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School defies Archdiocese of Indianapolis, refuses to fire teacher in same-sex marriage

Controversy over teacher's same-sex marriage

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis will no longer recognize a Jesuit high school as Catholic, after the school refused to fire a teacher who's in a same-sex marriage. A decree taking effect Friday, issued by Archbishop Charles Thompson, said that Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School "can no longer use the name Catholic and will no longer be identified or recognized as a Catholic institution."

Then-Bishop Charles Thompson speaks after he is introduced as the new archbishop of Indianapolis in Indianapolis June 13, 2017.
Then-Bishop Charles Thompson speaks after he is introduced as the new Archbishop of Indianapolis in June 13, 2017. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

"Whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers," the archdiocese said in a statement Thursday.

Archdiocesan-operated Indianapolis Roncalli High School has fired or suspended two guidance counselors in the past year because they're both in same-sex marriages. 

But the Very Rev. Brian Paulson, who heads the Midwest Province of Jesuits, said in a statement that "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."

Brebeuf is located in the archdiocese, but it's independent, and in an open letter Thursday, the school's leaders said that Brebeuf has "always maintained control of our school's operations and governance, including our personnel decisions." 

Paulson said that the archdiocese "requested verbally two years ago that Brebeuf Jesuit not renew this teacher's contract because this teacher's marital status does not conform to church doctrine." 

Paulson added that the unnamed teacher doesn't teach religion, and "is a longtime valued employee of the school." Brebeuf has 793 students in grades 9-12, and a staff of 132. 

The school's principal, Greg VanSlambrook, told CBS affiliate WTTV he's been in close contact with the teacher. "It's a difficult situation for him as well, but I know he feels very supported by the school," VanSlambrook told the station. "He is grateful for that."

Brebeuf will appeal the archdiocesan decision, and will even go to the Vatican, if necessary, Paulson said. And despite the decree, Brebeuf will continue to call itself an "independent Jesuit Catholic school," VanSlambrook told The Associated Press. "Independent Jesuit Catholic schools receive their governance and sponsorship from the Midwest Province" of Jesuits, VanSlambrook said. "We'd like to try to continue a partnership with the archdiocese."

Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who is one of the leading advocates for greater LGBT inclusion in the Catholic church, applauded the move by Brebeuf's leadership. "The targeting of LGBT employees in Catholic institutions must cease, and Brebeuf and the Jesuits are here standing with the marginalized," Martin said in an email. "Despite what the Archdiocese says, this is the most Catholic thing that the school could do."

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