Catholic Identity in Indianapolis: Two Schools, Two Different Decisions — UPDATED

Catholic Identity in Indianapolis: Two Schools, Two Different Decisions — UPDATED June 24, 2019
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

It’s interesting to read today the two statements released by two Catholic schools in Indianapolis — which reached two distinctly different decisions about how to deal with employing a gay teacher who happens to be in a same-sex marriage.

Here’s the statement from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School: 

Dear Brebeuf Jesuit Community, 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, we write to share news regarding Brebeuf Jesuit’s relationship with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. We want to inform you, our faithful members of the Brebeuf Jesuit community, of this news first and invite you to pray with us for a peaceful and just outcome.

Brebeuf Jesuit was founded in 1962 as an independent Catholic Jesuit school. While we’ve enjoyed a collaborative partnership with the Archdiocese for nearly 57 years, we have always maintained control of our school’s operations and governance, including our personnel decisions. It is our understanding that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, at the direction of Archbishop Charles Thompson, will no longer formally recognize Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic school in the Archdiocese. We understand that a formal decree announcing the Archdiocese’s decision will be published in The Criterion on or around Friday, June 21. 

A Sincere Disagreement

The decree follows a sincere and significant disagreement between the Archdiocese, on the one hand, and Brebeuf Jesuit and the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, on the other, regarding whether the Archdiocese or our school’s leaders should make final governance decisions related to internal administrative matters at Brebeuf Jesuit and, in particular, the employment status of our faculty and staff. Specifically, Brebeuf Jesuit has respectfully declined the Archdiocese’s insistence and directive that we dismiss a highly capable and qualified teacher due to the teacher being a spouse within a civilly-recognized same-sex marriage.

To our knowledge, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented; this is a unique action among the more than 80 Jesuit secondary/pre-secondary schools which operate in dioceses throughout North America, along with the countless Catholic schools operated by other religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, Dominicans, and Xaverian Brothers. 

After long and prayerful consideration, we determined that following the Archdiocese’s directive would not only violate our informed conscience on this particular matter, but also set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations and other governance matters that Brebeuf Jesuit leadership has historically had the sole right and privilege to address and decide. 

What’s more, we also recognize the harm that adhering to this mandate would cause our highly capable and qualified teachers and staff. As an institution with a mission to develop men and women for others, our intent has been to do the right thing by the people we employ while preserving our authority as an independent, Catholic Jesuit school. 

Brebeuf Jesuit’s Continued Catholic Identity

Since our founding, Brebeuf Jesuit’s mission as a Catholic institution has been derived from the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—who represent the largest order of men in the Catholic Church. This position has been affirmed in our close consultation with both the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus and Brebeuf Jesuit’s canon lawyer.  While we appreciate our long-standing partnership with the Archdiocese, which praised Brebeuf Jesuit’s Catholic mission in a recent evaluation, we are disheartened that the Archbishop has chosen to end our formal relationship. Nevertheless, our identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution remains unchanged. 

Whereas the Archdiocese of Indianapolis may choose to no longer attend or participate in the school’s Masses and formal functions, Brebeuf Jesuit is, and will always be, a Catholic Jesuit school. The Archdiocese has assured us that Jesuit priests may continue to serve at Brebeuf Jesuit and will retain their ability to celebrate the sacraments of the Catholic Church. 

What Happens Next

As we look to the school year ahead, Brebeuf Jesuit’s Board of Trustees and school leadership will remain focused on providing an exceptional education within the Jesuit tradition. We are prayerfully discerning how best to proceed with the process of appealing the Archdiocese’s directive. 

We understand that this news will likely spur a host of emotions, questions and even confusion in the days ahead. Please be assured, the Archdiocese’s decision will not change the mission or operations of Brebeuf Jesuit. With more than 8,000 graduates over nearly six decades, the mission of Brebeuf Jesuit is being lived around the world. We will continue to offer a rigorous academic program that follows more than 450 years of Jesuit tradition and is committed to expansive and critical thinking, competent and compassionate ethical concern, creative and artistic expression, and excellence grounded in faith and the dignity of the human person. 

We urge members of the Brebeuf Jesuit community to be respectful of all parties involved, and we ask that you join us in keeping our students, faculty, staff and the entire Catholic community of greater Indianapolis in your thoughts and prayers.

We will keep you apprised of any new developments, and we invite you to contact us at president@brebeuf.org with questions, concerns and feedback.

