While Oakland Diocese Relaxes Teacher Contract, San Francisco Tightens Theirs
Two dioceses on either side of the San Francisco Bay have taken different approaches to morality clauses in their contracts for Catholic school teachers. The difference highlights the fact that a detailed, micro-managed approach to employees’ lives is not necessary for a Catholic institution.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco released the “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church,” one of the most detailed and restrictive of the recent spate of “morality clause” documents which some U.S. dioceses have introduced over the past year.
Just the day before, on the other side of the Bay, the Diocese of Oakland released a letter from Bishop Michael Barber 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 original.
San Francisco’s statement outlines a number of theological concepts that must be affirmed and believed by the school, including the nature of God, the efficacy of the Sacraments, redemption, and the nature of the male-only priesthood. Additionally, the statement requires affirmation and belief in a number of moral issues including: opposition to contraception; condemnation of homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography; upholding heterosexual marriage as the only legal option; condemnation of artificial reproductive technology and cloning.
Students in the archdiocese have responded by setting up two Twitter hashtags, #teachacceptance and #trustSFteachers, and an online petition.
In a letter to teachers, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said:
“At the outset, I wish to state clearly and emphatically that the intention underlying this document is not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers, singly or collectively, nor does it introduce anything essentially new into the contract or the faculty handbook.”
The archdiocese also released a Q & A list related to the new material in the handbook.
Though the statement is framed as a manifesto of beliefs of the school institution, not of the individuals employed at it, the document also states:
“As effective professionals in a Catholic School setting, we all – administrators, faculty and staff – are required and expected to avoid fostering confusion among the faithful and any dilution of the schools’ primary Catholic mission. Therefore, administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith, are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths. To that end, further, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law. Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves “Catholic” but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”
On the other hand, Oakland revised its 2014 statement which originally said:
“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.”
The new version states that teachers should:
“demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and refrain from taking a public position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
While the change here might be subtle, Catholic educators in Oakland expressed satisfaction with the new language, noting that it removed worries that the diocese would be investigating employees’ private lives.
An article on SFGate.com attempted to parse out the distinction:
“What if a teacher is part of an openly married, gay couple — is that a public position? What if a teacher marches in a pro-choice rally? Would a teacher who lives with a partner out of wedlock be fired?
“ ‘No to all of those,’ said Pam Shay, principal of Bishop O’Dowd High School, where parents demonstrated in support of teachers after The Chronicle reported on the details of the contract language change.”
“ ‘Now, if they were wearing their O’Dowd sweatshirt and marching in a (pro-choice) demonstration or posting a picture of them smoking a joint while wearing their school sweatshirt, that might be a different story,’ Shay said.”
The detailed approach that the San Francisco Archdiocese has instituted shows both a remarkable lack of trust in their employees and an incredibly restricted view of Catholicism. Do they think that the professionals that were hired need to be policed so minutely? Do they believe that the richness of the Catholic faith, identity, and tradition all boils down to this handful of dogmas and a list of sexual ethics issues? There is nothing in this list about conscience or respecting human dignity. There is nothing in this list about a wide variety of personal and social sins that are other than ones connected with sexuality.
Perhaps the reason, however, is legal. The Archdiocese may be listing these items because they want to be able to fire people legally, and not be vulnerable to suit afterwards. While legal issues are important, pastoral ones are, too. Though Archbishop Cordileone has said that he did not approve this language to target teachers for dismissal, one has to wonder why else it would have been written in such precise detail. The future will tell if this language will be used to fire people or not.
Legalistic micro-managing will end up doing intense damage to Catholic schools as an institution in the archdiocese. If competent professionals in these schools feel threatened by the restrictive language, they will likely seek employment elsewhere. Parents who want their children to receive a quality education which emphasizes moral responsibility will avoid sending their children to schools that do no better than to cherry-pick morality. Catholic schools will become insular enclaves with no ability to communicate with the outside world.
Catholic schools will need to learn a better way to establish Catholic identity than just figuring out infractions by which to judge teachers’ fitness to educate students.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
National Catholic Reporter: New faculty handbooks in San Francisco to include statement developed by archbishop
SanFranciscoCBSLocal.com: “Gay Sex, Adultery, Masturbation, Porn Are ‘Gravely Evil’: SF Archbishop Clarifies Sexual Morality For School Staffs”
East Bay Express: “San Francisco Archbishop’s New Proposed Teacher Contract Calls Gays “Gravely Evil”
These tests of faith seem surprising and shocking to me. I’m not a secularist but do wonder whether faith schools should exist at all with such restrictive morality clauses. They are not necessary in order to have a Catholic ethos, built on love and respect.
Over-complicating and restrictive in order to protect dioceses from lawsuits? Automatons are not what excellent Catholic schools usually produce. After 12 years in Catholic Schools, my classmates and I are more questioning and accepting of other points of view, not less. Many have left the Catholic Church because of such rigid attempts to control our minds and hearts. Pope Francis’ ideas have obviously not been welcomed by the Magisterium in these areas.
Call To Action is standing with students and the Catholic community in San Francisco by launching a petition against the morality clauses in the contract. Please consider signing: