Stoking Fire: Why Are Some Teachers Being Asked to Swear Allegiance to Catholic Doctrine?


As teachers across the country rejoice that the school year is over, and slowly begin to develop challenging and creative lesson plans for fall, educators in Catholic schools in Cincinnati, Ohio; Oakland, California; and throughout Hawaii are facing a different challenge: Whether to sign employment contracts affirming their wholehearted belief in Catholic precepts.

As journalist Bill Berkowitz, who covers the religious and secular right wing, noted in a recent piece, the contracts require teachers “to pledge fealty to Catholic doctrine in their actions inside and outside the workplace.”

While the exact wording of each contract varies, the bottom line, he says, is that faculty teaching in Catholic elementary, middle, and senior high schools in affected areas need to heed the party line and sign a multi-page contract indicating that they oppose abortion, contraception, extramarital sex, premarital sex, masturbation, pornography, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and homosexuality. What’s more, Berkowitz explains, this applies regardless of whether a teacher is Catholic and regardless of the subject taught.

The message, he told RH Reality Check, is that “teachers must be careful about manifesting beliefs that conflict with the official position of the church. They’re making it clear that the Diocese is watching.”

The question is why this is happening now.

The official reasons are laid out in Visions for Catholic Schools, a position paper written in 2012 by the Diocese of Cincinnati. In it, Diocesan officials describe parochial schools as “a primary source for religious vocations.” The statement further describes Catholic schools as “vital to our evangelizing ministry and the future of the church. … American Catholic schools need to be unabashedly proud of their proven gritty ability to transmit faith and values to their students.” So, too, its teachers.

By all accounts, Catholic traditionalists are fighting an uphill battle. Not only are most U.S. Catholics pro-choice, but they also support same-sex marriage and the use of birth control. On top of this, the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate at Georgetown University reports that there are now just 39,600 priests serving the 50 states, down from 58,909 in 1975. The number of students attending Catholic schools has also fallen, from 2 million 40 years ago to 1.4 million in 2013.

Conservative Oakland Bishop Michael Barber, for one, is hoping to turn this around by inspiring a new generation of schoolchildren to obey strict Catholic dogma. His method? Removing any teacher who goes against the grain—on any issue right-leaning Catholic clergy hold dear. His plan is apparently to troll the Facebook and Twitter accounts of all faculty employed by his diocese. As he told the National Catholic Register, “Contemporary means of communication such as Facebook and Twitter are public, and opposing church teachings openly on the mediums has consequences on a teacher’s ability to fulfill his or her ministry as a role model in a Catholic school.”

The momentum to crack down on dissent has been building for several years. Even before the 2014-15 contracts came to light, a handful of individuals had already been singled out and fired—actions that have served to exemplify the risks inherent in following one’s conscience. Among the dismissed was Mike Moroski, formerly the dean of student life at the Purcell Mariam High School in Cincinnati. Moroski was placed on “administrative leave” in 2013, eight days after he tweeted his support for marriage equality.

Computer technology teacher Christa Dias was also fired by the Cincinnati diocese after administrators learned that she’d used in vitro fertilization to become pregnant. Her case had a happier ending than Moroski’s: A jury awarded her $171,000 after finding that her termination violated federal pregnancy protection laws.

Dias, however, is an anomaly. In the fall of 2013, Arkansas teacher Tippi McCullough was fired from the Mt. Saint Mary Academy after the diocese learned of her marriage to a woman. Similarly, several months earlier, 19-year-veteran physical education teacher Carla Hale was let go by the Cleveland diocese after she was outed as a lesbian. More recently, in February of this year, literature teacher Shaela Evenson lost her Catholic middle school teaching job in Helena, Montana, when she became pregnant while unmarried.

Rita C. Schwartz, president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers—a union representing laypeople employed by Catholic schools in numerous cities around the country—scoffs at the idea that the current spate of contracts is intended to promote a more cohesive Catholic ideology or draw young adherents to the fold. “This has nothing to do with faith or morals,” she begins. “It has to do with the bottom line. The Diocese of Cincinnati lost the Dias case and their lawyers are telling them to create a contract so they don’t get sued again. It is also not a coincidence that they’re trying to push these so-called morality contracts in places where teachers are not unionized.”

