INDIANAPOLIS — The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education has temporarily suspended a decree from the archbishop of Indianapolis that revoked the Catholic identity of a Jesuit high school. The suspension will have effect while the congregation considers an appeal of the decree.
The June decree from Archbishop Charles Thompson said the archdiocese would no longer recognize Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as Catholic, after a disagreement about the school’s employment of a teacher regarding a same-sex “marriage.”
Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, head of the Jesuits' Midwest Province, has led the appeal of the archbishop's decree. After Archbishop Thompson declined to rescind the decree, Father Paulson turned to the Congregation for Catholic Education to consider the matter.
The president of Brebeuf, Jesuit Father Bill Verbryke, said Sept. 23 that the congregation “has decided to suspend the archbishop’s decree on an interim basis, pending its final resolution of our appeal.”
Father Verbryke added: “It is very important to understand, however, what this temporary suspension of the archbishop’s decree does not mean. It does not mean that the matter has been resolved, or that any permanent decision has been made. It also does not mean that anyone should infer that the Congregation for Catholic Education is leaning one way or the other on any of the issues at hand.”
“The congregation has simply granted a temporary suspension of the archbishop’s decree until it makes a final decision,” Father Verbryke explained in a message to the school community.
Canon law provides for the automatic suspension of judicial decisions and of decrees in penal cases when there is an appeal. In cases of hierarchical recourse, where an act of governance by a bishop is appealed, the suspension of the appealed decree is not automatic but is often granted by a Curial department after weighing the circumstances for and against the suspension, but not the merits of the appeal itself.
Father Verbryke noted that Archbishop Thompson had “very kindly informed me that, as a result of this temporary suspension of his decree, Brebeuf is free to resume our normal sacramental celebrations of the Eucharist.”
The archbishop had already granted permission for daily Masses to be said in the school's chapel, but had denied permission for Masses offered on particular occasions, such as an Aug. 15 “Mass of the Holy Spirit as a traditional opening-of-the-school-year Mass.”
The school's president said it is unknown how long the appeal process will last, “but please be assured that we are sincere in our desire to resolve our disagreement with the archbishop and resume the strong relationship we had always enjoyed with the archdiocese since our founding in 1962.”
He emphasized that the “process is ongoing in an environment of not only deep love for our Church, but also, despite our differences on this matter, deep respect for the archbishop. Ultimately, our desire is to remain in full communion with the Catholic Church, without restrictions on our celebration of the Eucharist, and that our identity as a Catholic school be fully recognized and supported by the archdiocese.”
Kris Mackey, advancement and communications director for the Jesuits' Midwest Province, told CNA that Father Verbryke's letter “mirrored the letter” received from the Congregation for Catholic Education.
She added that the congregation's suspension of Archbishop Thompson's decree was made at the congregation's discretion and that, adjacent to its appeal, the province “had asked for the suspension during the time that the decision-making is happening.”
While the congregation “granted Yes to the suspension,” Mackey reflected, “of course they're discerning,” and how long the appeals process will last is unknown.
“The two are kind of unrelated,” she said. The suspension does not indicate the congregation is more likely to rule one way or another.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said that the temporary suspension was “following standard canon-law procedures” and that “this is a common, temporary, measure that does not affect a final determination.”
The local Church added that it awaits a final determination from the Congregation for Catholic Education.
The archdiocese had announced June 20 that “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.”
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.”
Layton Payne-Elliot, the Brebuef teacher in question, 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 filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese in protest of his dismissal one day after having reached a settlement with Cathedral High School, where he had been employed.
The archdiocese has said that “religious liberty, which is a hallmark of the U.S. Constitution and has been tested in the U.S. Supreme Court, acknowledges that religious organizations may define what conduct is not acceptable and contrary to the teachings of its religion, for its school leaders, guidance counselors, teachers and other ministers of the faith.”
In a news conference June 27, Archbishop Thompson stressed that Payne-Elliot was removed not because he was homosexual but because he had contracted a same-sex “marriage” in opposition to Church teaching on marriage.
The conflict between Brebeuf and the archdiocese began with an archdiocesan request that the contract of Layton Payne-Elliot not be renewed because he is in a same-sex “marriage.”
The school leaders wrote in June that, “after long and prayerful consideration, we determined that following the archdiocese’s directive would not only violate our informed conscience on this particular matter, but also set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations and other governance matters that Brebeuf Jesuit leadership has historically had the sole right and privilege to address and decide.”