Archive for: Commentary

Archdiocese of Indianapolis Fights for the Right to Have Faithful Employees

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has been fighting several battles for the protection of Catholic education, and last month’s federal court victory was an especially exciting step forward.

A federal district court in Indiana ruled that the Archdiocese and its Roncalli Catholic High School have the First Amendment right to uphold moral standards — not only for religion teachers, as the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed last summer in its Our Lady of Guadalupe School ruling, but also for other employees who aid in the Christian formation of students.

“Catholic schools focus on the complete person, made in God’s image and likeness, not just on the mind or on a subject matter,” wrote my colleague Dr. Dan Guernsey last year. “Learning and formation happen concurrently. They are entwined.”

His position paper, “All Employees Matter in the Mission of Catholic Education,” made the important argument that every employee of a Catholic school is important to its mission of educating and forming young people in the Catholic faith. Although last year’s Supreme Court ruling focused on a Catholic school religion teacher, the ministerial exception — which prevents federal courts from interfering in employment decisions that substantially involve religious duties — ought to also protect a faithfully Catholic school or college with regard to teachers of all subjects as well as other employees and administrators.

The Roncalli case centers on a school guidance counselor who worked closely with students. Counseling is a duty that relates just as strongly to the Christian formation of students as teaching, and Catholic school counselors must model the moral teachings of the Church as an example to students. Sadly, the Roncalli counselor entered into a same-sex marriage and was dismissed.

Roncalli and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis did not shy away from the Church’s moral beliefs in their employee policies and in their legal defense. By establishing a clear moral expectation for employees, the school has a strong claim to First Amendment protections under the Free Exercise Clause. More important, it ensures that the good of its students is first and foremost protected.

Much More to Come

The struggle is not over for Archbishop Charles Thompson and his Indianapolis schools, but the outlook is brighter.

Although the guidance counselor is appealing the Roncalli decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, that is the same court that in July dismissed a lawsuit by a Chicago parish music director who also entered into a same-sex union. The court invoked the ministerial exception, rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that the exception covers only complaints about hiring and firing decisions and not claims of a hostile work environment.

“A Catholic school has freedom to hire and fire ministers based on alignment with the Catholic Church’s religious teachings about sex, sexual orientation, and marriage,” the Newman Society noted in an amicus brief in the case.

“But if a Catholic school minister engages in a course of conduct that violates the Catholic Church’s teachings, and the school persistently communicates that the minister has strayed from the school’s moral expectations and should repent,” then the school could have been forced to stand trial had the 7th Circuit agreed to narrow the scope of the ministerial exception.

Another guidance counselor from Roncalli, who was also fired for entering into a same-sex union, is pursuing a separate lawsuit. That case is before the same federal judge who dismissed the similar case last month.

Meanwhile, same-sex partners at two other Indianapolis-area Catholic schools have fought the Archdiocese and its moral standards for school employees. One of them, a teacher who was dismissed from Cathedral Catholic High School in Indianapolis, saw his lawsuit dismissed in Marion County Superior Court in May, but he is appealing the ruling.

His legally married partner still teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, which refuses to abide by archdiocesan policy. Archbishop Thompson took action in 2019 to declare the school no longer Catholic and forbid Mass in its chapel, but the school appealed to the Vatican, which for two years has failed to provide any resolution.

So there is much more to come, but the rulings this summer reinforce the scope of the ministerial exception and give hope to Catholic educators. Perhaps the most important lesson that can be drawn in the meantime is that Catholic schools and colleges should continue to ensure that employees are committed wholly to the mission of the school and the Church. It’s legally protected and it’s the right thing to do for Catholic families.

Every employee in a Catholic school, from the principal to the gym teacher, is important to the mission of Catholic education. Clear and consistently enforced policies that expect employees to model moral behavior is a key part of leading young people to Christ.

This article first appeared at the National Catholic Register.

St. Peters Square

One Year Later, No Resolution on Brebeuf Scandal

Catholic schools across the nation are striving to keep their doors open, but Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis is not one of them… or is it?

There’s no question whether Brebeuf will open; students are scheduled to start in-person classes on Aug. 13. What’s unresolved is whether the school can be counted among Catholic schools. Brebeuf Jesuit certainly has proven itself unworthy of the label, as Archbishop Charles Thompson rightly declared last summer, because it refuses to dismiss a teacher in a same-sex civil marriage.

On Aug. 4, 2019, Brebeuf’s president, Jesuit Father Bill Verbryke, announced that the school had appealed to the Vatican, challenging Archbishop Thompson’s authority to determine whether the Jesuit-owned school could identity as Catholic. Thompson is accused of meddling in the internal operations of a wayward school.

Now, a year later, the stakes are getting higher. The Supreme Court has ruled that employers may not discriminate based on homosexuality, and so Catholic schools must fight to defend their First Amendment right to uphold moral standards for employees. But what will the Vatican say about those same standards?

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis requires that all teacher contracts designate “ministerial witnesses” who must “convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church,” including its teaching on the “dignity of marriage as one man and one woman.” This complies faithfully with canon law, which requires Catholic school teachers to uphold Catholic morality in both teaching and practice.

