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A look at the Brebeuf appeal

September 24, 2019

The ‘recourse’ (a kind of canonical appeal) taken by Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School against Indianapolis Abp. Charles Thompson’s decree last summer (discussed here), revoking recognition of BJPS as a “Catholic school”, indicates that the Indy Jesuits think being recognized as running a Catholic school is still important. Unfortunately, Pope John Paul II’s now-disheveled apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus (1988) by which the Roman Curia supposedly operates—a document that has undergone considerable tinkering by John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, and which is now slated for complete replacement—makes identifying what is being appealed to whom and on what basis difficult. A few points may be suggested.

The Roman suspension of Thompson’s decree is not a final resolution of the dispute. Rev. Bill Verbryke, sj, makes this clear in his recent letter announcing Rome’s accepting the recourse for consideration. Unfortunately Verbryke avoids mentioning what the whole dispute is about (namely, that BJPS refused the request of Thompson to allow the lapse of an employment contract by which a man who had entered a ‘same-sex marriage’ was being allowed to teach Catholic high school students), leaving the impression that Thompson simply revoked the school’s claim to be Catholic and occasioning an appeal by the Jesuits, but let that pass.

PB artt 112-116 set out the authority of the Congregation for Catholic Education over Catholic schools. None of those provisions, in my view, directly authorizes that dicastery to over-rule a bishop’s determination regarding a school’s Catholic identity, but then, neither do any of those provisions expressly exclude that authority. For that matter, as the dispute concerns “the correct exercise of the pastoral function of [a] bishop” (PB art 79), I might have thought the Congregation for Bishops would have been approached, and perhaps it will be consulted. In any case both offices ultimately work for the pope so a decision should be forthcoming.

Thompson invoked Canon 803 in his decree revoking the claim of BJPS to be “Catholic”. I think that canon (along with some others) supports the archbishop’s ruling here, but then, I am notorious for thinking that canons usually mean what they say. Briefly, even accepting a BJPS claim per 1983 CIC 803 § 1 to be Catholic because it is directed by “a public ecclesiastical juridic person” (which the Jesuits certainly are), the final provision of that very canon states that “even if it is in fact Catholic, no school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority”. That local bishops are the competent ecclesiastical authority in such matters, even though they are subject to recourse as here, is not doubted.

So, a few scenarios.

Rome decides that employing, as teachers of children in Catholic schools, persons who choose to live in open contradiction to fundamental Church teaching on marriage (here, in a ‘same-sex marriage’, but it could be a civil marriage following divorce), is consistent with the Church’s understanding of “true education” as the “complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end” (1984 CIC 795), that persons choosing so to live are “outstanding in doctrine and integrity of life” (1983 CIC 803 § 3), that they ably assist parents in seeing to “the physical, social, cultural, moral, and religious education of their offspring” (1983 CIC 1136), and that they are suited to assisting parents in “the Christian education of their children according to the doctrine handed on by the Church” (1983 CIC 226 § 2), among other norms, and thus a bishop is wrong to say otherwise. Or,

Rome decides that employing, as teachers of children in Catholic schools, persons who choose to live in open contradiction to fundamental Church teaching on marriage is not consistent with the Church’s mission of education and thus bishops, “who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit” (1983 CIC 375 § 1), are right to say so. Or,

Rome decides that BJPS does not use the name “Catholic” in its name and therefore it has not run afoul of Canon 803 § 3, leaving its claim to Catholic identity technically intact according to Canon 803 § 1. Of course, in that case, one wonders how the hundreds, likely thousands, of other Catholic schools around the world not using the word “Catholic” in their name (however much they might claim the label Catholic in their public relations, fund-raising, etc.), would be subject to Church authority.

So, we’ll see, won’t we.

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