New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    Recently I visited my home (arch)diocese. There I attended Mass and went to lunch with the pastor – a good friend of mine. He told me that, of course their Archbishop would tell us we were excommunicated (as would the archbishop in the archdiocese in which I currently live). However, and he stressed this, it is what my conscience sees as right that counts. So I know I am in the clear – and we sure don’t make a public issue about being married – but we are who we are – and that’s all that we are (sentiment taken from Popeye). I know it has cost me one job in a Catholic parish – and maybe another – I’ll know soon (if they snoop too much on facebook).

  2. Frank White
    Frank White says:

    Church leaders often use the phrase “a cause of scandal” when they justify using their authority to condemn church members’ personal behaviors or in some cases, as we have seen recently, to terminate employment.

    I am old enough to remember catholic clergy and religious sisters using phrases such as avoiding “scandal” and the like in the pre-Vatican II past to forbid or at least criticize certain activities which are now routine for Catholics. The list included such diverse activities as “mixed marriages” inside a Catholic church, Catholic funeral masses for victims of suicide, Catholic faithful attending s Protestant service or even crossing the portal of a Protestant church, attending movies condemned by the Legion of Decency, supporting the election to public office of candidates who were divorced and remarried. There were other activities frequently criticized as a “cause of scandal,” but these are the ones which come quickly to my mind.

    Today in 2014 I would ask: Exactly what is the substance and content of this horribly harmful thing called “scandal?” Who exactly is “scandalized” and who is doing the “scandalizing” of whom? We live in an era marked by the revelation of years of widespread sexual abuse by some clergy members, sometimes enabled by their superiors. Perhaps employment by the hierarchy the term “scandal” has become an empty and ironic cliche which has outworn it’s usefulness and needs to be abandoned.

    Frank White Philadelphia

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    Years ago (more years than I care to mention) we learned in the seminary that to “cause scandal” meant to put a stumbling block in someone’s path. I would suggest that these contracts are the scandal and not any ones’ personal behavior (well, perhaps one guilty of cannibalism or the like, but I digress!).

  4. lfullam
    lfullam says:

    I suspect that the purpose of the morality clause is much like that of the mandatum required (in theory) of Catholic faculty teaching theological subjects in a Catholic institution. Bishops tend to grant them more or less automatically–just sign the paper and the mandatum is yours. The clout of the mandatum isn’t in the granting but in the taking away. Similarly, signing this kind of open-ended loyalty oath would seem to make teachers very vulnerable for summary firing if they’re “caught” doing something impermissible. I suspect that’s why Bp. Barber doesn’t want to get specific–it’s far more powerful as a general statement than if there were a list of specifically prohibited opinions or actions. There’s also an interesting paradox at work: on one hand, Catholic leaders speak clearly and strongly on certain issues, but on the other hand, deep in Catholic tradition is also an affirmation that one must obey conscience, even if one’s conscience is wrong. (Assuming it’s inculpably wrong, that is.) So, in the event of a public event that contravenes one hand, but not the other, which aspect of Catholic tradition trumps? And on what grounds?

  5. Jim
    Jim says:

    As a parish lay employee I recently had to sign our diocese’s sexual abuse policy document. It had an addendum on the diocese’s policy on the acceptable use of social media in which it stated that anything which could cause scandal to the ministry should be avoided in both professional and private use of social media. Among a list of things that might cause scandal was the expression of opinions that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    I was not comfortable signing the form, for reasons that include the facts that I am gay, I’m in a long-term relationship, and I fully support the right for gay couples to obtain civil marriage licenses. I occasionally “like” or post comments of support for pro-marriage equality posts and articles on Facebook. Social media is a big source of community, support and affirmation for me. I signed the diocese’s form, but I will not stop giving and receiving support within my online community (which includes some trusted members of my parish and diocese). I feel a little lack in integrity in signing the form and continuing to express opinions on Facebook that are contrary to the teachings of the RCC. But It’s hard to act with complete integrity and remain employed by an institution that is so based in fear and control, and lacks integrity itself in many areas.

    Nevertheless,my employment/ministry situation is the best option for me that I know of at this point in my life. So I carry on, ministering to and with gracious people and sharing God’s love, accepting the fact that I and the church are imperfect servants.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] to teachers, explaining the new contract revisions of  morality clause language that had been introduced last year.   and at least one principal said that the revisions are more relaxed than last year’s […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *