Oakland Bishop Michael Barber

Because they don’t have tenure, all K-12 teachers in East Bay Catholic private schools are required to sign new contracts each year. But this year’s contract includes a contentious new clause requiring them to conform to Catholic Church teachings in their personal lives. While private schools are legally allowed to impose religious restrictions, some teachers are unhappy with the addition in a diocese where 18 percent of teachers are not Catholic.

Sam Levin, staff writer for the East Bay Express
Mike Brown, director of communication for the Diocese of Oakland

  • Guest

    Conform to Catholic Church Morals? What are they going to suggest, installing child rapists in each classroom, and then blaming the victims for being too tempting? It is ridiculous and obscene for any Catholic functionary to preach to anyone about morals.

  • Slappy

    The Catholic church dictating morals utterly laughable. Let’s see them go after the child rapists within their own ranks and then we’ll talk.

    • geraldfnord

      Well, they at least convinced the Spaniards that the Indios were humans, and so couldn’t be killed out-of-hand, working them to death after their conversion being sufficient to the task.

    • JimmyOo

      As a Catholic, I am too sad to laugh at this, but I have to agree that it is absurd. On the silver-lining side, I think it calls into question, or rather intensifies alternative answers to the question of the Church’s governance and lack thereof. While I agree with Beth that it is not a democracy, I would argue that its human governance could be.

  • Annette Tumolo

    I am a parent of a junior at Bishop O’Dowd. The administration, faculty, staff, students and parents have worked hard for many years to create a diverse and inclusive community that reflects the core values underpinning the Catholic faith as well as those from the community Bishop ODowd serves. We love it. The new contract language will have a chilling effect on the environment of free speech amongst students and teachers. The culture will change over time as excellent teachers are forced to leave because they cannot sign an ambiguous morality oath and potential new teachers cross Bishop ODowd off their list. Catholic and non-Catholic families who cherish basic civil rights along with a strong moral compass will choose to send their children elsewhere. The Catholic education envisioned by Bishop ODowd’s leaders will be sadly diminished by this homogenized future state. I am speaking as one parent prepared to fight for Bishop ODowd- for the teachers who make it a great place and for the students who emerge as prepared and engaged world citizens. I am one of many.’

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Having attended a Catholic boarding school I see nothing wrong with a religious based school wanting teachers to reflect the teachings of the church. The church is NOT a democracy.

    Should we expect a Orthodox Jewish day school, or a private Muslim school to not expect their teachers to adhere to their beliefs per dress, marriage, abortion, drugs,alcohol?

    • geraldfnord

      Yes, I think a private Orthodox medical school should have the right to fire any teacher claiming that it were wrong to abort an embryo or foetus threatening the life or fundamental health or sanity of the mother, as the Law requires up to the moment of first breath (or a majority of the body’s being delivered, in the case of a breech-birth).

      I am not just being snarky; I am also attempting to help people in full sympathy with the school understand more viscerally how the situation in question feels to some of the rest of us…but that actually is my opinion, as what I think about the legality of firing dissenters is less important than how it makes me feel.

      (I think it an injustice, but a completely expectable and routine such, no sense getting too heated-up about it, just par for the course on a Type 0.7 [on the Sagan-Kardaschov scale] planetary civilisation and if you get bothered by that kind of thing you’ll likely ruin your health beyond the capacity of a Type 0.7 civilisation to adequately repair.)

  • thucy

    “But this year’s contract includes a contentious new clause requiring them to conform to Catholic Church teachings in their personal lives…”
    Why don’t they do what the majority of Catholics in this country do, which is to thoughtfully decline outdated doctrine through tacit disobedience in their personal lives, with the (apparently) reasonable expectation that, under a new Pope, Catholic doctrine may eventually catch up to the modern era?

    After all, there is plenty of precedent for not hewing 100% to doctrine, even outside Catholicism. Many devout and sensible Jewish people eat shellfish… and on Shabbos! My Hindu boss used to love In-and-Out burgers, even though cows are supposed to be sacred in his religion. Et cetera….
    As my Italian friends say, “why do Americans get so upset about what the priests say? Nobody here pays any attention to priests.”

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Many DEVOUT Jewish people eat shellfish… and on Shabbos!??? Show me where that is fact.

      • thucy

        This may be news to you out there in Calaveras County, Beth, but even devout Jewish people are not a monolithic group. That is why you have reform, orthodox, conservative, et cetera synagogues.
        Brace yourself for this revelation Beth, but you can be devoutly Jewish and not keep a Kosher kitchen. You can also be devoutly Jewish (or devoutly Muslim) and enjoy an occasional piece of bacon. Why? Because dietary restrictions in religious culture are not always strictly heeded, just as proscriptions against adultery are not always heeded by the devout.

        • Beth Grant DeRoos

          Please show me where it says a Jew or Muslim can be devout and break dietary laws.

  • geraldfnord

    I think they have a right to promulgate their bad ideas by requiring that their employees obey their tribal tabus sillily jumped-up-to the status of ‘morals’, as well as the good ideas they have, as they wish. I think they will suffer for it, as they will exclude many people who might teach well and whose private conduct would not be at all injurious to their students, who must eventually live in a larger society largely at variance with Catholic teaching, even among Catholics…but I guess they are confronted by a situation in which they would want to demand great respect for teachers but are confronted by potential teachers for whom they feel students should have no particular respect at all by virtue of their conduct and attitudes.

    They are private…I just wish that they, and their ilk, wouldn’t repeatedly and forcefully attempt to get public funding (say, through vouchers, which generally have been so low that usually only religious schools would be affordable) even as they demand the complete control proper only to private institutions, and not even all of those (public accomodations, for example, and private agencies tasked with carrying-out public functions).

  • Bob Fry

    Last week yet another priest was busted in Yolo County for sex with a minor. Perhaps the priests should start following Catholic doctrine first?

    • geraldfnord

      A ‘good’ Catholic would agree; they tend to blame the problem on the wider society…because they don’t draw much distinction between one sexual sin and another—remember, though it was never official doctrine, there were Catholic theologians who seriously considered masturbation to be worse than rape involving ‘natural’ intercourse open to fertility.

      When you have a theology that cares more about which bits touch which others, as opposed to the wills of competent adults, this sort of equivalence is natural…so, of course, ‘interfering with’ a child is bad, but so is divorce, and fornication…an L.D.S.-born employer once mentioned that he was taught to avoid caffeine, alcohol, heroin, and L.S.D., so once he found out how nice caffeine was he didn’t see the point of not trying the others, when a tabu is stressed the actual nature of something becomes less relevant.

      Personally, I think their problem is two-fold:
      1.) They believe their own hype—they really believe, or at least are unwilling to deny, that the Holy Spirit and the storehouse of Grace can’t cure every single bad priest, and
      2.) The social technology of celibacy and poverty, intended to make the Church their family (and so keep them above society’s conflicts and vagaries…think of George R.R. Martin’s “Night’s Watch”), has worked too well: I think nearly all of us would trust the word of a family member over that of someone outside the family, or if he’s definitely committed an offence would tend to minimise its effects and import and relevance to the person, especially if you think that person does the most important thing in the world…and, quite possibly, protect him regardless.

  • Another Mike

    What happened to forgiveness of sin? Catholics continually fail to live up to their moral code, but the sacrament of Penance allows them to start over.

    But how can this apply to non-Catholics? Is the expectation that all teachers will sooner or later convert?

  • Krystal Kelley

    It is a MINISTRY and not explicitly homophobic. This requirement would apply to heterosexual couples living together who aren’t married, drug use, thievery, infidelity, etc. If I send my children to a Christian school (I’m protestant) I’d expect the staff to have and model the beliefs in line with the ministry of the church sponsoring the school. Same expectation would apply to Sunday school and midweek bible studies or even church secretary….they should live and believe according to the faith of the ministry. If they don’t like it, go teach/work elsewhere.