But that may be changing. Schwartz reports that since the contracts were introduced, disgruntled teachers have begun to mobilize to protect their common interests. “Teachers in Cincinnati are taking the lead and organizing,” she says. “The contract issue has galvanized them to form a teacher’s union. Staff are going from school to school and have written to area pastors asking them to sign union recognition agreements or schedule a faculty vote on unionization.”

As for signing on the dotted line, Schwartz concedes that most teachers have opted to do so. “They recognize that these things have to be fought from the inside,” she said. “They understand that if they refuse to sign the contracts and resign from their jobs, they will have no power to change anything. They’re signing and then joining with others to improve their working conditions and increase their pay rates and benefits.”

And how has the diocese responded? I ask. “They clearly miscalculated,” Schwartz laughs. “They did not expect that Catholic school teachers would start organizing for a union and for the right to bargain collectively.”

Perhaps, she says, they should have studied history before promulgating the contracts. As Michael Sean Winters noted in the National Catholic Reporter:

In the first decade of the last century, Pope Pius X required an oath against modernism from all teachers in Catholic schools. Modernism was a catch-all term to cover a variety of positions held suspect. In an effort to combat it, Pius instituted a series of witch hunts, and dossiers were opened to monitor those deemed suspect. The effect of the crackdown on dissent was to stifle the intellectual life of the church for a generation.

If Schwartz has anything to do with it, this history will not be repeated. In fact, she’s hoping that the issue of “loyalty oaths” will spark a contagion and promote bold organizing drives in Catholic schools throughout the United States.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Eleanor J. Bader please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • Don Handy

    Apparently their teachers are held to a higher standard than their priests are.

    • Thomas Sharpe

      Those priests that molested young boys were a small percentage, too many to be sure, of priests in general and were definitely not following what the Church actually teaches and. neither were the terrible bishops that swept things under the rug.
      “Rita C. Schwartz, president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers” clearly does not care and does not follow what the church teaches either. Certainly no high standard with her. It’s about time for her oust.

      • Mindy McIndy

        The diocese has no right to dictate the private lives of the teachers in these schools, whether they are Catholic or not. Period.

      • lady_black

        Rita Schwartz represents NON-CATHOLIC teachers. Why should she follow what the Catholic church teaches? I wouldn’t follow Catholic teachings if I worked in a Catholic hospital or nursing home either. If the Catholic church wants to hire, serve and/or educate the public, fine and dandy. They have NO PLACE in the private lives of their workers who may or may not be Catholic. As a nurse, I can tell you they are hiring my time. They are not buying me. My private life is my own.

        • Mindy McIndy

          Exactly, lady_black. For example, my parents both work at a Catholic hospital, as there is only one non-Catholic hospital in my city, but four Catholic hospitals. (Catholics are pretty much running the hospital business these days.) That doesn’t mean they are forced to live by Catholic edicts. There are non-discrimination clauses written into the contracts. My wife is currently going to a Catholic college, not because she is Catholic (she’s an atheist) but because it is the best school in the region to get her BSN. They aren’t forcing her to become a Catholic, even though they are making her take religion classes, nor are they discriminating against her for being a lesbian. They even allowed her to start a gay-straight alliance at the school, with support from the staff, which includes a nun and a gay Jewish counselor on the board of the GSA. Why should the Catholic elementary and high schools be any different?

          • lady_black

            Mindy that is SO COOL what your wife is doing. My sister started a GSA at the local community college 20 years ago that is still active today. I’ll tell you it wasn’t easy back then. She had to fight everyone, and had to keep replacing notices because they kept disappearing :(. But she kept persisting.

          • Mindy McIndy

            That’s awesome. I’m really proud of her, and she even received a diversity award at her school this April for starting the GSA. There was some backlash from a couple of students, where people complained to the nun who happened to be on the board of the GSA, but overall the students and staff have been very supportive. She’s got a lot of backbone, that wife of mine.

      • Jennifer Starr

        No, it’s not ‘time for her oust’.

