A Catholic high school which has so far fired two LGBTQ church workers is now threatening students who criticize the school with punishment, including expulsion. But local Catholics have continued to push back by showing their support for LGBTQ students and church workers.
Roncalli High School, Indianapolis, released a new policy on harassment this month, reported WTHR 13, that imposes limits on community members’ ability to criticize the school and sets an expectation they will follow “Catholic Christian principles.” The policy was published in the newsletter of the school, which has terminated two lesbian guidance counselors, Shelly Fitzgerald and Lynn Starkey, in the past year because they were in same-gender marriages. The policy reads, in part:
“The good name, reputation and personal safety of each student, faculty, staff member and adult volunteer is vitally important. In order to protect students, employees, volunteers and the school, each student is expected to treat the good name and reputation of other students, school employees, volunteers and the school with dignity and respect and not engage in any activity or conduct, either on campus or off campus, that is in opposition to this guideline and/or inconsistent with the Catholic Christian principles of the school, as determined by the school in its discretion. . .
“Any individual found to have made or participated with others in making such remarks or actions will be subject to disciplinary action by the school, up to and including expulsion.”
The policy applies to speech and actions outside of school hours and across a range of media platforms. Dominic Conover, a recent Roncalli graduate who is gay and has publicly criticized the school over the firings, said the policy is aimed at intimidating students. Conover shared earlier this month how school administrators allegedly threatened his ability to graduate if he kept speaking out. He said of this latest development:
“‘I think it was a warning to the students that if you follow the footsteps of Dominic and start speaking out about the injustice you’re experiencing, it’s written right there, probable expulsion. . .If they start listening to our voices and listening to our pain, I think they’re going to realize that it’s time to change.'”
Roncalli officials has denied any intimidation of Conover, while the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has defended the new policy. In a statement, it said:
“‘The Archdiocese of Indianapolis welcomes all students who desire quality Catholic education and formation in preparation for college, careers and heaven. . .All schools have the right to set standards for student conduct and consequences for misconduct. The U.S. Constitution protects the rights of private religious schools to establish rules for its students, faculty and staff that support the schools’ religious mission.'”
But as classes resume, the local community has been making its support for LGBTQ students and staff at Catholic schools visible in defiance of the new policy . WFYI reported that Shelly’s Voice, which formed after Fitzgerald’s termination, rallied its supporters outside Roncalli when students returned. They also rallied outside Cathedral High School, which fired a gay teacher, Joshua Payne-Elliott, earlier this summer because of his same-gender marriage. Seniors at that school also decorated the entrance with rainbow streamers, and a group called Cathedral Alliance has a t-shirt fundraiser going to support Payne-Elliott. Conover, who chairs Shelly’s Voice, explained to WTHR 13 of the rallies:
“‘We just thought it would be great to show [LGBTQ students] that we support them, especially after the news that came out this summer with Cathedral and Brebeuf and then Roncalli back in August. . .They need confidence in themselves and we want to make sure that they know that there is a community out there – a Catholic community out there – that loves them for who they are.'”
Roncalli High School’s new policy imposes a sort of “morality clause” on the school community, further intensifying an already vexing situation in Indianapolis. Consider the damage done by Archbishop Charles Thompson and his accomplices in just one year:
- Three LGBTQ church workers have lost their jobs due to discrimination, all of whom have since filed lawsuits;
- Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School has lost its Catholic designation per Archbishop Charles Thompson, who also banned the school from hosting school wide liturgies;
- A report that a gay former student was forced to be silent by administrator, with current students at Roncalli threatened if they live out church teaching by criticizing unjust discrimination;
- Students in Catholic schools returning to class with clouds of discrimination and fear shadowing their opportunities to learn and grow, a reality that has the potential to be quite damaging for LGBTQ students.
At each step when church officials have had the choice to de-escalate and pursue reconciliation, they have chosen to redouble their campaign against LGBTQ church workers and suppress those who reject such discriminatory acts. Though bishops prefer not to criticize each other, for the good of the church, the time has come for Indianapolis’ archbishop to be corrected fraternally so he might stop these abuses.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the employment disputes in Indianapolis, click here or see recent articles below. For the blog’s coverage of church employment issues generally, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page. For New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBTQ issues here.
June 25, 2019: “A Second Catholic School in Indianapolis Fires Gay Teacher“
June 22, 2019: “New Ways Ministry Praises Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School Leaders“
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 15, 2019
Indianapolis Star, “Catholic school controversy: Rainbow streamers welcome back Cathedral students“