    • geraldfnord

      If you were a teetotaller, what of (say) a maths teacher who had a beer on the week-end but didn’t talk about it in class or within any student’s hearing?

      Of course, soon a combination of tracking and heads-up displays (better than Google Glass, I hope) might soon make nearly all of everyone’s private conduct visible to all, or those who cared…buy a single condom once in your life, and modern Comstocks will see it floating above your head until you die (at which point it will float above your grave)…vegetarians will see how much meat you’ve et in life and judge you accordingly….at which point we may be driven to tolerance because we will _know_ that we are all sinners, at least to somebody.

    • Guest

      It’s more complicated than that. Most people raised Catholic understand that the culture is more nuanced than “take it or leave it.” No, it’s not limited to sexuality, but that is a prime example. Loyola Marymount, St. Mary’s & Notre Dame are all well known Catholic universities that have LGBQT campus groups. Catholicism in the US isn’t this monolith, and the majority of Catholics in the Bay Area are progressive. Parents send their kids to Catholic schools in Oakland because they outperform the public schools here and many, like O’Dowd, have an inclusive and progressive culture. This bishop isn’t recognizing that in his leadership.

      • Krystal Kelley

        What makes a Catholic School or church progressive? It’s choice to make a la cart selections about which biblical teachings to follow? I agree that there are gray areas in the bible, and the church should be about loving everyone, but how can a ministry be effective if those teaching it don’t live it. That’s like having an obese doctor tell you how to eat and exercise for good health. A big problem here is the Catholic Church having not dealt with pedophiles and other abuses so they really look hypocritical right now.

        If this is such a problem, why aren’t there more non-religious private schools with similar rigorous curriculum? Why do Christians have to waterdown biblical principles to make those who choose to “partake” comfortable? This crap wouldn’t be happening at a Muslim school. Why is it OK here? No one is forced to work at a Catholic school. No one is forced to attend a Catholic school. It’s a choice to work and to attend. I think the staff need more than 3 weeks to find other employment options if they disagree with the contract and I also think the school should not be government funded. They should be separate. The request to have the staff adhere to doctrine in personal lives is in line biblical instructions that the apostle Paul gave Timothy in one of his letters in which said the church shouldn’t have folks in ministry who don’t live according to the Word. Their needs to be a history of living properly before taking a leadership role. Teachers at religious schools represent the ministry and should adhere to the doctrine. The school is part of the church and it’s ministry. There are a lot of talented teachers who are not religious nor hold strongly to any religious views. There is no reason for the Catholic schools to be the only game in town when it comes to excellent education programs. Create comparable private schools that meet the same education needs without the religious requirements. Based on today’s discussion, there seems to be a market and an appetite for it.

        • Beth Grant DeRoos

          Krystal Kelley I agree with you. The problem with the Catholic church is it has allowed the very moral teachings they stressed to be ignored since Vatican II.

          Bear in mind the Catholic church has taught for ages that you can be excommunicated if its found you are using artificial birth control, have had or helped someone obtain an abortion, or are a practicing gay/lesbian. Celibate gay/lesbians are welcomed.

          Bear in mind the Catholic church has taught for ages that you can be excommunicated if its found you are using artificial birth control, have had or helped someone obtain an abortion, or are a practicing gay/lesbian, but its been all talk no action. Celibate gay/lesbians are welcomed.

          • Krystal Kelley

            Thanks for clarifying. I’ve never been in a church where excommunication was a possibility, but my father is a minister and I’ve had to watch him ask a member of the praise and worship team to “sit down” (i.e. not participate in ministry) because he found he found out she was living with her boyfriend with no plans to marry him. It was difficult for them both, but he did so out of respect for biblical guidance and knowing the importance of having those who are in positions of leadership doing their best to live up to the bible. I think a lot of people who say the church needs to be more progressive don’t even read the bible and therefore don’t know that some of the stuff the church requests are biblically based and not done for the joy and excitement of controlling people. Or they simply want to acknowledge the stuff in the bible that makes them feel good while ignoring the stuff they don’t like. Otherwise, it appears to me they would like to rewrite the bible.

