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Catholic schools: How much power do they have?

Posted at 8:13 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 20:49:27-04

INDIANAPOLIS — It's the third time an Indianapolis Catholic school has made headlines surrounding the employment of a teacher in a same-sex marriage. All three schools have approached the issue in different ways. However, this time around, it's been a bit confusing.

Last week, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School lost its official status as a Catholic school after refusing the demands of the Indianapolis Archbishop to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage. Across town, Cathedral High School decided to separate from a teacher in a same-sex marriage, bowing to the pressure from the same Catholic leader.

Dealing with similar situations and making very different decisions; the question left on the minds of many is why those decisions are polar opposites?

Kurt Nelson, the director of Catholic school programs at Marian University, says, basically, it's all about who runs the school.

"A lot of people view the Catholic Church and view it as very monolithic, and hierarchical, but what they don't realize is there are several different ways," Nelson said. "The world of Catholic Schools, there is lots of types of governances and ways that Catholic Schools are operated."

Brebeuf is sponsored and run by the Midwest Jesuits who provide funding and resources for the school, leaving little for the school to lean on the Catholic Church for.

However, for Cathedral, it's a different story.

The 101-year-old school is affiliated with the Holy Cross Brothers, but is independently run and depends on the Catholic Church to keep its non-profit status. Without the Catholic Church, the school's funding future would be uncertain.

"Cathedral school doesn't have that, isn't part of another network, so if they don't keep their Catholic identity through the archbishop, they're not a Catholic organization, and therefore they would lose their tax-exempt status," Nelson said.

George Peyton is a Cathedral alumnus who knows the teacher involved and says the headline surrounding his alma mater is not one he's proud of.

"When I first saw them I was not proud at all, I was quite upset," Peyton said.

Peyton says that while he understands administrators were put in a tight spot, the Catholic school isn't practicing what it preaches.

"At Cathedral, I was told and taught to have the competency to see and the courage to act," Peyton said. "In situations where there are a lot of things involved ... I would've taken this in a different direction."

Peyton says the latest decisions on same-sex marriage leaves the alumni community wondering how the school, and The Archdiocese, will enforce the Catholic Church's other morality positions such as divorce and birth control.

The Midwest Jesuits, which sponsors Brebeuf, says it will appeal the Archbishops' decision to revoke the schools official Catholic status and will take that appeal all the way to the pope if necessary.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis released the following statement Monday evening:

"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 acknowledgment 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."