Catholic identity is the life blood of Catholic schools, or it should be. I would not pay the dollars for private Catholic education if I believed that Catholic tradition and morality did not steer the ship. If you happen to be a manager for Merck, and you pen an editorial in the Sunday NY Times on the evils of Big Pharma, you are probably in the wrong work place (and Merck will advise you of that while you clean out your desk.) Corporate loyalty is a matter of public ethics, not simply an in-house Catholic matter. On the other hand, our great Catholic tradition of education has, for over a millennium, included spirited debate on such matters as slavery, interest on loans, the Immaculate Conception, weaponry (e.g., the armor piercing cross bow). I can recall my own middle school days when, under the tutelage of the Christian Brothers, we had lively debates about issues of substantive morality, such as the ethics of assassinating Hitler. Educational institutions within the Church have also been major players in explicating the understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals.
With this in mind, here are some considerations on church contracts that may serve to give us some pause in our pursuit to preserve the Catholic brand:
(1) Several generations of inadequate moral (or general, for that matter) faith formation in the classroom or parish formation programs have resulted in a work force with critical ignorance or misunderstanding of Catholic mainstream teaching.
(2) The vetting process of the Church is driven as much by desperation as compassionate discussion of belief and employee comfort in a Catholic milieu. (I’m tempted to Google “August hires by Catholic schools.”)
(3) Criminal and civil workplace laws may prohibit the kind of vetting and supervision that bishops such as Cordileone would wish to maintain.
(4) Morals clauses, in my opinion, are often written with a universal and final tone regarding Catholic teaching where considerable well-founded doubt and discussion is an existential reality or pastoral practice may be at variance. We do not know, for example, what Pope Francis and the bishops will do this year regarding ministry and status discussions of divorce and remarriage. I do not expect any change in the teaching of marital indissolubility. However, there is nothing to prohibit the Church from creating “new canonical categories” of legal acceptance. This is entrenched in our history; the “Pauline Privilege” and the “Disparity of Cult” Dispensation (where a bishop after due diligence permits a non-sacramental marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person) immediately come to mind.
(5) The enforcement of moral codes tends to be selective and possibly politically motivated. In Florida, for example, a referendum on the definition of a family was passed in 2008, but as in the case of 30-some other states, the civil right of same sex marriage was affirmed in the court. This overturn seemed to have been Wenski’s motivation in his instruction. My point here is simply that if the goal of the morals clause is uniform public fidelity to Catholic teaching, then its application should not be “event-driven,” targeted to high publicity church-society conflicts, but addressed instead to the full tenor of life, as would be true for priests and religious.
(6) Following up on the fifth point, it needs to be made clear in the document that in solidarity with the discipline of the Sacrament of Penance, the opportunity for fraternal correction and catechetical growth for the offending employee need be provided. Quick-trigger firings (of which I have seen many in my career) often cause more scandal than the alleged violation of Church teaching. Evidently Bishop Cordileone believes in second chances. He himself was arrested in 2012 for driving under the influence of alcohol (the case was later adjudicated to reckless driving.) A spokesman explained that “even leaders make mistakes.” Yes, they do, and so do their employees.
(7) Finally, there is a general lesson here about boundaries. There are many professions, not just Roman Catholic ministry, that require discretion and concern for public reputation. There was a time in our history when teachers, bankers, clergy, lawyers, doctors, and other “community personages” maintained a respectful reticence in what they said and did publicly. Their professions rested on trust, and they enjoyed the confidences of the people they served. As I have said elsewhere, so many of our Catholic ministers just don’t get this. The great irony is that so often their talk-radio gregariousness is what gets them into trouble. Morals clauses can be poorly written; we might do better to emphasize in writing the nature of public and ecclesial trust.