        • Thomas Sharpe

          Reading the signs of the times: contraceptive/abortifacient mandate, sodomite unions as marriage, abortion, euthanasia….
          Catholic schools will either have the courage of Daniel.. or they will cease to be … Catholic at all.

          I dare say that few of them truly are Catholic at the moment, we’ll see what happens. One thing for sure, we have Christ’s promise that “the gates of H— will not prevail”.

          Even when there are dark days, we know how the story ends. It’s a question of who remains faithful, and who doesn’t. Life is a test.

          • lady_black

            If life is a test, you failed.

          • Thomas Sharpe

            If you think you’re God you may not receive a passing grade, if you know you’re not God it’s the right path.

          • lady_black

            God who?

      • P. McCoy

        One boy who is in a living hell due to the acts of a loathsome alter christus is one too many! Stow your brayings about “holy priests” a drop of rat poison in a glass of milk that may look pure is still contaminated in the whole
        But yeah, be cavalier about it, say that line the church is sinners not.saints- yeah bray on until your boy gets flipped on his belly and gets violated (picturing poster with a cap on his head that reads SUCKER!)

  • JayChong

    The only reason an employer can tell an employee how to live is that it is necessary to the job. For private schools, I can see the argument that teachers ought to be good role models for students. If the teachers can’t live by the church’s doctrines, how can the church expect students to live by those doctrines? The problem with this argument is that these contracts go very far outside the boundaries of the job.
    http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2014/06/13/catholic-teachers-protest-contracts-ban-sinful-behavior/

    • lady_black

      How can they expect children to live by church doctrines when the priests don’t live by them is a more suitable question. Listen, I can expect a religious school to tell their teachers to mirror Christian values in dealing with their students. If it’s a religion teacher, they can even insist that the teacher is a practicing Catholic. That being said, if the teacher is a mathematics, science or history instructor and is of some other religion, or none at all, they have no right to expect fealty to Catholic doctrine in the teacher’s private life, and the teacher may not even know what Catholic doctrine is. To tell a teacher, Catholic or not, that she cannot attend a pro-choice rally, take a niece to Planned Parenthood for contraception, or attend the wedding of a gay relative is completely out of line. Simply because something is in a contract doesn’t make that contract enforceable. And asking an employee to sign away rights they are entitled to will not be enforced because it’s unconscionable.

      • Thomas Sharpe

        I have waiting on this for a long long time. Besides financial reasons, my wife and I have not sent our 4 children to catholic school for the exact same reasons you state here… Presently most catholic schools are not really catholic!

        • lady_black

          Then the Catholic church better start attracting more nuns, educating them, and having them teach. I have little sympathy. I have some news for you. Catholic school doesn’t work. Catholic “hospitals” shouldn’t even be permitted to exist, or at the least should be prohibited from caring for pregnant women. We already know Catholic hospitals will mistreat women, and not put her needs first.

          • Thomas Sharpe

            “Catholic “hospitals” shouldn’t even be permitted to exist”; wow, no one is more intolerant than a member of the “tolerance” crowd.

            “We already know Catholic hospitals will mistreat women, and not put her needs first…” by that I presume that not permitting a new mother to kill her child is a bad thing, funny, I don’t remember any mother wishing her child was dead later on..

            “the Catholic church better start attracting more nuns..” I think there are persons who took a religious vocation, a sacramental one, they’re called parents!

            Personally, I think a mix of home school and formal school (community) would be best. It would cut the tuition cost in half.
            Thank God for the internet; God always provides ;-)

          • Jennifer Starr

            Catholic hospitals put adherence to doctrine above what is best for the patient’s health.

          • goatini

            //God always provides//

            Yeah, that was the same BS the parish priest told my Mom back in the ’50s, after three babies in slightly over three years. Fortunately for her, the birth control pill was introduced fairly soon after that, so it does appear that God DOES provide!

            Oh, and I was mistreated by healthcare personnel in a Catholic hospital almost 40 years ago, solely because I am a woman.

