Jesuit High School Loses Formal Catholic Identity After Refusing to Fire LGBTQ Employee, Loyola Officials Say Situation ‘Wouldn’t Happen Here’

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

A Jesuit high school in Indiana that employs an LGBTQ teacher is no longer being recognized by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as a Catholic school, raising questions about the independence of Loyola and other Jesuit schools.

Two years ago, a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis married someone of the same sex. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis asked the school not to renew the teacher’s contract, according to an online statement from Provincial Brian Paulson, S.J., one of the leaders of The Midwest Society of Jesuits, which sponsors Brebeuf Jesuit. 

Brebeuf decided not to remove the teacher, which caused the Archdiocese of Indianapolis — led by Archbishop Charles Thompson — to stop formally recognizing the school as Catholic, according to a Catholic legislative act issued June 21. Although the school won’t be formally recognized, Jesuit priests will still be allowed to serve in leadership positions and host mass, according to Paulson’s statement.

At Loyola, faculty is hired without regard to sexual orientation or marital status, according to its Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Policy, which Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer Winifred Williams referred The Phoenix to when asked for comment. 

“Loyola University Chicago recognizes that in order to excel as Chicago’s Jesuit, Catholic University and uphold our mission of being a diverse community seeking God in all things and working to expand knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, justice and faith, we must continue to hire the best talent and secure the full participation and commitment of all employees,” the policy states. 

All employment decisions — including recruiting, hiring and terminations — are based on skills, ability, education and experience, the policy states. 

Evangeline Politis, a university spokesperson, said on behalf of Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney a similar situation wouldn’t occur under Loyola’s administration. 

“No,” Rooney said, according to Politis. “It wouldn’t happen here.”

Jim Prehn, the rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola said Jesuit schools are able to make independent hiring decisions because they receive funding from a religious order, not from the archdiocese, which are regional arms of the Catholic church.

“[Thompson] simply said [Brebeuf] cannot call themselves Catholic, but by virtue of being a Jesuit high school, they are Catholic,” Prehn said. “So, I think the bishop’s actions have kind of created this strange system in which there’s a school sponsored by a Roman Catholic religious order, but he won’t call it Catholic.”

Prehn said Thompson’s decision was unusual and most bishops wouldn’t challenge a university on the issue. 

“It seems to me this was kind of a very short-sighted decision by the archbishop of Indianapolis who didn’t think through the consequences,” Prehn said.

The Archdiocese of Chicago declined to comment.

Frances Bartouletti, a student at Loyola and the vice president of Rainbow Connection, an LGBTQ student organization, said she doesn’t worry about a similar situation because of the school’s mission of inclusivity and because the university wouldn’t risk getting negative press. 

“I know that Loyola prides itself on being incredibly inclusive,” Bartouletti said. “I also believe that the Archdiocese of Chicago prides itself on being pretty inclusive. They’d get a lot of negative publicity… I don’t know if Loyola would want to risk that. I know there are some LGBTQ faculty [at Loyola].”

The junior studying education and history said she supports Brebeuf Jesuit’s decision to stand by the teacher and often worries about the impacts her queer identity could have on her future employment. 

“I don’t think that your identity should matter when it comes to teaching children at a base level, regardless of whether it’s a Catholic institution or a public institution,” the 20-year-old said. 

Thompson said in a press conference June 27 he didn’t order the employee be removed due to their sexual orientation, but because they were publicly involved in a same-sex marriage, which the Catholic church doesn’t recognize as legitimate.  He said ministers of the church should be bound to live by Catholic principles. 

“I’m a sinner, too,” Thompson said. “I don’t have all the perfect answers…  I’ve been entrusted with the care of souls in central and southern Indiana, and I’ve been entrusted to do that, and to use as my markers the teachings of the Church.”

In Paulson’s statement, he said the teacher doesn’t teach religion and is a long-time valued employee.  

In the press conference, Thompson said he asked for the employee to be removed after the same-sex marriage had been brought to his attention, but he didn’t seek out employees to terminate.

A statement on Brebeuf Jesuit’s website said the school decided not to remove the teacher because it wanted to remain independent in decisions about the school’s operations. It also stated following the order would harm the school’s 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,” the statement said.  

The Midwest Society of Jesuits plans to appeal the decision through the standard process according to church law, Paulson’s statement said. 

Brebeuf Jesuit isn’t the only Catholic school to be involved in this situation. Another Indianapolis school in the same Archdiocese, Cathedral High School, faced a similar decision just days later but chose to fire the LGBTQ teacher in order to keep its Catholic status, according to a statement on the school’s website. 

In the statement, Matthew Cohoat, the chairman of the board of directors, and Rob Bridges, the president of the school, described the decision to fire the teacher — which occurred after 22 months of discussions with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis — as “agonizing.”

Cathedral High School isn’t overseen by a religious order since it isn’t Jesuit. Therefore, losing its ties to the Catholic church would mean it would lose its nonprofit status and not be allowed to employ Catholic priests, according to Cathedral High School’s statement.

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