Cleveland, Ohio, is the latest diocese to announce new teacher contracts which contain an enhanced morality clause and explicitly refer to educators as ministers. Documents made available to Bondings 2.0 offer a closer look at Bishop Richard Lennon’s thinking behind the contracts and how he plans to implement them. Three of the documents are available for viewing at the end of this post.
In a letter to priests dated May 1, 2014, the bishop outlines how the contracts have changed. The three prominent revisions are the use of “minister” in reference to educators, the highlighting of certain moral teachings, and the inclusion a two-page statement on the “ministerial nature of the work that teachers and administrators do.” Lennon instructs pastors to include this statement and a letter drafted by the diocese when educators at Catholic elementary schools are presented with the new contracts.
This letter to teachers and administrators is intended to appear as if it was written by the parish priest. It explains why the diocese made changes in educators’ contracts, stating in part:
“It is certainly legitimate for you to ask, ‘why is this important?’, and ‘why now?’ In answer to the first question, these changes are important components to include in this type of agreement due to the very nature and purpose of a Catholic school and the role that each of you play in fulfilling that purpose…In answer to the second question, now more than ever in our lifetimes, the secular culture presents a view of life and humanity often at odds with our Catholic faith. Certain changes to the agreement are, as such, a response to the need of the Catholic Church to articulate clearly its teachings in the face of these competing viewpoints.”
As for the contract changes themselves, a listing of prohibited actions almost exclusively related to matters of sexuality and family life has been added to the morality clause. These include:
- “Public support of…so-called homosexual or same-sex marriage or unions”;
- “Preparing for or engaging in a same-sex marriage or union”;
- “Engaging in or supporting transvestitism, transgenderism, or sex reassignment”
Additionally, throughout the contract the educators are referred to as either “teacher-minister” or “administrator-minister.” The introductory letter from pastors cited above claims “minister” was added to make explicit the “role you as teachers play in passing on the Catholic faith to our students.” However, in Bishop Lennon’s instruction to priests he is far more honest and cites “circumstances, including several lawsuits, in our state and throughout the country” necessitating this ministerial role be made explicit.
Already teachers and Catholics in the diocese are speaking critically against the new contracts, which will not affect high schools or schools administered by religious orders in the diocese. The Plain Dealer quotes Rita Schwartz, head of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers which represents high school teachers in Cleveland, as calling this new batch of contracts “six pages of thou shalt not” and “amounts to a ‘witch hunt.’ ” The newspaper further reports:
“And the ‘teacher-minister” designation is a touchy legal issue for [labor] unions. There are already obstacles to organizing the elementary school teachers as a union, but agreeing to be a ‘teacher-minister’ adds more. Ministers, Schwartz and DeSantis said, can’t be unionized.”
Reading the documents, it is evident Bishop Lennon seeks to curtail criticism by framing the changes in language about the positive and powerful ministry educators in Catholic schools provide. The contracts undermine labor rights like collective bargaining, about which the Catholic Church has been unequivocally supportive. Yet, more troubling is when teachers are forced to deny their consciences and their Catholic faith to retain employment due to diocesan policies selectively targeting LGBT people and their allies.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry