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placeholder June 23, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
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Advise and Dissent II

Language appropriate

I support Bishop Michael Barber's efforts to get all of our Catholic school teachers to join in the Church's educational ministry, teaching and modeling the values and ethical standards of Christ and the Catholic Church.

Our bishop has got to do this, because of Obamacare's insistence that the Catholic Church and many of its entities (schools, hospitals, seminaries, soup kitchens, etc.) are subject to its HHS mandate, which essentially tries to treat abortion, contraception and sterilization et al. as if they are part of the Church's health care ethic. They are not and cannot be. Because of this the Church has been resisting this imposition by the federal government in court all over the country. One of Obamacare's chief arguments is that not all of the Church's entities are equally Catholic, and therefore, those found to be so ought to be held to a lower standard of First Amendment protection and subject to Obamacare's health care interventions that the Church vigorously must resist.

So now the American bishops are trying to mend some fences, and make sure that everyone pitches in to make our institutions as Christ centered as they can be. I find the new contract language, as set forth in The Voice (May 19), to be appropriate and necessary, so that Christ may be in due proportion in all of our diocesan activities, including our schools.

Thomas P. Greerty

Labor and social teaching

Regarding the question of the diocese's contracts with teachers, the underlying question is: Why is the Diocese of Oakland not modelling the best of Catholic social teaching regarding labor? If the Church expects other employers to treat their workers in a certain fashion, shouldn't the Church itself demonstrate how it can be done successfully in that fashion?

Historically, the actions of the diocese have generally been to the benefit of both teachers and schools. It was the diocese that mandated Catholic teachers be paid nearly on a par with public school teachers.

However, in this case of the so-called "morality clause," there was no consultation with teachers or principals, no collective bargaining, no "meet and confer." The teachers are, apparently, not organized or represented by a union or even an association — which Catholic teaching tells us they are entitled to.

The days of "do as I say, not as I do" are pretty much over, so far as the Catholic Church is concerned. If we want our social teaching to be taken seriously by others, we need to practice it ourselves. That implies that we must use the best labor practices, not the worst, not those whose main virtue is lack of burden to the employer.

A case in point is the "teacher-minister" language in the contract. It all sounds so churchy — but in fact, it has a potentially sinister intent: To make it easier to fire teachers. Ironically, besides being very poor labor practice, this language is likely to increase, not decrease, the likelihood of expensive litigation for the diocese.

The Supreme Court case upon which this language is based (Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) involved a lay teacher in a Lutheran school. She was ultimately considered a minister not because she taught in a religious school, but rather because she also conducted a chapel service for the students once a week. In other words, it is not enough to just teach in a religious school; the teacher must also have some duties more directly related to religion in order to qualify as a "minister." This is likely to be fought out case by case, hence the likelihood of expensive and time-consuming litigation.

One possible fall-out from this language might be that teachers would seek to avoid teaching religion, for fear that it might place them into the "ministerial exemption" category — the opposite of the intended effect of the proposed contract language.

Of course the irony of calling our teachers "ministers" is not lost upon us: A Church that will not ordain women or, in most cases, married men, is willing to call both women and married men "ministers" — even if they don't happen to be Roman Catholics.

Our bishop has made a good start at restoring sanity by meeting with teachers at a couple of our high schools. Perhaps that will be a new beginning for labor relations based upon Catholic social teachings, not only in our schools but in all Church-related employment in our diocese.

Michael J. Cassidy

Protecting children

Reading the Bishop's comments (Voice, May 19), I was pleased by the simple logic of expecting teachers to follow the norms of the institution they are working for. There has been a long history of private institutions and even businesses requiring employees to adhere to not only dress codes but also behavior codes.

Vetting of candidates is also a well-known practice.

This is so much more important when presenting yourself before and guiding impressionable and vulnerable children. I am sure that parents who choose a Catholic school expect a Catholic education in a moral atmosphere of genuine believers.

Children have a sixth sense of truthfulness and can spot insincerity a mile away.

Thank you, Bishop Barber for providing additional protection for our children.

Edward Atwood

Horror at contract

As a Jesuit-educated Catholic, I reacted with horror at your recent requirement to have teachers and employees in diocesan schools sign a contract with faith and morals clauses. That has nothing to do with the education of children.

