Cincinnati Archdiocese’s New Morality Clauses Set Troubling Precedents

March 18, 2014

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has amplified the morality clause in its contract for Catholic school employees to ensure that those deemed to be living outside certain Church teachings can easily be fired, including lesbian and gay couples in committed or marriage relationships. This new contract sets a troubling precedent, and places the archdiocese in the  position of excusing its desire to discriminate.

More than 2,200 educators at 94 parochial schools in the archdiocese will be affected when they sign new contracts for the 2014-15 year, reports Cincinnati.com. Teachers will be required to sign a contract which includes the following section, according to WCPO-TV:

“Such conduct or lifestyle that is in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals includes, but is not limited to, improper use of social media/communication, 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 surrogate mother, public support of or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, public membership in organization whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals, and/or flagrant deceit or dishonesty.”

Elsewhere, the contract refers to educators as “teacher-ministers” and ties education to the “formation of students by personal witness to the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” Failure to adhere to these guidelines is grounds for an immediate firing.

The Archdiocese, through a spokesperson, tried to downplay this new contract as consistent with past contracts which included morality clauses. The spokesperson stated the new language was meant to clarify the Church’s teachings as “some teachers didn’t fully understand what [the moral conduct clause] meant.”

National trends expanding marriage equality and non-discrimination laws inclusive of LGBT people have led to a marked increase in the firing of LGBT and Ally church workers, which you can read about in full in the ‘Employment Issues‘ category of Bondings 2.0.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has witnessed at least two incidents where LGBT teachers were fired in recent years. In 2013, the Archdiocese was forced to pay nearly $200,000 to Christa Dias, a lesbian teacher fired for becoming pregnant through artificial means. There was the  was the firing of assistant principal Mike Moroski for publicly supporting marriage equality on a personal blog. Finally, the high-profile firing of gym teacher Carla Hale because it became public that she had a woman partner happened next door in Columbus, Ohio.

Moroski spoke to WCPO after this new contract wording was announced. He stated:

” ‘The only people who will be hurt by this are the students whose teachers will leave or he fired; not to mention the potential teachers who won’t even come close the Archdiocese’…

“Moroksi pointed to dwindling archdiocesan enrollment numbers in recent years and stated the decision enforce the rigorous moral code isn’t in the best interest of the schools. Nor is it in the parents who send their children to local parochial schools if this how their teacher applicants are selected, he added.

” ‘The Archdiocese needs to look in the mirror and ask “why.” Catholics aren’t coming home. Schools are closing. And the schools that are closing or struggling are often the ones who educate low-income students and take a hit because they accept so many EdChoice students. So, students, especially lower income ones, are suffering so that a select few can dispense what they see as “morality.” ‘ “

There are two novel ideas proposed by the Archdiocese in the new contract, which set troubling precedents for Catholic institutions in the US. First, the contract refers to educators as “teacher-ministers.” In a handful of cases where LGBT church workers have been fired for who they are or for marrying a same-gender partner, the Catholic institutions have claimed the firings are justified under a ‘ministerial exemption.’ LGBT advocates have argued there is little connection to ministry for physical education teachers, computer teachers, or food service directors, categories in which we have seen firings occur. By explicitly tying the educators to ministerial roles, the schools have a much broader justification for firing them.

Second, the Archdiocese has added ‘public support of’ before each of the reasons for which a teacher may be terminated. It is not simply being gay or entering into a same-gender marriage that puts one’s job at risk, but it seems that publicly supporting rights for LGBT people or perhaps even attending the same-gender wedding of a family member of friend might be grounds for termination.

It will be important to watch if other dioceses follow this example.  Hopefully, fairer minds will rule the day.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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