Because of the policy, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis obediently dismissed its teacher Joshua Payne-Elliot, because he was in a same-sex civil marriage. But his partner, Layton Payne-Elliot, has continued to teach math at Brebeuf Jesuit, and the school refuses to conform to the Archdiocese’s rules. That’s after two years of patient dialogue led by Superintendent of Catholic Schools Gina Fleming.

“It was through much prayerful discernment over the course of that two years, and really, much conversation on what it truly means to be ministers of the faith and how we would uphold that in our Catholic schools, that led to the schools to make their own decisions as to whether they would wish to retain that Catholic identity,” Fleming said.

The Vatican likewise moves slowly and carefully, and this year it had the added difficulty of COVID. Nevertheless, a delayed ruling on Brebeuf’s appeal poses significant problems for the Church and for Catholic education.


Question of authority

For one thing, Archbishop Thompson’s authority has been challenged, which makes it more difficult for him to watch over his archdiocese, especially Catholic schools.

The details of the Brebeuf situation are more complicated than they look to the average Catholic and the secular media. The appeal concerns the managerial independence of Jesuit schools from the local bishop and whether Archbishop Thompson got too involved in a particular employment situation. But the appeal also casts a larger shadow on the Archbishop’s authority to enforce clear guidelines for Catholic schools, which is essential to his role as shepherd of his archdiocese.

According to Canon 803, “A Catholic school is understood as one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person directs or which ecclesiastical authority recognizes as such through a written document. …no school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.”

And Canon 806 goes further: “The diocesan bishop has the right to watch over and visit the Catholic schools in his territory, even those which members of religious institutes have founded or direct. He also issues prescripts which pertain to the general regulation of Catholic schools; these prescripts are valid also for schools which these religious direct, without prejudice, however, to their autonomy regarding the internal direction of their schools.”

Did Archbishop Thompson properly regulate Catholic schools, or did he interfere too directly in the internal management of Brebeuf? It’s a blurry line. While the Congregation for Catholic Education decides, it has suspended Thompson’s decree removing the “Catholic” label from Brebeuf, leaving the public to wonder if he will be overruled.

But regardless how the Vatican views the particular circumstances of this case, it will be important that the Congregation makes it clear to everyone that both Canon 803 and Canon 806 are fully supported, without qualification.


Question of integrity

No less important is the Vatican’s support for moral standards for teachers, protecting students from scandal and ensuring that teachers witness to the Catholic faith.

According to Canon 803, “The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life” (Canon 803).

Not just satisfactory, without apparent scandal. Outstanding.

We live in a difficult time, when society and even some Catholics vigorously promote the lie that it’s acceptable to engage in all sorts of sins against chastity. Faithful Catholics strive to be compassionate with those who suffer from deep confusion. But there is no reconciling a Catholic school teacher’s sacred duty to form young people in the Catholic faith — which includes teaching and witnessing to moral behavior — and the very public, persistent offense of living in a same-sex relationship that is formally declared by the state.

Today the Vatican’s clear support for moral standards is all the more crucial, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which forbids employers from considering homosexual or transgender status or behavior when making employment decisions.

Catholic schools must claim a religious freedom exemption from this ruling  —  at all costs! Yet, if Brebeuf is somehow permitted to persist in its scandal, it could undermine the renewal of faithful Catholic education. It will confuse school leaders about whether they should conform to Bostock or fight in court to protect the mission of Catholic education.

The only true path forward, as always, is fidelity to Catholic teaching. Catholic educators do this for the good of their students, for their families, for the Church, and for society. May the Brebeuf debacle prove an important lesson to all Catholics about the harm caused by scandal and the importance of leading young people on the path of sainthood.

Who Will Defend Catholic Education?

Recent lawsuits by teachers fired from Catholic schools are part of a growing threat to Catholic education. Our schools and colleges increasingly face harmful lawsuits, legislation, the loss of accreditation, and social rejection if they do not fall in line with ideologies that deny the nature of marriage, sexuality, even human life itself.

Catholic education is the Church’s most important means of evangelization. Is every Catholic educator and bishop prepared to defend it?

America once had arguably the world’s strongest network of Catholic education, but enrollment and Catholic identity suffered greatly in recent decades. Many Catholic schools today are easy prey for those who would hollow out Catholic education altogether. In many cases, the danger comes from within the Church.

It was four years ago, when a firestorm erupted in San Francisco, California, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone insisted that Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese publicly uphold the faith, inside and outside of the classroom. He updated teacher contracts and faculty handbooks and created a new Office of Catholic Identity Assessment. Morality language in teacher contracts came as a shock and disappointment to some teachers, but it was applauded by Catholics who value the unique mission of Catholic education.

Now more dioceses are coming under fire from their own school leaders and teachers. A teacher fired from Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina, for publicly defending abortion is suing the school, which is recognized by The Cardinal Newman Society for faithful Catholic education. The leaders of Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School have filed a canon law complaint against Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson, appealing his declaration that the school cannot call itself Catholic. Brebeuf refused to dismiss a teacher in a same-sex marriage; but nearby Cathedral High School, which properly removed a teacher for the same scandal, is now being sued by the teacher.

