The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s controversial new loyalty oath for Catholic school teachers which requires that they do not express “public support for a homosexual lifestyle,” among other things, has been receiving opposition recently, and has been the subject of scrutiny of several labor and education professionals.
Over 100 Catholic protesters took to the street in front of the archdiocese’s chancery when they delivered 24,000 signatures on a petition which called on Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to re-write the teachers’ contract without the objectionable clauses.
Parents, teachers, and parishioners were among the protestors. WCPO-TV quoted one teacher who is also a parent of a gay man:
“Molly Shumate says she has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Hamilton County for 14 years. She has a gay son and refused to sign a contract that says she’s can’t publicly support a homosexual lifestyle.
” ‘I would never initial next to a statement saying that I will not support my son who in my eyes my God made perfectly. I will not do that,’ Shumate said.”
WLWT-TV further quoted Shumate about her decision not to sign the contract:
“The main reason I will not sign this contract is my son is gay, and the day he came out to me, the world was lifted off of his shoulder as well as mine, and it was at that moment that I said to myself I will never hide who he is, be embarrassed of who he is and at that point I said I’m going to use this opportunity to make a difference.”
“Dozens of LGBT teachers, who have committed their life’s work to their Catholic faith, have already lost their jobs in schools across the country. HRC calls on Archbishop Schnurr to remove this anti-LGBT police from Cincinnati Catholic schools and ensure that LGBT Catholics no longer have to choose between who they are, who they love and what they believe.”
The Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii, has recently instituted a similar policy to that of Cincinnati.
The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee has reported on the growing trend in U.S. Catholic dioceses of making teaching contracts more explicit about what types of ideas teachers can support. One expert quoted notes that the new, stricter policies “are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.” Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, stated:
“It’s about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don’t want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay. . . . They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws.”
Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, a labor union for Catholic educators, worries too about other implications of these new policies which seem to try to solidify the ministerial role of a teacher:
“When dioceses start to call their employees ministers, I look at that as a way for a diocese to tell an employee, ‘Well, you’re a minister, you can’t unionize.’
“If that’s what they’re aiming to do, I have serious issue with that.”
Though diocesan officials state that teaching is a ministerial activity, Schwartz doesn’t disagree totally with that notion. Where she differs is in the detailed, explicit listing of all the things that a teacher cannot support. For instance, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati morality section expanded from two pages to six. McElwee reported on her position:
“While she said she understood the need for a morality clause in Catholic teachers’ contracts –‘I don’t think you can be a Catholic school teacher without one,’ she said — the organizer called the Cincinnati contract ‘six pages of “thou shalt not.” “
” ‘There’s no reason for that,’ she said. ‘There’s got to be a happy medium here.’ “
McElwee’s reporting expands on these themes with interesting details and perspectives. For those who want more information about the complexities of these employment situations, I recommend you read his entire article by clicking here. He closes with a plea from Schwartz for greater organizing on the part of Catholic teachers:
“Most Catholic teachers, she said, ‘have no job security, have no due process. They just work at the pleasure of the employer.’
” ‘They need to stop doing that,’ she said. ‘They need to organize themselves into an association, they need to petition for recognize and collective bargaining. That’s the only way that they’re going to have a say over the conditions under which they work. And the sooner they do it, the better.’
“Griffin suggested that teachers consider consulting with lawyers if they have to sign contracts defining them as ministers. Particularly, she said, those teachers might consider trying to insert language into their contracts that specify that while they are ministers, they still claim their rights to sue for workplace discrimination.
“Ultimately, said Griffin, ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’
” ‘The laws won’t change unless people start seeing it more from the employee perspective,’ she said.”
New Ways Ministry has been encouraging Catholics to adopt employment non-discrimination policies for their church institutions. To find out how to begin the process of implementing one, click here. New Ways Ministry has also supported DignityUSA’s call to write letters to church leaders protesting restrictive employment policies. All three efforts can have an impact on our church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Cincinnati.com: Marchers seek change to Catholic teacher contract