June 20, 2019
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A recent and disappointing development has occurred in Indianapolis between our sponsored high school, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. It is an issue important to all of us: the governance autonomy regarding employment decisions of institutions sponsored by the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus as recognized in church law which I believe should be taken into consideration as the Archbishop carries out his important responsibility for oversight of Catholic education in the archdiocese.
Brebeuf Jesuit, located in Indianapolis, Indiana, is one of 16 secondary school apostolates sponsored by the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus. Founded in 1962, Brebeuf Jesuit currently serves a co-educational student population of 793 students, grades 9-12, with a faculty and staff of 132.
In the summer of 2017, Brebeuf Jesuit became aware that one of its teachers entered into a civil marriage with a person of the same sex. This fact became publicly known via social media.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis, through the Superintendent of Catholic Education, requested verbally two years ago that Brebeuf Jesuit not renew this teacher’s contract because this teacher’s marital status does not conform to church doctrine. The teacher in question does not teach religion and is a longtime valued employee of the school. Brebeuf has declined to honor the Archdiocese’s expectation that the school dismiss this teacher. I recognize this request by Archbishop Charles Thompson to be his prudential judgment of the application of canon law recognizing his responsibility for oversight of faith and morals as well as Catholic education in his archdiocese. I disagree with the necessity and prudence of this decision. This is a disagreement between two church leaders of goodwill with related, but distinct responsibilities.
Today, Brebeuf Jesuit has received from the Archdiocese an advanced copy of a canonical decree to be formally issued on June 21, 2019 stating that the Archbishop will no longer formally recognize Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic school in the Archdiocese. The Midwest Jesuits will appeal this decision through the formal appeal process established in church law: first, pursuing local recourse to the Archbishop, and, if necessary, hierarchical recourse to the Vatican.
Brebeuf’s administration and Board of Trustees have determined that following the Archdiocese’s directive would not only violate their informed conscience on this particular matter, but also would set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations and other matters that have historically been the right and privilege of Brebeuf Jesuit officials.
In my experience as provincial, the direct insertion by a diocese into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is rare, with few, if any, precedents among the nearly 84 Jesuit secondary/pre-secondary schools which operate in dioceses throughout North America, along with the countless Catholic schools operated by other religious orders such as the Christian Brothers, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Dominicans, and Xavierian Brothers.
Since its founding, Brebeuf Jesuit’s mission as a Catholic institution is derived from the Society of Jesus; we have served in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with the permission of the local ordinary since 1962, and the Archdiocese has praised the Catholic mission of the school as recently as the Fall of 2017 when Brebeuf was positively evaluated by the Office of Catholic Schools. Our disagreement is over what we believe is the proper governance autonomy regarding employment decisions which should be afforded a school sponsored by a religious order. In this particular case, we disagree regarding the prudential decision about how the marital status of a valued employee should affect this teacher’s ongoing employment at Brebeuf Jesuit.
Thankfully, a representative of the Archdiocese has orally assured Brebeuf that it will continue to allow Jesuit priests to serve in leadership at Brebeuf Jesuit and retain their ability to celebrate Mass on campus. While representatives from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis may choose to no longer attend or participate in the school’s formal functions, Brebeuf Jesuit still affirms its identity and mission as a Catholic Jesuit school and the Midwest Jesuits still regard it as a sponsored work.
Consistent with long tradition in our church, Brebeuf Jesuit, with my support as provincial, respects the primacy of an informed conscience of members of its community when making moral decisions. We recognize that at times some people who are associated with our mission make personal moral decisions at variance with Church doctrine; we do our best to help them grow in holiness, all of us being loved sinners who desire to follow Jesus.
This is an issue that cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a Jesuit institution with responsibilities to both the local and universal church, as well as for the pastoral care we extend to all members of our Catholic community.
We ask everyone to keep the Brebeuf students, faculty, staff and the entire Catholic community of Indianapolis in your prayers.
Sincerely in Christ,
V. Rev. Brian G. Paulson, SJ
USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus