Morality Clause for Oakland Catholic School Teachers Wrong, Parents Say
By Doug Oakley Staff Writer Bay Area News Group firstname.lastname@example.org
BERKELEY -- A new faith and morals clause for Catholic schoolteachers in the Diocese of Oakland implies that teachers who are gay, have sex outside marriage or use birth control could be fired, and that is wrong, according to some angry parents and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner.
New language in the contract for teachers at 54 Catholic schools in the East Bay says teachers in their professional and personal lives are expected to "model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals." As with last year's contract, the new one says teachers can be fired for "failure to teach in accordance with the doctrine and moral teachings of the Catholic Church."
Skinner, whose district includes Oakland and other parts of the East Bay, held a news conference Friday with two parents whose children go to Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland to denounce the new contract language. Skinner, D-Berkeley, did not bring along any teachers.
Denise Pinkston has a daughter who is a freshman at O'Dowd.
"The bishop and Diocese of Oakland no longer welcome teachers who don't fit their definition of morality," Pinkston said. "We need to rise up and say, 'This is wrong.'"
In a March 15 letter to Catholic school teachers, Bishop Michael Barber said bishops statewide had been discussing Catholic identity in schools and the new language in a "philosophies and duties" section was designed to "spell out what we are about."
But Skinner, a Catholic whose goddaughter attends O'Dowd, said the new pope is embracing a "wider inclusion" and that Barber needs to "put a stop to these Inquisition-style tactics now."
Skinner said the clause could be interpreted to mean that gay teachers are not allowed.
"It puts teachers in a terrible jeopardy," Skinner said. "There are very likely some gay teachers in these schools, so if they sign the contract and they are found out to be gay, they could be fired. They will be forced to live a lie, and what does that say to their students?"
When asked why she is questioning the philosophy of the Catholic Church, Skinner answered: "Because it is intolerant and seems completely contrary to the message of Pope Francis, who is giving a message of acceptance."
Mike Brown, spokesman for the diocese, acknowledged that the language in the contract is broad. But he said Skinner, as well as the parents, teachers and administrators at O'Dowd who have aired their dislike for the contract have it all wrong.
"This is not a witch hunt or a laundry list of personal behaviors that the diocese wishes to scrutinize in one's private life," Brown said. "The contract is saying, 'If it doesn't bring discredit to the school, go about your life.' Don't expect the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Oakland to intervene in your private life. It is not an attempt to categorize individuals; there is no litmus test, nor has there been in previous contracts."
Brown said most of the uproar about the contract is coming "from a small community at O'Dowd that is being activated, and that's why we are going out and talking to them."
He said representatives from the diocese already met with the president of O'Dowd and a couple of board members.
"What came out of it was an offer to talk more with interest groups, and the bishop will make it if he has time," Brown said.
May 1 was the guideline for teachers to sign the contract, but Brown said it was up to the principal at each school to decide when they must be signed.
Brother Robert Wickman, principal of De La Salle High in Concord, said no teachers at the school have expressed concerns about the new contract language.
"The bishop is trying to reaffirm the relationship between employment in Catholic schools and the Catholic identity of those schools," he said. "That's certainly something in my experience that most Catholic schools communicate in policies and employee handbooks."
The school sent the bishop's letter to its staff April 24 and Wickman said it has not adversely affected its offer of employment process for next year.
"We have people leave the school every year," he said. "A bunch of people are relocating, but I know there's no relationship with this."
Maggie Cooke, who has two children who attend Bishop O'Dowd, said she heard about the contract language from her kids as they were riding in the car.
"In the grand scheme of things, this is not the Crusades, but in our immediate community, it could have a snowballing effect," Cooke said. "It's denying the diversity in our lives that should be celebrated. For a teacher to come in and teach and not be expected to be themselves is wrong."
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