ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES:
RONALD G. SHEFFER DAVID K. HERZOG
CARL B. BOYD, JR. BEN W. BLANTON
BRIAN F. HAARA SCOTT D. HIMSEL
Sheffer - Hoffman Baker & Daniels
Henderson, Kentucky Indianapolis, Indiana
DR. CARMEL McENROY, ) ) Appellant-Plaintiff, ) ) vs. ) No. 74A01-9803-CV-123 ) ST. MEINRAD SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY, ) RT. REVEREND TIMOTHY SWEENEY, O.S.B., ) and REVEREND EUGENE HENSELL, O.S.B., ) ) Appellees-Defendants. )
Catholic Reporter, Archabbot Sweeney determined that Dr. McEnroy had become "seriously
deficient" in her duties as a seminary professor by publicly dissenting from the Pope's
teachings, and that the Church's canon law required that he remove her from the faculty at
Saint Meinrad. Pursuant to his jurisdiction over Saint Meinrad provided by the Statement
of Governance and contained in the Faculty Handbook, Archabbot Sweeney directed Father
Hensell to so remove Dr. McEnroy. He did so and as a result, Dr. McEnroy filed suit against
Defendants, asserting breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations,
and breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.See footnote
Defendants responded by
filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Ind. Trial Rule 12(B)(1). The motion argued that the
court lacked subject matter jurisdiction "because [resolution of] these claims would require
the Court to decide religious issues regarding the Church's good faith motivation and
doctrinal basis for removing her under the canon law." R. at 38. After a hearing, the trial
court granted the motion. This appeal ensued in due course.
A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction presents a threshold question concerning the court's power to act. Tapia v. Heavner, 648 N.E.2d 1202, 1205 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995). When confronted with a motion to dismiss based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the trial court must decide upon the complaint, motion and any affidavits or other evidence submitted whether it possesses authority to further adjudicate the action. Common Council of City of Hammond v. Matonovich, 691 N.E.2d 1326, 1328 (Ind. Ct. App.
1998), trans. denied. Unlike ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the trial court may
weigh evidence and resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion for subject matter
jurisdiction. Tapia, 648 N.E.2d at 1205. Where, as here, the facts are not in dispute, we
review the trial court's decision de novo. Matonovich, 691 N.E.2d at 1328.
Citing the Supreme Court's decision in Employment Div., Dep't of Human Resources v. Smith, Dr. McEnroy contends the trial court could avoid violating the First Amendment's prohibition against excessive entanglement by applying neutral principles of contract law. 494 U.S. 872, 110 S. Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990) (civil courts do not inhibit the free exercise of religion where neutral principle of law may be applied). Dr. McEnroy premises this contention on the twin assertions that the contract granting her continuing appointment status and the Faculty Constitution provide the exclusive circumstances under which she may be dismissed, and that the issue may be resolved without reference to either church law or doctrine. Saint Meinrad counters that Dr. McEnroy's contract also incorporated the terms of the Faculty Handbook, which included the Statement on Governance. The Statement on Governance in turn "provides that the seminary operates through an hierarchical model in the administration of justice as specified by the Church's canon law and its Program of Priestly Formation ("PPF"), and that the Archabbot retains direct jurisdiction over Saint Meinrad within that model," including the authority to remove a seminary professor who is determined to be seriously deficient. R. at 434.
The Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment requires civil courts to refrain from interfering in matters of church discipline, faith, practice and religious law.
Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. (13 Wall) 679, 727, 20 L.Ed. 666 (1871). Thus, civil courts are
precluded from resolving disputes involving churches if "resolution of the disputes cannot
be made without extensive inquiry . . . into religious law and polity. . . ." Serbian Eastern
Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 709, 96 S. Ct. 2372, 2380, 49 L.Ed.2d 151
(1976). Consequently, the First Amendment proscribes intervention by secular courts into
many employment decisions made by religious organizations based on religious doctrines
or beliefs. Accordingly, personnel decisions are protected from civil court interference
where review by civil courts would require the courts to interpret and apply religious doctrine
or ecclesiastical law. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. at 696, 96 S. Ct. at 2372. (review of church's
decision to defrock bishop impermissible where resolution required interpretation of internal
The contract granting Dr. McEnroy continuing appointment stated, in relevant part, "[t]he statements on academic freedom and responsibility, on appointment and dismissal contained in the Faculty Constitution are among the terms of appointment." R. at 283 (emphasis added). Use of the term "among" here creates an ambiguity made evident upon examination of the arguments raised by the parties. Defendants contend the term implies the existence of additional terms, specifically the Faculty Handbook and Statement on Governance. Dr. McEnroy, on the other hand, argues that the Faculty Constitution provide the sole terms of her contract. At oral argument before this court, Dr. McEnroy stated that the phrase "among the terms of appointment," could not refer to documents not specifically mentioned, and therefore refers to the terms of appointment and dismissal as set forth in the
Faculty Constitution. When confronted with an ambiguous contract, this court attempts to
determine the intent of the parties at the time of formation as disclosed by the language used
to express the parties' respective rights and duties. Barrington Mgmt. Co., Inc. v. Draper
Family Ltd., 695 N.E.2d 135, 140 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998). Where, as here, the ambiguity arises
from the language employed rather than because of extrinsic facts, its construction is a
question of law to be determined by the court. I.C.C. Protective Coatings, Inc. v. A.E. Staley
Mfg. Co., 695 N.E.2d 1030, 1034 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998), trans. denied. We will read the
contract as a whole and accept an interpretation which harmonizes and gives effect and
meaning to the contract's words and phrases. Barrington, 695 N.E.2d at 140.
Applying these principles to the contract before us, we find that by declaring the statement on academic freedom and responsibility contained in the Faculty Constitution to be "among the terms of appointment," the parties intended to signify that additional terms were also to apply. The contract does not state what additional terms were intended to apply or their relation to those contained in the Faculty Constitution. We observe, however, that the parties agreed before the trial court the Faculty Handbook, which includes among other things the Statement on Governance, was also incorporated into the contract at trial. In light of the Statement on Governance, resolution of Dr. McEnroy's claims would require the trial court to interpret and apply religious doctrine and ecclesiastical law. At a minimum, the trial court would have to determine whether: (1) Archabbot Sweeney properly exercised his jurisdiction over Saint Meinrad, (2) Dr. McEnroy's conduct constituted public dissent or caused her to be "seriously deficient," and (3) canon law required Archabbot Sweeney to
remove Dr. Sweeney from her teaching position. Because the trial court would be clearly
and excessively entangled in religious affairs in violation of the First Amendment, we find
DARDEN, J., concurs.
SULLIVAN, J., concurs in result with opinion.
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
DR. CARMEL McENROY, )
vs. ) No. 74A01-9803-CV-123
ST. MEINRAD SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY, )
RT. REVEREND TIMOTHY SWEENEY, O.S.B., )
and REVEREND EUGENE HENSELL, O.S.B., )
SULLIVAN, Judge, concurring in result
While it may be patently discriminatory to terminate a tenured faculty member, who
happens to be a Catholic, while not permitting termination of a tenured faculty member who
embraces a different religious faith, such discrimination is constitutionally protected.
This anomalous and seemingly unjust result is dictated by the interpretation given over the years to the prohibition against the judiciary from interfering in matters of religious dogma or discipline. This prohibition would seem to control even where the discrimination is patent. It requires us to affirm the finding that a faculty member is rendered unfit to teach solely by dint of her public disagreement with a particular teaching of the
In this case, the teaching is that ordination of women is contrary to moral law as
interpreted by the papal encyclical. Furthermore, our decision is compelled whether or not
the divergence of philosophical or theological view is reflected in the classroom.
Dr. McEnroy was terminated because her signature to the public letter, along with that of some fifteen hundred others, rendered her, in the opinion of Archabbot Sweeney, "'seriously deficient' in her duties as a seminary professor." Slip op. at 3. I find no evidence permitting even an inference that Dr. McEnroy, by reason of her personal position on the issue, had become less efficient or conscientious in her teaching methods or in the presentation of the classroom subject matter within her duties. Nevertheless, it was concluded that the Church's canon law required her removal.
Be that as it may, this case rests upon the proposition that the Church may discipline and sanction its own faithful as it sees fit without regard to concepts of discriminatory conduct which would otherwise be unlawful. This is deemed an internal hierarchical discipline dispute in which the judiciary may not become involved.
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