBrave to announce its decision.
“Please be assured, the Archdiocese’s decision will not change the mission or operations of Brebeuf Jesuit.”