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.

  • pete084

    Hardly a day goes by without the Catholic Church shooting itself in the foot these days. They can’t see that they are the cause of their own decline.

    • Tor

      Catholics and Republicans.

    • roberthughmclean

      We shouldn’t be surprised about this, these are people that really believe they’re tucking into fresh baby jesus with a swig of jesus juice as a chaser in church on Sundays. They are really our ally, it’s just they don’t know.

  • C Peterson

    This is what happens when you choose to define as “immoral” activities and behaviors that the greater part of our society consider perfectly moral. It demonstrates the difference between “conservative” and “regressive”. It’s the first step to extinction.

  • Mick

    “The clause’s first casualty was Jane Riviere, who taught art at Fatima for thirty years”

    It took her thirty years to figure out the Catholic Church was up to no good?

    • Artor

      30 years before they forced an unconscionable decision on her.

      • yohocoma

        Was she not supporting the Catholic Church all those years by working for it, and is that not unconscionable?

        • Stev84

          When you’re working for a school you don’t necessarily support “The Church”

          • yohocoma

            She was working for a Catholic school, and hence the Church. I suppose people tell themselves whatever enabling stories they want, but in reality it’s impossible to teach at a Catholic school and not know that you’re a cog in the Church.

            I went to Catholic grade school for 8 years and got about a 50/50 mix of nuns and lay teachers. The religious instruction is required for all classes, regardless of teacher; the ultimate deference to the parish and the Church is a feature of all classroom politics; the choking guilt and twisted versioning of reality is an unavoidable consequence of education in an overarching religious environment.

            These teachers were willing participants. It’s not fair that they lost their jobs and benefits, and they were right to stand their ground. But they had already ceded so much more ground.

            • Anna

              I agree. There’s no way to pretend that those working for the Catholic church are not perpetuating the system. In fact, I’d wager that she believes in the system. That’s why she taught there for 30 years. I think the teacher in question is like a lot of Catholics. It’s easy for dissenters to ignore the anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-birth control, etc. teachings until they are affected personally. When it finally smacks them in the face, they can either lie and stay or refuse to submit to the bigotry of the hierarchy and leave.

        • missbitch2u

          Unconscionable. Yes. I agree. I believe in survival of the fittest. I am older than Jesus, therefore superior

        • missbitch2u

          Jesus was most likely gay, if he ever existed! WHat a twit, someone whose doctrines were so inconsistent….what a moron. I hope he gets crucified in hell….but then again, we don’t believe in hell, do we? What a shame.

    • Tor

      30 years ago, Vatican 2 or 3 or whatever, still had some effect. She might have felt she had a future in the “church.” Note the scare quotes.

  • Beth Kennedy

    What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?

    • Thalfon

      Can’t be. After all, we all could see this nonsense coming.

    • Tor

      The Louisiana Inquisition, perhaps.

  • Glasofruix

    I’m pretty sure that morality clauses are quite illegal in non backwards countries…

    • Tor

      And your point is…?

      • Feminerd

        The US of A shouldn’t be a backwards country, and yet it is in too many ways …

        • Tor

          Sorry I sounded snarky. It was a snarky way to show my agreement. Must think before hitting “post.”

          • Feminerd

            Bah, I thought you were just not getting it. We are all in agreement here. /Internet handshake

  • Houndentenor

    Times may be tough in many fields but there is still a shortage of math and science teachers. Running them off when they can find a new job that won’t care that they are gay, live with their girlfriend/boyfriend, had an abortion or whatever is not going to be that hard. Other than that, they’ll do what gay people have done for centuries: keep your mouth shut about your personal life and lie when necessary. It sucks. and of course keep looking for a job where they only care about your job performance and not what you do with your junk.

    • Artor

      Well, the Bible indicates that pi equals 3 in 1 Kings 7:23, so honest math teachers might have a problem here as well.

      • Greg G.

        Have you ever used pi in a calculation without rounding it off? It could be a good lesson in using significant digits.

        • Tor

          Have I ever used pi in a calculation that wasn’t purely academic? Why yes, I have. As an architect, I cannot round off to the unitary digit to calculate area or circumference. Pi is not equal to 3, and bats are not birds, as is also stated in the Bible.

          • Greg G.

            But you did round off pi to do the calculation? Of course you did. It is an irrational number so you can’t write the last digit. I give them a pass as it may have been 9.70 cubits in diameter and 30.47 cubits in circumference. I wouldn’t fault them for rounding it off.

            Perhaps the old Hebrew word for “bird” is no more precise than the English word “bug”. We call insects and spiders “bugs” but they are probably even more distantly related than birds and mammals.

            The Bible has enough problems without getting that picky. For example, who incited David to take the census? 2 Samuel says godidit while 1 Chronicles says the devil made him do it.

            • Joe Renaud

              In the relevant passage, it says nothing about rounding. Pi is magic number 3 in the bible, why do you hate bebby jesus?

            • Tor

              Of course one must round – to two or three decimal places. Rounding to 3.0 is worthless. And I don’t see a problem looking at the details in the “infallible word of god.”

              • Greg G.

                A calculation is only as accurate as it’s least accurate measurement. Since the diameter is given to one significant digit, giving the circumference as 31.4 cubits would not be correct as it would imply a greater accuracy of measurement than was actually obtained. It should be rounded down to one significant digit, so using 3 for pi would be valid. They didn’t have calculator apps on their hand-helds back then so it was better to round off to the least number of significant digits before you multiplied instead of rounding off the final answer. Also, in the KJV, it does say those measurements were “round about”.
                Besides, how do you know pi wasn’t 3 twenty-five hundred years ago? Were you there?

