Supreme Court Says Catholic Schools Can Be Catholic

Any institution that can’t hire and fire for mission no longer has a mission.

(photo: Sang Hyun Cho/Pixabay/CC0)

Catholics should be celebrating. I know the world seems a little crazy right now and Catholics, at least the online ones, seem to be at each other’s throats for various reasons. There’s also a great deal of confusion in the Church right now. But let’s, just for right now, focus on the good news.

I mean, as Catholics we’re called to spread the “GOOD NEWS” and this week there’s been plenty.

In a 7-2 ruling in the case Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court upheld rules allowing employers to opt out of paying for birth control in their health care plans based on their religious beliefs. 

Look, victories are hard to come by for Christians nowadays. It’s kind of sad that we’re pumping our fists over the fact that the Little Sisters of the Poor don’t have to pay for birth control and abortions, but this is what passes for victories nowadays, so we’ll take it. And it really is a big deal.

But if you ask me, the other ruling by the high court may have just saved Catholic schools.

Here’s my thinking. Any institution that can’t hire and fire for mission no longer has a mission. If an animal shelter wants to get rid of a guy who doesn’t particularly like puppies and therefore neglects puppies, the animal shelter should be able to fire him, even if he’s really wonderful with the cats. Everyone would agree.

But some people wanted Catholic schools to not be able to hire and fire for mission. Some want Catholic schools to be able to pass over applicants who would neglect certain teachings of the Church that they don’t particularly like. So they might be wonderful in many ways as a teacher, but if they are failing to perform their full job in word and deed, the school can hire or fire until they find the right person who will fulfill all of the obligations of the job.

So, what this all came down to was that the U.S. Supreme Court had already established something called the “ministerial exception,” which stated that a religious institution can hire and fire for mission. In short, if someone is not living up to their role as minister then they can be fired. So that was pre-established in a previous case. But some clever people with no love in their hearts for Catholic education thought of an end-around. They decided that while a religious institution may have a ministerial exception perhaps the institutions themselves wouldn’t get to decide who, in fact, was considered a minister. It was a rather clever way to hollow out the prior ruling.

They argued that this or that person was just a teacher and not a minister so the ministerial exception didn’t pertain. But the truth is that, in a Catholic school, everyone is responsible for being a role model. Everyone is responsible for modeling the faith so the students can learn the faith in word and deed.

Our faith isn’t something only to be studied. It must be lived. Faith without works is dead, as James says.

So Justice Alito’s opinion explicitly states that “the religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission ... Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

That’s good news. The Supreme Court made it possible for Catholic schools to remain Catholic. Now we just need more Catholic schools to actually do it.