I felt called to respond to the expanded moral conduct clause in the teacher contract here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and submitted this letter via their website earlier today.
Dear Archbishop Schnurr,
I am deeply disturbed by the new teacher contract for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and am writing to ask that the moral conduct clause be restated in a more reasonable fashion. The provision prohibiting “public support of or homosexual lifestyle” is especially problematic because it fails to recognize the lived experience of people with same-sex orientation and their families and friends. Its implications will cause tremendous harm.
The church has tried, unsuccessfully in my view, to distinguish between a homosexual orientation and homosexual acts, and the new contract language points to the difficulties underlying this attempted distinction. A person with a gay or lesbian orientation lives his or her lifestyle as a gay or lesbian person. But an orientation is not conduct that a person chooses, it’s inherently who they are. Moving on to consider homosexual acts, applying such criteria is difficult to the point of ludicrous. Are we to inquire whether a person with a gay or lesbian orientation is committing “homosexual acts” to determine if he or she is acceptable? Given the absurd impracticality of this idea, the clause therefore implies that simply having a gay or lesbian orientation is not permissible for a Cincinnati archdiocesan school teacher. Does this clause intend that people with a gay or lesbian orientation are barred from teaching in Cincinnati archdiocesan schools?
From the opposite perspective, how is a Catholic school teacher to relate to friends and family who have a gay or lesbian orientation? For example, what if one’s child is gay, not a practicing Catholic, and married or living with a partner? Is a teacher not permitted to be seen in public with them at a cultural or social event or in a restaurant, or invite them to dinner in his or her home? How can this be enforced? Who would want to?
I am most concerned about the impact on young people of the contract’s exclusionary approach. The ever-tightening circle of who is acceptable to the church can only do harm to children and teens, particularly regarding matters of sexual orientation and identity. What will happen to middle- and high school students of Cincinnati archdiocesan schools who awaken to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer (LGBTQ) orientation? How are they to feel when their teachers or counselors – typically a potential support network – will be at risk of termination for providing that very support? Who will be there for them? Why would they want to be part of a church that ostracizes them?
An exclusionary approach is the exact opposite of what’s needed. National statistics on the plight of LGBT teens require that the church focus on providing pastoral care and inclusion, not drawing boundaries. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 2009 survey of 7,000 LBGT students age 13-21 showed:
• Eight of ten students had been verbally harassed at school
• Four of ten had been physically harassed at school
• Six of ten felt unsafe at school
• One of five had been the victim of a physical assault at school
An earlier study of adolescents in grades 7-12 found that LGBTQ teens were more than twice as likely as heterosexual students to have attempted suicide. The CDC recommends a number of steps that schools can take to create a safe environment for LGBTQ youth, including:
• Identify “safe spaces,” such as counselors’ offices, designated classrooms, or student organizations, where LGBTQ youth can receive support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff.
• Encourage student-led and student-organized school clubs that promote a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment (e.g., gay-straight alliances, which are school clubs open to youth of all sexual orientations).
• Encourage staff to develop and publicize trainings on how to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and encourage staff to attend these trainings.
• Facilitate access to community-based providers who have experience in providing social and psychological services to LGBTQ youth.
The new teacher contract prohibition on “public support” prevents schools from offering such services to LGBTQ students, making Cincinnati archdiocesan schools distinctly unsafe places for LGBTQ youth. Is this intentional? The church’s harsh position as evidenced in the new contract will only reinforce family rejection of LGBTQ teens, already a tragic phenomenon in this country. Studies suggest that one-quarter to one-half of homeless youth are LGBTQ and they became homeless because of their parents’ reaction to their orientation.
It is understandable that the archdiocese wishes to be clear about its expectations that teachers adhere to church teaching in their behavior, but the new moral conduct clause goes too far in regards to all the designated issues, not just sexual identity. No one lives in a fortress; none of us, including Catholic school teachers and bishops, can withdraw from a society in which many people live together and/or have children outside of marriage, have abortions, utilize medical infertility treatments or surrogate mothers, and have LGBTQ orientations. As already evident from past cases, women are disproportionately and unjustly affected by the requirements regarding pregnancy and sex outside of marriage. Has a male teacher ever been fired for having sex outside of marriage?
The definition of teachers as ministers is clearly a legal strategy to reduce or eliminate federal employment protections for teachers, in no way pastorally or educationally based. The addition of this tactic is especially disheartening after the wounds caused by the church’s litigation-driven approach to the sex abuse crisis. Ultimately, the meaning of “public support of” any of these matters could be determined in the courts, a process that is inherently divisive, and certainly in no way healing, pastoral, or theological.
I urge you and the superintendent of Catholic schools to consider the true needs of our young people, especially those with LGBTQ orientation, and revise the moral conduct clause to encourage loving, caring, inclusive behavior.