Vatican Suspends Decree That Punished Catholic School For Keeping Gay Teacher

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson's decree against Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School is temporarily suspended while the Vatican considers an appeal.

The Vatican has temporarily suspended a decree intended to penalize a Jesuit high school in Indiana for refusing to fire a married gay teacher.

Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School can resume holding all-school, traditional Masses, Rev. Bill Verbryke, the school president, announced Monday, while a Vatican body considers a request to allow the school to regain its status as a Catholic institution within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. 

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson kicked Brebeuf Jesuit out of his archdiocese in June, after the school refused to follow his orders to fire math teacher Layton Payne-Elliott. The archdiocese said that Catholic school teachers are “ministers” who are required to uphold church teachings, which prohibit same-sex marriages. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, right, and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers in Indiana
Joshua Payne-Elliott, right, and his husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, were both employed as Catholic school teachers in Indianapolis. Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired in June.

Brebeuf leaders refused to budge, insisting that firing the “highly capable and qualified teacher” would violate “our informed conscience on this particular matter.” The school, part of the Jesuit religious order’s Midwest province, was also concerned that an archdiocese was overstepping by interfering in an employment decision that it believed should be made by leaders within the global religious order.

Thompson’s decree meant that his archdiocese no longer formally recognized Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic school. Although the school was allowed to hold daily services in its chapel before the school day, Thompson denied its request to hold an all-school, traditional Mass to start the school year, IndyStar reported.

The Jesuit’s Midwest province is appealing Thompson’s decree with the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, a church body that oversees the world’s Catholic schools. Verbryke said Monday that he does not know how long the appeals process will take.

“Ultimately, our desire is to remain in full communion with the Catholic Church, without restrictions on our celebration of the Eucharist, and that our identity as a Catholic school be fully recognized and supported by the Archdiocese, as had been the case for our first 57 years,” Verbryke wrote.

The archdiocese told the IndyStar that the Vatican’s temporary suspension is a common practice that doesn’t affect the appeal’s outcome.

Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Archbishop Charles Thompson leads the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Verbryke said that because of the suspension, his school can celebrate a special, all-school Mass for the feast day of St. Jean de Brébeuf, its namesake, on Oct. 24.

He emphasized that the Vatican’s decision to suspend Thompson’s decree is temporary.

“It does not mean that the matter has been resolved, or that any permanent decision has been made,” Verbryke wrote in his statement.

Payne-Elliott’s husband, Joshua Payne-Elliott, was fired from another local Catholic school in June at Thompson’s orders. Payne-Elliott has filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese.