Catholic Morality Clause Drives Good Teachers Out of Louisiana Schools

What’s the best way to rid your school of deeply conscientious teachers?

Try drafting a restrictive-and-unusually-specific morality clause. Make it so unrealistic that most teachers will have to lie to follow it. Then sit back and watch some of your best educators leave for reasons of conscience, while keeping the liars on the payroll.

It’s hard to blame Catholic-school teachers in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana for choosing to affirm a strict Catholic moral code built into their contracts; after all, their livelihoods are at stake and it’s a tough job market. But at least two professionals affiliated with Our Lady of Fatima, a Lafayette parochial school, have announced their resignation as a direct result of these restrictive clauses.

The clause’s first casualty was Jane Riviere, who taught art at Fatima for thirty years and earned the praise of her students and colleagues before the morality clause came into effect. You see, the clause forbids “homosexual activity,” and Riviere is openly lesbian. She notes that the school did not directly ask her to leave because of her sexual orientation. However, they presented her with a contract she felt she could not honestly sign and asked her to choose between lying and leaving. In some regions, this would have been against the law, but Louisiana offers no protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But sexual orientation is not the only area of “sin” the morality clause addresses. The document, upon which the Diocese refuses to comment, asks teachers to affirm their opposition to cohabitation, non-Catholic marriage, birth control, abortion, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Note those last three in particular, because they put unmarried female teachers in Lafayette Parish in a particular bind. These unlucky women are unable to prevent pregnancy in any way short of abstinence. If they turn up pregnant for any reason, they are denied the option of abortion… and the option of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a near-perfect contradiction in terms.

Note also that every single item listed in the morality clause relates to the Church’s overwhelming tendency to police believers’ sexual activity. The clause says nothing about other, non-sexual sins, like greed or sloth… or, for that matter, wearing mixed fibers and eating shrimp.

As far as the Diocese is concerned, though, they’ve covered the important things. Monsignor Curtis Mallet insists they’re being moral, not bigoted:

“We discriminate between right and wrong,” said Mallet. “So it’s all about modeling, modeling the Gospel of Jesus Christ period. That’s the bottom line for us.”

But it’s a good thing the contract doesn’t mention lying, school council president Jaci Russo notes, because she is fully aware of teachers living in violation of the morality clause who signed it, anyway, in order to keep their jobs. She said as much in a letter to the school’s principal:

Jaci Russo (KPEL)

I believe that the new Diocesan morality clause is flawed in many ways. By listing these “sins”, a number of teachers are forced to either lie about who they are, or deny the things they may have done in order to keep their jobs at Fatima. This is a travesty, as I know there are teachers who have had children out of wedlock and are divorced and remarried without annulment, yet they signed the clause and continue to teach.

What does this say about their moral fiber? Is adherence to the clause based on reality, or just what each individual is willing to admit?

In the New Testament, Jesus says, “I did not come to call the virtuous, but the sinners.” If we removed all sinners from our school there would be no faculty left to teach the students and no parents to enroll their children.

Russo’s objection to the morality clause — and its consequences for teachers like Riviere — is so strong, she has resigned from her position with Our Lady of Fatima in protest. Regretfully, she writes, “I cannot in good conscience stand by while we prevent great teachers from doing their jobs at Fatima.”

One would expect parents, concerned with their children’s future prospects, to agree. But the morality clauses are not as unpopular as one would hope with families whose children attend Catholic parochial schools. Conservative Catholics, commenting on the controversy, insist that only teachers who adhere to a specifically Catholic moral code can uphold religious dogma and set a good example for children. “If you don’t like it, get out of the Church!” becomes a common refrain. Even if it means lying, apparently.

Thus, parents and priests work together in the Diocese of Lafayette to sacrifice children’s ability to learn and think on the altar of doctrinal correctness and moral policing. Educators like Russo and Riviere will suffer for it… but the greatest loss, arguably, comes from the wasted young minds stuck in a place where education is, at best, second priority.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.


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