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Catholic School Teachers As Ministers: All Catholic School Teachers?

April 20, 2015 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

Many of those who are protesting Archbishop Cordileone’s “morality clause” for teachers in San Francisco’s diocesan schools are the usual suspects, left-wing activists with an anti-Catholic agenda. The clause, as widely reported, requires that employees of the diocesan schools “conform their hearts, minds and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior, ever more closely to the truths taught by the Catholic Church” on moral matters such as “adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations” and “the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
The protesters, in an online petition with 5,000 signatures, contend that this requirement would “create a repressive environment in which not only dissent, but any critical thought, robust exchange of ideas and genuine dialogue are discouraged and punishable by loss of livelihood.” Requiring Catholic school teachers, in their role as teachers and in their public statements, not to attack the teachings of the Church does not seem “repressive” to me. Someone devoted to undermining those teachings would disagree, of course.
But the online petition taking issue with the morality clause had over 5,000 signatures; it is hard to imagine that all of them are left-wing radicals. What if the objection of those signing the petition was to the requirement that teachers of secular subjects, as well as religion, conform their thinking to the teachings of the Church on doctrinal matters? Does that matter? Is it asking too much to require doctrinal loyalty to Catholic doctrine from, for example, chemistry and math teachers in Catholic schools?
The question was raised on March 27 in Catholic Education Daily, which is an online publication of the Cardinal Newman Society (cardinalnewmansociety.org). The Newman Society interviewed Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Rigg maintains that Catholic school teachers should understand their role. “To be a Catholic school teacher is to be a minister,” Rigg insisted. “The most important job our teachers have is to evangelize their students. If our teachers are not enabling our students to draw closer to Christ, we are failing in our mission as Catholic educators.”
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati now includes in its teacher contracts, says Rigg, “explicit language” to ensure that “faculty are well-informed of their responsibilities. . . . We need to vigorously convey the truth and life of Jesus Christ. We must ensure that our youth are well formed in their faith, and are equipped to boldly evangelize in a world that desperately needs them.” He stressed that Catholic identity “must be part of the very ethos of the school” and should permeate “every lesson, every relationship, and every communication.” Those words bear repeating: “every lesson, every relationship, and every communication.” Rigg is not talking only about religion teachers.
Clearly, this is not the understanding of the role of teachers of secular subjects in Catholic schools held by those protesting Archbishop Cordileone’s morality clause in San Francisco; they do not see the teachers of secular subjects as “ministers” of the Catholic faith. I would wager serious money that readers of First Teachers will line up on the side of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on this question. So do I. The ideal would be to have Catholics loyal to the Church teaching every subject in a Catholic school. The question is whether that is a realistic possibility. Or even necessary, in every instance.
There is no question that a social studies teacher or teacher of literature who harbors an animus against Catholicism can undermine the efforts of religion teachers dedicated to defending the Church and its teachings in the modern world. It doesn’t make sense for a Catholic school to hire teachers of subjects such as those who are going to devote their classes to promulgating a worldview indistinguishable from what is taught at a “progressive” academy in Greenwich Village or Berkeley. That is not the reason why Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools.
But what of a chemistry or math teacher? Or a physical education teacher? Should Catholic schools be cut some slack in regard to subjects where even issues tangential to the Catholic faith are highly unlikely to arise? Should those teachers be required to be “ministers” as well? It is difficult enough to get competent math and science teachers to work for the salaries paid by Catholic schools, let alone teachers who will also be ministers of the faith.
Permit me to reminisce a bit. When my five brothers and sisters and I graduated from our parish elementary school in the late 1950s and 1960s, we could chose from literally dozens of Catholic high schools in New York City, run by many different orders of priests and religious brothers and sisters: Jesuits, Marists, Christian Brothers, Dominican Sisters, and the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, for starters. It was pretty much the same during the years I taught at a Catholic high school in the Bronx in the mid-1960s. Many people call those years the “golden age” of Catholic education in the United States.
Yet, as I recall, there were very few laymen who taught with me who considered themselves “ministers” of the faith. In fact, not all practiced their faith. Not all were Catholics. More than a few dissented from the Church’s teachings on contraception, divorce and remarriage, and abortion. All of them, however, would have accepted — some more compliantly than others — a requirement that they not use their classes to proselytize anti-Catholic views; all would accept the proposition that they serve as models of good behavior and solid citizenship in their role as teachers. All would agree that they had a responsibility to teach academically sound courses.
But I can picture widespread resistance among them to signing anything like the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s requirement to act as “ministers of the faith.” But that made little difference in the Catholic atmosphere at the school.
I can assure readers of this column with children of high school age that they would be lining up to enroll their children in a modern version of the school where I taught in the 1960s, if they were looking for a solidly Catholic environment for their children. The teachers of s secular subjects on the staff who did not see themselves as ministers of the faith, from what I can remember, did not affect the Catholic mission of the school. As long as the religion courses were sound, and the social studies and literature courses were supportive of Catholic values, and the Mass and the rosary were regular parts of the students’ lives, the school was solidly Catholic, worth every dollar in tuition payments.
What is my point? I am searching for a modus vivendi in this matter for our current situation. Does such a possibility exist? We welcome our readers’ reactions.

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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.

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