 

For more, check out the statement from the Jesuit provincial overseeing the school — who says, among other things:

Brebeuf’s administration and Board of Trustees have determined that following the Archdiocese’s directive would not only violate their informed conscience on this particular matter, but also would set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations and other matters that have historically been the right and privilege of Brebeuf Jesuit officials.

In my experience as provincial, the direct insertion by a diocese into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is rare, with few, if any, precedents among the nearly 84 Jesuit secondary/pre-secondary schools which operate in dioceses throughout North America, along with the countless Catholic schools operated by other religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Dominicans, and Xavierian Brothers.

Since its founding, Brebeuf Jesuit’s mission as a Catholic institution is derived from the Society of Jesus; we have served in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with the permission of the local ordinary since 1962, and the Archdiocese has praised the Catholic mission of the school as recently as the Fall of 2017 when Brebeuf was positively evaluated by the Office of Catholic Schools. Our disagreement is over what we believe is the proper governance autonomy regarding employment decisions which should be afforded a school sponsored by a religious order. In this particular case, we disagree regarding the prudential decision about how the marital status of a valued employee should affect this teacher’s ongoing employment at Brebeuf Jesuit.

Meanwhile, news broke yesterday of another school in Indianapolis — Cathedral Catholic High School — which took another approach, and noted it has some distinct differences with the Brebeuf situation:

Dear Cathedral Family,

On behalf of Cathedral’s Board of Directors, we write to you about an agonizing decision, made after 22 months of earnest discussion and extensive dialogue with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis about Cathedral’s continued Catholic identity.

Cathedral’s Catholic identity

Cathedral was founded as a Catholic high school in 1918 by Bishop Joseph Chartrand. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis owned Cathedral but engaged The Brothers of Holy Cross to serve as faculty. Eventually, the archdiocese turned over care of Cathedral to the Holy Cross brothers who ran it as a Catholic school for a number of years. In 1972 Cathedral was incorporated for the sole purpose of maintaining and operating a Roman Catholic secondary school. When Cathedral re-affiliated with The Brothers of Holy Cross, the Board of Directors amended the bylaws to state that the essential Holy Cross character of Cathedral as a Catholic high school shall be at all times maintained and that a mission priority is to be an educator in the faith.

What is at stake?

It is Archbishop Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedral’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community. Additionally, we would lose the privilege of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel’s tabernacle, we could no longer refer to Cathedral as a Catholic school, our diocesan priests would no longer be permitted to serve on our Board of Directors, and we would lose our affiliation with The Brothers of Holy Cross. Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as a nonprofit school.

Cathedral has been a Catholic school for the past 100 years and our Catholic faith is at the core of who we are and what we teach at Cathedral. We are committed to educating our students in the tenets of the Catholic faith with an emphasis on the Holy Cross tradition. For every Catholic, the celebration of the Sacraments is central to the life of faith. Similarly, as a Catholic community, the celebration of the Sacraments is essential for Cathedral. Therefore, in order to remain a Catholic Holy Cross School, Cathedral must follow the direct guidance given to us by Archbishop Thompson and separate from the teacher.

Why is our situation different from Brebeuf?

We respect the position of our brothers and sisters at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as they also navigate this painful time. Brebeuf is sponsored by the Jesuits while Cathedral is merely affiliated with The Brothers of Holy Cross. Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours. Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf.

Our commitment to the Cathedral family

In today’s climate we know that being Catholic can be challenging and we hope that this action does not dishearten you, and, most especially, dishearten Cathedral’s young people. We know that some individuals do not agree with every teaching of the Catholic Church and so their conscience struggles between the teaching and what they believe is right. We want you to know that we respect an individual’s conflict between teaching and their conscience.  We will continue to educate and root our students in the fullness of the Catholic faith with an emphasis on the Holy Cross tradition.

Please know that we offer our prayers and love to this teacher, our students and faculty, our Archbishop, and all associated with Cathedral as we continue to educate our students in the Catholic Holy Cross tradition. We ask that dialogue about this difficult situation be respectful of the dignity of every person and that you continue to pray for our Cathedral family and the wider Indianapolis community.

In the words of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of The Congregation of Holy Cross: “Hurry then; take up the work of resurrection, never forgetting that the special end of your institute is, before all, to sanctify youth. It is by this that you will contribute to preparing the world for better times than ours.”

I don’t think we’ve heard the last on either of these cases — and I would expect others may crop up in other places, as well. Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  Late today, the Jesuit president of Brebeuf gave an interview to America Media, in which he explained his position further. Check out the video below.


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