This requirement will be seen as an attempt to impose morality rather than to teach it. That is anathema to what the Jesuits at St. Ignatius and the University of San Francisco taught me.

I well remember professors responding to my challenging questions with the attitude of: "Good, Arthur, you're thinking and not simply accepting."

What your incorrectly styled "voluntary" requirement will do is to cause many more people to leave your church and seek the truth of Christ without it. It's not "voluntary" if one cannot be employed without signing it. It doesn't seem to be logical that you would use that word in this context.

And I don't mean just the teachers will be leaving. The monetary support will also flee, as many of my associates have already told me. Perhaps that will get your attention.

Finally, a bit of history. This move by you is identical to the move in the McCarthy era to have loyalty oaths required of certain people in certain positions. I'm sure you're aware of that history.

So bishop, step back and take a deep breath, and consider rescinding this requirement. Otherwise you'll be fueling a lot of unnecessary controversy in an extremely un-Christian fashion.

Arthur Ramirez Lenhardt

Double irony

Teachers' contract disputes in several dioceses have parallels to the unintended yet ironic results of the clergy abuse cover-ups. Both were attempts to protect the Church's reputation and financial resources.

Ironically, both practices have had or threaten to have the opposite impacts. While not nearly as catastrophic as the abuse cover-ups, attempts to unilaterally spell out in contracts not only how teachers should teach but also how they should live their private lives (a morality clause) have led to public relations disasters and potentially reduced donations to schools and/or major fund-raising campaigns.

One wonders how much might have been avoided if lay folks had been adequately consulted before implementing such policies or practices.

Bob Norris

'Road to hell'

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This advice from my fifth grade teacher, Sister Honore, came to mind when I read and reread Bishop Barber's teachers' contract. Teachers are to sign that they will follow Catholic teaching in their professional and personal lives. Who interprets Catholic teaching?

For the first time in the history of the diocese, the right to organize is withdrawn from the teachers by choosing to refer to them as "ministers" rather than "teachers." Since the 1940s the Catholic Church has been a leader in espousing workers' rights, prime among them the right to organize and be represented. Shouldn't we be following that Catholic teaching?

In this year's contract non-Catholic teachers are actually asked to deny their beliefs and adopt the Catholic one. In this era of ecumenism, that's not Catholic teaching.

Some will undoubtedly want a good teacher removed because they are scandalized by a lifestyle they see as opposing Catholic teaching. How about honoring the age-old Catholic teaching of the primacy of conscience? Do we still teach and follow that? How about "he who is without sin throw the first stone," do we follow that one? How about, "Who am I to judge?"

We are at risk of losing extraordinary teachers and considerable funding for our schools if this contract stands. The children suffer. The bishop can listen, withdraw the contract and rewrite it with teacher input. The previous year's contract seems to be a good model.

My parents always told me it takes a big man to admit his mistakes.

Robert Nixon


NSA surveillance

Most everyone has heard about the NSA and its data collection capabilities. The idea that someone else might be reading your private texts, emails and monitoring your whereabouts makes a lot of people very nervous. Allowing businesses or government access to personal data is controversial and seems to violate a widely perceived "right to privacy."

It is understandable many people feel upset when they learn conversations or actions they thought were private really are not so private after all. That said, I wonder if the current national discussion about privacy rights could become a "teachable moment?"

Catholic teaching proclaims God to be all-knowing. God knows not only what you have said or done in private, but He knows your every thought. God does not have to read your emails. He was there when you wrote them.

Can we take this truth to heart? Can we share it with our children and grandchildren? Reminding ourselves that God is all-knowing will help us put our temporal concerns about privacy in perspective. In the end, "there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known" (Matt 10:26).

Mike McDermott

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Letters to the editor provide a forum for readers to engage in an open exchange of opinions and concerns in a climate of respect and civil discourse. The opinions expressed are those of the writers, and not necessarily of the Catholic Voice or the Diocese of Oakland. While a full spectrum of opinions will sometimes include those which dissent from Church teaching or contradict the natural moral law, it is hoped that this forum will help our readers to understand better others’ thinking on critical issues facing the Church at this time.

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