Catholic school teachers sign controversial contract

Catholic school teachers sign controversial contract

Michele Ellson
St. Joseph Notre Dame High School

Alameda’s Catholic school teachers are signing contracts containing controversial new language requiring their private behavior to model and promote Catholic teachings.

Oakland Diocese spokesman Mike Brown said that teachers at all of the diocese’s schools signed the new contract, except for three from Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. Teachers at all of the diocese’s schools, who sign a contract annually, received their 2014-15 contract in mid-April and were given until May 9 to sign.

“We hope that those who didn’t sign did so completely informed as to the Bishop’s meaning and intent,” Brown said.

An administrator at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School said that five teachers are leaving at the end of the year. One is retiring, another hasn’t said why they are leaving and three more said they’re going for reasons unrelated to the new contract language, said Rebecca Bischoff, the school’s assistant principal of institutional advancement.

“We have not had any teachers who have publicly stated that they are leaving due to the new contract language,” Bischoff said. “We have and will remain committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse environment for our school and students.

“We are called upon to deal with one another with compassion and respect,” she added. “This is a core teaching of our faith and a value that is infused in our work with our students.”

The diocese told another newspaper that two teachers from St. Joe’s had declined to sign the contract, but Brown later said that information was not accurate.

St. Joseph Basilica operates the high school and St. Joseph Elementary School, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Alameda is also home to St. Philip Neri, a K-8 school.

The 2014-15 teacher contract includes a new “philosophy” clause that says the schools’ mission is to “develop and promote teaching the Catholic faith within the philosophy of Catholic education” and also, language that requires teachers to model behavior in both their personal and professional life that conforms with church teachings.

The diocese-penned contract changes have caused stoked fears that teachers could be fired for being gay, engaging in premarital sex, using contraception or engaging in other behavior the church opposes. But Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber has denied this is the case, saying the new language simply restates the existing mission of the diocese’s schools.

“It’s unacceptable that at a time when our new Pope Francis embraces wider inclusion, raising the question ‘Who am I to judge a gay person?’ that the Oakland Diocese would embrace hate and rejection,” Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who led a protest against the contract change, wrote on her website. “Oakland Bishop Michael Barber needs to put a stop to these inquisition-style tactics now.”

In a May 5 interview with the Catholic Voice newspaper, Barber said he made a “very small change” to the contract to clarify that the diocese’s schools are part of the mission and ministry of the church, something that makes them different from public schools.

“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,” he said.

Brown said 18 percent of the diocese’s teachers aren’t Catholic, and in his interview, Barber acknowledged that many of the diocesan schools’ students aren’t either. Brown said the new contract language is a “reminder” that private behavior can become public – and a distraction in the classroom.

“Previous contracts have inferred that. This contract makes it a little more explicit. But it in no way means the diocese is going to monitor or take an interest in private behaviors,” Brown said.

But Brown declined to offer examples of what, if any, behavior could cost a teacher their job; he said the schools’ teachers should understand the meaning of the new contract language.

The new contract language comes amidst a growing number of court cases filed by Catholic school teachers and administrators who said they were fired after parents learned they had married same-sex partners after viewing photographs on Facebook or in a local newspaper, and protests from students after similar firings.

A gay Seattle-area man fired from his job as a Catholic school vice principal after parents complained about “inappropriate” photos on his Facebook page reportedly sued in March; last summer, students at a Catholic girls’ school in Southern California protested the firing of a teacher after photos of his marriage to a same-sex partner were printed in a local newspaper.

The Cincinnati Diocese reportedly asked its teachers to sign a contract that explicitly prohibits them from engaging in or publicly supporting gay “lifestyles,” living with an unmarried partner or getting an abortion. But Brown was quick to separate the Oakland contract from the one drafted in Cincinnati, saying the actions were unrelated.

St. Joseph was once home to the only openly gay priest in the Bay Area, Father Rich Danyluk. He left in 2007, two years after telling parishioners he is gay.

