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placeholder July 7, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop clarifies stance on Catholic schools

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, told his "colleagues in Catholic education" that "I have no intention of monitoring an individual's personal life. What one does in one's private life is between them and God. But what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life ... that becomes public ... and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school's religious mission."

The bishop, in a letter dated June 27, said after meeting with teachers at two high schools in the diocese, he agreed to put in writing the words he had used at the meetings to explain the new language in diocesan employment contracts.

He had heard and understood, too, he said, "the anxiety, fear and uncertainty my revised contract language may have caused in some of you."

"Why am I concerned about this? Because 'scandal has the potential to malform the conscience and character of young people.' As Pope Francis says: 'The moral formation of students transpires more through the example set by teachers and administrators than by the students' abstract knowledge of the moral doctrines of the church.' As he also says in 'The Joy of the Gospel,' 'We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher's way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.'"

The bishop reiterated the importance of the role of teachers. "Our schools exist for the moral, spiritual and academic formation of our students," he wrote. "We exist to teach Catholic moral and spiritual values. Together with parents, you are the primary educators of our students through your moral and spiritual example. That is what makes a Catholic school different from the public or charter school down the street. That is why we hired you. That is why I consider you not just teachers, but my esteemed colleagues in the Church's ministry of education."

The conversation on "Catholic Identity and Mission" and "The role and responsibility of a Catholic educator" will continue this year, the bishop said.

This conversation will be taken into account in refining contract language for 2015-2016, the bishop said.

"I have asked our superintendent, Sister Barbara Bray, to make this discussion a priority at upcoming diocesanwide meetings of Catholic school administrators and faculties," the bishop wrote.

The bishop's message, Sister Bray said, illustrates "how important the schools are in the mission of the diocese."

"He wants to put Catholic identity and the importance of teachers as role models for our students in the forefront," the superintendent said.

At Bishop O'Dowd High School, where Bishop Barber met separately with teachers and students in late May, President Steve Phelps said the school had emailed the bishop's letter, along with a letter from the O'Dowd leadership, to parents.

"As senior leaders of Bishop O'Dowd High School, we understand and support Bishop Barber's desire for our instruction to reflect our Catholic identity and uphold the teachings of the Church in matters of faith and morals," the letter said.

Additionally, the letter stated: "We are proud that O'Dowd is a dynamic and exciting Catholic college preparatory community of faith. We have a new strategic plan to implement and nearly 1,200 wonderful students and their families to serve. We are focused on fulfilling our mission of providing an excellent Catholic education, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the bishop in the spirit of Christ, which is the spirit of love for each student and all in our community."

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