Controversial or consistent? San Fran archdiocese weighs in on teacher rules

Controversial or consistent? San Fran archdiocese weighs in on teacher rules

Empty Classroom. Credit: Dystopos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Empty Classroom. Credit: Dystopos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

.- The Archdiocese of San Francisco says that far from being condemnatory, the morality clauses in its new teacher handbook are meant to help Catholic educators understand the richness and coherence of Church teaching – and follow it.

“Because we live in a very secular society, the truth as revealed by God gets overshadowed by popular ideology,” Maureen Huntington, superintendent of the archdiocese's Catholic schools, said Feb. 3.

Huntington said the additions and clarifications were made “in order to remain faithful to God's revelations and the Church's teachings” and to articulate “specific fundamental truths, which are not understood or accepted within our secular society.”

Detailed statements of Catholic teaching on sexual morality and religious practice will be added to the faculty and staff handbooks of the four archdiocesan high schools for the 2015-2016 school year, though these statements are not part of the contract. The statements are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The archdiocese said the changes to the handbook and the contract proposals do not contain anything new but are intended to “clarify existing expectations that Catholic teachers in their professional and public lives uphold Catholic teaching.”

San Francisco's Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone sent a February letter to teachers stressing that the effort does not intend to target teachers for dismissal, “nor does it introduce anything essentially new into the contract or the faculty handbook.”

The handbook additions state that individual teachers are not required to believe each stated item of Catholic doctrine. Archbishop Cordileone said this recognizes that some Catholic teachers and non-Catholic teachers might not agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches, the archdiocese’s newspaper Catholic San Francisco reported.

The handbook requires that high school staff and teachers do not contradict Catholic teachings in a school environment or in public actions.

Archbishop Cordileone said confusion is prevalent about the Church’s stance on sexual morality and religious practice, which is why the faculty handbook additions focus on these areas. This focus “does not imply lesser importance to Catholic teachings on social justice,” he said.

The faculty handbook additions include Catholic teaching on the authority of the Church and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. They also address moral topics like abortion, “gay marriage,” artificial contraception and artificially assisted reproduction.

According to the archdiocese, over 300 Catholic high school teachers belong to the teacher’s union, Local 2240 of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

The archdiocese and the union are negotiating a contract, which will take effect Aug. 1.

Lisa Dole, president of Local 2240 and a teacher at Marin Catholic High School, told Catholic San Francisco that the union was “pleased” that the contract acknowledges that many Catholics “struggle with their adherence to some of the teachings of the church.”

Dole said there are “concerns with the proposed language” and other issues “that the union and archbishop are hopeful that we will be able to work out.”

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed religious schools’ freedom to set standards for their teachers in the 2012 decision EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School.

Some Catholic schools' disciplinary actions to hold teachers and school administrators to Catholic standards have brought lawsuits and controversy, sometimes fueled by media coverage and activist groups which oppose Catholic teaching.

In the last ten years in various states, Catholic school teachers and administrators have been fired over conflict with Church teaching on issues such as cohabitation, in-vitro fertilization, living in a same-sex relationship, or having a history of volunteering at an abortion clinic.

While employment decisions can always be controversial, political pressures on Catholic schools have also increased.

The internet activism site Faithful America, among its other projects criticizing U.S. Catholicism, publicizes petitions against morals clauses for Catholic school teachers and administrators as well as petitions against efforts to hold Catholic personnel to these standards.

The Faithful America project has also been involved in San Francisco. In June 2014 it launched a petition to protest Archbishop Cordileone’s participation in the March for Marriage. Faithful America’s executive director Michael Sherrard joined over 70 California politicians and other individuals in signing a letter protesting the archbishop’s action.

The Citizen Engagement Lab, which operates the Faithful America project, is based in Berkeley, Calif. The funders of the organization include the Arcus Foundation, a wealthy LGBT advocacy foundation which donated $75,000 to the center in 2014 to “promote greater media visibility for Christians who denounce the abuse of religious-freedom arguments to oppose full equality for LGBT persons.”

Tags: Catholic Schools, Church Teaching, San Francisco

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