          • Jen

            You must really be bummed about Pope Francis giving the proverbial nod to same-sex civil unions…(but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The Vatican’s still centuries away from calling it marriage.)

          • Krystal Kelley

            I think that’s the way to go on the marriage issue altogether. The government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. It should only be in the business of civil unions for gay and straight couples a like. Leave the marriage ceremony to be defined as the couple chooses to define it and to be officiated by a spiritual leader or family friend.

        • Jen

          What makes someone a “progressive Catholic” is that they are progressive in their personal beliefs and they practice Catholicism. What makes a Catholic institution progressive is that it promotes a more tolerant and accepting view of Catholicism. (Also, as side note to someone who clearly isn’t Catholic: We are NOT fundamentalists. Church teaching allows for scriptural interpretations, so when people cite the bible as though it were the Constitution, it’s always somewhat confounding as a Catholic.)

    • Thoughtful_Degenerate

      If they are a ministry, shouldn’t they have to point that out. I think if the Catholic church would like to pretend to be a school (or a hospital, or adoption agency, or social services agency, etc.) they should also be required to explicitly get consent from those using their services that they are NOT a service provider, but rather they are a “ministry”, that is also providing other services. It is deceptive and disingenuous to say that they are a school/hospital/etc. and accept to serve all persons, but then turn around and pretend that they are a religious organization that doesn’t need to play by the same rules as other. This may really be a small piece of the larger question of what a church actually is, and what kinds of special privileges and rights should be given to a religious organization, and what limits should be in place to prevent them from stepping on the rights of individuals.

      • Krystal Kelley

        I agree. They should say what they are and be up front about it. I don’t understand why they aren’t. I think it has been taken for granted that people know it, but it should be made clear on a regular basis. Church and state should be separate, so if they are a religious organization the state shouldn’t tell them what rules they can put In place unless they are getting funds from the state. It’s a hairy issue for sure, but it all begins with being upfront.

  • Robert Thomas

    Except where courts of law find that restrictions or requirements violate statute, I can see no reason why these institutions shouldn’t press prospective employees with whatever kind of sanctimonious, hypocritical oath pleases them.

    But it’s hard to believe that the advent of such draconian requirements is due other than to the institution’s inevitable self-recognition of its own abject, despicable criminality, which has resulted its priests shaking down the faithful for the $2B – $3B for settlements they’ve been ordered to pay to compensate those they’ve recklessly injured in the U.S. in the last sixty years. And who knows how much more elsewhere? Catholic News Service reported that by 2009, the Church had paid compensation amounting to €1.2B in the Republic of Ireland alone.

    So, we shouldn’t be surprised when the Church starts demanding a notarized release before flinging a spritz of holy water or waving a fulminating censer in anyone’s proximate vicinity.

  • menloman

    Let me know when the Jewish Community Center allows Jews for Jesus meetings before demanding Catholic’s conform to non-Catholic demands.

  • menloman

    Sam Levin and Michael Krasny complaining about how Catholics choose to organize themselves. That’s chutzpah.

  • menloman

    Professor Michael Krasny invoking the first amendment is laughably ignorant. The first amendment only prohibits congress from making laws limiting speech, not private organizations. Try total speech freedom on KQED and see how far you get.

