July 12, 2019

Archbishop encourages Christ-centered approach to move forward in unity

In an interview with The Criterion on July 1, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson discussed a range of issues in light of recent decisions by Cathedral High School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, both in Indianapolis. Here, the archbishop speaks with Indianapolis media during a June 27 news gathering at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

In an interview with The Criterion on July 1, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson discussed a range of issues in light of recent decisions by Cathedral High School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, both in Indianapolis. Here, the archbishop speaks with Indianapolis media during a June 27 news gathering at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By John Shaughnessy

In an interview with The Criterion on July 1, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson encouraged a Christ-centered approach to bring some measure of unity to the situation concerning recent decisions by Cathedral High School and Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School—decisions involving teachers in a same-sex marriage at the two Indianapolis private schools.

“There are people on all sides,” the archbishop said. “Young people have expressed support for me, and young people have expressed hurt and disillusionment. The same thing among older adults. There’s no section of society or age group where you can say they’re here or there.

“As I’ve said many times as a priest and a bishop, I have to first be Christ‑centered. When I’m self‑centered or agenda‑driven, I’m off the mark. I’m at my best when I remain Christ‑centered. Being Christ‑centered is only going to happen through prayer, only through being open to the word of God, being open to how the Spirit is working in my life.

“All of us—regardless of where we find ourselves—if we strive to be Christ-centered, then I think we allow our minds and hearts to be as open as possible to where the Holy Spirit is leading us, not only as individuals but as a human family again—and what it truly means to be a Body of Christ even amid the woundedness and the brokenness.

“If each of us would do that, regardless of where we found ourselves on the spectrum, what a difference that would make in going forward for all people.”

Archbishop Thompson shared that perspective concerning the reactions he has received in connection to the archdiocese’s contractual expectations of all teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and other leaders in Catholic schools. The contract for Catholic schools in the archdiocese requires these “ministerial witnesses” to “convey and be supportive of all teachings of the Catholic Church,” including its teaching on the dignity of marriage as between one man and one woman.

The requirements of that contract thrust the archdiocese into the local and national media spotlight when Brebeuf and Cathedral made defining choices in response to the contractual expectations.

Both choices came after two years of discussion between the archdiocese and the two schools “on what it truly means to be ministers of the faith, and how we uphold that expectation in our Catholic schools,” noted Gina Fleming, superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. All other archdiocesan and private Catholic schools in the archdiocese had implemented “ministerial language in contracts.”

After the archbishop gave the two schools a deadline to either retain their Catholic identity or not, officials at Brebeuf chose not to establish and uphold “such agreements that protect the important ministry of communicating the fullness of Catholic teaching to students,” resulting in the archdiocese no longer recognizing the school as Catholic. Brebeuf announced the decision to continue the employment of a teacher in a same-sex marriage—a choice in opposition to Catholic teaching.

Officials at Cathedral released a statement that the school would “separate” from the continued employment of “a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage.” Cathedral also acknowledged in its communication to the archbishop that the school intended to uphold the teachings of the Church and expectations of ministers of the faith to do so, Fleming noted.

The Criterion’s interview with the archbishop took place against this backdrop. Here is an edited version of that interview.

Q. Against the backdrop of these situations at Brebeuf and Cathedral, what is your overall message to people who are gay?

A. “As I’ve been clear from day one, one of the key principles of Catholic Church teaching is the dignity of persons. Every person is created in the image of God. Every human being is sacred, regardless of orientation, gender or any other issue—race, immigration, refugee—whatever the issue is. Every human being deserves respect and dignity.

“To young and old, know that they’re created in the image of God and that they’re beloved children of God. The Church embraces, loves and welcomes all persons as we would welcome Christ himself, and as Jesus embraces each of us.”

Q. What is your overall message to young people in the Church, including those at Brebeuf and Cathedral who may be struggling with these situations at this time?

A. “First and foremost, that we are people of prayer. Prayer is listening to God, and being open to the Holy Spirit guiding us and leading us. And hopefully we would embrace intercessory prayer, praying for one another in this. By praying for one another, it helps us go beyond our differences.

“Our society has become so polarized, that we can’t listen to each other, we can’t dialogue, and we begin demonizing each other. And that’s a danger for us as human beings and as Christians. How do we continue to see in one another, even amid disagreements, that we are part of the human family, that we are part of the Body of Christ?

“It’s also important for us to read and study and know what the Church teaches. I would really encourage further and deeper study and reflection on what the Church teaches, and why it teaches what it teaches. The key principle of the dignity of persons. Also, the key principles of the dignity of marriage and the dignity of family. We have the dignity of caring for creation, to care for the poor. And so forth.

“And to remember that you are a child of God, that each one of us is a child of God. And first and foremost, that we recognize within ourselves our dignity and the dignity of everyone around us.”

Q. There’s a perception among critics of you and the archdiocese in these two situations that the archdiocese is differing from the welcoming approach that Pope Francis has extended toward people who are gay. You have a great admiration for Pope Francis. What do you see as Pope Francis’ approach to these relationships, and do you feel that you and the archdiocese are being consistent with his approach?

