CINCINNATI — The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is so complex the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is giving teachers a cheat sheet on some of the things that can get them fired.
A new contract proposal from the diocese specifies some violations of Catholic doctrine that could put teachers out of a job — including abortion, artificial insemination and “homosexual lifestyles” — and extends forbidden behavior to include public support for those kinds of causes, drawing some complaints that the language is overly broad and a cynical attempt to make it harder for wrongfully terminated teachers to sue.
Teachers have long been required to act in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s philosophy but it’s rare for an archdiocese to include examples of forbidden behavior in its contract. The archdiocese says it’s fairer to teachers this way.
“It clarifies what is expected of all of our teachers,” archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said.
The new language comes after a series of lawsuits and other problems involving educators fired over alleged doctrinal violations in the archdiocese.
Last year, a federal jury found the archdiocese discriminated against a Cincinnati-area teacher fired for violating Catholic doctrine when she became pregnant through artificial insemination and awarded her $171,000. The teacher said she didn’t know artificial insemination violated doctrine. Terms weren’t disclosed in last year’s settlement of another lawsuit against the archdiocese by an unmarried Dayton-area teacher who said she was fired after becoming pregnant.
Catholic schools in California, Pennsylvania, Montana and other states have faced lawsuits or parent complaints in recent years over firings stemming from doctrinal violations, but the National Association of Catholic School Teachers said it knows of no other archdiocese that has instituted the kind of language planned in Cincinnati.
Andriacco said the contract doesn’t require anything the archdiocese didn’t already expect of teachers.
“The contract requires that if you are going to represent the Catholic church as a teacher, you are not going to publicly oppose the teachings of the Catholic church,” he said.
Besides citing a broad range of prohibited activities including use of a surrogate mother and sexual activity outside of marriage, the contract specifically bans “improper” use of social media. Teachers would also be barred from “public membership” in organizations with missions conflicting with church doctrine.
The president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers says some educators in the archdiocese have contacted the union with contract concerns, even though the union doesn’t represent them.
“This contract is way over the top and very oppressive,” said union president Rita Schwartz.
Mike Moroski, a Cincinnati-area school administrator fired last year over personal blog comments he made in support of gay marriage, says some of the approximately 2,000 teachers covered by the contract aren’t happy but are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. He said the new language could force teachers to conceal specifically prohibited behaviors.
“This contract will force some people to lie to keep their jobs, and they don’t want to do that,” he said.
Parents and other parishioners critical of the contract wording are working on petitions and plan to meet with the superintendent of the archdiocese’s schools, said Mark McLaughlin, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Nativity School, an elementary school in Cincinnati.
“I am concerned that the archdiocese could lose a lot of good teachers and enrollment will decline,” McLaughlin said.
The contract language even raises new questions about what teachers can support, even if their own behavior is in line with church teachings, McLaughlin said.
“The current wording of the contract is confusing, especially as to what ‘public support’ means,” he said.
Andriacco said the archdiocese won’t budge on the language.
“This is essentially a moral position and it’s not going to be driven by public opinion,” he said. “This is our contract, and it’s not going to change.”
The new contract also for the first time describes every teacher as a “teacher-minister,” wording legal experts view as an attempt to prevent fired teachers from bringing wrongful termination charges.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling has said religious groups can dismiss “ministerial” employees without government interference, although Andriacco says the archdiocese has always considered all of its teachers as ministerial employees.
David Ball, co-chairman of the Religious Organizations Subcommittee of the American Bar Association, said labeling someone a minister doesn’t necessarily make them one.
“I’m not sure that would hold up in all cases,” he said.
Most religious institutions contain “morals” clauses in their contracts, according to the Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, a senior director in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, but no numbers are available on how many of the 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and archdioceses may be adding specific prohibitions.
The teacher contract in the Diocese of Toledo does contain specific prohibitions, although officials there said the terms are confidential. Dioceses in Cleveland and Steubenville were reviewing their contracts, and representatives said more specific prohibitions were possible.
Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California temporarily postponed establishing similar language last year after realizing he needed to better educate teachers and parents on the issue.
“But at some point, we need as a Catholic church to draw a line,” he said.
David Thole, a Catholic school parent in suburban Cincinnati, approves of the new contract’s language. He says he wants his children to understand and follow church teachings “not just on Sunday, but in their daily lives.”
Christine Inkrot Schroder, a Catholic in Cincinnati, says her now-grown children attended Catholic school, but she opposes the new contract.
“They are trying to mandate how people think,” Schroder said. “We taught our children equality and respect, and we could not have sent them to a school that supports such open discrimination.”
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