“There have been a lot of just flat-out misstatements by certain organizations,” Dan Andriacco, communications director for the archdiocese, told CNSNews.com.
For example, he cited a story “that said this contract means that you could be fired for going to your daughter’s gay wedding or for saying some words of comfort to a child who’d been bullied. This is absolute nonsense in both cases.”
“There have also been headlines that say that the archdiocese will fire you for being gay. That’s absolutely ridiculous. The term 'gay' refers to somebody’s sexual orientation; there is nothing in the contract about sexual orientation. The contract speaks about activity - whether verbal statements or your lifestyle.”
Andriacco emphasized that the archdiocese has a right to set moral guidelines for its teachers, pointing out that even reporters have been fired for such moral failings as making a racial slur.
Under the contract, teachers must agree ”to exemplify Catholic principles and to refrain from any conduct or lifestyle which would reflect discredit on or cause scandal to the School or be in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals.” (See Teacher-Minister Contract (2014-2015).doc)
The new contract lists examples of banned behavior, including improper use of social media, engaging in or publicly supporting sexual activity out of wedlock, homosexual lifestyles, abortion, use of a surrogate mother, in-vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, and membership in any organization whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic teaching.
It is accompanied by a Q&A document which addresses particular questions that might arise. (See Contract Q&A.doc)
“We don’t expect teachers that we are paying to be representatives of the Church to publicly undermine those teachings,” Andriacco explained.
“When you look at the contract you’ll see the term ‘public’ is used about eight times…we’re not talking about what somebody might say to his or her spouse in private over the breakfast table because we have no control over that and we have no desire to go peering into people’s private lives.”
The important question, he added, is: “Are they standing as a public sign of contradiction to the teachings of the Church?”
But critics called it “a cynical attempt to make it harder for wrongfully terminated teachers to sue” because “the new language comes after a series of lawsuits and other problems involving educators fired over alleged doctrinal violations in the archdiocese,” according to the Associated Press.
Andriacco acknowledged that past lawsuits arising from teachers’ ignorance of Catholic teaching were “a factor” in drawing up the new contract. He added the archdiocese was also “working on a course for all of our teachers to get them better grounded in Catholic moral teaching.”
The archdiocese has also been criticized over the contract’s classification of teachers as “teacher-ministers” because it gives the school more freedom to fire them due to the recent Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC Supreme Court ruling.
Andriacco said the term” teacher-minister“ was new and admitted that it did have legal ramifications, but said teachers have always been considered ministers of the faith. “We operate Catholic schools as a ministry of the Church and in that sense all the teachers we regard as ministers even if they don’t happen to be Catholic and even if they don’t teach religion.”
However, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBT advocacy group, argued that the contract “takes anti-LGBT discrimination to a new level,” by “citing any support of the “homosexual lifestyle” as grounds for dismissal.”
Dr. Sharon Groves, director of the HRC Religion and Faith Program said, “At a time when Pope Francis is talking about support of civil unions, the Cincinnati Archdiocese, in a throwback to past times, is talking about firing gay and lesbian teachers and silencing their straight supporters. This isn’t in keeping with the olive branch Pope Francis has extended to LGBT people around the world, but even more importantly, it’s not in keeping with the living message of God’s love of all people.”
Andriacco countered that there is a distinction in Church teaching between homosexual orientation, “which is in no way sinful because it’s not something that’s sought,” and homosexual activity. He added that the new contract is in keeping with the way Pope Francis spoke of that distinction last year.
“We have at least one teacher, I believe he’s a high school teacher, who tells his students that he’s gay and that he accepts the teachings of the Catholic Church and he lives as a celibate gay. There’s nothing wrong with that in any aspect of Catholic teaching,” he added, “to my knowledge and to the school superintendent’s knowledge, nobody has ever been fired for being gay per se.”
“Although violating the terms of the contract can result in termination, “that’s not the preferred outcome,” he added, “I mean there are other, in some cases pastoral ways of dealing with the situation,” such as in cases involving unwed pregnant teachers.
“We’re not looking for reasons to fire people, that’s a last resort,” he said, adding that “we could find a way to remove her from the classroom temporarily, give her other work to do, that sort of thing, so that we wouldn’t be throwing her out in the cold at a time in which she needed employment and she wasn’t married.”
The Diocese of Honolulu recently released a similar teacher contract. Its school superintendent, Dr. Mike Rockers, released a statement to CNSNews.com saying, “Our teachers are role models for our students.Those who choose to be part of the educational ministry of the Catholic Church should know that an essential function of that vocation is to further the mission and teachings of the Church.”