August 13, 2022

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis said it fired a teacher in a same-sex marriage on Sunday to protect its “Catholic identity” after it received an order to do so from the archbishop. The move came one week after the archdiocese cut ties with another school in Indianapolis that had refused a similar command.

The school that fired its teacher, Cathedral High School, was the third Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to receive such an order in the last year, a lawyer for the teacher said. The school said in a letter to the community that it fired the teacher, whom it did not name, after “direct guidance” from Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

The school said it had been engaged in almost two years of “earnest discussion and extensive dialogue” with the archdiocese about the school’s “continued Catholic identity.” The teacher’s lawyer, Kathleen A. DeLaney, said his employment contract was renewed at least twice during that time.

“It is Archbishop Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” the school said in its 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.”

Cathedral High School announced its decision just days after another high school in Indianapolis, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, defied the archbishop and refused to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage.

Last year, two teachers at another school in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Roncalli High School, lost their jobs because they were in same-sex marriages, said DeLaney, who also represents one of those teachers.

There are 11 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, according to its website. Brebeuf is within the geographic territory of the archdiocese but, unlike other schools, is not financially dependent on it. Brebeuf is sponsored and run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order with a liberal reputation whose members focus on education and intellectual pursuits.

“This is a pattern now where the archbishop is targeting members of the LGBT community who are in valid same-sex marriages,” DeLaney said. She declined to name the teacher who was fired from Cathedral High School.

A statement from the archdiocese said its approach to teachers in same-sex marriages was “not about sexual orientation,” but rather its belief that Catholic school employees “are ministers of the faith” who must “abide by all Church teachings, including the nature of marriage.”

“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 statement said.

Over the years, the archdiocese has “walked with individuals and schools” on other issues that went against the teachings of the church, it said.

When an individual has not “chosen this accompaniment,” the archdiocese said, “it is very difficult to part ways, but we readily honor the person’s dignity and decision.”

“There are many church doctrines and many teachers, trustees and administrators who don’t comply with all of them,” DeLaney said. “So far, they are only enforcing church doctrine against members of the LGBT community and their marital status and that is blatantly discrimination, in my opinion.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at America Magazine, said the “categories of people you would need to fire” would amount to “a huge list,” including faculty members who used birth control, skipped Sunday Mass or did not give to the poor.

“Why are those virtues any less important than the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage?” Martin said. “It is completely discriminatory.”

Thompson issued a decree last week that cut ties between the archdiocese and Brebeuf, which may be insulated from that blow because it is run by the Jesuits. DeLaney said her client was fired shortly after Cathedral High School learned that he filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this month. She said his contract had been renewed for the upcoming academic year just weeks earlier.

Cathedral High School said Sunday that the consequences of a rupture with the archdiocese would have been severe, and might have included the loss of the school’s 501(c)(3) status, which would have rendered it unable to operate as a nonprofit.

Those are dangers Cathedral said Brebeuf had not faced. “Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours,” Cathedral’s letter said. “Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf.”

Martin said he worried about the effect Cathedral’s decision might have on gay or transgender students at the school. For that reason, he said he was glad Brebeuf had stood its ground.

“Brebeuf’s decision to retain their employee was probably the most Catholic thing the school could do,” he said. “It is standing with someone who is on the margins, and that’s what being Catholic is all about.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.