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Catholic school teacher fired for gay marriage sues Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Joshua Payne-Elliott’s attorney, in a press release, said the former teacher has also filed a discrimination claim at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Archdiocese of Indianapolis (www.archindy.org); right: Facade of building at Cathedral High School, Indianapolis, IN. (Wikipedia)

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 10, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- A teacher at a Catholic school in Indianapolis whose contract was terminated due to his same-sex marriage is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, one day after reaching a settlement with the school.

Local news station RTV6 reported that former Cathedral High School teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott filed a lawsuit claiming that the archdiocese illegally interfered in his professional relationship with Cathedral High School, leading the school to terminate his contract last month.

The news station cited a press release from Payne-Elliott’s attorney, which said the former teacher has also filed a discrimination claim at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying the archdiocese “discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliated against him for opposing sexual orientation discrimination.”

A statement from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis responding to the lawsuit said that within archdiocesan Catholic schools, “all teachers, school leaders and guidance counselors are ministers and witnesses of the faith, who are expected to uphold the teachings of the Church in their daily lives, both in and out of school.”

“Religious liberty, which is a hallmark of the U.S. Constitution and has been tested in the U.S. Supreme Court, acknowledges that religious organizations may define what conduct is not acceptable and contrary to the teachings of its religion, for its school leaders, guidance counselors, teachers and other ministers of the faith,” the archdiocese said.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC that government cannot interfere with religious institutions’ hiring and firing decisions regarding employees which they consider ministers.

Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit was announced one day after his attorney released a statement saying that a settlement had been reached between Cathedral High School and the teacher, who at the time was still unidentified.

The July 9 statement said that the school was working to help the teacher find a new job.

“The teacher thanks Cathedral for the opportunities and experiences that he has had teaching at Cathedral and does not wish Cathedral any harm. The teacher also thanks his friends, former colleagues, and students for their support during this difficult time. Cathedral thanks the teacher for the years of service, contributions, and achievements,” the statement said.

“For its part, Cathedral intends to remain Catholic, while respectfully facilitating discernment among the Archdiocese, the Catholic community and the Cathedral Family on this issue.”

Terms of the settlement were not released.

Last month, Cathedral High School announced that it was terminating the contract of an employee – now identified as Payne-Elliott – in a civil same-sex marriage.

“It is Archbishop [Charles] Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” Cathedral High School leaders said in a June 23 letter.

“Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedral’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

“Therefore, in order to remain a Catholic Holy Cross School, Cathedral must follow the direct guidance given to us by Archbishop Thompson and separate from the teacher,” said the letter, signed by Matt Cohoat, chairman of Cathedral High School’s board of directors, and Rob Bridges, the school’s president.

A few days prior, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis announced that another high school, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, would no longer be recognized as a Catholic school following a two-year disagreement about the employment of a teacher in a civil same-sex marriage.

School leaders at Brebeuf said that to follow the instruction from the archdiocese “would not only violate our informed conscience on this particular matter, but also set a concerning precedent for future interference in the school’s operations.”

The Code of Canon Law recognizes the diocesan bishop’s responsibility to ensure that religion teachers are “outstanding in true doctrine, in the witness of their Christian life, and in their teaching ability.” The diocesan bishop has the right to approve religion teachers and, “if religious or moral considerations require it, the right to remove them or to demand that they be removed.”

In a press conference June 27, Archbishop Thompson stressed that the teacher was removed not because he was gay, but because he had contracted a same-sex marriage, in opposition to Church teaching on marriage.

All people should be treated with love and respect, and sexual orientation in itself is not sinful, the archbishop said, according to the Criterion.

However, he added, the Church is clear in teaching that the proper role of sexual activity is within a marriage between one man and one woman.

The issue in cases such as Brebeuf and Cathedral, he said, “is about public witness of Church teaching on the dignity of marriage as one man and one woman. That is our Church teaching.”

“In this particular case we’re dealing with, those are ministers in our Church. Teachers, guidance counselors, other leaders, leaders of the schools and other leaders in the archdiocese are bound to live out these principles.”


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18 Comments

  1. “Joshua Payne-Elliott filed a lawsuit claiming that the archdiocese illegally interfered in his professional relationship with Cathedral High School…

    “a press release from Payne-Elliott’s attorney, which said the former teacher has also filed a discrimination claim at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying the archdiocese “discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and retaliated against him for opposing sexual orientation discrimination.””

