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Archdiocese had right to dismiss Roncalli counselor in same-sex marriage



Indianapolis, Indiana – A federal judge ruled on Friday that the Roncalli High School counselor could be fired by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for being in a same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit brought by Shelly Fitzgerald was decided in the church’s favor by Judge Richard Young. Before being fired in August 2018, she had 15 years working as a counselor at Roncalli.

The Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago’s finding in July, which sided with the judge in backing Roncalli’s decision to not renew a contract for another counselor, Lynn Starkey, led to Friday’s decision. She had disclosed to Roncalli that she shared a same-sex marriage with Fitzgerald. Starkey filed a complaint for equal opportunity in November 2018 and a lawsuit against the high school and the Indianapolis Archdiocese in July 2019.

The archdiocese was sued by Fitzgerald in October 2019.

The university has previously contended that Fitzgerald committed to a ministerial job description in her employment contract that required her to adhere to Catholic doctrinal principles. She admitted, according to the school, that she had violated this contract agreement by being married in a ceremony that was not recognized by the Catholic Church.

In Friday’s ruling on the Fitzgerald case, the judge said, “To be sure, ‘[i]t is a stretch to call a high school guidance counselor a minister,’ as ‘the job is predominantly secular.’”

The judge added, “But because Roncalli, through the employment agreement and faculty handbooks, expressly entrusted Fitzgerald with shaping the school’s religious policy, Fitzgerald’s position as Co-Director of Guidance qualifies for the ministerial exception under Starkey. Since the application of the ministerial exception bars all of Fitzgerald’s claims, summary judgment is appropriate for Roncalli and the Archdiocese.”