Protests have continued in Indianapolis amid ongoing LGBTQ-related church employment disputes, but the archbishop is doubling down on the policies that have led to multiple firings.
More than 200 Catholics rallied outside the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ chancery to protest Archbishop Charles Thompson’s policies that forced Cathedral High School to fire a gay employee and withdrew the “Catholic” designation from Brebeuf Jesuit High School for refusing to dismiss a gay teacher.
“‘We’re here to start a conversation with the archbishop, the archdiocese,’ said Katie Darragh, a rising senior at Cathedral. ‘We want to spread the message of Jesus, the word of God, to love your neighbor.’
“Brooklynn Thorpe, who will be a junior at Cathedral in the fall, said the students want to work with the archdiocese toward a resolution where teachers are judged based on their character and not on who they love. Thorpe, who identifies as bisexual, said the decision by the archdiocese does make it hard for LGBT students to feel safe and welcome.”
In attendance was Shelly Fitzgerald who lost her job at nearby Roncalli High School last year after administrators gave her the choice of resigning or divorcing her wife. Fitzgerald addressed the crowd saying, “We have to stop this so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. . .We don’t want people to leave Roncalli or Cathedral. We want to make it better.”
There have also been a number of digital protests. A petition calling on Cathedral administrators to end an employment discrimination has garnered nearly 45,000 signatures. It is available here. Another petition calling for the removal of Archbishop Thompson has more than 4,600 signatures. There also have been Facebook pages (here and here), a crowdfunding site for other terminated church workers, and use of the hashtag #FireMeToo based on another Catholic educator’s revelation she was remarried without an annulment.
Finally, outside groups have also become involved in the Cathedral High case, as well as the larger challenges faced by LGBTQ church workers. Faithful America has called on the Archdiocese to end its “cruel and arbitrary campaign” against church workers in its petition. Faith in Public Life has launched a statement for people to show their solidarity with LGBTQ teachers at Catholic schools.
Questions have been raised about officials’ claims that Cathedral would lose its nonprofit status if the “Catholic” designation were removed, as well as about public funding Cathedral receives. In their letter to the school community, Cathedral administrators said losing its affiliation with the archdiocese would imperil its 501(c)3 status. But RTV6’s reporting challenged this claim:
“Records from the secretary of state show that Cathedral High School has been incorporated as a non-profit since 1972. A distinction held by the school itself, not the Archdiocese.
“Robert Katz, a professor at Indiana University’s Robert McKinney School of Law, says if Cathedral already has its own non-profit status, then the dilemma, as described in the public letter, is short of being accurate.
“‘That’s just not correct. They are a non-profit organization, they get that status from the State of Indiana which issues an article of incorporation and that is separate and apart from its tax-exempt status, which comes from the IRS,’ Katz said.
“Katz also added that because Cathedral is already a certified non-profit, the school doesn’t necessarily need the Archdiocese to get the tax exemption known as the 501(c)(3).”
Indiana state lawmakers are questioning the public funding Cathedral receives, which totaled nearly $3.5 million since 2016 through the state’s school choice vouchers program. WTXL 27 reported that two legislators introduced legislation to bar schools that discriminate against LGBTQ employees, as well as on race and other factors, from participating in the voucher program.
Meanwhile, administrators at Brebeuf Jesuit are preparing their appeal of Thompson’s decision to rescind their “Catholic” designation. America reported:
“The canonical appeal process, which starts at the diocesan level and can then proceed to the Vatican if not resolved locally, will unfold over the next month or more, and is likely to involve several complicated issues concerning both the relationship between religious orders and diocesan bishops and also a bishop’s responsibility for oversight of Catholic education within his diocese. . .
“In an interview with America, [Midwest Jesuits provincial] Father [Brian] Paulson said, ‘I acknowledge that the archbishop definitely has the right to decide what ministries/apostolates in the archdiocese can call themselves Catholic.’ He says that where the province and Brebeuf differ with the archdiocese is on what degree of autonomy in personnel decisions is appropriate for a school operated by a religious order, in accordance with a religious order’s right, also recognized in canon law, to direct its own apostolates.”
Parents at Brebeuf largely have expressed support for the administration’s decision not to fire the gay employee as requested by the Archdiocese. Also supportive was Brett Krutzsch, former Brebeuf student who is gay and is now a religion professor. He wrote in IndyStar:
“In the mid-1990s, I was a closeted gay student at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. Now, I am an openly gay professor of religion and LGBTQ politics. I never imagined when I was a teenager that Brebeuf Jesuit would make national news for supporting a gay teacher. . .I have been thinking about what this decision likely means to Brebeuf Jesuit’s current LGBTQ students. When I walked the school’s halls two decades ago, none of my teachers were openly gay. I am sure many of today’s LGBTQ students have never told anyone they are gay, queer, or transgender. I know the pain of their silence, and the worry they carry that the people they love will reject them. But Brebeuf Jesuit has done something remarkable to help them. Those students now know their school cares about them enough to lose its relationship with the archdiocese. They know, even if they do not understand the politics, that this decision is significant for a Catholic institution.”
But Thompson defended his policies in a press conference about the employment disputes. He claimed to have “dear friends with same-sex attraction” and that the issue was “as personal to me as it is to anyone.” But he was obstinate that Catholic educators are ministers who must abide by church teaching. Thompson added, according to Crux, that though it is “not a witch hunt,’ and that accompaniment can only go “so far before some sad, hard decisions have to be made.”
Beginning with the suspension of Shelly Fitzgerald last August, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has been embroiled in LGBTQ-related employment disputes that are deeply harmful to the church workers, school communities, and the wider faithful. In a particular way, discrimination against educators negatively impacts LGBTQ students who are in a key stage of life when it comes to discerning and affirming their sexual and gender identities. But these disputes are unnecessary; Archbishop Thompson can choose not to cause such harm. The “I have a gay friend” line is a poor defense and it is hard to understand how the issues could be as personal to him as to Fitzgerald, Lynn Starkey (another lesbian woman fired from Roncalli), the fired Cathedral employee, and the threatened Brebeuf teacher. Catholics need to keep rallying, praying, and seeking dialogue that will end the easily avoidable damage being done.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2019
[Editor’s Note: Another post surveying various commentaries about the Indianapolis situation will be appearing in the next week.]