Indiana AG: Archdiocese Can Fire Gay Teacher

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by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 10, 2020   

Pushes back against activist judge

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Indiana's attorney general (AG) is defending the right of the Indianapolis archdiocese to dismiss a homosexual teacher.

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Joshua Payne-Elliott (right), with his "husband" Layton

On Tuesday, Indiana AG Curtis Hill filed a brief challenging a judge's ruling that let a Catholic school teacher sue the archdiocese. Former Indianapolis Cathedral High School teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott is suing the archdiocese because he was fired after entering into a so-called same-sex marriage. Hill says the suit should be dismissed. In his brief, the AG invoked the First Amendment.

"The suit should have been dismissed immediately under the First Amendment's longstanding protections for church autonomy," Hill stated.

In June 2019, Payne-Elliott was fired from his position with the Catholic high school where he had taught for 13 years. It was when he entered into a so-called marriage with another man that the school refused to renew his annual contract.

Hill explained how the First Amendment applies:

The United States has a long tradition of preventing judicial entanglement in religious disputes — entanglement that can only lead to interference with church autonomy. Here, the trial court's refusal to dismiss a direct challenge to the right of the archdiocese to manage its religious school — and instead to permit in-depth discovery to determine who "really" is in charge and what that entity "really" thinks about marriage — violates the First Amendment by doing just that. Cases such as this questioning internal religious governance and doctrine must be dismissed outright.

Hill took exception to Judge Stephen R. Heimann's handling of the case, suggesting to the Indiana Supreme Court that Heimann meddled in a Church matter.


Jesuit institution tells news station some Catholic institutions may handle situations like this differently
 

Referring to Heimann, Hill wrote: "Courts harm themselves when they go looking for churches to fix. The trial judge's actions here improperly interjected judicial power into ecclesiastical matters, and this court should dismiss the case before the judiciary suffers further loss of esteem."

Personal Opinion Influenced Ruling

According to the brief, Heimann let his personal opinions govern his ruling.

Hill doesn't hold back when he writes Judge Heimann's actions undoubtedly interfered with the archdiocese's (and indeed, the Roman Catholic Church's) ability to govern its own affairs.

"[Heimann] attempted to force the archdiocese into a settlement based on its own incorrect understanding of canon law," Hill wrote. "In the process, the judge has expressed his personal opinions regarding the archdiocese's practices and policies and allowed those opinions to influence the course of the case."

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Judge Stephen R. Heimann

Later, Hill gave an example in which "the judge expressed his opinion that the archdiocese had erred by treating Payne-Elliott differently than a celibate priest supposedly known by the judge to be gay."

Hill doesn't hold back when he writes, "Judge Heimann's actions undoubtedly interfered with the archdiocese's (and indeed, the Roman Catholic Church's) ability to govern its own affairs."

Influenced by Catholic Dissidents

While the judge's religious affiliation hasn't been verified, Heimann has expressed appreciation for two Catholic authors.

In a 2015 interview published in Indiana Court Times, Heimann named Fr. Richard Rohr, a popular dissenter from Catholic teaching, as a person he admires. "Fr. Richard Rohr has taught me that dualistic thinking is limiting — it doesn't have to be either/or. Rather, often, it is both/and," remarked Heimann.

When asked about his favorite books, the Indiana judge recommended a work by homosexualist priest Fr. James Martin titled Jesus: A Pilgrimage. 

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Abp. Charles Thompson

Heimann gave the following assessment of Martin's book to the Indiana Court Times:

Combining the insights of historical works about Jesus with his and others' spiritual insights about Christ, Fr. Martin colorfully recreates the world of Jesus' life and times, which makes one feel as though the reader is right there listening to Jesus. The book is also filled with lighthearted stories and humor.

Payne-Elliott's same-sex partner, Layton Payne-Elliot, is also a teacher at a Catholic school. He's still employed, however, by Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, also located in Indianapolis. When Abp. Charles Thompson told the Jesuit-run school it couldn't retain its affiliation with the Catholic Church if it continued to employ Payne-Elliott, the Jesuit institution refused to comply.

The Jesuit school appealed to the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education. More than a year later, the matter is still unresolved.

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