On May 22, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “There is more fallout coming from our story last week about how Catholic school teachers must sign a new contract with the diocese of Oakland pledging to conform to church teachings outside the workplace.” The Chronicle’s article had originally reported that five teachers had refused to sign the new contracts, which require Catholic school teachers to pledge fidelity to the “mission and ministry of the Church.”  A later version of the article reported that only three had quit. The Chronicle blamed the mistake on erroneous information from the diocese of Oakland.

The article continued, “(Bishop) O’Dowd teacher Kathleen Purcell said that she crossed out what she felt was the objectionable language on her contract, then signed and submitted it. But it was rejected and the history teacher and career counselor won’t return. Purcell, a longtime civil rights and constitutional law attorney, said she couldn’t in good conscience sign the contract.

‘It’s a loyalty oath and to sign that would go against everything I believe in,’ Purcell said.

She also objected to new contract language that she felt would classify all teachers as ministers, ‘and if that’s the case, then you’re not protected by the law.’

As for reaction, Purcell said one prominent Oakland business told her that it was considering ending its career day program for diocese students because of the controversy.

O’Dowd community members are planning a demonstration at 7:30 a.m. May 30 — the last day of school — to show support for diocese teachers and hope to rally support at other Catholic high schools.”

Disgruntled faculty and others have created an online petition at change.org asking Oakland’s Bishop Michael Barber to “reinstate the current contract language for the upcoming school year while the community discusses the change in greater depth.” The author of the Chronicle article, Joe Garafoli, disclosed that his wife had signed the petition.

On May 5, the Catholic Voice, Oakland’s diocesan newspaper, published an interview with Bishop Barber, in which he explained his motivation for the new contract language. The interview provides welcome and necessary clarity about the vocation of teachers in a Catholic school. Excerpts:

“I made a very small change to the annual teacher’s contract in order to clarify for teachers — and the school community — that each of our Catholic elementary and secondary schools is an integral part of the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church. This makes them different from a charter school or public school. Our school contracts are invitations to teachers to join in this mission and ministry of the Church. I wanted to restate the mission of a Catholic school, and the expectations required of those who desire to participate in this mission and ministry.”

“All teachers are expected to join in the Church’s educational ministry, teaching and modeling the values and ethical standards of Christ and the Catholic Church. This has always been so. Our employment contracts and faculty handbooks have underscored this for years. It is more than just a job. I restated the mission and ministry of a Catholic School in my meeting with school principals and presidents last August. …Each of our schools provides a ‘Christ-centered’ education. Our schools are a primary ministry of the Oakland diocesan pastoral plan ‘To know Christ better and to make Him better known.’”

“My intent is to call attention to the reality that teachers are role models for students. They teach by example. It’s much more than teaching ‘math’ or ‘English.’ A good teacher makes a lifetime impression on a young person. Teachers have enormous influence on their students, who are sent to us by their parents at an impressionable age. Catholic Schools have values. We exist to teach these values to the young. Teachers teach by modeling these values….”

Read the entire interview of Bishop Barber here.

If you’d like to express your support for Bishop Barber:
Bishop Michael Barber
Diocese of Oakland
2121 Harrison Street, Suite 100
Oakland, CA 94612