A. “In my pastoral letter, ‘We Are One in Christ,’ I spoke about the dignity of all persons, the sanctity of all life, and I mention people of same-sex attraction there. As I’ve said, all persons are created in the image of God. That’s very much in line with the Church, and Pope Francis has certainly been very clear about that.

“Pope Francis talks about accompanying. He talks about dialogue. He talks about encountering. He talks about mercy. He says, ‘Meet persons where they are. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. Then teach.’ Which means bring them along, lead them to Christ.

“You have to listen to Pope Francis in his entirety—what he has said all along. He has said some beautiful things of encouraging and supporting, but he also says some things that are very challenging. People have to read and hear the totality of the message, not just pick and choose what fits their agenda.

“Pope Francis appointed me here as archbishop of Indianapolis so I have to constantly be reading and listening to what he’s saying, and paying attention to what he’s doing—to have that guidance. And I discern it with other bishops. I don’t make decisions in a vacuum.

“Not only am I committing this all to prayer, I’m also looking for guidance through the Holy Spirit. But also through consultation, from people within the archdiocese as well as people from outside the archdiocese. People who I believe have a good sense of Pope Francis’ leadership, his intentions and the direction he is leading the Church.

“I try to keep before me in every situation—‘how do we accompany, how do we dialogue, how do we encounter, how do we be instruments of mercy?’ But there are challenging moments where some hard decisions have to be made, difficult decisions.

“I firmly believe that we’re in line with Pope Francis. If we’re not, I’d hope he’d let me know. I trust he would. But I believe we’re carrying on the vision of Pope Francis as well as any diocese in the Church.”

Q. You have also received considerable support from people about this issue. Talk about that support.

A. “Whether it’s e-mails or letters or texts or phone messages or what have you—both in opposition and those in support—it’s important to pay attention to both. Where do I need to be challenged? The challenges are not as easy sometimes, especially when it’s done in a very harsh tone. But then again those are people who probably perceive me as being harsh, or my decision is harsh.

“The flipside of that—the letters, the calls, the texts, the e-mails of support—they’re very much appreciated. The prayers are especially appreciated. The support and the encouragement are also very appreciated. And I’ve gotten that from bishops around the country. I’ve gotten that from priests, religious, laity, young, old, families. Those are easier to read, of course, than the criticisms, but both are important.

“Again, I’m on the journey of faith like anyone else. There are only two people without sin—Jesus and Mary. John the Baptist perhaps. I’m a sinner. As Pope Francis said when he was first interviewed as pope and he was asked, ‘How would you describe yourself,’ he said, ‘I’m a sinner.’

“I’m a sinner, too. I don’t have all the perfect answers. My goal is not to carry out Chuck Thompson’s vision or Chuck Thompson’s teachings. I’ve been entrusted with the care of souls in central and southern Indiana, and I’ve been entrusted to do that, and to use as my markers the teachings of the Church.

“The key thing, too, about encouragement and support is that I don’t want it to be so one-sided. We live in such a polarized society that we don’t want to demonize the other. So anybody who supports me, I want to encourage them to pray for everyone involved. We hold everyone in a sense of dignity and the deepest of regard as human beings.”

Q. Church teaching on same-sex marriage is in conflict with the perspectives of many Catholics in the United States, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. A fact sheet from Pew that was released in May noted that 61 percent of those people who identify as Catholic now support same-sex marriage. What are your thoughts on that statistic, which according to Pew, has flipped since 2004?

A. “I remember one time, of all places, on a door of a science lab, a poster read, ‘Truth is not determined by majority opinion.’ The Church has taught for 2,000 years that marriage by nature is designed by God as one man and one woman.

“Pope Francis himself has said that same-sex unions will never be equivalent to the Church’s understanding of marriage. So, first and foremost, I have to be guided by what I believe to be revealed by Christ through Scripture and through tradition in Church teaching, regardless of polls.

“The Church’s teaching on marriage as one man and one woman, that continues. My understanding is that Pope Francis has not made any attempt and has no intention of changing that. Again, he directly says same-sex unions will never be equivalent to the Church’s understanding of marriage. I think he’s made that pretty clear. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. We always embrace the person.”

Q. How does the Church get its teaching about marriage across in a way that connects with Catholics who support same-sex marriage? And if it can’t, do you worry about the impact it will have on the Church locally and nationally?

A. “It’s a difficult time for the Church. It’s a difficult time for any institution of faith right now. Again, we’re living in such a polarized society—economically, religion, politically. In every facet, we shift from the center, we move away from each other. Each side believes it has the truth, and therefore they don’t need to dialogue or listen to the other side. Over time, that polarization continues to intensify. There’s even the act of starting to demonize the other side. Those are the challenging times we live in.

“There are so many different messages out there. There are so many different voices coming at us with the different forms of social media. And there are so many different agendas and ideologies vying for center stage and vying for our souls, our hearts and our minds.

“The Church is a voice among all those. Pope Francis oftentimes says we need to go to the margins, the peripheries. I sometimes think society has pushed the Church to the margins and peripheries. But we must continue to engage the world, engage society and engage culture with our message, with that Good News, with those teachings, and what we believe the word of God and the tradition of the Church has revealed and brought to us—and calls us to take to others.” †

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