Cincinnati’s Swinger Parochial School Teacher Principle*

Sexy nun*The reference in the title is to the “Naked Teacher Principle,” discussed often here. In brief, it holds that a teachers whose nude (or in some cases, almost nude or sexually provocative) photographs become publicly available cannot object when they are terminated as unfit to teach.

Teachers employed in the Catholic schools in the Cincinnati archdiocese are being asked to sign a new restrictive contract that denies them the option of engaging in acts outside the classroom that are in opposition to Catholic teachings. It expressly forbids a “homosexual lifestyle” as well as any public support of homosexuality. It forbids abortions or advocacy of abortion rights, surrogacy, and in vitro fertilization.  A teacher who signs the agreement agrees not to live with a partner as a couple outside marriage,  engage in sexual activity out-of-wedlock,  and not to endorse either practice.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is offended by this, and feels it is unethical. “Does a Catholic-school teacher relinquish the basic privileges of citizenship?” he asks, pointing to political engagement and free speech.

There may be legal impediments to what the Cincinnati archdiocese wants to do—the parochial schools receive support from the government, so it may be argued that they are not truly “private.” But Bruni is deluded to think that a teacher in a Catholic school shouldn’t have to forfeit the freedom to act openly in direct contravention of the Church’s teachings. Teaching is, supposedly, a profession. As a lawyer, I have the right of free expression, but if I’m arguing before a jury that my client is an innocent man and wrongly charged because DNA evidence absolving him is infallible, but write on my blog that DNA evidence is often ambiguous and mistaken, I have committed an unethical act and should be fired. My exercise of free speech harms or might harm my client, and it is a breach of professional ethics to do that.

The same applies here. The Catholic Church can’t have its teachers openly and publicly showing that they either don’t believe in or don’t follow Catholic teachings, or that they think it’s just fine to teach one thing and do the opposite. In the past, it would not be necessary to require a Catholic school teacher to make such a legally binding agreement, because professionals understood this. It should be obvious, for example, that a teacher in a parochial school cannot show up to teach a class unmarried and pregnant, and expect to keep her job.

Bruni’s attack on the contract is a mixture of his own objections to basic Catholic doctrine and accusations of hypocrisy. “But there’s no reference to concern for the downtrodden, to the spirit of giving, to charity. And while those are surely more difficult to monitor, aren’t they as essential to Catholic principles, and closer to the core of the faith?” he writes. The contract, as far as I can see, forbids conduct that directly violates doctrine, rather than requiring positive or exemplary conduct embodying it. That makes sense. I am pretty sure that a teacher who is caught on video denigrating the poor or kicking a homeless person would also be subject to termination. Essentially Bruni is complaining, “Why don’t they enforce the values I approve of, rather than the ones I don’t?”

Because they are the Catholic Church, Frank, and disagree with them as you may, you’re not. I find myself scratching my head trying to figure out what Bruni would think is a reasonable stance to take with those the Church hired to teach students in its schools. “You are required to encourage and teach the moral values of the Catholic Church, but if your personal and private conduct communicates to all that you think violating those values are no big deal, it’s fine with us” may comport with Bruni’s values, and mine, but that is no way to maintain organizational and theological integrity.

Of course, for the Catholics to maintain organizational and theological integrity may be impossible; this controversy emphasizes the Catholic Church’s problem of long-standing, and it isn’t going to be solved by contracts. Many of the Church’s core values are severely challenged and eroded by modern concepts of right and wrong, and this tension is typically handled unethically by Catholics who indulge in a formal acceptance of the faith while being willing to discard whichever of its teachings that become inconvenient. Thus Joe Biden and John Kerry, among others, simultaneously assert that they follow the teachings of the Catholic Church while supporting abortion on demand. The technical term for this is “wanting to have your cake and eat it too.” The ethical term for it is “dishonesty.”

The Catholic Church also wants to have its cake and eat it, which is why it is neither willing to insist on strict adherence to its beliefs, which would lose members, or to change its more controversial (or, some would say, archaic) positions, in which case it might no longer seem like the Catholic Church. I can’t solve that dilemma for them, but insisting on apparent compliance with those positions on the part of employees charged with teaching children in the name of the Church is not unreasonable or unfair. Teachers who want to have children out of wedlock or marry their same sex partners are free to teach elsewhere.

Meanwhile, if the law insists that Catholic schools have to hire teachers who are likely to show their students that they don’t believe in Catholic teachings, then there is no reason to have Catholics schools. This wouldn’t bother Frank Bruni, and it wouldn’t bother me much either. As long as there are Catholic schools, however, it is ethical for them to require their teachers to act like good Catholics.

