A Catholic high school in Indiana has announced it will “separate” with a teacher who is gay, in what administrators called an “agonizing decision."
The move came after 22 months of “earnest and extensive dialogue” between Cathedral High School and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which has threatened to strip away Catholic identity — and funding — from several schools in the area that employ people who are not heterosexual.
Last week, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School was cut off by the archdiocese after refusing to fire a teacher who is married to someone of the same sex.
Administrators at Cathedral were unwilling to take that risk.
The school’s president, Rob Bridges, and the chairman of its board, Matt Cohoat, announced the decision in an open letter to the “Cathedral Family.”
Cathedral was founded in 1918. It was initially owned by the archdiocese and managed by the Brothers of Holy Cross. It was later turned over to the Brothers of Holy Cross, then incorporated in 1972 as a nonprofit school. Cathedral’s affiliation with the archdiocese and the Brothers of Holy Cross requires its contracted staff to follow Catholic doctrine, which forbids Catholics from entering into same-sex civil marriages.
“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,” Bridges and Cohoat wrote in their letter.
The announcement outlined all that was at stake if the archdiocese followed through on its threat. Cathedral would not be able to offer Communion or refer to itself as a Catholic school, the letter said. It would also lose its affiliation with the Brothers of Holy Cross, diocesan priests would not be permitted to serve on Cathedral’s board, and the school would lose its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Grace Trahan-Rodecap, director of marketing at Cathedral, told the Indianapolis Star that the school does not have its own nonprofit status, because it is under the purview of the archdiocese.
“We’re sad,” Trahan-Rodecap told the Star. “Everybody is really sad that the archdiocese has given us this directive. We’re trying to find a way to invoke positive change."
In a statement, the archdiocese said that all contracted school employees, including teachers who do not teach religion, are considered “ministers” of all Catholic teachings. The archdiocese said the problem is not about “sexual orientation” but about the fact that the teacher in question is married to someone of the same sex.
“It is about our expectation that all personnel inside a Catholic school — who are ministers of the faith — abide by all Church teachings, including the nature of marriage,” the statement said. “If and when a minister of the faith is publicly not doing so, the Church calls us to help the individual strive to live a life in accordance with Catholic teaching.”
The archdiocese has been in discussion with officials at Brebeuf and Cathedral for nearly two years, advising both schools to discontinue contracts with employees who were married to people of the same sex.
When confronted with the same decision as Cathedral last week, Brebeuf administrators rebuffed Archbishop Charles Thompson, writing in an open letter to the community that it had “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."
Though the archdiocese has already taken action to strip the independently operated Brebeuf of its Catholic identity, leaders with the Midwest Province of Jesuits said the decision will be appealed through a church process that could go as high as the Vatican “if necessary.”
Brebeuf has a different funding structure than Cathedral and is not facing the same economic threats that Cathedral would have had it refused to heed the archdiocese directive. Jesuit priests are still able to serve at Brebeuf and celebrate Mass on campus, the Rev. Brian G. Paulson, who heads the Midwest Province, said in a statement.
In their letter, Bridges and Cohoat said they “respect the position of our brothers and sisters at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as they also navigate this painful time.”
Their letter also addressed the conflict surrounding the decision:
“In today’s climate we know that being Catholic can be challenging and we hope that this action does not dishearten you, and, most especially, dishearten Cathedral’s young people. We know that some individuals do not agree with every teaching of the Catholic Church and so their conscience struggles between the teaching and what they believe is right. We want you to know that we respect an individual’s conflict between teaching and their conscience. We will continue to educate and root our students in the fullness of the Catholic faith with an emphasis on the Holy Cross tradition.”
Letter from Cathedral High School leaders
The tension within the Catholic community in Indianapolis comes a year after another Indianapolis-area Catholic school, Roncalli High School, placed guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald on administrative leave and banned her from campus after the school learned she had married a woman in 2014.
Fitzgerald said she was told to dissolve her marriage or lose her job, the Star reported. Thompson wrote an open letter emphasizing his belief that marriage was meant to be a union between men and women, according to Catholic doctrine.
Students rallied in Fitzgerald’s support, and Fitzgerald appeared on the “Ellen” show.
Fitzgerald has also filed two discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.