Over the past month, CalCatholic has documented the presence of questionable employees in the San Francisco archdiocese high schools. Across the bay, Oakland’s new bishop, Michael Barber, the first bishop appointed by Pope Francis, has joined the battle. on April 7, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a new initiative of the bishop: adding a morals clause to the contracts of diocesan teachers.
On May 9 the Chronicle followed up with an article headlined “Oakland Diocese requiring educators to conform to Church teachings: Educators must sign morality pledge.” Two days earlier the East Bay Express had covered the same story. The Express headlined their story “Teachers Forced to Sign New Personal ‘Morals’ Code.” The sub-headline: The Oakland Diocese’s school contract now requires employees to ‘model’ he teachings of the Catholic Church in their personal lives, raising concerns for LGBT and progressive educators.”
The Chronicle article began, “Educators at East Bay Catholic schools must sign a news contract Friday with the diocese of Oakland pledging to conform to Church teachings outside the workplace – leaving some, particularly non-Catholics, wrestling with a professional and moral dilemma. In contention is an updated clause specifically outlining what teachers of the diocese’s 54 schools do in their personal lives….
‘In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the diocese of Oakland,’ the new contract says….The clause is creating anxiety in a diocese where 18 percent of the 1,217 teachers are not Catholic, according to church statistics…. State and federal employment law offers little protection from being fired for violating Church teaching – sparking fear that teachers could lose their jobs for using contraception, having premarital sex, trying to conceive a child by artificial insemination or marrying someone of the same sex.”
The Chronicle said the action was the outcome of discussions among California’s bishops: “In a March letter explaining the changes to diocese employees, Barber wrote that for months California’s bishops have been discussing ‘the importance of Catholic identity and especially how it is expressed in our Catholic schools. … [in an] appropriate way to honor this commitment is to spell it out in the contract or work agreement each person signs each year.’”
The article also quoted David Rosenfeld, from UC Berkeley’s School of Law, who said dismissing teachers for violating the agreement would be protected under the First Amendment: “A private school like this has the right to impose any religious restrictions it wants,” he says. “If they got wind that somebody was buying contraceptives, they could fire them.”
The clause is the latest move by Oakland’s new bishop Michael Barber intended to increase fidelity to the Catholic Church throughout his diocese. On March 6, it was reported that Barber had removed two priests from Berkeley’s notorious Newman Hall/Holy Spirit Parish, one of whom the East Bay Express described as “openly gay.”
The Chronicle noted that Bishop Barber’s move was part of a trend across the country: “Similar controversies have popped up elsewhere in the nation, most notably in the archdiocese of Cincinnati this year, where a new contract banned teachers from ‘public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle.’
In California, earlier this year Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa tried to require educators to sign a morality clause that described contraception, abortion and gay marriage as ‘modern errors’ that ‘gravely offend human dignity.’ In March, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that Vasa included the language to avoid legal challenges from teachers who were fired for conduct that contradicts Catholic teaching. He later backed down from the proposal.”
The Chronicle’s description of Bishop Vasa as “backing down” appears to be an overstatement. Vasa has never been known as a shrinking violet when it comes to demanding fidelity to the faith. In 2004, when he was serving as the bishop of the diocese of Baker OR, Vasa “…asked lay ministers in the diocese to step down from positions in the church if they could not agree with the Catholic Church’s positions on certain social issues, like abortion, contraception, homosexual relationships and extramarital sex.” That practice is still in place. And, as the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on March 21, 2013 he had not “backed down” from the morality clause: “The goals which we had established for this year’s teacher contracts will be postponed and we will plan to implement them, in some form, in the spring of 2015.”