In a Sept. 28 statement, Abbot Murphy said the reversal “raises the question of what a Catholic high school should require from those who work with and form its students.” He said he believes it is necessary that “the witness of their public lives not be in opposition to Catholic moral teaching” and so he was “deeply troubled” by the decision. The school’s decision “calls into question its adherence to the doctrines of the Catholic faith.”
“Pope Francis has been clear that our love and respect for all persons is not in contradiction with Church doctrine on the sacrament of matrimony and teachings on sexuality,” he said. “At the same time, it is important to note that honest disagreements about the morality of homosexual acts should not be construed as hate. If we give in to the voices that say that disagreement equals hate, then we allow civil discourse to perish.”
In his September announcement, the abbot said he would take the matter to prayer and he encouraged everyone to “stay rooted in the peace of Christ.”
Benet Academy lists on its website 24 board members. Of these, five are Benedictine priests, brothers, or sisters; 12 are lay alumni of the school; and seven are non-alumni lay persons.
The abbey gave at least $50,000 to Benet Academy in the 2019-2020 school year and is one of its largest donors, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
St. Procopius Abbey also has a connection to Servant of God Dorothy Day, a radical activist who converted to Catholicism and launched the Catholic Worker Movement. She became an oblate of the abbey in 1955 and she often returned there for retreats. At the time, the abbey was involved in promoting Christian unity with Orthodox Christians and she was attracted to this effort.
The abbey says on its website that it continues to pray for Day’s canonization.
The controversy at Benet Academy follows decades of cultural, political, and legal changes in how society views Christian morality and same-sex relationships.
In the United States, various Catholic schools and dioceses have faced lawsuits from employees who have been fired after contracting same-sex marriages in violation of the diocesan or school policy. Many states and localities protect sexual orientation and gender identity under anti-discrimination law.
Federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination – Title VII – includes an exception for ministers of religion. In the June 2020 ruling Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Catholic school teachers, even if not given the formal title of "minister,” can fall under the ministerial exception because the essence of their job is to transmit the faith to students.
However, these precedents are not necessarily strong. In North Carolina last fall, a federal judge ruled that the Diocese of Charlotte discriminated against a substitute teacher by firing him upon his announcement that he intended to contract a same-sex marriage. The judge said the plaintiff was a lay employee whose role was limited to teaching secular classes.
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Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.