06 Jul

Catholic Schools And The LGBTQ Community

Jesuit School Gay Teacher

Bishop Charles Thompson of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.


In June, just as many cities around the globe were preparing for the annual celebrations of gay pride, an Indiana Catholic school fired one of its teachers because he was  in a same-sex marriage.

 In a letter to the school community, the chairman and president of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Indiana,’s said the decision, made at the behest of the local archdiocese, took 22 months to make and was “agonizing.” But, he said, “continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity.”

But remarkably, another school in the same diocese had made the opposite decision in similar circumstances, just three days earlier. Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, also in Indianapolis and just 10 miles away, was asked by the archdiocese to let go of a teacher in a same-sex marriage, but Brebeuf refused and severed its relationship with the archdiocese.

A 2019 Pew Research Center study shows that 61% of Catholics are in favor of same-sex marriages, which would mean that the Indiana archdiocese is very much out of step with its own flock. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a nonprofit organization in Mount Rainier, Maryland, that advocates for Catholic LGBTQ causes thinks the archdiocese’s strategy is a big mistake and is out of line with the beliefs of most churchgoers.

“The archdiocese is pushing a strategy that is self-defeating,” said DeBernardo. “They’re trying to protect orthodoxy, but in the meantime are forcing more and more people away from the Church.”

In its statement, Cathedral explained that its funding sources and structure differ from that of Brebeuf and that the risks were too high to refuse the archdiocese. Had Cathedral followed Brebeuf’s example, the school would not only have lost its Catholic designation, but it would also not have been able to continue to employ diocesan priests on its board and would have lost its affiliation with the Brothers of the Holy Cross, the school’s main faculty source.

Since the announcement, Cathedral High School’s Facebook page has been transformed from a place for run-of-the-mill announcements into a platform for parents to engage in heated debate about sexuality and theology. Some parents have stood by the school and commended the firing decision, while others were devastated, even threatening to withhold donations until the teacher is rehired.

Brebeuf, on the other hand, is not funded by the archdiocese, which seems to have given more leeway in making its decision. (The school’s affiliation with the archdiocese formally ended on June 21.)

These two very different decisions are not the only instances of employment discrimination in Catholic institutions. According to New Ways Ministry, since 2007, there have been 87 known instances, which have included firings, forced resignations, job threats and rescinded contracts.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a nonprofit representing LGBTCatholics, says this is  just the tip of the iceberg. “Today, for every situation that goes public,” said Duddy-Burke, “we deal with another two or three where the person is not willing to tell his or her story.”

One possible remedy could lie in federal legislation such as the Equality Act, passed by the House of Representatives in May when. The bill, which was first introduced in 2015 by Democratic congressman Rep. David Cicilline, protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace, public spaces, education and federally funded programs.

While Cathedral High School is private and does not rely on public funding, the school does receive state subsidies that  are used to provide scholarships for low-income students; Cathedral received roughly $1.14 million in subsidies during the 2018-2019 school year.

The equality bill received push-back from Republicans who felt that religious freedoms would be restricted by the new laws, contending that sports teams would become difficult to navigate if transgender athletes were to participate.

Cathedral High School’s decision doesn’t only affect teachers and staffers. It also “sends a terrible message of exclusion” to LGBT students at Catholic schools, says DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry. “They are going to feel less welcome than they already feel.”

DeBernardo predicts that views like those of the Indiana archdiocese don’t bode well for Catholic education. “These Catholic schools will become more ghettoized, like little enclaves of traditional Catholicism rather than places of learning that are open to the rest of the world,” he says. “Catholic education is going to suffer greatly.”

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