    Apparently Mr. Payne-Elliot’s intellect is substandard. He was fired because he is living a flagrantly sinful life, failing to uphold the Church’s teachings (and in fact blatantly defying them), and providing an evil example to the students; and the Supreme Court has already said that churches can hire and fire people whom they consider to be ministers.

    I’ll bet Mr. Payne-Elliot and his supporters are all gung-ho about how the ministerial priesthood means nothing, and we’re all called to the priesthood of the faithful. They want all the convenient things about being “priests,” they just don’t want anything that interferes with their doing whatever they want to do.

    ““For its part, Cathedral intends to remain Catholic, while respectfully facilitating discernment among the Archdiocese, the Catholic community and the Cathedral Family on this issue.””

    In other words, for its part the Cathedral is obeying with extreme reluctance, while doing its best to undermine the Archdiocese and Catholic teaching. “Respectfully facilitating discernment” is mealy-mouthed modern-speak and makes me want to vomit.

    • Hello Leslie! I have seen your name many times in the CWR comments and I thank you for those. I am not quite understanding your comments on this issue, however. I think I thoroughly agree with you but due to your last paragraph I am not totally clear. Would you explain.
      I think that it’s about time that Catholic institutions fire those employees that openly defy Church teaching and ignore the precepts of the Church. I believe that is what you are saying. Am I correct? We are living in a difficult time now and I believe the Church must take off the gloves and call an ace an ace and a spade a spade. Perhaps Mr. Payne-Elliot should be counseled first but I have a sense that has already happened. I have recently written a letter to the Bishop of Dallas asking that an openly homosexual office worker, in a homosexual “marriage” be fired from the University of Dallas Seminary Office for ignoring Church teaching. The Bishop was kind enough to respond back to me that he is looking into the matter. Good for us and good for those good Catholics willing to uphold the teachings of the Church. I fear, however, we are in for a battle. My God protect and protect us. Thank you, Leslie, for your response.

      • Jeff, my last paragraph was pointing out that people who are genuinely accepting Church teaching would say “Cathedral will remain Catholic” without qualification. Adding “while respectfully facilitating discernment among the Archdiocese, the Catholic community and the Cathedral Family on this issue” means that they are not really accepting the teaching. The Archdiocese is in no need of “discernment;” they have already discerned what’s right, and they have made it clear.

        A more appropriate statement would have been “Cathedral will remain Catholic, and will help the Catholic community and the Cathedral Family to understand and accept the Church’s teaching on this issue.”

        They’ve clothed their reluctance to obey and their disagreement with the Archdiocese’s instruction with smarmy buzzwords like “facilitate,” instead of saying bluntly what they mean. There’s a lot to say for, as you said, calling a spade a spade.

        Thank you for your kind words.

  2. ONE DAY after what was undoubtedly a nice settlement – “The teacher thanks Cathedral for the opportunities and does not wish Cathedral any harm.”

    Wanna run that one by me again?

    • “does not wish Cathedral any harm”

      But does wish the Archdiocese harm, and does wish the Church harm.

      If I were Cathedral, I would do some serious thinking about the company I was choosing to keep.

  3. Whether this teacher claims a homosexual orientation from birth or that he discovered it in the subsequent years, was he not the deceptive one in applying for a position that was diametrically opposed to his personal beliefs and lifestyle?

    But he purposely did so anyway?

    Where does his integrity and responsibility come in?

  4. CNA, do a little research! The teacher’s contract was not terminated. The contract ended. Then no new contract was offered. Catholic school teachers do not have tenure and they do not have a legal expectation of continuing employment the way public school teachers do.

    This teacher cannot win but he can certainly cost the archdiocese plenty in legally defending itself.

    • Which can all have been avoided if he had had an ounce of integrity and never have applied in a Catholic institution in the first place.

  5. Many years ago, as a young teacher, I taught at a Catholic elementary school. When being hired, the principal, a nun, specifically asked about my devotion to the faith and upholding the values of Catholic education. They asked about my marriage (my husband was Anglican, but we were married in the Church). So my question is how could he answer that question and openly practicing/dating in a relationship that is contrary to the Church? How could he teach in a Catholic setting without lying and presenting a false acceptance of faith? And how could other teachers in that school fail to recognize or accept the open/brazen failure of the school to uphold the teachings of the Church? What about the parents of children in that school? Did they forget the Church’s value too? I feel for the school and its students losing a teacher, however, his lifestyle was clearly lived in a manner that is not demonstrative of Catholic values and faith. He should have never been hired.

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