INDIANAPOLIS — A Jesuit-sponsored high school in Indiana has asked the Vatican to overturn Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson’s decision to revoke the school’s Catholic identity, and announced that a scheduled Mass for the opening of the academic year is not permitted at the school.
Jesuit Father William Verbryke, president of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, announced this week that the Jesuits have begun the process of appealing a June decree from Archbishop Thompson, which said that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will no longer recognize the school as Catholic.
“The appeal process is being led by Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, the Provincial of the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and his staff, in conjunction with input and support from our school leadership,” Verbryke wrote in an Aug. 4 letter.
“The first stage of the appeal involved formally requesting that the Archbishop reconsider and rescind his decree. He declined to do that. We are now in the second stage of the appeal, in which Father Paulson, on behalf of Brebeuf Jesuit, has asked the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome to consider and address the issues at hand and, hopefully, suspend the effects of the decree during the appeal process.”
Thompson’s June 21 decree was issued after a disagreement about the school’s employment of a teacher who attempted to contract a same-sex marriage.
“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,” the archdiocese said in a June 20 statement.
Teachers, the archdiocese said in June, are classified as ‘ministers’ because “it is their duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. To effectively bear witness to Christ, whether they teach religion or not, all ministers in their professional and private lives must convey and be supportive of Catholic Church teaching.”
“Regrettably, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School has freely chosen not to enter into such agreements that protect the important ministry of communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students. Therefore, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School will no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.”
Verbryke’s letter also said a school Mass of the Holy Spirit, scheduled for Aug. 15 at the beginning of the academic year, has been cancelled because Thompson did not give permission for the Mass to be celebrated.
“Within the past two weeks, the Archbishop has informed us that, as a result of his decree, the current priests of Brebeuf Jesuit, Father Chris Johnson, and I, will require his express, advance permission in order to celebrate any Masses on campus. Archbishop Thompson has given this permission for our daily 7:45 a.m. Mass, which is held each school day in our chapel. However, although we duly complied with his request and sought the Archbishop’s permission to hold various other Masses on campus this year, he declined to grant his permission for those,” Verbryke wrote.
“We must, and do, acknowledge the authority of the Archbishop with respect to the celebration of Mass within the Archdiocese. In lieu of celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit as a traditional opening-of-the-school-year Mass on Thursday, August 15, our Brebeuf Jesuit community will call upon the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our school community for this academic year by holding a school-wide prayer service during the school day,” the priest wrote.
Layton Payne-Elliot, the Brebuef teacher who attempted a same-sex marriage, is civilly married to Joshua Payne-Elliot, who was dismissed earlier this year from a different Catholic high school in Indianapolis, because contracting a same-sex marriage violates archdiocesan policies and Catholic teaching. Joshua Payne-Elliot has filed a lawsuit in protest of his dismissal.
Thompson has faced other criticism for his decision, and some Catholic pundits have suggested his decision is not in line with the pastoral approach of Pope Francis. The archbishop responded to that criticism in a July interview with The Criterion, his archdiocesan newspaper.
“Pope Francis appointed me here as archbishop of Indianapolis so I have to constantly be reading and listening to what he’s saying, and paying attention to what he’s doing—to have that guidance. And I discern it with other bishops. I don’t make decisions in a vacuum.”
“Not only am I committing this all to prayer, I’m also looking for guidance through the Holy Spirit. But also through consultation, from people within the archdiocese as well as people from outside the archdiocese. People who I believe have a good sense of Pope Francis’ leadership, his intentions and the direction he is leading the Church,” the archbishop added.
“I firmly believe that we’re in line with Pope Francis. If we’re not, I’d hope he’d let me know. I trust he would. But I believe we’re carrying on the vision of Pope Francis as well as any diocese in the Church.”