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Thomas J. McKenna

Opinion,

Vatican erred in suspending US archbishop’s decision to strip ‘Catholic’ label from pro-gay school

Thomas J. McKenna

November 1, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – When noble minds assess the many contributions of the Catholic Church to human culture through the ages, they will undoubtedly view the remarkable clarity of its teaching about the laws of nature and nature’s God as a singular achievement. In common parlance, these are the natural law and the moral law. No institution on the face of the earth has done more to safeguard these two gifts to humanity.

As for noble minds, Albert Einstein himself witnessed a persecuted, suffering, but stalwart Church confront Nazism in the 1930’s and 40’s and later commented that “only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then, I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty.”

The Church earned the admiration of such a great man not because it adapted itself to the shifting political winds of the day. Einstein said he respected the Church for its courage to stand against those winds. Being faithful to your own creed in the face of coercive forces ranks as heroism in most cultures, and Einstein rightly saw the Church’s struggle for what it was: a spiritual battle for truth and freedom.

Certain powerful ideologies operating today exhibit a similar aggressiveness against the natural and moral order and require the same similar courageous response from the Church, even when they are within our Church. 

The controversy that broke out at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis last June should have been handled as a routine personnel matter – namely, the firing of a teacher who was living an objectively immoral and scandalous lifestyle. 

Archbishop Charles Thompson of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis acted on principle and revoked the Catholic status of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, after two years of dialogue, when they refused to dismiss a teacher who had entered into a so-called homosexual “marriage” with another teacher in the Archdiocese. Archbishop Thompson is one of those prelates Einstein would have respected for his courage to uphold the moral and natural law.

Following the Archbishop’s action, the recriminations from the dissenting Jesuit community were immediate and predictable. The school “declined to honor” the Archbishop’s directives, issued a press release decrying his actions, and immediately appealed the decision to the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, the church equivalent of a civil lawsuit. 

The gay teacher remains in place at Brebeuf while his partner was fired from the other Catholic high school that was directly under the supervision of the Archbishop. Unsurprisingly, his partner is now suing the archdiocese for, among other things, “discrimination,” wrongful termination and emotional distress. The ideological headwinds are buffeting the Church again. 

What happened next is more astonishing, however. Two weeks after the action of Archbishop Thompson, the Congregation for Catholic Education temporarily suspended the Archbishop’s decree to revoke the Catholic status of the Jesuit school. Both Archbishop Thompson and the Church’s courageous defense of truth had the rug pulled out from under them by an office of the Vatican itself. This is a bridge too far. 

The Congregation, in a press release, hastened to assure the public that this was only a temporary suspension while reviewing the Jesuits’ complaint against the Archdiocese. But one may reasonably ask: What exactly needs to be reviewed? The long-standing position of the Catholic Church that homosexual acts are objectively immoral? The illegitimate “marriage” of the two teachers? This is a position of the natural and moral laws, and there is nothing in them that a Congregation of the Vatican can change. To attempt to do so would be to tamper with the very foundations of the moral life and of the Church’s constant teaching with regard to good and evil.

One of the most immediate consequences of the decision by the Congregation is that it has deprived the Archdiocese of its main legal defense against the homosexual partner suing for “discrimination.” While American civil law has long upheld the right of religious organizations to define and enforce their own moral codes, the solidarity of Church authority regarding our own teaching is essential to that recognition. Bishops without backing from Rome are now bishops without legal ramparts against pressure groups.

The other and, to my mind, most negative effect of the Congregation’s action is that it sows confusion and undermines the local bishop’s authority over his own flock. Even temporarily suspending a bishop’s decree on something so basic sends a message to the faithful that Catholic teaching is now up for grabs and that the faithful who defend it will be called out for doing so. When prelates like Archbishop Thompson exercise that moral courage Einstein so admired against a tyrannical ideology in any age, they have a right to the age-old solidarity with the entire teaching authority of the Church. Do we really want to cross this bridge? 

** Thomas McKenna is President of Catholic Action For Faith And Family

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