While the Code of Canon Law establishes that religious orders, like the Jesuits, "retain their autonomy in the internal management of their schools," it also says that the diocesan bishop has "the right to issue directives concerning the general regulation of Catholic schools" including those administered by religious orders.
Canon law also says that the diocesan bishop "is to be careful that those who are appointed as teachers of religion in schools, even non-Catholic ones, are outstanding in true doctrine, in the witness of their Christian life, and in their teaching ability."
The Church's law adds that the diocesan bishop "has the right to appoint or to approve teachers of religion and, if religious or moral considerations require it, the right to remove them or to demand that they be removed."
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis policy, which says that all school teachers and administrators have a responsibility to teach the Catholic faith, is a common interpretation of those norms in U.S. Catholic dioceses.
The archdiocesan June 20 statement notes that the archdiocese "recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers." The 2012 Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC Supreme Court decision established that religious institutions are free to require those it recognizes as ministers to uphold religious teachings as a condition of employment.
The school's leaders claim that "the Archdiocese of Indianapolis' direct insertion into an employment matter of a school governed by a religious order is unprecedented."
Fr. Paulson framed the problem as one of "the governance autonomy regarding employment decisions of institutions sponsored by the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus."
"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."
The school's leaders added that failing to renew the teacher's contract would cause "harm" to "our highly capable and qualified teachers and staff."
"Our intent has been to do the right thing by the people we employ while preserving our authority as an independent, Catholic Jesuit school."
The leaders noted that they "are prayerfully discerning how best to proceed with the process of appealing the Archdiocese's directive."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Fr. Paulson said the province will appeal the decision, first through the archbishop "and, if necessary, [pursuing] hierarchical recourse to the Vatican."
Canon law establishes that "no school, even if it is in fact Catholic, may bear the title 'Catholic school' except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority," in this case, the Archbishop of Indianapolis.
Brebeuf was founded in 1962 by the Society of Jesus. Its 2019 enrollment is 795 students, and tuition at the school is $18,300.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has previously addressed similar issues.
In August 2018, Shelley Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, was placed on paid administrative leave. An employee of an archdiocesan school, Fitzgerald had attempted to contract a same-sex marriage in 2014.
At that time, Archbishop Thompson wrote that "the archdiocese's Catholic schools are ministries of the Church. School administrators, teachers and guidance counselors are ministers of the faith who are called to share in the mission of the Church. No one has a right to a ministerial position, but once they are called to serve in a ministerial role they must lead by word and example. As ministers, they must convey and be supportive of the teachings of the Catholic Church. These expectations are clearly spelled out in school ministerial job descriptions and contracts, so everyone understands their obligations."