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Indiana archbishop defends firing of teacher in gay marriage

More than 100 Cathedral students and other opponents of Thompson's actions held a prayer protest later Thursday outside the archdiocesan offices near downtown Indianapolis.

In this June 13, 2017, file photo, Bishop Charles Thompson speaks after he is introduced as the new archbishop of Indianapolis. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis says it no longer will recognize a Jesuit high school as Catholic because it refuses to fire a teacher who's in a same-sex marriage. A decree issued by Thompson states Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis archbishop said Thursday that his orders for two Catholic high schools in the city to fire gay teachers were about upholding church teaching on marriage and not about sexual orientation.

Archbishop Charles Thompson said during a news conference that he didn’t seek out information about the marriages involving the teachers but had to respond to what he called a “public situation” of Catholic school employees not following church doctrine.

Cathedral High School leaders announced Sunday that they were terminating the teacher’s contract to avoid a split with the archdiocese that would cost the school its nonprofit status and its ability to have Mass celebrated on campus. That decision came just days after Thompson issued a decree saying the archdiocese would no longer recognize Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as Catholic because it insisted on keeping a teacher who’s in a same-sex marriage.

RELATED: Why are Catholic schools firing gay teachers — and how can one refuse?

“This is not a witch hunt, we don’t go looking for these situations,” Thompson said. “When they are brought to my attention … it is my responsibility, my duty, to oversee the living of the faith, especially for our ministerial witnesses.”

The archdiocese requires all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators at Catholic schools to sign employment contracts that acknowledge they are considered ministers who must follow church teaching.

Thompson’s actions have sparked online protest petitions and social media debate. More than 100 Cathedral students and other opponents of Thompson’s actions held a prayer protest later Thursday outside the archdiocesan offices near downtown Indianapolis.

Thompson maintained Thursday that he wasn’t focusing on same-sex marriages while overlooking school employees living together or who were divorced and remarried without receiving a church annulment. He said church leaders would help the employees take steps toward living according to Catholic teachings.

“It is about the living situation, it’s not the orientation,” Thompson said. “We would do the same thing if it was someone cohabitating.”

Both Cathedral and Brebeuf are affiliated with religious orders and not directly run by the archdiocese. Archdiocesan-operated Roncalli High School of Indianapolis has fired or suspended two female guidance counselors in the past year because they’re in same-sex marriages. The women have filed federal employment discrimination complaints and have said they intend to file lawsuits.

All three schools receive significant funding through Indiana’s private school voucher program. Cathedral, for instance, received about $1.1 million last school year in voucher funding for about one-fifth of its 1,100 students, according to a state education department report.

RELATED: Why Catholic bishops need a year of abstinence on preaching about sexuality

The Republican-dominated Indiana House in February rejected a proposal from a Democratic legislator and Roncalli graduate to block voucher money from going to private schools that discriminate against gay employees and students.

Gina Fleming, the Indianapolis archdiocese’s schools superintendent, pointed out that the voucher money isn’t directed to the schools by state officials.

“It is the family that receives those voucher dollars to help pay for their tuition, their education and formation in our schools,” she said.

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