Indianapolis: Catholic LGBTQ Battle Ground

Who knew Indianapolis would emerge as the field on which Catholics would do culture-war battle? This week has seen an incredible back-and-forth in that city’s Catholic schools. One school has broken with the archdiocese in order to retain a gay teacher. Two others have fired gay teachers. I’m sorry for the folks in Indianapolis. Whenever there is a school battle like this, everyone loses. However, I can’t help but notice that this back-and-forth highlights the difficult questions of orthodoxy that we have been discussing lately here at ILYBYGTH.

bryan and darrow

What’s wrong with the “orthodoxy” defense? Ask William Jennings Bryan…

Here’s what we know: According to the New York Times, Cathedral High School fired a teacher in a same-sex marriage after receiving instructions to do from the archdiocese. At Roncalli High last year, two gay teachers were fired. Meanwhile, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School refused to do so, and cut ties with the archdiocese.

[For SAGLRROILYBYGTH who are not savvy about Catholic stuff, Jesuit schools are often not under the direct control of the archdiocese, unlike most parish schools. It is a little easier for Brebeuf to contradict an archdiocesan directive, but it is still very unusual.]

My heart goes out to all the people involved. This must be a wrenching and difficult time for all of them, no matter which side they are on. FWIW, I’m guessing that most people at these schools are not on one side or another, but rather simply want the best education for the kids.

For those of us watching from the sidelines, this story highlights some of the thorniest issues of culture-war school battles. Just as they did when defending Karen Pence’s job at a conservative evangelical school with an anti-LGBTQ policy, some conservatives will surely insist that Indianapolis conservatives are merely defending Catholic orthodoxy.

As the New York Times explained,

A statement from the archdiocese said its approach to teachers in same-sex marriages was “not about sexual orientation,” but rather its belief that Catholic school employees “are ministers of the faith” who must “abide by all Church teachings, including the nature of marriage.”

“If and when a minister of the faith is publicly not doing so, the Church calls us to help the individual strive to live a life in accordance with Catholic teaching,” the statement said.

Over the years, the archdiocese has “walked with individuals and schools” on other issues that went against the teachings of the church, it said.

When an individual has not “chosen this accompaniment,” the archdiocese said, “it is very difficult to part ways, but we readily honor the person’s dignity and decision.”

From the conservative perspective within the church, then, this is a simple question of orthodoxy. School teachers are expected to uphold the faith, not undermine it.

But it’s not really that simple. The question of “orthodoxy” is never so easy. As progressive Catholic pundit Fr. James Martin told the New York Times, the Indianapolis archdiocese is guilty of very selective enforcement. As he put it, if the archdiocese really wanted to defend Catholic orthodoxy among teachers,

the “categories of people you would need to fire” would amount to “a huge list,” including faculty members who used birth control, skipped Sunday Mass or did not give to the poor.

“Why are those virtues any less important than the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage?” Father Martin said. “It is completely discriminatory.”

This is why I’m always surprised when some conservative pundits bring out the “orthodoxy” defense so unthinkingly. It is a two-edged sword. Just ask William Jennings Bryan.