Karine Jean-Pierre
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School Defies Catholic Church Order to Fire Teacher in Same-Sex Union

Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School

A private high school in Indianapolis will no longer be allowed to call itself Catholic because it wouldn’t comply with the local archdiocese’s directive to fire a teacher who is in a same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Charles Thompson of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis issued a decree, dated Friday, saying he acknowledged “the choice of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School to no longer retain Catholic identity according to the doctrine and pastoral practice of the Catholic Church.”

Brebeuf, knowing the order was coming, had announced Thursday in a letter to the school community that 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 teacher was not identified.

Brebeuf is run by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, a Catholic religious order that is known for involvement in education and is often more liberal than the church as a whole. The school operates independently of the archdiocese and has “always maintained control of our school’s operations and governance, including our personnel decisions,” the letter reads. The archdiocese’s “direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented,” it continues.

The break with the church will likely not affect operations a great deal, as Brebeuf receives no financial support from the archdiocese, The Indianapolis Star reports. “All of our programming will remained unchanged,” Principal Greg VanSlambrook told the paper. “There are some things we’re going to miss, but it’s not things that students and families will notice.”

Since its founding in 1962, the school has had a partnership with the archdiocese, which “had enabled VanSlambrook to participate in meetings of Catholic school principals and allowed archdiocesan priests to minister at Brebeuf, though the school does not have anyone from the archdiocese at the school currently,” the Star notes.

Brian Paulson, an official with the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, said the archdiocese has assured him that Jesuit priests will still be allowed to teach at Brebeuf and conduct services there. But the province, which has been arguing with the archdiocese over this particular teacher for two years, will appeal the archbishop’s decision, Paulson told the Star.

The teacher is a “longtime valued employee of the school,” Paulson said, and does not teach religion. But the archdiocese issued a statement saying that all teachers, guidance counselors,  and administrators in Catholic schools, “whether they teach religion or not,” are considered ministers and “in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching.”

The outcome at Brebeuf differs from that at many Catholic schools, where faculty and staff members have often been fired for marrying a person of the same sex. There have been instances of this in Indianapolis. Roncalli High School placed guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald on administrative leave last year after administrators learned she was married to a woman, and recently told another counselor, Lynn Starkey, that her contract will not be renewed for the 2019-2020 school year, also because of her same-sex marriage. Both women have filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and intend to file lawsuits, the Star reports.

New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ equality within the church, issued a statement praising Brebeuf administrators’ action. “They were faced with a choice: lose the name ‘Catholic’ or lose what it really means to be Catholic,” the organization wrote. “They chose the path of conscience, integrity, and justice.”

So did another Catholic LGBTQ group, DignityUSA. “What the leaders of Brebeuf and the Midwest Jesuit Province did is exactly what our Catholic faith teaches,” said Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke. “They honored the dignity and human rights of the teacher, as we expect they would for any member of the school community. We applaud their integrity and bravery.”


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