Jesuits plan to appeal archbishop’s decision

Jesuits in the US Midwest plan to appeal a decree that removed a Catholic school’s status because the school’s administrators refused to terminate a teacher in a same-sex marriage.

Father Brian Paulson, provincial of the Midwest Province of Jesuits, said the order “will appeal [Archbishop Charles Thompson’s] decision through the formal appeal process established in church law.

“Firstly they will go to the archbishop. Then if necessary, they will seek hierarchical recourse to the Vatican.”

According to the archbishop’s decree, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School “can no longer use the name Catholic and will no longer be identified or recognised as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.”

The canonical appeal process is likely to involve several complex issues concerning the relationship between religious orders and diocesan bishops, as well as a bishop’s responsibility for oversight of Catholic education within his diocese.

Kurt Martens, a canon law professor, says the bishop does have the canonical right to take away the title “Catholic” from a school in his territory.

It stipulates three ways in which a school can be understood as Catholic: if it is “under the control of the competent ecclesiastical authority or of a public ecclesiastical juridical person, or one which in a written document is acknowledged as Catholic by the ecclesiastical authority.”

“[Brebeuf] is a Catholic school which is being directed by a public juridical person, which is the Jesuits,” Martens says.

“If it is a diocesan school, then it is clear that the bishop would have control. But when you get to the level of religious, what is the control that a bishop still has?”

Paulson says where the province and Brebeuf differ with the archdiocese is on what degree of autonomy in personnel decisions is appropriate for a school operated by a religious order, in accordance with a religious order’s right. The order’s right to direct its own apostolates is also recognised in canon law.

Canon law also recognises a bishop’s 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.”

Bishops have “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 the Christian life and in their teaching ability.”

Paulson says the archbishop wants all Catholic schools in Indianapolis to include language in their contracts and handbooks defining every teacher as a minister.

This way schools can invoke “the ‘ministerial exemption’ in civil law in regards to discrimination.”

Brebeuf takes “more of an ‘all things considered’ determination of the faith, morals, character, talent and ability to contribute to the mission of the school when determining whether to retain employees,” Paulson says.

“Thus, while recognising that “this teacher’s marriage is not in conformity with church doctrine, the teacher makes a valuable contribution to the mission of the school.”

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