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Ohio Catholic School Contracts Controversy Dismissed as Overblown (2508)

An archdiocesan spokesman discounts media criticism, noting that most teachers are happy with the contract’s guidelines about conforming to Catholic principles.

05/29/2014 Comments (13)

CINCINNATI — The Archdiocese of Cincinnati says criticism of its updated school contracts for teachers amounts to hype from third parties, noting that teachers themselves have been largely pleased and receptive.

“What the principals keep telling ... our superintendent is that it’s a non-issue in most of these parishes,” said Dan Andriacco, communications director for the Cincinnati Archdiocese.

“Our sense is: It’s quite a tempest in a teapot,” he told CNA in a May interview.

As part of its efforts to revitalize the Catholic identity of its schools, the local Church has issued a new contract for its school teachers for the 2014-2015 academic year.

The new guidelines specify that the educator must agree “to exemplify Catholic principles and 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.”

In response to some media reports claiming widespread discontent among Archdiocese of Cincinnati teachers, Andriacco countered that local Superintendent Jim Rigg “has heard from a dozen or more teachers happy about the contract — happy that they’re being asked to sign this.”

On the other hand, opponents of the new contract’s wording are a small but vocal group among Catholic educators in the area. “Our sense of things is that it is a small minority,” he said.

The contract, which makes it clear that the archdiocese considers its educators to be ministers as well, is part of an effort to bolster Catholic identity in Catholic schools.

“Three years ago, we started a long process for creating a unified vision for our Catholic schools in the archdiocese,” Andriacco explained.

“As part of that, we had listening sessions throughout the archdiocese to find out what was really important to people, and one of the messages that came through loud and clear was Catholic identity.”

 

Archdiocesan Priority

That concern expressed at listening sessions “is certainly a part” of the basis for the new wording of teachers’ contracts, he said, adding that “Catholic education is Archbishop [Dennis] Schnurr’s No. 2 priority, right behind vocations.”

“We do consider all of our teachers, including those who are not Catholic, to be ministers of the Church, because our schools are a ministry — that’s the reason we open up the doors in the morning. It’s not just to provide a great education, great discipline, although we do that: It’s to spread the Gospel.”

The contract gives examples of prohibited conduct, including “public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle, public support of or use of abortion … public membership in organizations whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals.”

The wording is important, Andriacco said, for its concern with public — not private — acts and its extension beyond the bounds of the classroom: “A teacher’s function as a role model doesn’t end at the classroom door.”

“Also, it’s [addressing] our current experience as a society; people get in trouble all the time for things they say that are not directly related to their jobs.”

He cited the cases of Brendan Eich, the Mozilla CEO who was effectively forced to resign from his position over his donation, in 2008, to the Proposition 8 campaign; and Donald Sterling, whom the NBA has fined $2.5 million and is trying to strip of ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, after a recording was released of him making racist comments in a private conversation.

 

Addressing Problem Areas

Frank Bruni, an op-ed columnist at The New York Times, wrote about the archdiocese May 10, faulting the new contracts for “getting stuck” on matters of sexual morality and for not having a “reference to concern for the downtrodden, to the spirit of giving, to charity.”

Responding to such complaints, Andriacco said that the examples chosen “are examples are only, and we chose things that had been problems. … If we had a problem with teachers posting racial slurs on their blogs, that would have been mentioned.”

“So far, as I’m aware … we’ve never had a major issue with Catholic school teachers publicly supporting the death penalty or unjust wars or not being concerned for the downtrodden.”

“The examples are meant to address real-world situations,” Andriacco said. “I understand the complaint when people say it’s a bunch of ‘thou shalt nots’ — but it has to be. You can’t list the fullness of everything we’re supposed to do; as Catholics, we should all be very charitable. How are you going to write a contract requirement that people be charitable?”

“But there is some generalized wording,” he added, so that the examples are “not the sum of what we expect of our Catholic teachers; we expect a lot more than that. This is not supposed to be a catalogue of everything we expect from them.”

“If we had a problem with teachers posting racial slurs on their Facebook page or blog, that would probably be part of the contract; I really suspect that if we did not fire or publicly discipline a teacher who posted racial slurs on his or her website, that we would get an even bigger pushback than we’re getting now.”

The specified wording and examples in the contract are necessary, Andriacco explained, because the archdiocese has found itself in “situations where people seem to not know what the contract obligates them to.”

Thus, the local Church hopes it will be “very specific, so that when they’re signing, they know what it is that they’re saying they will not do.”

 

‘Our Teachers Are Ministers’

In 2013, Christa Dias, a former teacher at an archdiocesan school who was living in a same-sex relationship that she concealed while she worked for the archdiocese, was awarded $171,000 in an anti-discrimination lawsuit after she was fired for undergoing artificial insemination; and Mike Moroski was fired from his position as an administrator at a Catholic school after posting support for same-sex "marriage" on his blog.

“It has always been our position that our teachers are ministers, and we think that everything that is specified in the new wording of the contract was always implicit in the previous wording of the contract,” Andriacco stated.

“We’ve admitted, conceded the obvious: that we hope this gives us some legal protection in terms, first of all, of establishing that we do consider our teachers to be ministers, although that word is used in the current contract as well.”

A question-and-answer aid given to principals of the archdiocese noted that “the language in this contract … is designed to make it clear that our teachers are ‘ministers’ within the meaning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.”

In that 2012 decision, the high court ruled unanimously to uphold a “ministerial exception” allowing religious groups to make employment decisions free of government interference.

Some groups have taken issue with the contract’s supposed restrictions in the face of individual conscience, but Andriacco responded that, “as Catholics, we do believe in primacy of conscience, and we certainly respect the conscience of anyone who says he or she can’t sign this … no one’s stopping him or her from following their conscience.”

“And the archbishop and the school superintendent and the director of human resources also each has a conscience, ... [which] tells them this is the right thing to do.”

“People are operating on the level of emotion,” he said, in their response to the contract. It “says you can’t publicly support the gay lifestyle,” he noted, adding that opponents have characterized it as meaning “I’m not supporting my gay family member.”

Andriacco explained, however, that “you support him or her as a human being,” but “you don’t support that lifestyle.”

 

Applies Only to Public Conduct

Moreover, the archdiocese has set high the threshold for “public support” of acts or beliefs contrary to the faith; and support “on a purely personal, non-public level” is not a ground for termination of employment, the question-and-answer sheet about the contract clarified.

It also stated that “each situation would be looked at on a case-by-case basis” and that “public support of” a homosexual lifestyle “would not include attending a same-sex wedding or ceremony of a family member or friend, nor would it include any pictures from this wedding/ceremony that might end up on an attendee’s social-media site.”

Andriacco said that attendance at a same-sex wedding ceremony is regarded by the archdiocese as “essentially a private act ... that’s not perceived to be a public act,” saying this distinction is “because you’re not making a statement that says ‘I support this’; you’re there to support the person.”

Kenneth Craycraft, an Ohio attorney, wrote a May 12 commentary at the Cincinnati Enquirer observing that “from the actual wording of the contract, it should be surprising that there is any controversy at all.”

He noted that it does not “prevent a teacher who is the parent of a gay child from loving and supporting that child. It merely ensures that teachers who sign the contract to teach in a Catholic school do not advocate moral positions or live moral lifestyles that violate Catholic teaching. And, of course, no one is required to sign the contract.”

Andriacco concluded by reiterating that, “in most of our schools, everyone signed” the new contract.

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