Attorney: Teacher Contract Reveals Moral, Political Fissures
The following post by attorney Kenneth Craycraft originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer May 12th as “Teachers’ contract reflects Catholic teaching” and is reproduced with the author’s permission. The dioceses of Cleveland and Columbus have adopted similar contract changes, as have several other dioceses in other states.
Are being Catholic and being American identical?
The vigorous and heated rhetoric over the new teacher contract for Archdiocese of Cincinnati schools reveals the fundamental tension between American political values and the rights and duties of a religious institution such as the Catholic Church to name and carry out its mission. Public reactions to the contract, including rallies, billboards funded by the self-appointed “Voice of the Faithful,” and petitions circulated by such anti-Catholic groups as Change.org and MoveOn.org have been well-documented in the Enquirer.
From the actual wording of the contract, it should be surprising that there is any controversy at all. By signing the contract, Archdiocesan teachers merely agree to refrain from engaging in conduct that includes:
“… public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle, public support of or use of abortion, public support of or use of a surrogate mother, public support of or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, public membership in organizations whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals, and/or flagrant deceit or dishonesty.”
As a point of Catholic moral teaching and practice, this is unremarkable language, reflecting well-settled doctrine. It does not forbid discussion of these topics, including presentation of arguments that would challenge the teaching. Nor does it prevent a teacher who is the parent of a gay child from loving and supporting that child. It merely ensures that teachers who sign the contract to teach in a Catholic school do not advocate moral positions or live moral lifestyles that violate Catholic teaching. And, of course, no one is required to sign the contract. Then why the hubbub?
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The negative reactions expose a confusion about the proper relationship between American political values and fundamental Catholic moral teaching. Opposition voices believe the Archdiocese should take its moral and political guidance from the political principles that undergird American law and politics, asserting individual freedom as the highest moral ideal. Supporters believe that the church must speak with its own voice, asserting its freedom to name and defend its moral teaching, regardless of prevailing mores and practices.
The irony of this position being held by those who send their children to Catholic schools is befuddling. Essentially it says that I want to pay to send my children to a Catholic school, but I do not want the Catholic school to take Catholic positions on fundamental moral issues…. But if this is the case, why bother with the Catholic Church or its schools at all?
This view is exemplified in a protestant voice at a Fountain Square rally, as quoted in the Enquirer: “You can’t take away people’s right to free speech.” Now, of course the contract does no such thing. No one is forced to sign it; and it does not forbid debate and discussion of these issues within Catholic schools. The contract provides only that its signatories do not advocate positions or live lifestyles that violate church teaching. But leaving that aside, this voice exemplifies a fundamental and persistent confusion that collapses Catholic moral teaching into American political values. Put differently, this is a voice that seems to demand that the church – and its schools – adhere to American ideas of morality and education, rather than its own.
The irony of this position being held by those who send their children to Catholic schools is befuddling. Essentially it says that I want to pay to send my children to a Catholic school, but I do not want the Catholic school to take Catholic positions on fundamental moral issues. Looking deeper, however, this position exemplifies something more disturbing: It means that what it means to be an American and what it means to be a Catholic are exactly the same. But if this is the case, why bother with the Catholic Church or its schools at all?
People of integrity, sincerity and good will can disagree with the moral positions reflected in the contract. Maybe these principles are wrong. Those people should not sign the contract or send their children to Catholic schools. And no one will force them to do so. But they should disturb neither the right of the church to maintain the integrity of Catholic teaching in its schools nor the right of Catholics to send their children to such schools. To do so is downright un-American.
Kenneth R. Craycraft, Jr., is a resident of Milford and an attorney with the Shade Law Group, LLC, Mason. A former professor of Moral Theology at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, he is the author of The American Myth of Religious Freedom.
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