The high school removed a teacher in a same-sex marriage after a Jesuit school in the same archdiocese lost its Catholic identity for refusing to follow a similar request
A Catholic high school in the Indianapolis archdiocese has said it will comply with the archbishop’s instructions to stop employing a teacher in a same-sex marriage.
The decision comes days after a Jesuit high school in the archdiocese refused to comply with a similar instruction and had its Catholic status stripped by Archbishop Charles Thompson.
“It is Archbishop Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” Cathedral High School leaders said in a June 23 letter. “Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedral’s 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.”
“Therefore, in order to remain a Catholic Holy Cross School, Cathedral must follow the direct guidance given to us by Archbishop Thompson and separate from the teacher,” said the letter, signed by Matt Cohoat, chairman of Cathedral High School’s board of directors, and Rob Bridges, the school’s president.
There are about 1,000 students grades 9 to 12 at the high school. There are 68 schools recognized as Catholic by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
On June 20 the archdiocese announced that Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School will no longer be recognized as a Catholic school due to a disagreement about the employment of a teacher who attempted to contract a same-sex marriage.
“All those who minister in Catholic educational institutions carry out an important ministry in communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students both by word and action inside and outside the classroom,” the archdiocese said.
Every archdiocesan and Catholic private school has been instructed to clearly state that all such ministers “must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Teachers, the archdiocese said, are classified as ‘ministers’ because “it is their duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. 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 June 20 statement noted that the archdiocese “recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers.” The 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC established that religious institutions are free to require those it recognizes as ministers to uphold religious teachings as a condition of employment.
The letter from Cathedral High School leaders said the “agonizing decision” followed “22 months of earnest discussion and extensive dialogue” with the archdiocese about the high school’s Catholic identity.
The teacher concerned was not named in the letter.
“Please know that we offer our prayers and love to this teacher, our students and faculty, our archbishop, and all associated with Cathedral as we continue to educate our students in the Catholic Holy Cross tradition,” the school’s letter continued. “We ask that dialogue about this difficult situation be respectful of the dignity of every person and that you continue to pray for our Cathedral family and the wider Indianapolis community.”
The letter said that being Catholic can be “challenging” and the high school leaders voiced hope that the action does not dishearten parents, staff, and students.
The high school is affiliated with the Brothers of Holy Cross and its bylaws state that its Catholic identity is to be “at all times maintained” and that education in the faith is “a mission priority.”
“We are committed to educating our students in the tenets of the Catholic faith with an emphasis on the Holy Cross tradition,” said the school’s letter.
The letter voiced respect for the position of those at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and said there are differences in the schools’ respective situations.
“Brebeuf is sponsored by the Jesuits while Cathedral is merely affiliated with the Brothers of Holy Cross. Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours. Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf,” the school said.
School leaders at Brebeuf had said that despite the archdiocese’s decision “our identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution remains unchanged.” They said that to follow the instruction from the archdiocese “would not only violate our informed conscience on this particular matter, but also set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations and other governance matters that Brebeuf Jesuit leadership has historically had the sole right and privilege to address and decide.”
The archdiocese first made the request to Brebeuf two years before.
The Code of Canon Law recognizes the diocesan bishop’s responsibility to ensure that religion teachers are “outstanding in true doctrine, in the witness of their Christian life, and in their teaching ability.” The diocesan bishop has the right to approve religion teachers and, “if religious or moral considerations require it, the right to remove them or to demand that they be removed.”
Fr. Brian Paulson, S.J., head of the Jesuits’ Midwest Province, said he recognized the archbishop’s instruction to be “his prudential judgement of the application of canon law” regarding his responsibility for Catholic education and oversight of faith and morals in his archdiocese.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has previously addressed a similar issues at another school.
In August 2018, Shelley Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, was placed on paid administrative leave. Fitzgerald, an employee of an archdiocesan school, had attempted to contract a same-sex marriage in 2014.
The Indianapolis high school cases drew significant comment from LGBT activists and the prominent Jesuit commentator Father James Martin, editor-at-large of America Magazine, who claimed that the action targets “LGBT people” and not “straight teachers.”
Morals clauses at Catholic schools have been a target of some activist groups, including the dissenting Catholic Equally Blessed Coalition. The coalition has received several low-six figure grants from the Arcus Foundation to back LGBT activists and to counter the Catholic Church.
One coalition member, New Ways Ministry, gave Martin its Bridge Building Award in 2016.