Cathedral HS fires teacher in same-sex marriage to preserve Catholic identity, nonprofit status

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) ⁠— Cathedral High School fired a teacher in a same-sex marriage to preserve the school’s “Catholic identity,” administrators announced in a letter posted Sunday on the school’s website.

“The teacher has been terminated,” a school marketing director confirmed Sunday night in an email to News 8. “No other options or circumstances were discussed.”

The “agonizing decision” to part ways with the unidentified teacher came after a 22-month conversation with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, according to the letter signed by the school president and board chairman.

“Archbishop [Charles] 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 letter states.

Defying the archbishop and cutting ties with the archdiocese would mean losing the ability to offer sacrament, according to administrators. Cathedral would also be stripped of its nonprofit status and diocesan priests would no longer be permitted to serve on the school’s board of directors.

Administrators at Brebeuf, a Jesuit preparatory school on the northwest side of Indianapolis, defied the archdiocese by refusing to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage. A decree issued Friday by Archbishop Thompson said the school “can no longer use the name ‘Catholic’ and will no longer be identified or recognized as a Catholic institution.”

In a section of their letter titled “Why is our situation different from Brebeuf?” Cathedral administrators said they “respect” the Jesuit school’s decision “as they also navigate this painful time.”

“Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours,” the letter states. “Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf.”

Shelly Fitzgerald, a former Roncalli High School employee who was suspended in August over her same-sex marriage, called Cathedral’s decision “disappointing and heartbreaking” in a phone interview Sunday night with News 8.

“I think that it’s sad that we are in a time and place where the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is willing to take away the blessing of the Sacraments from a faith-filled community and environment over firing one teacher or two teachers or three teachers for being gay,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that Cathedral had an opportunity to do what was morally and ethically right, and I wish that they had made a different decision.”

“I am divorced and remarried without an annulment, which is a breach to my morality clause,” Buffy Hoyt Van Wienen wrote in a public Facebook post shared Sunday night. “As scary, heartbreaking and life changing as this is for me to say, Archbishop Thompson: fire me too.”

Rob Bridges, the Cathedral High School President, and Matt Cohoat, the chairman of the school’s board of directors, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from News 8.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis on Monday afternoon provided the following statement: 

In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, every archdiocesan Catholic school and private Catholic school has been instructed to clearly state in its contracts and ministerial job descriptions that all ministers must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church. When an individual acknowledges their ministerial role by signing their contact, the Church and her schools accept this acknowledgement in good faith.

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, including the nature of marriage. 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. Over the years, we’ve walked with individuals and schools on many other issues that contradict Church teachings. Many individuals have chosen this accompaniment, and a few have not. In such a case, it is very difficult to part ways, but we readily honor the person’s dignity and decision.

The full letter from Cathedral High School is copied below.

Dear Cathedral Family,

On behalf of Cathedral’s Board of Directors, we write to you about an agonizing decision, made after 22 months of earnest discussion and extensive dialogue with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis about Cathedral’s continued Catholic identity.

Cathedral’s Catholic identity
Cathedral was founded as a Catholic high school in 1918 by Bishop Joseph Chartrand. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis owned Cathedral but engaged The Brothers of Holy Cross to serve as faculty. Eventually, the archdiocese turned over care of Cathedral to the Holy Cross brothers who ran it as a Catholic school for a number of years. In 1972 Cathedral was incorporated for the sole purpose of maintaining and operating a Roman Catholic secondary school. When Cathedral re-affiliated with The Brothers of Holy Cross, the Board of Directors amended the bylaws to state that the essential Holy Cross character of Cathedral as a Catholic high school shall be at all times maintained and that a mission priority is to be an educator in the faith.

What is at stake?
It is Archbishop Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. 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. If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community. Additionally, we would lose the privilege of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel’s tabernacle, we could no longer refer to Cathedral as a Catholic school, our diocesan priests would no longer be permitted to serve on our Board of Directors, and we would lose our affiliation with The Brothers of Holy Cross. Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as a nonprofit school.

Cathedral has been a Catholic school for the past 100 years and our Catholic faith is at the core of who we are and what we teach at Cathedral. We are committed to educating our students in the tenets of the Catholic faith with an emphasis on the Holy Cross tradition. For every Catholic, the celebration of the Sacraments is central to the life of faith. Similarly, as a Catholic community, the celebration of the Sacraments is essential for Cathedral. Therefore, in order to remain a Catholic Holy Cross School, Cathedral must follow the direct guidance given to us by Archbishop Thompson and separate from the teacher.

Why is our situation different from Brebeuf?
We respect the position of our brothers and sisters at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as they also navigate this painful time. Brebeuf is sponsored by the Jesuits while Cathedral is merely affiliated with The Brothers of Holy Cross. Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours. Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf.

Our commitment to the Cathedral family
We know that some individuals do not agree with every teaching of the Catholic Church and so their conscience struggles between the teaching and what they believe is right. We want you to know that we respect an individual’s conflict between teaching and their conscience.

Please know that we offer our prayers and love to this teacher, our students and faculty, our Archbishop, and all associated with Cathedral as we continue to educate our students in the Catholic Holy Cross tradition. We ask that dialogue about this difficult situation be respectful of the dignity of every person and that you continue to pray for our Cathedral family and the wider Indianapolis community.

In the words of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of The Congregation of Holy Cross: “Hurry then; take up the work of resurrection, never forgetting that the special end of your institute is, before all, to sanctify youth. It is by this that you will contribute to preparing the world for better times than ours.”

Yours in Christ,

Matt Cohoat                         
Chairman of the Board of Directors
Rob Bridges
President

Shelly’s Voice, a student-run group created after Fitzgerald’s suspension, issued a statement Sunday night in response to Cathedral’s announcement: 

Shelly’s Voice is saddened to hear the news that Cathedral High School plans to fire a longtime employee for being in a same-sex marriage. Yesterday, at the Rally for Equality, Dominic Conover, a chair member of Shelly’s voice, stated: “My understanding did not come from justifying the actions done against amazing people like Shelly, but rather from realizing the actions done against them is incomprehensible and shows us the Church is in desperate need of our testimony.” During a time like this, our organization and the supporters of our mission should feel called to stand up and speak out against the repeated unjust actions taken by the Archbishop and Archdiocese of Indianapolis. There is no better time than now to add your testimony to this situation. 

As faithful Catholics and followers of Christ, we have read the Catechism. The CCC forbids fellow Catholics–and all people–from initiating “unjust discrimination” of the LGBTQ+ community in the Catholic Church. The tactics used to quiet and remove faithful employees and students this year is in direct violation of the Catechism. Furthermore, we understand the Bible when it tells us to love one another. 

We encourage all those affected by this situation spiritually and emotionally to express their voice by writing a letter directly to the Archdiocese. Please visit shellysvoice.org to find an easy way to do this. 

Finally, we continue to pray for our Church in a time of such division. May we come together and do God’s work by showing church leaders that love is truly love. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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