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Diocese: Catholic School Teachers Have Duty to Be ‘Moral Exemplars’

May 5, 2016, at 11:00 AM  |  By Justin Petrisek   | 

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Fort Wayne – South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades’ pre-contract document to his diocesan school teachers deserves high praise for emphasizing adherence to Catholic moral teachings both inside and outside the classroom, said Dr. Denise Donohue, deputy director of The Cardinal Newman Society’s K-12 education programs. Donohue added that the well-cited and detailed document is important for the protection of Catholic identity in the diocese’s schools.

The document states that faculty and staff of Catholic schools are not to publicly reject the moral teachings and laws of the Church. And in no way are they to cooperate, take part in or condone practices contrary to those teachings, including same-sex marriage, abortion, assisted suicide, adultery, in vitro fertilization or gender ideology. Additionally, the mission of Catholic schools is not limited to teachers but includes all “administrators, educators, coaches and moderators,” according to the document.

“It’s important in a world where both adults and children are confused about even their male or femaleness for bishops to promulgate teaching documents, especially documents that focus on man’s proper relationships with others, and most especially with God,” said Donohue.

Last month, Bishop Rhoades issued a 16-point document, “The Mission of Our Catholic Schools and the Importance of Authentic Witness of School Employees,” to teachers prior to contracts being signed for the upcoming school year. The document, which cites numerous Church and papal documents, details how and why Catholic school teachers are expected to act in accord with Catholic principles both inside and outside of the classroom.

The document reads in part:

The [Catholic] school is not merely the place for the communication of a particular curriculum in a loving environment, it is also a place where the Christian life is modeled by the teachers and staff as individuals and as a community … This means that the teachers and staff members in a Catholic school have the duty to be moral exemplars in their private and professional lives as faith-filled adult Christians, and to give credible witness to the teachings of the Church in faith and morals.

“Bishop Rhoades has initiated a formative, instructional, pre-contract document, much like the Dioceses of Sacramento, San Diego, and Cleveland, to remind current and new school personnel of the special vocation and place they have in the apostolate of Catholic education,” Donohue said.

A diocesan spokesperson confirmed to the Newman Society that the document is not a change in policy but simply a communication of the longstanding expectations for its school employees. A majority of the 16 points in the document are paired with at least one citation from Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law or a relevant papal or episcopal teaching document to explain the connection between diocesan policy and Church teaching.

Documents focusing on the nature and mission of Catholic education, as well as the personal responsibility of teachers inside and outside the classroom, have become increasingly needed in recent years. Last July, a teacher in Macon, Ga., filed a lawsuit against his former school after he was fired for announcing plans to marry his same-sex partner. The suit cited the faculty handbook, which allegedly did not require staff to act in accord with Church teaching, the reason given for the teacher’s dismissal. Similar instances have occurred at Catholic schools in the Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania in the past year.

In June 2015, the Newman Society found evidence of a substantial and growing movement toward higher standards for Catholic schools teachers. The two subsequent reports, which compiled and analyzed employment documents from more than 125 Catholic dioceses in the United States, showed language in teacher handbooks, contracts and other employment documents, including “morality clauses,” helping to strengthen the Catholic identity of K-12 schools.

So how does this document differ from previous versions released by other dioceses?

“What is different about Bishop Rhoades’ document is the abundant use of Church teachings – 18 individual sources – from as far back as Pope Pius XI’s document Divini Illuis Magistri to Pope Francis’ more recent ‘Address to Italian Educators’ in 2015,” Donohue pointed out. “What the reader will see from these documents is the unchanging mission of Catholic education, one where evangelization and formation of students in an environment where faith informs culture has not changed,” she continued.

It is critical for Catholic schools to ensure that teachers are witnesses of the Catholic faith and aware of their expectations to model Catholic values and beliefs both inside and outside the classroom, Donohue said. “By doing so, teachers themselves become more formed in the ways of the Church and can more fully fulfill their role as extensions of its teaching body.”

“Teachers and others involved in the formation of youth,” she added, “are still called to witness as faithful Catholics today, just as much as they were over 80 years ago, as evidenced by these documents.”

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

"Originally published by Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society."
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