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Catholic high school in Indiana fires gay teacher days after nearby school defied similar order

Controversy over teacher's same-sex marriage

Indianapolis, Indiana—The Indianapolis archbishop has forced a Catholic high school to fire a gay teacher, just days after another school in the city defied a similar order despite church officials saying they would no longer recognize it as Catholic. The contrasting responses by Cathedral High School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School to orders by the Indianapolis Archdiocese demonstrate they ways LGBT Catholics are experiencing workplace pressure without federal laws ensuring nationwide nondiscrimination protections. 

Cathedral High School announced Sunday that it's terminating the teacher's contract to avoid a split with the archdiocese. Leaders of Cathedral High School, a private school affiliated with the Brothers of the Holy Cross religious order, said in a letter on the school's website that disobeying Archbishop Charles Thompson would cost the school its nonprofit status and its ability to have Mass celebrated on campus.

"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," the school statement said.

This is the third Indianapolis Catholic high school that's faced pressure from Thompson over employees in same-sex marriages since he became archbishop in July 2017. CBS News reported earlier this month that Archdiocesan-operated Indianapolis Roncalli High School has fired or suspended two female guidance counselors in the past year because they're both in same-sex marriages. Both women have filed federal employment discrimination complaints. 

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 Indianapolis June 13, 2017. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

On Friday, Thompson issued a decree against Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School because it employed a teacher in a same-sex marriage. Brebeuf leaders said the teacher was a "longtime valued employee" who didn't teach religion. The archdiocese maintained that it considers all teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators to be ministers who must follow church teaching.

CBS News reported earlier in June a statement from the Very Rev. Brian Paulson, who heads the Midwest Province of Jesuits, who said 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."

Indiana is among about 30 states without state nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT people, according to the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign. A federal bill for such nationwide nondiscrimination protections passed the House of Representatives in May but appears doomed in the U.S. Senate because of Republican opposition.

New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, counts nearly 100 employees at Catholic institutions who've lost jobs because of sexual orientation issues across the country in the past decades.

Cathedral administrators said Sunday that its decision to dismiss a gay teacher was "agonizing" but one that was necessary for the 1,100-student school. Cathedral, like Brebeuf, had been in talks with the archdiocese about the teachers for nearly two years. Neither school has identified the teachers involved.

The Cathedral letter doesn't defend Thompson's decision, saying it hopes the action does not "dishearten Cathedral's young people." The actions have sparked online petitions and social media debate.

The archdiocese said in a statement Monday that all Catholic schools have been directed to state in employment contracts that all employees must support church teachings.

"This issue is not about sexual orientation; rather, it is about our expectation that all personnel inside a Catholic school — who are ministers of the faith — abide by all Church teachings," the statement said. "If and when a minister of the faith is publicly not doing so, the Church calls us to help the individual strive to live a life in accordance with Catholic teaching."

Brebeuf is operated by the Midwest Province of Jesuits, independently of the archdiocese. Despite Thompson's decree, Brebeuf's principal says it will continue to call itself an "independent Jesuit Catholic school."