Brebeuf resists Archdiocese’s requests prompting decree and appeal: How it all went down


Meredyth Jones '19

St. Ignatius statue from Brebeuf Jesuit grounds. Photo Credit: Meredyth Jones ’19

Natanya Katz '21, Editor in Chief

By: Natanya Katz ‘21
Editor in Chief

Sometime before October 2017, the Office of the Archbishop of Indianapolis, also known as the Chancery Office, became aware that a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School was in a same-sex marriage under civil law. In October 2017, the Chancery Office notified the Brebeuf administration of the Archdiocese’ disapproval and requested action from the school.

Brebeuf President, Father William Verbryke, SJ — also known as “Father Bill”, said that some Brebeuf administrators questioned whether Archbishop Charles Thompson was overstepping his authority. “We are governed through the Society of Jesus,” explained Father Bill. “We have some independence from the Archdiocese when it comes to our internal governance.” He further stated that “at no point was the Brebeuf administration considering terminating the contract of the teacher.” The Chancery Office contacted Brebeuf twice more, in December 2017 and Spring 2018, with more serious expectations for action. Brebeuf did not alter its position. Father Bill explained that “we felt that the decision to continue to hire the teacher was within our rights as a religiously-sponsored school.”

In addition to action regarding the teacher, the Archdiocese also expected Brebeuf to amend its employee contracts and handbook to include ministerial language. Such language states that all faculty and staff of Brebeuf Jesuit are “ministers of the faith” who must follow Catholic teachings. Father Bill explained that this title can be applied to employees of any type of religious institution, and is legally useful “if a religious institution wanted to terminate a teacher because their actions were not in alignment with the doctrine of the faith.” When an employee’s contract states that he or she is a “minister of the faith,” then “anti-discrimination laws would not apply” in the event that a fired employee sued the school.

At Brebeuf, the only employees who are formally considered to be “ministers of the faith” are religious studies teachers, campus ministers, and top administrators. As to other Brebeuf employees, Father Bill explained that the Brebeuf administration is “making prudential judgments about the men and women that we hire and retain” he continued, “they [the employees] would not do anything that is contradictory to what our mission is about, which impart, is about inclusivity.” Father Bill also explained that the Brebeuf community values religious diversity, which to him, includes having non-Catholic instructors, “It creates a model of what a diverse community looks like.” Brebeuf indicated to the Chancery Office that the language in the school’s handbook covered what the school’s administration felt was important. The Archdiocese later stated that this language was unsatisfactory. The Brebeuf administration agreed to make certain changes to the language in the contracts and handbook, but declined to include ministerial language.

In early June 2019, a canon lawyer from the Archdiocese visited Brebeuf. The visit came two weeks before the official decree from the Archdiocese rescinding its recognition of Brebeuf as a Catholic school. The purpose of the visit was to inform the Brebeuf administration of the Archbishop’s impending decree if Brebeuf failed to comply with the Archdiocese’s requests 1) that it terminate the contract of the teacher and 2) that it explicitly state in the employee contracts that all employees of Brebeuf are “ministers of the faith,” Brebeuf did not comply and Archbishop Thompson’s decree was issued on Friday, June 21, 2019.

The decree has been appealed to the Vatican. The appeal was written by the provincial of the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, Father Brain Paulson, SJ. It has been sent to the Congregation of Catholic Education in the Vatican for review. Father Bill explains that on one level, the appeal “asks about the situation between Brebeuf and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis specifically.” On a larger scale, however, it asks the question of “how far can an Archbishop go in terms of stepping into the governance of a religiously sponsored school?” Father Bill says that whatever the decision, “it will be precedent setting” and that “archbishops, bishops and religious orders are very interested in what the result is going to be.” Although the timetable for the appeal is not fixed, one source advised Father Bill that it will likely take months but not years.
The Arrow contacted Gina Fleming, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, for comment. The Arrow received a response from the Archdiocese’s Director of Communications, Greg Otolski: “While Brebeuf Jesuit’s appeal of the archdiocesan Decree concerning the school’s Catholic identity is pending in Rome, the Archdiocese is unable to comment on the matter.” Archbishop Thompson stated in a news conference on June 27, 2019, “this is not a witch hunt, we don’t go looking for these situations,” and that “it is my responsibility, my duty, to oversee the living of the faith.”


St. Ignatius statue from Brebeuf Jesuit grounds.
Photo Credit: Meredyth Jones ’19