Local Catholic school families have been largely mum on the contract changes, though one parent who contacted The Alamedan said they felt that while the church has the right to dictate its doctrine, the diocese is treating staff ungraciously and unfairly.

“The staff work hard and the schools grow from this labor of love,” said the parent, who asked not to be named out of concern that his comments could spark retribution against his child. “To add a contract that puts people in a personal moral dilemma after building something off of this love and hard work is wrong.”

Bischoff, who said parents were notified of the contract changes in a letter, acknowledged that people are concerned about the new contract language; she said Barber will host a meeting with some of the diocese’s schools on Tuesday to discuss it. She said details are still being worked out.

“We’re certainly pleased that they’ll be providing an opportunity to listen to the concerns of faculty and staff,” she said.

Letter to Teachers from Oakland Bishop Michael Barber


Submitted by luczai (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

My son attended a local Catholic school and I grew up attending Catholic schools. This is a tough issue. Because of the well-publicized child abuse cases in the Catholic church, it is understandable that they want to avoid any more scandals. There also seems to be a lack of awareness and prudence on the part of some faculty at ALL schools, Catholic or otherwise, that the way one presents oneself on social media can be a distraction and harm the reputation of the institution with which they are identified. Fears about the new contract are understandable since it seems the diocese is unwilling to be specific about what they will and will not tolerate. My father-in-law was fired from his college teaching position at Mercy College in Detroit in the early 1960s because he had written a novel that included an instance of pre-marital sex. The motivation was political, but public support was rallied and his fledgling family lost everything. The newspaper even printed the names and ages of his children and the street address of the family home. They were subject to obscene phone calls and other abuse. I can certainly appreciate both sides of the issue, but this is not just a Catholic school concern. Wasn't a substitute teacher at Lincoln let go recently for sharing his website address with students that had material on it to which some parents objected? Elementary and secondary educators have always been held to higher standards of personal behavior. The problem is that currently, society is at odds as to what is okay and what isn't. We have free speech but it can still have consequences, and I suspect it always will.

Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

In 2014, reconciling the gap between reality and intolerant religious dogma is heading towards the trash bin of history. Epicurus and the Humanists were right back in 300 B.C.E., and they are right today. Peace and freedom from fear are how humans were meant to exist, but people always succumb to the threats of punishment by the supernatural - and politicians and preachers are always ready to exploit that feeble nature. SHAME on this "Bishop" Barber, and all the submissive followers who signed this phony "oath" that perpetuates the hate even Pope Frances repudiates.

Submitted by Sal (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

An educator with fuzzy English language skills is advising other educators to understand the meaning of new contract language? Ever hear of judge not, lest you be judged?

“Previous contracts have INFERRED that. This contract makes it a little more explicit. But it in no way means the diocese is going to monitor or take an interest in private behaviors,” Brown said.

But Brown declined to offer examples of what, if any, behavior could cost a teacher their job; he said the schools’ teachers should understand the meaning of the new contract language.

Submitted by sal (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

Correction on former comment. Brown is apparently a spokesperson rather than an educator. Good. Educators probably know the definition of 'infer'.

Submitted by Nanci (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

If the changes are so small, and not meant to change what was inferred, then why was it necessary to put, and keep them in the contract when teachers are worried about being fired for behavior which is not even spelled out. Not specifying prohibited actions leave the door wide open for any interpretation as grounds for dismissal. Teachers who sign these contracts have no due process.

Submitted by old timer (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

"Are you now, or have you ever been..."

Submitted by Marjorie (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

Thank you to Old Timer for sending chills up my spine.

Submitted by Ken Harrison (not verified) on Sat, May 24, 2014

Catholic McCarthyism at its very finest.

Which reminds me, when JFK ran for President, many so-called conservatives expressed great fear that if elected, he would defer to the Pope and Catholic teachings. While that was not true then, note the make-up of the current SCOTUS and further note how the Catholic majority is now twisting the meaning of the first amendment to allow for prayers in governmental settings. One hopes that religion is fighting a losing battle with the Constitution, but it does not seem so today.