Students at a Jesuit high school in Indianapolis will begin the academic year without an all-school Mass, as the school appeals to the Vatican a decision by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson to strip it of its Catholic name because of its refusal earlier this year to part ways with a teacher who married someone of the same gender.
When Archbishop Thompson’s decree was announced in June, it was unclear what practical effects it would have on the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School—other than a prohibition on being allowed to describe itself as “Catholic.” But one effect, according to a letter posted to the school’s website on Aug. 4 from President William Verbryke, S.J., is that Jesuits who minister at the high school must seek permission from the archbishop to celebrate Mass. The archbishop has allowed a daily Mass to continue, but he will not permit special, school-wide Masses, including the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which is held “as a traditional opening-of-the-school-year Mass,” according to the letter.
The school is appealing a decision by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson to strip it of its Catholic name because of its refusal to part ways with a teacher who married someone of the same gender.
“We are disappointed and saddened by the Archbishop’s decision; however, our appeal includes our request for the ability to have school Masses on campus once again,” Father Verbryke wrote. “However, we must, and do, acknowledge the authority of the Archbishop with respect to the celebration of Mass within the Archdiocese.”
Instead of celebrating a Mass, which was scheduled to be held on Aug. 15, the Jesuits “will call upon the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our school community for this academic year by holding a school-wide prayer service during the school day.”
In an email to America, the archdiocese defended its handling of the Brebeuf case, saying in a statement that all Catholic schools must “clearly state in its contracts and ministerial job descriptions that all administrators, teachers and guidance counselors must convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church. Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School freely chose not to implement these practices and therefore decided to no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution in the Archdiocese.”
The archbishop has allowed a daily Mass to continue, but he will not permit special, school-wide Masses, including the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
“Out of pastoral concern and charity,” the statement continues, “Archbishop Charles C. Thompson has given permission for Mass to be celebrated every day in the school chapel before the start of school.”
In response to a follow-up question about why the archbishop specifically denied permission for a schoolwide Mass, the archdicoese’s spokesman, Greg Otolski, wrote, “By choosing to no longer be recognized as a Catholic institution, Brebeuf was relieved of the burdens and the privileges of a Catholic institution.”
In his letter Father Verbryke wrote that the school had asked Archbishop Thompson to reverse his June decree. The archbishop declined to do so, and the Jesuits are continuing the appeal process by petitioning the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, hoping to overturn the decree.
“We do not have a timeline for how long the appeal process will take, but please be assured that we are making every effort to resolve our disagreement with the Archbishop and resume the strong relationship we have enjoyed with the Archdiocese for the past 57 years,” Father Verbryke wrote
At least two American cardinals belong to the Vatican office that will handle Breubef’s appeal: Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. Before being appointed archbishop of Newark in 2016, Cardinal Tobin was the archbishop of Indianapolis.
According to a June 20 statement from Brian Paulson, S.J., provincial of the USA Midwest Province Jesuits, school leaders learned in the summer of 2017 that a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School had entered a civil marriage with someone of the same gender. The marriage became known via social media, according to Father Paulson, who said the archdiocese then orally requested that the school not renew the teacher’s contract. The school decided not to honor that request, as the “teacher in question does not teach religion and is a longtime valued employee of the school.”
Father Paulson, who will lead Brebeuf Prep’s appeal to Rome, said at the time that school officials disagreed with the archdiocese and decided not to honor the archdiocese’s request in order to protect school staff and because the request from the archdiocese represented interference in employment matters.
In his letter, Father Verbryke said he hoped the appeal process would resolve itself quickly so that Masses for the entire school community could continue to be celebrated.
“We continue to welcome conversation, concerns, and most importantly prayer, as we navigate through this challenging time together,” he wrote.