Archbishop Charles Thompson told Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School to fire a gay teacher. (Michael Conroy/AP)

A school that refused to fire a gay teacher as ordered by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis says it has been told by church officials that it will no longer be recognized as Catholic. But school leaders pledged to keep the institution’s religious identification.

The archdiocese announced in a statement that it would no longer recognize Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, an independently operated school, because it was not insisting that all employees “be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church,” the Catholic News Agency reported. The church is against homosexual activity.

A statement by the Rev. Brian G. Paulson, who heads the Midwest Province of Jesuits, said the archdiocese told Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School two years ago not to renew the contract of a teacher whose “marital status does not conform to church doctrine.” He also said the decision, to be formalized in a church decree, would be appealed through a church process and would go as high as the Vatican “if necessary.”

Leaders of Brebeuf Jesuit posted an open letter to their community on the Indianapolis school’s website saying the archdiocese had directly inserted itself into a school governance matter in an “unprecedented” way and that it would not do what Archbishop Charles Thompson had demanded. The letter said in part:

Specifically, Brebeuf Jesuit 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 unidentified teacher was said by Paulson to be “a valued employee” who does not teach religion. He wrote that Brebeuf Jesuit became aware through social media “that one of its teachers entered into a civil marriage with a person of the same sex.”

According to the Associated Press, a school operated by the archdiocese, Indianapolis Roncalli High School, has fired or suspended two guidance counselors in the past year because they are in same-sex marriages.

Brebeuf Jesuit’s leaders who signed the open letter are the Rev. William Verbryke, the school president; W. Patrick Bruen, chair of the school’s Board of Trustees; and Daniel M. Lechleiter, chair-elect of the trustees board. They promised in the letter that the school’s mission would not change as a result of this conflict with the archdiocese.

We understand that this news will likely spur a host of emotions, questions and even confusion in the days ahead. Please be assured, the Archdiocese’s decision will not change the mission or operations of Brebeuf Jesuit.

On Friday, the school’s name was not on the archdiocese’s list of Catholic schools in its region.

The church says there are 68 Catholic schools — 57 elementary schools and 11 high schools — in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, according to its website. Collectively, they enrolled some 23,200 students during the 2018-2019 school year.

Most of those schools are operated by a school division within the archdiocese, which is headed by Superintendent Gina Kuntz Fleming, who did not return phone calls about Brebeuf Jesuit. While Brebeuf Jesuit is a Catholic school within the archdiocese, it is independently operated. The school has nearly 800 students in grades nine through 12.

The school leaders’ letter says that, while the archdiocese “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.” It also says church leaders assured them that “Jesuit priests may continue to serve at Brebeuf Jesuit and will retain their ability to celebrate the sacraments of the Catholic Church.”

Here’s the text of the school’s announcement, from its website:

Statement to the Brebeuf Jesuit Community

Below is a message that was sent to the Brebeuf Jesuit Community on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Dear Brebeuf Jesuit Community,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, we write to share news regarding Brebeuf Jesuit’s relationship with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. We want to inform you, our faithful members of the Brebeuf Jesuit community, of this news first and invite you to pray with us for a peaceful and just outcome.

Brebeuf Jesuit was founded in 1962 as an independent Catholic Jesuit school. While we’ve enjoyed a collaborative partnership with the Archdiocese for nearly 57 years, we have always maintained control of our school’s operations and governance, including our personnel decisions. It is our understanding that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, at the direction of Archbishop Charles Thompson, will no longer formally recognize Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic school in the Archdiocese. We understand that a formal decree announcing the Archdiocese’s decision will be published in The Criterion on or around Friday, June 21.

A Sincere Disagreement

The decree follows a sincere and significant disagreement between the Archdiocese, on the one hand, and Brebeuf Jesuit and the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, on the other, regarding whether the Archdiocese or our school’s leaders should make final governance decisions related to internal administrative matters at Brebeuf Jesuit and, in particular, the employment status of our faculty and staff. Specifically, Brebeuf Jesuit 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.

To our knowledge, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented; this is a unique action among the more than 80 Jesuit secondary/pre-secondary schools which operate in dioceses throughout North America, along with the countless Catholic schools operated by other religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, Dominicans, and Xaverian Brothers.

After long and prayerful consideration, we determined that following the Archdiocese’s directive 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.

What’s more, we also recognize the harm that adhering to this mandate would cause our highly capable and qualified teachers and staff. As an institution with a mission to develop men and women for others, our intent has been to do the right thing by the people we employ while preserving our authority as an independent, Catholic Jesuit school.

Brebeuf Jesuit’s Continued Catholic Identity

Since our founding, Brebeuf Jesuit’s mission as a Catholic institution has been derived from the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—who represent the largest order of men in the Catholic Church. This position has been affirmed in our close consultation with both the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus and Brebeuf Jesuit’s canon lawyer. While we appreciate our long-standing partnership with the Archdiocese, which praised Brebeuf Jesuit’s Catholic mission in a recent evaluation, we are disheartened that the Archbishop has chosen to end our formal relationship. Nevertheless, our identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution remains unchanged.

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 Archdiocese has assured us that Jesuit priests may continue to serve at Brebeuf Jesuit and will retain their ability to celebrate the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

What Happens Next

As we look to the school year ahead, Brebeuf Jesuit’s Board of Trustees and school leadership will remain focused on providing an exceptional education within the Jesuit tradition. We are prayerfully discerning how best to proceed with the process of appealing the Archdiocese’s directive.

We understand that this news will likely spur a host of emotions, questions and even confusion in the days ahead. Please be assured, the Archdiocese’s decision will not change the mission or operations of Brebeuf Jesuit. With more than 8,000 graduates over nearly six decades, the mission of Brebeuf Jesuit is being lived around the world. We will continue to offer a rigorous academic program that follows more than 450 years of Jesuit tradition and is committed to expansive and critical thinking, competent and compassionate ethical concern, creative and artistic expression, and excellence grounded in faith and the dignity of the human person.

We urge members of the Brebeuf Jesuit community to be respectful of all parties involved, and we ask that you join us in keeping our students, faculty, staff and the entire Catholic community of greater Indianapolis in your thoughts and prayers.

We will keep you apprised of any new developments, and we invite you to contact us at president@brebeuf.org with questions, concerns and feedback.

God’s blessings,

Fr. William Verbryke, S.J. – President

W. Patrick Bruen ’79 – Board of Trustees, Chair

Daniel M. Lechleiter ’97 – Board of Trustees, Chair-elect