An Archbishop told a Jesuit school to fire a gay teacher. They said no

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 Archbishop Charles Thompson’s request to remove the teacher.

Archbishop 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.

“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 of Indianapolis recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers.”

The Archdiocese said they tried but failed to reach an agreement with the Jesuit school.

In a statement, three trustees 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,” the trustees said. “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 trustees said.

In a tweet on Thursday, the school used the hashtag #BeBrave to announce its decision.

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

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