A high school that lost its Catholic designation for refusing to terminate a gay employee at the archbishop’s request has filed a legal appeal to the Vatican to reverse the archdiocese’s decision. Meanwhile, the archbishop has barred the school from holding school-wide Masses.
Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, Indianapolis, has asked the Vatican to reconsider Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson’s decree which removed the school’s Catholic designation in June because school officials refused to fire Layton Payne-Elliott over his same-gender marriage.
According to a letter from school president Fr. William Verbryke, S.J., the Jesuits’ USA Midwest Province first formally appealed to the archbishop, who refused to overturn his decree. The Province has now asked the Congregation for Catholic Education to review Thompson’s decree and, in the interim, suspend its effects. Verbryke wrote:
“In the end, we hope that the decree is overruled; if that does not occur, we have asked for additional clarity as to the legitimate effects of the Archbishop’s decree on the sacramental life of Brebeuf Jesuit. We do not have a timeline for how long the appeal process will take, but please be assured that we are making every effort to resolve our disagreement with the Archbishop and resume the strong relationship we have enjoyed with the Archdiocese for the past 57 years.”
A central issue in the appeal is the celebration of Mass on campus. Thompson has barred Brebeuf Jesuit from hosting school-wide liturgies, including a Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the upcoming academic year. Two priests, Verbryke and Fr. Chris Johnson, S.J., will be allowed to celebrate daily Mass each morning in the school’s chapel. The school’s president commented in his letter:
“We are disappointed and saddened by the Archbishop’s decision; however, our appeal includes our request for the ability to have school Masses on campus once again. We earnestly hope to be able to celebrate the Eucharist as an entire school community again in the near future. However, we must, and do, acknowledge the authority of the Archbishop with respect to the celebration of Mass within the Archdiocese. In lieu of celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit as a traditional opening-of-the-school-year Mass on Thursday, August 15, our Brebeuf Jesuit community will call upon the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our school community for this academic year by holding a school-wide prayer service during the school day.”
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has continued to defend its actions against Brebeuf Jesuit, framing Thompson’s allowance of daily Mass as an action of “pastoral concern and charity,” reported America. Spokesperson Greg Otolski still placed the blame for this dispute on Brebeuf Jesuit officials who, in Otolski’s words, were “choosing to no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution” because they refused to fire Payne-Elliott.
Archbishop Thompson has made the further claim the he “firmly believe[s] that we’re in line with Pope Francis” in how he has approached LGBTQ issues. In an interview with the archdiocesan paper, The Criterion, he said people must read pope’s record in view of “the totality of the message, not just pick and choose what fits their agenda.” Thompson spoke extensively about the need for dialogue in a polarized society and to go beyond differences.
In related Indianapolis news, Faithful America has launched a petition asking the Archdiocese to reconsider its “cruel and arbitrary campaign” against LGTQ church workers, reinstate ties with Brebeuf Jesuit, and allow other Catholic schools to rehire terminated employees. To add your name, click here.
The executive director of DignityUSA, Marianne Duddy-Burke, wrote a letter to Thompson regarding the situation at Roncalli High School. A former student, Dominic Conover, published a piece last week detailing school administrator’s alleged intimidation of him after Conover spoke out publicly against the school’s termination of former guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald over her same-gender marriage. Duddy-Burke wrote:
“In my more than 36 years of ministry with and advocacy for LGBTQI Catholics, little has saddened and angered me to the extent that this essay did. . .The behavior of the school officials described in this essay is shameful. The pressure and isolation which Dominic experienced simply for standing up for his convictions belies the goal of building a united, supportive Body of Christ. It is inexcusable for Superintendent Fleming and Principal Weisenbach to have threatened Dominic with withholding of his diploma, effectively threatening his college career and undermining what remained of his senior year. This is a reprehensible abuse of power, and totally inconsistent with what Catholic educators should be modeling. I strongly believe that both individuals, along with Roncalli President Hollowell, should be fired immediately.”
Finally, members of Shelly’s Voice, a network which formed after Fitzgerald’s termination, have rallied in support of LGBTQ students this week outside Roncalli High School and Cathedral High School, which fired Payne-Elliott’s husband this summer, under pressure from the archdiocese.
Brebeuf Jesuit’s chances in the Vatican appeal are unclear. The Congregation for Catholic Education is quite conservative. It was this congregation that released the negative document about transgender and intersex people, Male and Female He Created Them earlier this year. However, two LGBTQ-positive U.S. prelates, Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark, will be involved in the appeal, according to America. A further complicating factor is that under Pope Francis’ new constitution for the Curia, expected to be released this fall, this congregation is slated to be merged with the Pontifical Council for Culture, making it unknown as to what it’s future composition will be.
Given the Vatican’s pace, what is almost certain is that the appeal will not be resolved soon. The Brebeuf Jesuit community likely will be denied school-wide Masses for some time. Denying the sacraments because school officials refuse to discriminate against an LGBTQ employee doubly harms people’s faith and drives them from the church, especially youth.
The situation in Indianapolis is untenable. Catholic institutions regularly employ LGBTQ people, many of whom are in, or will enter, civil marriages. LGBTQ people have much to offer the church’s work in education, healthcare, pastoral ministry, and social services. Is Archbishop Thompson going to pursue a witch hunt against every married LGBTQ employee and punish each institution that refuses to discriminate? Is he so ready to weaponize the sacraments? Such a path could destroy the local church. Before the next academic year begins, the archbishop needs to stop this crusade and instead reconcile with the many people harmed by his decisions.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 8, 2019