  • Richard Wade

    The top 1,000 priorities of the Catholic Church
    Priority 1: Control people.
    Priority 2: Control people.
    Priority 3: Control people.
    Priority 4: Control people.
    Priority 5: Control people.
    (et cetera for another 994 priorities…)
    . . . . .
    Priority 1000: Educate students.

    • CelticWhisper

      I wish I could upvote this a thousand times (hey, once for every RCC priority). When you strip away all the talk about politics or gender or tradition (ugh, what a disgusting word that is), THIS is what it all boils down to. Thirst for power and a willingness to use and abuse it.

  • Carmelita Spats

    This has nothing to do with morality. Hell, it’s all a twisted voyeurism. I’d be glad to help with some suggestions…How about requiring every Catholic female of child bearing age to sign a document stating that they are open to the blessings of the most vicious gang rape and would co-parent with the rapist? Put their pictures up on a cute motivational bulletin board. If they refuse to sign the document, keep them away from the sacraments. Another idea: Parents who enroll their children in Catholic schools should submit on a monthly basis the wife’s menstrual chart in which she shows that she’s taking her temperature and checking her vaginal mucus for ovulation as per the Vatican sanctioned “Creyton Method”. Also, priests should either give weekly, public, detailed, testimony as to the state of their soggy “celibacy” or accept castration as a prerequisite to ordination. It’s been done before. See “Origen”. The RCC is full of it…In the 1980s, the Vatican permitted Maryknoll nuns in Central America to be on the birth control pill due to the fact that they were in a war zone and risked rape. Hypocrites.

  • WallofSleep

    “Monsignor Curtis Mallet insists they’re being moral, not bigoted…”

    Of course he does, but ‘morality clauses’, when enforced, usually have a disproportionate impact on females.

    One anecdote: In religious schools that forbid per-marital sex, if an unmarried female student gets pregnant, she gets expelled. The male that got her pregnant? Not so much.

    • Stev84

      Their rules forbid pre-marital sex, contraception, abortion and out-of-wedlock births.

    • Tor

      (This is my version of church-think) If an unmarried parochial teacher were to become pregnant, she would be required to name her impregnator, and if he were a teacher or held any other job in the diocese, he would be immediately fired or excommunicated.

      • Stev84

        Except that’s usually not how it works. Men rarely if ever get punished for that.

        • Tor

          I meant that is how it would work if the rules were applied equally.

  • Matt Eggler

    I have come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is simultaneously the greatest, longest running comedy and tragedy production of all time.

  • Janice Clanfield

    I would have to agree with some of the catholics. If you don’t agree, get out of the church. YES. Exactly this.

    It would be very nice to see the catholic churches completely empty.

    • Stev84

      This isn’t about a church, but a school. The principal who resigned isn’t even a Catholic.

  • Barack

    Sara, you confirmed your ignorance at “Lafayette County.”

    • Hemant Mehta

      I didn’t catch that. My mistake. Sorry!

  • Rain

    “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.”

    If rocket scientists threw out everything that wasn’t 100% pure perfection, then they never would have made it to the moon. So you don’t exactly have to be a rocket scientist to be a “moral” Catholic authoritarian.

  • John Deaux

    I don’t see how this puts women in Lafayette “County” (Parish, actually), in a bind. First of all, the clause in question has no application to parish (public) schools, only Catholic diocesan schools. Second, if you’re not willing to live according to the directives of the diocese, then simply don’t teach at a Catholic school.

    • Hemant Mehta

      The County thing was my mistake. I didn’t catch it in the edits. Fixed!

    • Compuholic

      Well that is exactly what the techers did. I guess the teachers who started there were expecting reasonable and sane contracts. And when the working conditions became batshit insane they left. I applaud them for their honesty and courage and I hope that many of the remaining teachers follow suit.

      The only fault of the teachers was to expect reasonable behavior from religious nutbags.

      And sorry, just because you run a place should not give you total power over your employees. They are employees, not slaves. The only thing that should be your concern is how they do their jobs. What they do in their private life should be none of your business. It is a great shame for Loisianna that such contracts are not banned by law.

  • Frank

    In what regions would this be against the law? Any state in the US is subject to the supreme court’s ruling in Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC upholding the ministerial exception, and that would seem to protect the catholic school’s right to do this. Unless an argument can be made that a teacher in a catholic school is less “ministerial” than a teacher in a lutheran school, which would depend on some specific facts about the employment not discussed above.

    • Stev84

      Teachers in of themselves aren’t ministerial at all. They don’t have a religious function. Thus they aren’t exempt.

      Of course the way churches abuse that ruling is by giving employees some minimal religious function, like being required to teach a religious class, holding prayers or even some extremely vague nonsense like being an example for religious values. But then the court knew perfectly well that would happen.

      • Anna

        Most teachers in Catholic elementary schools do have a religious function, though. They don’t just teach religious classes once in a while. If they’re in charge of the classroom, they teach them every day. Of course, the teacher in this case was an art teacher, so her religious function would have been minimal or non-existent.

  • Joe Renaud

    The church is and has been entirely hypocritical on this, especially in terms of abortion. The denial of communion to catholic politicians who are pro-choice and the treatment of these teachers regarding abortion while ignoring the chest beating of those who favor the death penalty is unconscionable. The catholic teaching on “life” from which their opposition to abortion stems also proscribes the death penalty, in fact sees no difference between the two.

  • Sandra Duffy

    In Ireland 95% of our schools are Catholic and yet we have none of these restrictions.

  • Chris Algoo

    “If you don’t like it, get out of the Church!” becomes a common refrain.


  • MJP

    Eating shrimp and wearing mixed fibers? If you don’t understand that Catholic morality is not based on Old Testament literalism (like some Protestant denominations), you don’t know the first thing about it. Perhaps what you are “recovering” from is your own shallow misunderstanding of Catholicism.