Jesuits defy order from Indianapolis archbishop to fire a veteran teacher in same-sex marriage

The archdiocese said it would no longer recognize Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as a Catholic institution because it refused to fire the teacher.
Image: cross on the church roof
Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis is defying a demand by the local archbishop that they fire a veteran teacher who is gay. Sean824 / Getty Images

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By Corky Siemaszko

A Jesuit-run prep school in Indianapolis is defying a demand by the local archbishop that it fire a veteran teacher who is in a same-sex marriage, prompting the archdiocese to revoke recognition for the school as a Catholic institution.

In a letter to parents, the leaders of the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School said Archbishop Charles Thompson’s “direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented.”

“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,” school officials said.

The letter was signed by the school president, the Rev. William Verbryke, and the heads of the board of trustees, W. Patrick Bruen and Daniel M. Lechleiter.

They wrote that for 57 years, school leaders have decided who gets hired.

“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,” they said in the letter.

The school leaders reassured parents that their stand “will not change the mission or operations of Brebeuf Jesuit” and insisted that “our identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution remains unchanged.”

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“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,” they wrote.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes gay marriage.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis said in a statement that a Catholic school is required to "clearly state in its contracts and ministerial job descriptions that all ministers must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church."

It said it considers teachers ministers "whether they teach religion or not."

"Regrettably, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School has freely chosen not to enter into such agreements that protect the important ministry of communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students," the statement said. "Therefore, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School will no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis."

The battle over the gay teacher has been going on for two years.

Brian Paulson, who leads the Society of Jesus Midwest Province, which represents Jesuits in the Midwest, called the archdiocese’s move “disappointing.”

“In the summer of 2017, Brebeuf Jesuit became aware that one of its teachers entered into a civil marriage with a person of the same sex,” Paulson said in a statement. “This fact became publicly known via social media.”

When the archdiocese asked that the teacher’s contract not be renewed, Paulson said the school refused.

“The teacher in question does not teach religion and is a longtime valued employee of the school,” Paulson wrote.

“I recognize this request by Archbishop Charles Thompson to be his prudential judgment of the application of canon law recognizing his responsibility for oversight of faith and morals, as well as Catholic education in his archdiocese. I disagree with the necessity and prudence of this decision.”

Paulson said they will appeal the archdiocese's decision.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who is one of the leading advocates for LGBT Catholics, called the move by Brebeuf's leadership "courageous."

One of the top private schools in the city, Brebeuf Jesuit serves about 800 students in grades 9-12.