The archbishop of Indianapolis defended his orders to fire two Catholic high school teachers for being in same-sex marriages.
Archbishop Charles Thompson said that his decision was about upholding Catholic teachings, and was not a ‘witch hunt’ regarding the teachers’ sexual orientation.
Thompson also said that while he did not seek out information about the teachers’ private lives, he was forced to respond to the ‘public situation’ of Catholic school employees not following church doctrine.
Last week, officials from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis announced they were terminating a teacher’s contract to avoid a split with the Archdiocese.
The move by the school came barely a few days after a similar incident at a Jesuit school in Indiana, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.
The Archdiocese requires all Catholic school staff to sign contracts which require them to live by Catholic doctrine. In the past, the Archdiocese has maintained that any Catholic school employees in same-sex relationships were in breach of their contracts.
Despite Thompson’s attempts to rationalize his directives, the moves have sparked an outcry online, Associated Press reports.
‘It is my responsibility, my duty, to oversee the living of the faith’
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (26 June), Thompson doubled-down on his decision to remove the teachers from the schools, saying it had nothing to do with the teachers’ sexual orientation.
‘This is not a witch hunt, we don’t go looking for these situations,’ he said. ‘When they are brought to my attention […] it is my responsibility, my duty, to oversee the living of the faith, especially for our ministerial witnesses.
‘It is about the living situation, it’s not the orientation,’ Thompson added. ‘We would do the same thing if it was someone cohabitating.’
While Cathedral and Brebeuf are affiliated with religious orders, they are independently run and not under the directorship of the Archdiocese.
Last week, Brebeuf Jesuit cited its independent status in response to the Archdiocese’s directive while initially refusing to fire the teacher who is in a same-sex marriage.
The school released a statement saying that the order would ‘violate our informed conscience’ on the matter, and to go ahead with the directive would also ‘set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations’.
However, Brebeuf Jesuit eventually complied with the directive after the Archdiocese said that by not doing so, Brebeuf Jesuit would ‘no longer be identified or recognized as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis nor included in the listing of The Official Catholic Directory’.
In an open letter published on 23 June, the school described having to fire the teacher as an ‘agonizing decision’.
Removed for being in a same-sex marriage
This is not the first time the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has come under scrutiny with regards to the treatment of Catholic school staff who are in same-sex unions.
The Archdiocesan-operated Roncalli High School is currently embroiled in legal disputes with two former employees who are in same-sex relationships.
The school courted significant media attention in August last year after guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald was placed on paid leave after discovering she was married to a woman. Fitzgerald claims that she was asked to resign from Roncalli High School due to the discovery of her relationship.
When this became public, Fitzgerald was met with an outpouring of support from Roncalli students and members of the local community. A group of Roncalli students wrote to Archbishop Thompson pleading, with him to reconsider Archdiocese’s policies on same-sex unions.
However, Roncalli school officials claimed that by being in a same-sex marriage, Fitzgerald was in breach of her contract which requires all employees to adhere to Catholic teachings.
Soon after Fitzgerald’s case came to light, Lynn Starkey, another Roncalli guidance counselor who was in a civil union, claims she suffered from discrimination from school officials due to her sexual orientation.
Both women have filed federal employment discrimination complaints. They have also said they intend to file lawsuits against the school.