Cincinnati Catholic Schoolteachers Stunned by Restrictive “Morality Clause” in New Employment Contract
Catholic schoolteachers in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are facing some tough decisions with the release of a new and highly-detailed “morality clause” in their new employment contract; the agreement expressly forbids them to have sex outside of marriage, use in-vitro fertilization techniques in order to get pregnant, live a gay ‘lifestyle’ or to publicly support others who have made these choices.
Of the 2200 teachers currently on staff with the Archdiocese, many are choosing to decline the agreement, effectively ending their careers with the board.
While teachers were formerly required to sign a contract agreeing to adhere to the Catholic doctrine regardless of whether or not they are Catholic by religion, the revised contract, which includes the comprehensive new morality clause which now goes much further, laying out the demands of the agreement in explicit detail.
The contract utilizes a 2012 U.S. Supreme court decision reached in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC in which a ‘ministerial exemption’ cited by the justices allows religious institutions special privileges in hiring and firing; in order to facilitate the use of this decision to support the new contract, the title ‘ministers’ was added to all teachers in the employ of the Archdiocese.
The new morality clause is a comprehensive list of restrictions on behaviors that teachers are banned from both indulging in within their own lives or publicly supporting in the lives of others; upon signing the contract, teachers are agreeing to refrain from co-habitating while unmarried, having sex out of wedlock, soliciting the services of a surrogate mother or in-vitro fertilization, leading a homosexual lifestyle or even the imprudent use of social media.
For many teachers, the most threatening aspect of the contract is that given their widespread prevalence in our society today, refraining from these behaviors or from a connection with others who indulge in these behaviours in their day-to-day lives is a near impossibility; in fact, each of these stipulations stems from individual rights and freedoms that have long since been part of the fabric of our society. To suddenly deem them unacceptable to the point of losing one’s livelihood puts many in a difficult situation.
In light of this, the Cincinnati Archdiocese has found itself immersed in several issues recently involving disputes around contentious firings, not the least of which was a federal lawsuit last year.
In one case, an unmarried computer teacher by the name of Christa Dias became pregnant by artificial insemination and was subsequently dismissed as her behavior was deemed unbecoming of a Catholic schoolteacher.
Upon her dismissal, Dias was successful in suing the Archdiocese and was awarded $170,000; while Dias had in fact signed a contract with the Archdiocese which forbade her actions, the idea of signing a contract which limits personal freedoms such as having a child strikes some as going too far in a society where personal choice is taken for granted as an individual right.
In similarly contentious circumstances, a dean at Cincinnati Catholic high school was fired for showing his support on his own private blog for same-sex marriage, and a female gym teacher was dismissed for including the name of her partner in an obituary for her mother; the diocese settled her case out of court.
In the case of Molly Shumate who teaches first-grade, her choice to refrain from signing the clause and therefore sacrificing her job stems from her unwillingness to renounce her relationship with her son, who is gay.
The controversy has also reached a variety of other dioceses, and there have been several lawsuits resulting from the stipulations of the board, yet Catholic schools in Cleveland, Oakland and Honolulu are working toward implementing similar clauses in their employment contracts.
Opinions of the Pope
Critics of the morality clause have also condemned the contract as being out of touch with the tolerant and broad-minded thinking of Pope Francis, who answered last year on the matter of gay Catholic priests, “Who am I to judge?”
Given the Pope’s open and accepting attitudes, there are those who have questioned what Pope Francis would think of the restrictions laid out in the contract, and an organization in Cincinnati that goes by the name Voice of the Faithful has commissioned several billboards which ask, “Would Pope Francis sign the new Catholic teacher contract?”
As a result of the new contract, teachers have formed a new union called the Southwest Ohio Catholic Educators Association (SWOCEA), which has requested collective bargaining rights from the Archdiocese, a move which is assured its feasibility through the endorsement by the Catholic Conference of Ohio Bishops in 2010 during a legislative debate which took place in Ohio’s general assembly.