          • lady_black

            Tell that to the women they maim and butcher. A Catholic “hospital” excommunicated a nun a few years back for allowing an abortion to save the life of a woman who had a 95% probability of dying without one. She was only 11 weeks pregnant, so there was no “child” involved, and as a matter of fact, she was already the mother of several actual children (who the bishops would be just delighted to see rendered motherless by the “healthcare” allowed to be given in Catholic “hospitals.”) Ask the women who, after experiencing a tubal pregnancy, were rendered sterile and maimed because the “hospital” refuses to use state of the art treatment and prefers surgery to remove the entire fallopian tube. Ask the young woman in Michigan who presented with ruptured membranes and inevitable abortion in an 18 week pregnancy, and was sent home after being told there was nothing they could do for her. She could have DIED in one of the most horrible fashions I can imagine, septicemia. Excuse me, but COW COOKIES! No pregnant woman with complications should EVER be trusted to the dubious “care” rendered by doctors who are hamstrung by ridiculous church “doctrine.” Murderers is what they are.

          • P. McCoy

            No one kills their child in an abortion. But children are killed physically, emotionally and spiritually when they have been raped, abused and callously thrown aside by Catholic priests, their hierarchy and mind contolled cult minions who dismiss the victims casually and explain the perps away by baying “the church is a hospital for sinners not saints”. How utterly cavalier and hypocritical- idol worshipping the fetus and not caring two dead flies about sentient, living children!

          • lady_black

            If the church is “a hospital for sinners”, then they need to stop allowing the inmates to run the asylum/

          • lady_black

            Oh, and by the way… I’m a married parent and I never took any “religious vocation.” Phooey on that.

          • JamieHaman

            Oh, are women supposed to tolerate second class care? That’s exactly what you are asking us to do. If a hospital regularly provides such care, it should have the management team changed, and appropriate staff changes as well.

            While you may be ok with women dying to save their non viable unborn children, the majority of women are not.

            Catholic hospitals are willing to let pregnant women die, rather than perform a woman’s live saving abortion, in proper order. Here are some cases for you to look at. http://www.theroot.com/blogs/blogging_the_beltway/2013/12/catholic_hospitals_and_religious_freedom_vs_health_care_freedom.html and here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/11/14/woman-dies-after-catholic-hospital-denies-abortion/ and some general info on end of life issues here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/04/26/why-catholic-hospitals-should-scare-you/

            Nope, Catholics don’t have any business running a health care organization with taxpayer money and using Catholic rules to do it.
            In a church? Follow your own rules, in a business, stfu, because not everyone follows your religion. Taxpayer money means taxpayer rules.

          • Thomas Sharpe

            And if the tax payers vote against abortion, as so many states have done, will your church allow it?

          • JamieHaman

            Can you actually read? You are not responding to the previous statement at all. Asking about what my church will allow is called deflecting. Try again.

          • Thomas Sharpe

            If a woman life is threatened the Catholic hospital would remove what threatened her life. Your insertion that ordinarily women’s lives are being threatened is not factual and a red herring.

            I’m serious about the church thing, I pay taxes like everyone else, this secular atheism that you in spouse is a church. With a set of moral constructs. I deeply resent your imposing your values on what I and millions find to be unconscionable. I mean that. And that will be part of your downfall because this church that you belong to will in tolerantly push these issues further and further. It’s only a matter if time before people a little less aware get really fed up.

          • JamieHaman

            dude, you have no clue.
            What will you fed up people do? Lock women up for dyi abortions? Will you refuse to treat the infections from dyi abortions? Will you treat her surviving children well?
            Don’t call yourself a Christian, or a decent human being until you are taking care of the breathing among us.

  • journeyv

    Catholic schools don’t just employ Catholics. Ever heard of Equal Employment Opportunities?

    • Michael Fedo

      I certainly have, but when you work for an entity that has a bully anti-secular reputation, what exactly is surprising? It is almost an inevitability they would do this, and will certainly continue to push the boundaries of what is tolerable. It’s our job to push right back.

      • cjvg

        So what is your objection then at this article that is attempting to inform and create push back?

        • Michael Fedo

          I’m not objecting. I actually was misinformed and consequently believed that the Church somehow got a pass or exemption, so they were free to impose standards and such.

          • JamieHaman

            don’t feel bad about that. A lot of people think their own church has that right.
            None should have that right at all. None.