 

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Sources: New York Times, Daily-Herald

 

10 thoughts on “Cincinnati’s Swinger Parochial School Teacher Principle*

  1. Jack,

    Isn’t it arguably illegal for the Catholic schools to implement such a discriminatory hiring policy? We are talking about a school, an enterprise distinct from the rituals of Catholic Mass. Isn’t it blatant violation of equal protection in employment opportunity to impose such exclusive criteria on candidates for teaching positions? I am asking in seriousness.

    I guess a part of me – part mischievous, part sincere about justice – would giggle with delight to see a court compel a madrassa to hire a teacher who has prior notoriety for drawing caricatures of Mohammed.

  2. Without actually seeing the document in question, one wonders whether the Church intends to insist on all areas of doctrine or just the ones that currently appeal to the prejudices of some particular Bishop. Or will the shellfish-eating, gold-wearing, tattoo-sporting, pig-touching, round-haircutted, divorced, poly/cotton blend-wearing, and wealthy all be similarly excluded?

    What about the castrated? That wouldn’t be either controversial or public, one presumes, and that seems to be what the Church is really concerned about. The diocese seems at least as interested as the disgruntled teachers are in “having their cake and eating it, too”: hence the assurance that no one is being asked “to cast away loved family members.” Sure, they are, or the new rules would mean nothing, especially since they extend into speech as well as action. A teacher can be fired not merely for engaging in homosexual activity, or indeed for being gay, but for expressing the opinion that it’s okay if someone else is. (What about expressing the belief that atheists… or Hindus… or Methodists, for that matter, aren’t eternally damned?)

    The dishonesty–to use your term–is hardly limited to the likes of those who profess the faith and support abortion or gay marriage, in other words. The Church can, of course, legally (probably) and perhaps even ethically insist on whatever restrictions it chooses. But that doesn’t make it a good idea.

  3. I’m a Catholic university grad. Every spring, someone would start a debate in our newspaper about whether the dining hall was obligated to start serving meat on Fridays during Lent. I also remember a dorm mate complaining that the school didn’t hand out free condoms on campus, like her friends’ enlightened schools back home.

    I am not Catholic myself, but my reaction to this is as always, “Where the hell did you think you were going before you got here?” Or to modify, “Who’d want to apply for a Catholic teaching job who won’t at least try to live to these standards?” Teaching jobs are hard to come by, sure, but surely there’s some self selection at play here?

    Also, in both college and the bigger world, columnists gonna column. I wish we could declare that the end of the issue.

  4. Mixed feeling about this one. According to church doctrine as I understand it, Buddhists or Hindus no lower automatically go to hell if they’ve led virtuous lives. I think if it came down to it, if people were discreet and “living in sin” whatever that is, it would be the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Anyway I’d ask whether the school has the right to demand that people sign some sort of stupid agreement. There is also the First Amendment issue.

    • 1. A contract isn’t a stupid agreement. Nobody has to sign. Just if you want to be paid.
      2. The agreement clearly is aimed at life styles and opinions that become public or known to students.
      3. Hence the Naked Teacher Principle. Schools don’t care who sees you naked, as long as THEY don’t.
      4. I am dubious about the First Amendment issue. Even in the government setting, if the speech means you can’t do your job well or correctly, you can be fired.

  5. There may be legal impediments to what the Cincinnati archdiocese wants to do—the parochial schools receive support from the government, so it may be argued that they are not truly “private.”

    Not just legal impediments,ethical. Is it ethical to compel someone to subsidise the enforcement of your own religious beliefs on a third party?

    If there was some way of differentiating between state subsidy for non-religious purposes common to all schools, and religious observance, then the question wouldn’t arise. But if the religious beliefs are so embedded in the whole system that employees are compelled to renounce family members in order to stay employed, I see no way they can be disentangled.

    Furthermore, if this is a profit-making venture in competition with other,commercial profit-making ventures, then religious groups should not be immune to the same strictures regarding tax, discrimination law, fire regulations etc.

    • “Is it ethical to compel someone to subsidize the enforcement of your own religious beliefs on a third party?”

      A third party whose parents made the decision to subject him or her to such enforcement? That’s the ethical issue for policymakers who approve of a voucher system. The Church runs a school that is open about its curriculum and values, and it is not merely ethical but essential to insist that employees don’t undermine those values.

      Whether the values themselves are ethical is a separate issue entirely.

  6. How, indeed, can you run a values based organization- particularly one that is a Christian denomination and runs schools for children- without employing people who demonstrate those values to the children they teach? Kids are not stupid and can sense hypocrisy a mile away. In fact, to any discerning educator, values- whether they be those of the Bible or those of commonly held concepts of citizenship (I’d argue that they’re identical)- are the key to a successful education. If a teacher cannot grasp that concept before they even apply for a position in any instructing job, they are already failing the test.

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