A publication of Sacred Heart University
The Next Steps (Towards Church Reform)
Voting with Their Pocketbooks

When Silence Becomes A Betrayal

Hate, ignorance and intolerance know no boundaries, be they geographic, emotional, physical or spiritual. We are challenged daily, individually and communally to make choices about our words, behaviors, beliefs and actions. Although the decisions we make today may have predictable or unanticipated short-term consequences, they doubtlessly will have a profound impact on the world in which we live tomorrow. As Martin Luther King once said: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

This is one of those times and, unfortunately, it is because a church leader believes the Eucharist can be weaponized. When our nation is at a poignant crossroad, and the public square has become infected with bias, hate and intolerance, silence is indeed a betrayal. We have our faith, we have our doctrine, and we have our beliefs. We also have a voice and the right to express our opinions, whether in support or in protest of actions we find contradictory, hateful and hypocritical within the Catholic church.

Here is a case in point:  Two private Catholic high schools in Indianapolis—Cathedral High School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School—are embroiled in a controversy with their local archdiocese and Archbishop Charles Thompson over the firing of a gay faculty member at Cathedral. More to the point, under pressure from the diocese, Brebeuf Prep refused to terminate one of its own teachers, the husband of the man fired at Cathedral.

In response to this decision, the archbishop told Brebeuf’s administration that if they wanted to remain part of the Catholic Church, they had to abide by his decisions. I wonder if the archbishop also told his priests suspended for abuses they were no longer Catholic? Or if he ceased compensating those suspended priests with Archdiocesan monies? I wonder if the archbishop called out his episcopal colleagues for their cover-ups of abuses?

Thompson ordered Catholic teachers and counselors to sign a contract agreeing that they would be “witnesses of Catholic principles and deed.” That request is certainly his prerogative, albeit one of a small mind. As retribution, Brebeuf Prep was also told it could not open its 2019/2020 school year with an all-school Mass. How draconian and immature first to use the Eucharist as a weapon and then to punish the students. Such myopia just further isolates young people from the church.

The self-righteous, insecure power measures continued. Brebeuf Jesuit Prep administrators are forbidden to attend archdiocesan discussions about school issues. At the same time, the archdiocese is putting pressure on other schools in the diocese to exclude Brebeuf athletic teams from local Catholic school sports competitions.

To its credit, Brebeuf Prep announced it would be unjust and a violation of conscience to terminate its teacher. The Cathedral teacher has filed a lawsuit claiming unlawful discrimination, and Jesuit Fr. Brian Paulson, provincial of the Jesuit’s Midwest Province, is directing an appeal to the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome to fight the decree removing Catholic identification from Brebeuf—a 57-year-old school with 800 co-ed students.

I am astounded by the hypocrisy evident in the archdiocese’s actions. As the Catholic church continues to reel internationally, from thousands of cases of child abuse, sexual molestation, abuse of power and improper behavior on the part of thousands of priests, church laypeople and episcopal leaders––to see current archdiocesan church leadership engage in such vindictive actions against a high school trying to live by Jesus’s words is shameful.

Last year, we were privileged to have Father James Martin, SJ, return to our campus to speak at an open forum at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. Martin is a well-known but controversial figure known for his writing, talks and outspoken opinions regarding the importance of listening to and welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics into our churches, our communities and our hearts. He also speaks passionately about protecting the unborn, as well as refugees, migrants and the environment.

In his presentation, Martin spoke to the importance of treating LGBTQ people with the virtues that the Catechism recommends: “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” pointing out that the Catechism says, “Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided.”

In his most recent book, Building a Bridge, Martin says, “This is part of what it means to be a Christian: standing up for the marginalized, the persecuted, the beaten down. Be prophetic. Be courageous. Be like Jesus,” he adds, “because if we’re not trying to be like Jesus, what’s the point? And remember that in his public ministry, Jesus continually reached out to people who felt like they were on the margins. He was bringing people who felt on the outside closer into the community. Because for Jesus, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only us.”

Cardinal-elect Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and a supporter of LGBTQ issues, wrote the preface for the European version of Martin’s book. Obviously, the cardinal-elect understands the mission to reach out to the margins as Jesus did numerous time in the gospels. It seems obvious that others in the episcopal ministry need to be more pastoral and less self-righteous in their care.

It might be helpful if Church clerical and lay leaders recall Jesus’saying: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” It is saddening when certain church leaders behave no better than the deteriorating public-square dialogue.

We are a country proudly founded on the principles of civil disobedience, and here, on our campus, we believe strongly in giving voice to differing opinions and philosophies, even if they make us personally uncomfortable or force us to address our own moral, ethical and spiritual standards. We stand firmly against intolerance and bias and will not ignore efforts to malign, discriminate or persecute others.

Through dialogue, debate and controversy, the students at Brebeuf and their peers in Indianapolis, here in Fairfield, Connecticut, and across the country are learning what it means to be Americans, and to be Catholic: We embrace one another regardless of our differences, protect those who cannot protect themselves and speak up when we see injustice and hypocrisy. We cannot and will not betray them, because we cannot and will not be silent.


John J. Petillo is the president of Sacred Heart University

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