If it isn’t already hard enough to attract the best and the brightest to the teaching profession, the Honolulu diocese now plans to make full and part-time teachers in Catholic schools sign contracts that promise termination if they violate Church teaching or engage in activities the Church deems immoral.This includes homosexuality, abortion, unmarried co-habitation, in vitro fertilization and more.
Clearly some are not hearing the insistent drumbeat of Pope Francis’s repeated statements on what it means to be Catholic; what it means to be pastoral. Speaking at the consecration of new archbishops last year, Pope Francis offered this advice: “Love, with the love of a father and of a brother, all those whom God entrusts to you.”
Susie Roth, a practising Catholic and loving parent of a daughter and three sons, one of whom is gay, believes the move by the Honolulu diocese runs counter to her belief about what the heart of the Church means. “I’m a member of Fortunate Families, a Catholic organization that describes itself as “Catholic parents with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender children supporting others like us to affirm, celebrate and seek equality for our families. Our faith journey calls us to strive for justice for all our children.”
I believe in good conscience that it is wrong to discriminate against our LGBT brothers and sisters. If our son had chosen to be a teacher instead of a lawyer, would he be silenced?” she asks.
In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of The Gospel), the Pope repeatedly stresses the inclusiveness of Jesus. What on earth are lay Catholics–and others who are watching with mounting disbelief–to make of these new contracts?
Michael Rockers, the superintendent of Hawaii Roman Catholic schools, describes the contracts as being “authentic about what our moral teaching is” and an effort to be “pastoral” and “centered on what’s best for the students.” Rockers is reported to have said “if a teacher’s homosexuality were made public it would negatively affect the children.” Never mind what the science says. Never mind that there is not a shred of evidence to support this assertion. Never mind that Pope Francis urges respect for science.
Presumably, by the logic that led to these new contracts, parents should “fire” any children who ever come out to them lest their homosexuality “negatively affect” their siblings? Should parents also be made to sign a contract to disown their children when and if they discover their homosexuality? What would Jesus, whom Pope Francis describes as a teacher who “can break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him,” say to this expression of church?
Sucking the oxygen out of the room.
Pope Francis is doing much to bring back the “fragrance of the Gospel” and the spirit of Vatican II. Against that welcome wind comes the distinctly unpleasant whiff of the new rules for Catholic teachers here. The vision of Pope Francis has allowed weary lay Catholics to feel like there is a little more oxygen in the room. This move by the Honolulu Diocese sucks all that oxygen out. Apparently Catholics in Cincinnati were dealt a similar blow by their bishop.
For many, staying Catholic has never been about just following rules. It’s always been more about the poetry of faith. About responding to the invitation to rise above our self-interest. To actually see our neighbor, and to seek the common good. The rewards of the faith journey are a heightened sense of what it means to be stewards of each other and of our fragile planet. This is the Catholicism of Sr. Simone Campbell and the Network Lobby. Their work, on a whole range of issues from economic justice to care of the environment and more, offers practical ways for young –and old–to express their faith in ways that help make this a better world.
Faith is a call to love, not judge
Faith surely demands more of us than the obsessive policing of what people do with their sexual and reproductive organs. Why is there not the same zeal from the Church about holding Catholics in high places accountable for their denial of climate change? Or for their callousness towards the poor? For denying thousands access to health services the Affordable Care Act has made available? Doesn’t the Church feel the same urgency to be “morally authentic” towards Catholic governors ,Congressmen and Senators who continue to deny or take away from the poor the services they desperately need.
Pope Francis has roundly rejected “mere administration” as the church’s mission. He said pointedly that “the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” He cautions against the pushing of “certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.” He warns that the Gospel invites us to “see God in others and to seek the good of others…If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards.“
The proposed new contract for Catholic teachers in Honolulu sounds like just such a house of cards. Jesus repeatedly set an example of choosing the path of love over the law. Let’s use what he taught us to be better, more nurturing parents and teachers, not more zealous policemen monitoring what should remain private and a matter of conscience.
A shorter version of this commentary was published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser April 2, 2014 Catholic_teacher_contracts_violate_popes_teachings_-_Hawaii_News