  • JimmyOo

    haven’t yet had time to listen to the audio so sorry if this is repeating something. “In California, earlier this year Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa tried to require educators to sign a morality clause that described contraception, abortion and gay marriage as “modern errors” that “gravely offend human dignity.” In March, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that Vasa included the language to avoid legal challenges from teachers who were fired for conduct that contradicts Catholic teaching. He later backed down from the proposal.”http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Oakland-Diocese-requiring-educators-to-conform-to-5464492.php

    Considering the more liberal precedent in conditions of employment, and the likely lack of alternative employment for many facing this new requirement, this seems to me a sinful injustice on the part of the diocese, especially unjust toward non-Catholic teachers, regardless of the legality of it. Although I would also disagree with making this a condition of employment for new hires, that would be understandable, and, I think, less unjust.

  • mcassidy5

    This whole business is complicated, and is being played out on several levels, at least.

    First, there is the “inside baseball” aspect, the ongoing struggle between two groups (maybe more) within Catholicism, which might be characterized as ‘liberal’ vs. ‘conservative’, or maybe John XXIII/Francis vs. John Paul II/Benedict XVI, or forward- vs. backward-looking — although neither characterization is totally accurate. Bishop Barber has himself allowed that this tactic has been discussed at the California Catholic Conference, the gathering of the state’s bishops. Apparently, Bishop Vasa did not share that, when he tried it — twice, once in Oregon (in more virulent form) and again in Santa Rosa — he was soundly trounced.

    Secondly, there is the aspect of a new bishop, not really familiar with the people of his diocese, starting to throw his weight around in inappropriate ways. There is a long standing mythology in the Catholic Church about “reforming” bishops, some of whom were simply clueless about the effects of what they were attempting. Often, ‘reform’ is simply tyranny by another name. The bishop seems unaware of the sad history of “loyalty oaths” in California during the reign of terror of Sen. McCarthy and of the infamous House Unamerican Activities Committee.

    Thirdly, while the hypocrisy has been well pointed out by others here, the emphasis on sexuality is clearly misplaced. What’s really at stake is the Church’s own social teaching about religious liberty, primacy of conscience, and the rights of labor. Instead of trying to model that teaching in its own behavior toward employees, the diocese has instead adopted something close to the most right-wing interpretation of civil labor law. The words ‘minister’ and ‘ministry’ sound very churchy, but in fact they are the key to a recent Supreme Court case (Jan. 2012, I believe) called Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Clearly, the only reason to adopt such language is to attempt to remove legitimate safeguards which might prevent the capricious firing of teachers. However, this could easily backfire upon the diocese in numerous ways, not least of which might be very protracted and expensive litigation; it seems that future cases of this sort are likely to be decided case by case, according to legal experts. This is really unconscionable behavior by the diocese and the bishop. A Lutheran lay teacher was ultimately fired using the “ministerial exemption”; she was judged to be a ‘minister’ because, in addition to her teaching duties, she presided at a weekly chapel service. The diocese is trying an end run around labor laws by claiming that all its teachers are ‘ministers’. One irony, of course, is that they are willing to do this even for women and non-Catholic teachers, while at the same time trying to refuse the title of ‘minister’ to many other laypeople (e.g., lectors, eucharistic ministers), and not allowing any ordination of women.

    Fourthly, there is the mystery of why this story only broke on the very last day — after a two-week extension — for teachers to sign or not sign their contracts. Why wasn’t the story known sooner? The contract was made available to teachers in early April. Was coercion used to keep teachers (or their relatives or significant others?) quiet?

    Fifthly, the diocese is attempting a gross violation of freedom of speech upon the teachers. Even in a case where a teacher personally agrees with the Church’s official position on, say, birth control, abortion, or same-sex unions, that same person, as a citizen, might reach the conclusion that the common good in our pluralistic society requires a government policy different from what the Church teaches for its own members.

    As things stand, the position of the Diocese is hardly different from an insistence by the Taliban that everyone comply with Sharia law. It is time for the Catholic bishops to go back and read the Vatican II document on Religious Liberty — which document is offical Church teaching–, and to conduct themselves accordingly.

    By the way, there’s an interesting petition about this issue on the Change.Org site. It was started by a student at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. You can view it (or sign it) at :

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