Most local Catholic school teachers will have to sign a new contract for next school year that lists nearly a dozen types of forbidden conduct that could lead to discipline or dismissal.
The list includes activities that are “in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals,” including abortion, homosexual lifestyle, sex outside of marriage, artificial insemination, or offering “public support” for those behaviors.
Church and school leaders say there’s really no change – that the restrictions have always been there, but are just spelled out more clearly in the new contract.
“There is no witch hunt envisioned,” said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which formulated the contract for diocesan-owned schools. “A really key aspect is the word “public.” We have no way or desire to be thought police. The issue is, if you come out in some sort of a public forum and contradict established church teachings, then you can’t expect to be paid by one of our schools.”
Andriacco said the increased specificity comes as dioceses across the country are re-evaluating their contracts in light of recent lawsuits. The archdiocese last year settled two lawsuits that pitted federal discrimination law against religious liberty. They were filed by unmarried teachers who were fired after becoming pregnant.
Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against women for becoming pregnant, but there is an exception for “ministerial employees” of a religious organization. The 2014-15 contract for local Catholic school teachers says in bold, all-caps print at the top, “Teacher-Minister Contract.”
Robert Klingler, the attorney who represented those two teachers, said he still doesn’t think the contract is enforceable for all of the teachers. He argued that only teachers who are largely tasked with religious education would legally qualify for the exception, meaning math, art, science and other teachers would not be legally bound.
“The schools are hiring people who are not ministers … who are not teaching the faith to the children,” Klingler said. “They should not have to give up their federally protected rights against discrimination, in order to provide services to these children that the teachers are qualified and motivated to provide.”
Andriacco said teachers do qualify as ministerial employees, saying the only reason the archdiocese opens its schools every day is because “they are a ministry of the church.”
Schools talk with teachers
The Rev. Jim Manning, president of Kettering Alter High School, said about 75 teachers and staff attended a meeting March 7 where Principal Lourdes Lambert went through the contract line-by-line, and teachers tried to understand what lines not to cross.
“They asked a lot of good questions, and that shows the respect and trust they have in the principal. No one held back,” Manning said. “They asked, ‘What if I go to a same-gender wedding? Will I be fired?’ There were what-if questions. And the policy’s so new, we don’t even know all of the answers.”
Carroll High School Principal Matt Sableski said if there was an area of concern in his staff meeting, it was in “the specificity of the language.” He said he thinks teachers would not be disciplined for attending the wedding Manning mentioned, and he emphasized that Catholic school teachers have always signed a morality clause.
“The rule of thumb should be, use good judgment, as you always have,” Sableski said.
At Middletown’s Fenwick High School, first-year Principal Andy Barcak said teachers asked whether they could still volunteer with the Boy Scouts or belong to a political party that doesn’t follow the same tenets as the Catholic Church. Barczak said he told the teachers that the Church was not going to check, and that they can be involved in those types of community organizations.
Springfield Catholic Central Principal Pete Dunlap called teacher reactions to the contract “mixed.” He doesn’t think it will affect the school’s ability to attract quality teachers, saying those who sign up are “working for the church, and that’s why we do it.”
John XXIII Elementary School in Middletown was one of the few with no teacher comments on the issue, according to Principal Dawn Pickerill, who said all of her teachers have signed their letters of intent that they want to teach at the school next year.
“They know the Catholic Church has rules and they need to be followed,” she said. “This is a choice you have to make and these are the rules.”
Some school officials acknowledged it’s possible they could lose some teachers over the contract language, but most said it’s too early to know, as most contracts aren’t returned until April. This newspaper’s attempts to get input directly from Catholic school teachers were unsuccessful.
Some Catholic schools – such as Mother Teresa Elementary in Liberty Twp., and Chaminade-Julienne High School in Dayton – are independently owned, and therefore don’t have to adopt the archdiocese’s contract.
“While CJ is not adopting the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s teacher-minister contract for our teachers, our contract holds all who work here to the standards of Catholic teaching,” said Chaminade-Julienne Principal John Marshall. “Our teachers know what is expected of them, which includes issues of morality.”
Details and enforcement
As with any legal policy, there are details to be ironed out. Asked if there would be very different discipline for three teachers – one who organized an abortion rights rally, another who attended and a third who “liked” the event on Facebook, Andriacco said he couldn’t give an answer yet.
He wasn’t sure if the archdiocese had more teacher turnover last summer as the contract made its first step in this direction, but said the church would watch that issue this summer. Andriacco also said contracts for school principals are still being developed, but they will have the same moral conduct clause. Secretaries, food service and other school workers do not have contracts.
Manning compared the teacher contract to a private sector situation.
“I think you’d expect this at any company,” he said. “A corporation has the right to define its identity, mission, vision and core values. And if you work for a company, you’d be expected to live up to those core values, and if you can’t, you don’t work there.”
But Klingler said just like in the private sector, a disciplined employee could file a legal challenge claiming those values violate federal discrimination law.
“Churches have a right to hire only Catholics if they choose to do that,” Klingler said. “If they’re hiring non-Catholics from the general population and they aren’t teaching religion, then the school, it seems to me, should be willing to afford those employees their federally protected rights.”
Andriacco said some opponents of the contract language have invoked the seeming inclusiveness of Pope Francis, but he cited some misinterpretation there.
“Not only Pope Francis, the whole church wants to be inclusive. But not to the point of including doctrines that are inimical to church teaching,” Andriacco said. “I don’t see any indication that Pope Francis is not interested in Catholic identity. When he talked at Notre Dame, he talked about the Catholic identity of our schools.”
Kathy Hart, a teacher in Fairborn City Schools and a Catholic mother, said she would have a hard time teaching in Catholic schools under this contract because she supports gay rights and believes couples should be able to use in-vitro fertilization.
“I raise my children Catholic but that doesn’t mean I agree 100 percent with the church,” Hart said. “My children will learn tolerance and respect regardless of what the church feels about certain issues. You don’t check your personal beliefs at the doors of the church. You find a church that mostly supports what you feel or believe and the rest is up to you as a parent.”
Manning said the language about homosexuality is not a statement against that sexual orientation, but a statement about chastity.
“We’re not criticizing homosexuals. No one chooses their orientation, but you are expected to manage it and control it and be chaste. It’s not about sexual orientation, it’s about the behavior. We would expect that of a heterosexual (who is unmarried),” Manning said. Asked whether that is a fair comparison, as heterosexuals have the opportunity to marry in Ohio while homosexuals do not, Manning said, “Not all heterosexuals get married, and we expect them to stay chaste. … I see the perceived incompatibility of that. But people are making the church out as homophobic. I’ve been 66 years in the Catholic church and I never got the impression that we’re against homosexuals.”
Staff Writers Ed Richter and Michael Cooper contributed to this story.