Indianapolis Archdiocese Seeks Dismissal of Gay Church Worker’s Discrimination Lawsuit

Archbishop Charles Thompson

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is appealing to the Indiana Supreme Court to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit brought by a fired gay employee.

The suit brought by Joshua Payne-Elliot, a teacher at Cathedral High School for 13 years who was fired over his same-gender marriage, has gone through many steps in the legal process since it was initiated in 2019. It was dismissed last year, but an Appeals Court reinstated the case declaring the dismissal was an error.

In the latest development, the archdiocese filed a petition to transfer the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Indiana Lawyer reports that the archdiocese’s request stated:

“The decision permits plaintiffs to (haul) religious leaders into court to defend fundamentally religious determinations — here, an Archbishop’s ecclesiastical directive setting the terms of religious affiliation with the Catholic Church. The decision also conflict with settled precedent from this Court, and federal and state courts across the country, threatening irreparable harm to religious entities and the judiciary alike.”

Indiana’s Attorney General, Todd Rokita, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in favor of the archdiocese’s request. He said a court does not have the constitutional power to tell a church what a religious matter is. In his brief, Rokita told the Indiana justices to “shut this case down for good.” The archdiocese and Rokita argue that the church has “‘absolute immunity’ from the suit.”

For his part, Payne-Elliot is asking for access to all church documents concerning other employees who were deemed to be violating church doctrine. He also wants to see any church document concerning “conduct that does not conform to the doctrine and pastoral practice of the Catholic Church.” Rokita and the archdiocese warn that this discovery and exposing of internal church documents would “cause harm to church autonomy.”

Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, March 19, 2022

7 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    These American bishops need direction from their German counterparts who seem to have grasped the issue with a more Christian approach. I doubt that Jesus of Nazareth ever intended any of this clericalism and all its trappings of power.

    Reply
  2. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    It is the Church’s own anti-gay obsession and cruelty, along with its hierarchical structure prioritizing power and control over love and kindness, that are causing it irreparable harm.

    Having said that, I think that its constitutional right to set its own employment policy is clear. I am not at all happy to say that. I think it is tragic. I simply cannot find any way around it.

    The sadness is expressed well by Billy Joel:

    “So I would choose to be with you, that’s if the choice were mine to make. But you can make decisions too, and you can have this heart to break.”

    Reply
  3. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    Discrimination is discrimination, is discrimination any way you cut it. These bishops/archbishops are the ones causing all this stress and turmoil for the church NOT the LGBTQ community who simply want to practice their Catholic faith. This is NOT the church Christ intended and these bishops/archbishops should be ashamed of the hatred they are spewing.

    Reply
    • Richard Rosendall
      Richard Rosendall says:

      I agree. But to understand this, we need to differentiate between the moral and the legal question. To a significant degree, people have a legal right to do the wrong thing, short of assault, theft, murder, etc. The Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment gives the Church the legal right to establish its own employment policies. I think the choice that these bishops are making is damnably wrong. But our constitutional separation of church and state gives them the legal right to do it. My heart goes out to the people whose careers are thrown into turmoil by the discrimination in question. But I also respect the Constitution and religious freedom. Not religious freedom as the far right defines it, which would give any business owner the right to discriminate against gay and trans people. But religious institutions are different. They are protected by the First Amendment. I would sooner renounce my 40-year career as a gay rights activist than undermine the Constitution to get my desired result.

      Reply
      • Duane Sherry
        Duane Sherry says:

        The federal government needs to stop funding religious organizations that do not comply with federal anti-discrimation laws, even if they are exempt.

        Reply
  4. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    The federal government needs to stop funding religious organizations that do not comply with federal anti-discrimation laws, even if they are exempt.

    Reply

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