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Judge: Archdiocese had right to dismiss Roncalli counselor in same-sex marriage

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A federal judge agreed Friday that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis had the right to dismiss a Roncalli High School counselor because she was in a same-sex marriage.

Judge Richard Young ruled in favor of the church in the lawsuit filed by Shelly Fitzgerald. She worked as a counselor at Roncalli for 15 years before being removed from her job in August 2018.

Friday’s decision came after a July ruling from the Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago that backed the judge in supporting Roncalli’s nonrenewal of a contract for another counselor, Lynn Starkey. She’d told Roncalli that she, like Fitzgerald, was in a same-sex marriage. In November 2018, Starkey filed an equal-opportunity complaint and, in July 2019, filed a lawsuit against the high school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Fitzgerald sued the archdiocese in October 2019.

The school has previously argued that Fitzgerald signed and agreed to a ministerial job description in her employment contract that she live in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The school also said she acknowledged she breached this clause of contract by entering into a marriage that is not valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

In Friday’s ruling on the Fitzgerald case, the judge said, “To be sure, ‘[i]t is a stretch to call a high school guidance counsellor a minister,’ as ‘the job is predominantly secular.'”

The judge added, “But because Roncalli, through the employment agreement and faculty handbooks, expressly entrusted Fitzgerald with shaping the school’s religious policy, Fitzgerald’s position as Co-Director of Guidance qualifies for the ministerial exception under Starkey. Since the application of the ministerial exception bars all of Fitzgerald’s claims, summary judgment is appropriate for Roncalli and the Archdiocese.”