Archbishop of Indianapolis speaks out over Roncalli counselor placed on leave because of gay marriage

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Archbishop of Indianapolis has responded to the controversy surrounding a Roncalli High School guidance counselor that was recently placed on paid leave after it was discovered that she was married to another woman.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson said the issue concerning Shelly Fitzgerald’s employment is not about her sexual orientation, but about the church’s definition of marriage.

Thompson goes on to say that the archdiocese’s Catholic schools are ministries of the church, with administrators, teachers and counselors being ministers of the faith who are called to share in the mission of the church. As ministers, he says these people must convey and be supportive of the teachings of the church, an expectation spelled out in ministerial job descriptions and contracts.

And when a person is not fulfilling their obligations as a minister of the faith within a school, Thompson says church leadership addresses the situation by working with the person to “find a path of accompaniment that will lead to a resolution in accordance with church teaching.”

Fitzgerald remains on leave as these issues are addressed. She has worked at Roncalli for the past 15 years and been in a relationship with her wife for more than 20.

Fitzgerald has hired attorney David Page to represent her. He has said that the counselor’s coworkers and the administration knew she was gay and it was not a huge secret. Many, including students, do not agree with the school’s decision and feel she should still be able to keep her job.

Read the Archbishop’s full statement below:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

I regret the pain that has been caused by the recent controversy surrounding the employment of Shelly Fitzgerald, a guidance counselor at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. We are called as the Body of Christ to pray for and love one another, even in times of disagreement and controversy.

As has been reported in the media and discussed publicly by Ms. Fitzgerald, she is living in a civil marriage to another woman that is not valid in the eyes of the Church. She is on paid administrative leave. The issue concerning Ms. Fitzgerald’s employment is not about sexual orientation, but about the Church’s teaching that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman as established and revealed by God.

There is nothing in Church teaching that says being gay or lesbian is a sin. God created each of us with equal dignity. The dignity of the human person, rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God, is a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching. The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, who “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2358).

At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage, a natural institution established by God. By its very nature, marriage is a permanent partnership between one man and one woman ordered to the good of the couple and the procreation and education of children. It is the foundation of the family, where children are raised and nurtured, and learn values and virtues that help them to grow in maturity.

The archdiocese’s Catholic schools are ministries of the Church. School administrators, teachers and guidance counselors are ministers of the faith who are called to share in the mission of the Church. No one has a right to a ministerial position, but once they are called to serve in a ministerial role they must lead by word and example. As ministers, they must convey and be supportive of the teachings of the Catholic Church. These expectations are clearly spelled out in school ministerial job descriptions and contracts, so everyone understands their obligations.

When a person is not fulfilling their obligations as a minister of the faith within a school, Church and school leadership address the situation by working with the person to find a path of accompaniment that will lead to a resolution in accordance with Church teaching.

Let us pray that everyone will respect and defend the dignity of all persons as well as the truth about marriage according to God’s plan and laws.

Please know of my prayers for you, and I ask of your prayers for me.

Your Brother in Christ,

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson