Judge throws out nun’s lawsuit against theology school

Thursday, March 13, 1997

ST. MEINRAD, Ind. (AP) — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a nun who was fired from her teaching position at St. Meinrad School of Theology after signing a letter that asked Pope John Paul II to reconsider his stance against ordaining women.

Sister Carmel McEnroy claimed the school violated its own rules protecting academic freedom after she signed the letter, along with 1,500 other Catholics.

Attorneys for both sides only recently learned of the judge’s reasons for dismissing the suit in late February.

Spencer Circuit Court Judge Wayne Roell ruled McEnroy’s fight with St. Meinrad was a theological dispute and not within his jurisdiction as a state court judge.

“Deciding whether McEnroy or the defendants are correct about those issues of church doctrine would excessively entangle the Court in religion in violation of the Establishment Clause (of the Constitution),” Roell wrote in his ruling.

The decision was praised by officials at St. Meinrad, which trains men to become Catholic priests. McEnroy said she would appeal.

Both she and her lawyers argue St. Meinrad violated her rights as a tenured professor guaranteed academic freedom.

“It’s time that church-related institutions are called to accountability for their unjust treatment of employees instead of getting by with claims that they are above the law and therefore can get away with contractual abuses that are not tolerated elsewhere in society,” McEnroy said in a statement issued after the ruling.

The school also was criticized by the American Association of University Professors for firing McEnroy. The group voted to censure St. Meinrad, placing the graduate seminary on a list of 53 schools where administrations are said to have violated accepted standards of academic freedom.

The Catholic Theology Society of America also sided with McEnroy.

However, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and a federal judge have dismissed her complaints against St. Meinrad, saying the matter was a religious matter, not a legal one.

The controversy began in 1994 when McEnroy signed an open letter to the pope asking him to re-open discussions about the ordination of women. The letter was published as a full-page advertisement in The National Catholic Reporter, which is not an official church-sanctioned publication. After the ad appeared, McEnroy was told she was no longer fit to teach Catholic theology at the school.

She currently teaches at the Lexington School of Theology, an interdenominational institution.