November 14, 2019

Here We Go Again

Last May, Bishop Michael Barber, of the Diocese of Oakland, California, added a word to a clause in a proposed teacher contract for the East Bay Catholic school system that, well, to put it mildly, made many teachers and parents go bananas. What word would cause such a negative reaction? See if you can guess. Here is the clause:

In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior is 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.

Did you find it? The word is personal. “What’s wrong with personal?” you ask. Apparently, several employees in the school district believe that what they do outside the school setting is their own business. To his credit, Bishop Barber explained to the teachers that once certain private behavior becomes public, there is the possibility of scandal, which “has the potential to malform the conscience and character of young people.” The bishop also reminded the teachers that Catholic schools exist “for the moral, spiritual and academic formation of our students. We exist to teach Catholic moral and spiritual values.” That he had to remind these mentors of this fact says volumes about the problems in many Catholic schools.

Despite heavy criticism from many of the teachers and parents, officials of the school system released the following statement: “He [Bishop Barber] simply wants those who are in the employ of the church (sic) to show respect for the church’s (sic ) traditions and be prudent in the conduct of their lives so that they not bring discredit to our school community or the Diocese of Oakland.”

So, they had the bishop’s back, and all was lollipops and roses. Not so fast! That was last year. Between then and now, the contract language has been changed. Like Jimmy Hoffa, the word private has disappeared. The new contract insists that teachers “demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

But how will the school system administrators draw the line between what’s public and what’s private? The answers given to specific questions by Pam Shay, the principal of Bishop O’Dowd High School, are telling. For example, if a teacher is living in an openly homosexual relationship, would that teacher be fired? Answer: No. Well, if a teacher is openly shacking up with his girlfriend? Answer: No. But what if a teacher is an unapologetic supporter of abortion. Certainly, she . . . Sorry, the answer would still be no. However, Ms. Shay seemed to suggest that if a teacher were wearing an O’Dowd High School sweatshirt and was photographed smoking a joint, then that might be problematic. Come on, Ms. Shay! Quit pulling my leg.

This is cowardice and political correctness run amok. My guess is that Bishop Barber is so afraid of a lawsuit that he is willing to allow virtually any behavior on the part of his employees as long as they do it off school property. On the other hand, I wonder if there just might be some types of behavior that he would find difficult to ignore. For example, if a local news outlet features a video of a white supremacist rally, and the leader of that group is one of his teachers, does anyone believe that he would not fire that teacher? Or what if one of his teachers writes a signed editorial in a local newspaper arguing for the rescinding of all laws prohibiting child porn. Would that teacher’s job be safe? And, heaven forbid, what if an employee publishes a book detailing the negative effects of illegal immigration in this country and the necessity of closing the borders and deporting all illegals along with their families? Since the bishop’s diocese is in Oakland, a sanctuary city, I don’t think he would defend this “private” activity.

So, the possibility of getting fired probably depends upon the type of private activity. Those considered “acceptable,” such as homosexual behavior, shacking up, pregnancy outside of wedlock, and promoting baby killing, are given a wink and a nod. “Unacceptable” behavior that suggests racism, homophobia, or hate speech will find the perpetrator in the unemployment line in a heartbeat.

A Catholic school, if it truly is Catholic, should never hire, nor continue to employ, anyone who is living a lifestyle contrary to the Church’s teaching. And I being too “judgmental”? I’m in good company: “He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.” It’s not complicated–unless you want it to be.

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Written by
Thomas Addis

THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children's book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.

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2 comments
  • Mr. Addis, the only good thing is that many of those teachers sooner rather than later are going to retire and that’s when the new crops of teachers must be faithful to the magisterium.

    The teachers know that a new sheriff is in town and is NOT going to be as usual.

  • My guess for the word that caused uproar was “expected” perhaps because often it seems folks no longer expect to be confronted with truth, sadly…

Written by Thomas Addis
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