A Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has fired an LGBTQ employee because the archbishop threatened that it would lose its status as a Catholic institution recognized by the archdiocese. This decision was announced two days after a neighboring Catholic school was stripped of its formal affiliation with the archdiocese for standing by an LGBTQ employee.
Cathedral High School announced on Sunday that it had fired a gay teacher because he was in a same-gender marriage. A letter from the school’s president, Rob Bridges, and the chair of the school’s board, Matt Cohoat, explained the action, which they described the firing as an “agonizing decision” to “separate from the teacher” after nearly two years of negotiation with the archdiocese.
The officials explained that, unlike Brebeuf Jesuit High School which recently refused the archdiocese’s request to fire a gay employee, Cathedral is not owned by, but merely affiliated with, the Brothers of the Holy Cross. It therefore has much closer ties to the archdiocese. According to Bridges and Cohoat, losing the designation as “Catholic” by the decree of Archbishop Charles Thompson would have drastic consequences including losing the ability to celebrate sacraments on campus, reserve the Eucharist in the school’s chapel, “refer to Cathedral as a Catholic school,” have diocesan priests on the board, maintain an affiliation with the Brothers, and lose its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Brebeuf administrators were told the archdiocese would not interfere with the ability to celebrate the sacraments on campus and could continue to have Jesuit priests involved with school operations, even though the school could not identify as “Catholic.”
Bridges and Cohoat concluded their letter by appealing to the school community, especially the school’s young people, not to let the decision “dishearten you.” They offered “prayers and love” to the teacher, as well as to the archbishop.
But members of the Cathedral community are making it known they are disheartened by the anti-gay discrimination. Nearly 3,800 people have signed a petition, available here, which states, in part:
“The decision to follow this demand from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is neither a Catholic nor a Christian one, but instead is an act of unjust discrimination and exclusion, not in keeping with the Catholic call to acceptance, defined by respect, compassion, and sensitivity. . .To embrace a policy which leads to the termination of competent, hardworking, and dedicated faculty and staff is a failure on the part of both the Leadership of Cathedral High School and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to respect the God-given dignity and a violation of the rights of its employees and workers.”
Three church workers in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related employments, as well as one longtime volunteer being dismissed. This trend began with Shelly Fitzgerald’s termination from Roncalli High School after administrators presented her with the options of resigning or divorcing her wife. Lynn Starkey, another staff member at Roncalli, did not have her contract renewed after Roncalli officials inquired about her same-gender marriage. Both women have filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Fitzgerald’s father, Pat, was also barred from volunteering on the school’s senior retreats which he had done for 26 years, likely because he protested the school’s treatment of his daughter.
Brebeuf Jesuit’s decision not to fire a married gay employee despite requests to do so from the archdiocese was a welcome sign of resistance in the struggle for church worker justice. But the firing at Cathedral exposes two truths: schools owned by religious orders have a freedom most Catholic schools do not and a bishop’s abuse of power to instill fear is wildly corrosive.
In Bridges and Cohoat’s letter defending their choice to fire a gay employee, they list a number of potential consequences if they had chosen not to do so (see paragraph three, above). Their letter strives to defend the indefensible and heal wounds they have chosen to cause. While Bridges and Cohoat asked the Cathedral community, especially its students, not to be disheartened by the firing, those words will have no effect. What becomes clear in this dissonant appeal is that fear is the driving force behind their actions. Archbishop Thompson’s threats clearly worked.
Catholic school administrators in Indianapolis need to pause in this moment before more LGBTQ church workers and educational communities are wounded. They need to weigh what exactly Catholic identity means for their school. Does it matter if the Eucharist is reserved in the school chapel if administrators in the office next door actively harm members of the Body of Christ? How does having diocesan priests and religious involved benefit the school if their presence comes at the cost of discrimination? What lessons of Christian discipleship is the school teaching if they model actions motivated by fear and if they practice injustice.
The situation in Indianapolis is tragic. Archbishop Thompson’s zeal to discriminate has forced Catholic school officials into making choices they should never have to. But officials have the power to end the harm, if only they choose to do so.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 25, 2019
Indianapolis Star, “Cathedral High terminates gay teacher to stay in Indianapolis Archdiocese“