Are Loyalty Oaths for Catholic School Teachers The New Inquisition?
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 13, 2014 at 11:08:34 AM EST
Unlike the National Football League, which took a small but significant step forward towards inclusiveness with the drafting of the openly (and proudly) gay Michael Sam, several Archdioceses around the country are taking giant leaps backwards.

Last September, Pope Francis made what many considered to be an extraordinary statement when in an interview "he criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized," The New York Times reported. Throughout his first year, Francis has clearly been concerned with expanded the church, not further contracting its membership.

It appears, however, that Archdioceses in Cincinnati, Ohio, Oakland, California, and the state of Hawaii have either not gotten the message or are being just plain ornery. Those districts are demanding that their teachers at Catholic schools pledge fealty to Catholic doctrine in their actions inside and outside the workplace.

Pope Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

"We have to find a new balance," the Pope continued, "otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel." In words, if not church doctrine, Pope Francis was making a clear distinction from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, less than a year later, Archdioceses in Cincinnati, Ohio, Oakland, California, and the state of Hawaii are pressing teachers, employed in Catholic schools, to sign contracts, which can be read as loyalty oaths to Catholic doctrine.

According to The New York Times' Frank Bruni, employment contracts being forced upon thousands of teachers, many of whom aren't Catholic, will result in a climate of McCarthyism and possibly force teachers, who need their jobs, to take their beliefs and personal behavior underground.

The teachers' contract "handed down earlier this year," in Cincinnati -- which if not signed could cost teachers their jobs -- "strictly forbid[s] public support of homosexuality," Michael D. Clark recently reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The employment contract - exclusively obtained and reported by The Enquirer in March - continues to divide huge sections of the region's Catholics. The "morality" clauses - though not unique among Catholic schools nationwide - were a first for the 19-county Archdiocese school system."

In late March, Clark pointed out that "For the first time, [the contract] details prohibited practices such as gay 'lifestyles,' out-of-wedlock relationships, abortions and fertility methods that go against Catholic teachings." It orders teachers "to refrain 'from any conduct or lifestyle which would reflect discredit on or cause scandal to the school or be in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals.' It goes so far as to ban public support of the practices."

Under the new contract, teachers are expressly prohibited from: "improper use of social media/communication, public support of or publicly living together outside of marriage; public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock; public support of/or homosexual lifestyle; public support of/or use of abortion; public support of/or use of a surrogate mother; public support or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination."

In explaining the expanded wording of the contract, Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said: "There aren't any new expectations of our teachers in the 2014-2015 contract. The revised wording is just more explicit in that it lists examples of behaviors that are unacceptable as contrary to church teaching. We think that's fairer to the teachers and a help to them.

"We've always regarded our schools as a ministry. That's why we open the doors in the morning. Not all of our students are Catholic and not all of our teachers are Catholic, but all of our schools are Catholic. And we found out from listening sessions around the Archdiocese two years ago - when we developed our Vision for Catholic Schools - that Catholic identity is very important to our Catholic school families," Andriacco added.

"We regard all of our teachers - not just religion teachers - as ministerial employees, even if they are not Catholic. Our contract for many years has reflected that by including a moral conduct clause. Last year we made that clause more explicit by mentioning the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and this year we've added examples of unacceptable behaviors."

In Hawaii, teachers were presented with an expanded Teacher Employment Agreement in late March. According to HawaiiNewsNow, "Section 3.3 of the contract spells out the grounds for terminating a teacher the church believes is living immorally. The areas include adultery, homosexual activity, same sex unions, procuring, abetting or promoting abortion, euthanasia or in vitro fertilization and unmarried cohabitation."

In Oakland, California, Diocese spokesman Mike Brown said "this is not a witch hunt." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Brown "said the new language is an attempt by Oakland Bishop Michael Barber, who took over last year, to 'be more clear about the contract.'"

"Faithful Catholicism has never been a condition of employment in most Catholic schools, which have Protestant teachers, Jewish teachers, teachers of no discernible religion," The New York Times' Frank Bruni pointed out. "They know to be respectful. They know to be discreet. But they're there to decipher the mysteries of algebra, to eradicate the evils of dangling prepositions. They're not priests."

"The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is blurring that distinction, labeling the new employment agreement a "teacher-minister contract." The language is deliberate. Religious organizations can claim exemption from anti-discrimination statutes in the hiring and firing of ministers who are actual caretakers of the faith. Putting teachers in that category -- lumping them together with clergy -- is an end run around laws that govern other employers."

Will contracts of this type be considered legal? Will teachers who teach subjects outside of religious doctrine be subject to the same restrictions? Will religion trump free speech?

"A private school like this has the right to impose any religious restrictions it wants," said David Rosenfeld, who teaches at the UC Berkeley School of Law and has represented teachers unions. "If they got wind that somebody was buying contraceptives, they could fire them."

While many long-term teachers are fearful they will lose their jobs if they don't sign the contracts, a number of parents are seriously reconsidering educational options for their children because of them.

Over the past year, Pope Francis has played to an audience that generally appreciates his efforts to expand and modernize the Church. Will he speak out against these oppressive contracts? Stay tuned.

Some archdiocesan teachers have sought advice from existing unions (St. Louis and SEIU) on pressuring the archdiocese to increase teachers' salaries. The teachers have public opinion on their side. I daresay that the move toward calling teachers "teacher-ministers" is meant to avoid equal-opportunity controversies, workplace safety laws, union organization and other public complaints by teachers (and allegations by teachers concerning other staff members' inappropriate behavior with children?), and lastly, ensure teacher conformity, in speech and action, to (very selective) Catholic doctrines. Next up, fire teachers who have yard signs for Democrats?

"Learn to lie effectively. Attend a Catholic school." ?

by NancyP on Tue May 13, 2014 at 06:38:23 PM EST

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