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Catholic teacher contract gets exact on behavior

April 3, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is so complex that one archdiocese is giving teachers a cheat sheet on some of the things that can get them fired.

A new contract proposal from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati specifies some violations of Catholic doctrine that could put teachers out of a job — including abortion, artificial insemination and “homosexual lifestyles” — and extends forbidden behavior to include public support for those kinds of causes, drawing some complaints that the language is overly broad and a cynical attempt to make it harder for wrongfully terminated teachers to sue.

Teachers have long been required to act in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s philosophy but it’s rare for an archdiocese to include examples of forbidden behavior in its contract. The archdiocese says it’s fairer to teachers this way.

“It clarifies what is expected of all of our teachers,” archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said.

The new language comes after a series of lawsuits and other problems involving educators fired over alleged doctrinal violations in the archdiocese.

Last year, a federal jury found the archdiocese discriminated against a Cincinnati-area teacher fired for violating Catholic doctrine when she became pregnant through artificial insemination and awarded her $171,000. The teacher said she didn’t know artificial insemination violated doctrine. Terms weren’t disclosed in last year’s settlement of another lawsuit against the archdiocese by an unmarried Dayton-area teacher who said she was fired after becoming pregnant.

Catholic schools in California, Pennsylvania, Montana and other U.S. states have faced lawsuits or parent complaints in recent years over firings stemming from doctrinal violations, but the National Association of Catholic School Teachers said it knows of no other archdiocese that has instituted the kind of language planned in Cincinnati.

Besides citing a broad range of prohibited activities including use of a surrogate mother and sexual activity outside of marriage, the contract specifically bans “improper” use of social media. Teachers would also be barred from “public membership” in organizations with missions conflicting with church doctrine.

The president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers says some educators in the archdiocese have contacted the union with contract concerns, even though the union doesn’t represent them.

“This contract is way over the top and very oppressive,” said union president Rita Schwartz.

Mike Moroski, a Cincinnati-area school administrator fired last year over personal blog comments he made in support of gay marriage, says some of the approximately 2,000 teachers covered by the contract aren’t happy but are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. He said the new language could force teachers to conceal specifically prohibited behaviors.

“This contract will force some people to lie to keep their jobs, and they don’t want to do that,” he said.

Andriacco said the archdiocese won’t budge on the language.

“This is essentially a moral position and it’s not going to be driven by public opinion,” he said. “This is our contract, and it’s not going to change.”

Most religious institutions contain “morals” clauses in their contracts, according to the Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, a senior director in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, but no numbers are available on how many of the 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and archdioceses may be adding specific prohibitions.

Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California temporarily postponed establishing similar language last year after realizing he needed to better educate teachers and parents on the issue.

“But at some point, we need as a Catholic church to draw a line,” he said.

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