The Lyceum, a faithful Catholic school also recognized by the Newman Society, successfully fought back a local government threat that could have severely compromised its Catholic identity, based on false claims that Catholic teaching discriminates against people who claim same-sex attraction.

Even the federal Education Department and accrediting agencies pose dangers to Catholic colleges — especially those that are committed to orthodoxy — because of poorly devised diversity and nondiscrimination requirements.

In faithful Catholic education, there can be no compromise on the role of Catholic teachers as witnesses to the faith and the key elements that are expected in Catholic schools. Catholic schools are about the integral formation of students, and teachers play a key role in witnessing and providing a faithful example. Catholic teachers are called to prepare students for sainthood.

According to the bishops’ National Directory for Catechesis (pp. 231, 233), Catholic schools are required to “recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals.”

If the role of the Catholic teacher is so essential, then it must be protected — not only by fighting lawsuits and legislation, but by doing everything possible internally to ensure that a school or college always acts consistent with Catholic values, which is essential to asserting protection for religious freedom under the First Amendment and various federal and state laws.

A good starting place is for Catholic school leaders to review model language for “morality clauses” in teacher contracts. The Newman Society compiled examples after reviewing the policies of more than 125 dioceses.

Much can be done by lay Catholics also, to help defend and renew faithful Catholic education. When Archbishop Cordileone made strong efforts to change the direction of the schools in his diocese, he faced significant backlash but also had strong and valuable support. When a secular San Francisco newspaper put up an online poll asking if Archbishop Cordileone should be removed from his position — no doubt expecting the majority of respondents to display outrage toward the Archbishop — Catholics turned the poll overwhelmingly in favor of his efforts.

The road ahead for Catholic educators will not be easy, but Catholics everywhere should rally behind and pray for these faithful school leaders. Pray that our bishops and Catholic educators will have the fortitude to insist upon faithful Catholic education, which, when done well, is a great blessing for young people and for our Church.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Humanae Vitae Dissenters Should Not Be Teaching at Catholic Colleges

Considering the morally corrupt and hypersexualized state of our culture, it’s not that surprising that dissenters from Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae would think now is a good time to revive their tired, old, anti-Catholic push to reverse the beautiful teachings of the Church regarding human sexuality — specifically, the use of contraceptives.

What should be surprising is that the leaders of this new campaign of public dissent against Church teaching are still allowed to teach theology, ethics, philosophy, religious studies, etc. at Catholic colleges across the country.

More than two dozen professors associated with Catholic colleges are involved in the new campaign to dismantle Humanae Vitae, organized by the dissident Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. Their report arguing that contraceptives are “morally legitimate and even morally obligatory” has the backing of the United Nations and was presented at the U.N. in New York on Tuesday.

The report of the Wijngaards Institute, “On the Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” features some of the old names of the anti-Humanae Vitae movement still clinging to their dissent, and, unfortunately, still shaping young minds. Professors from Georgetown University, Fordham University, San Diego University, Duquesne University, Fairfield University, Loyola University in Chicago, Loyola University in New Orleans, and several other Catholic colleges appear among the current list of about 150 signatures.

Theologian Father Charles Curran is probably the most well-known signatory. He was one of the most notorious dissidents in Catholic higher education before the Vatican ousted him from The Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1986. These days he’s found at Southern Methodist University.

The ousting of Fr. Curran helped spark a revival of Catholic identity at CUA that continues today. In fact, on the same day the Wijngaards Institute report was released at the UN, CUA hosted an event on campus announcing the release of competing statement affirming the truths of the Church’s teaching on contraception in Humanae Vitae: “Affirmation of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality.”

This statement, composed by faithful Catholic theologians and supported by more than 500 Catholic intellectuals, outlines how contraception “is not in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.” This is what the Catholic faith teaches, and this is what we should expect is being taught to students by theology professors at Catholic colleges.

Why is it that on issues of sexuality and gender, dissent from Church teaching is still accepted and even encouraged at Catholic colleges? Would those who deny the divinity of Jesus or the Trinitarian nature of God be acceptable as Catholic theology professors? One shudders to think if the answer is “yes.”

This scandalous situation, in which far too many Catholic colleges have put themselves, directly endangers the souls of students. For any Catholic college that seeks to follow its religious mission, it makes no sense for an employer (the college) to hire and retain employees publicly opposed to the college’s mission.

These dissident Catholic theologians supporting the Wijngaards Institute report are undermining the colleges that employ them and the entire Church in the process. Their scandalous behavior echoes beyond the walls of the classroom and should concern every faithful Catholic.

It will be interesting and telling to see if any of the Catholic colleges whose professors have signed in support of the Wijngaards Institute report decide to part ways with the offenders — or take any action at all. Looking at the list of colleges, it doesn’t seem likely. But Catholic families should expect better and deserve better from these institutions, as long as they continue to claim a Catholic identity.

This article was originally published by National Catholic Register.