Firing Teachers at a Catholic School

Firing Teachers at a Catholic School September 3, 2014

It seems to crop up in the news with regularity:  “Teacher fired from St. X Catholic school because….”  It could be because the teacher is openly gay, or has entered into a gay marriage, or had in vitro fertilization, or is an unmarried mother, or (in a particularly depressing case) was the victim of domestic violence.   There is an inevitable backlash in the media, and very often students and their parents rally in support of the fired teacher.  Irrespective of anything else, the Church comes off looking quite bad.

We have discussed this a few times in posts: see, for instance,  here and here. Reviewing the commentary it is clear that there are some serious conflicting views at stake here and that there is a need to elucidate the moral principles involved.  A couple of months ago, there was an article in America Magazine that attempted to do exactly that:  The Ethics of Exit by Daniel J. Daly, an associate professor and chair of the theology department at Saint Anselm College, New Hampshire.   I recommend reading the whole article, but I want to quote a few of his key points here.

First, like a good ethicist, he carefully frames the question to be considered:

Two points should be made at the outset. First, ethics is done well when it asks and answers the right questions. We begin, therefore, by setting aside a question that is often asked but that is irrelevant to this article: “Is the church’s official teaching correct regarding the morally illicit nature of gay marriage?” That is an important question that should be discussed and debated in Catholic households, parishes, colleges and universities. But it is a not a question to be asked by Catholic school administrators in their role as administrators…. Second, we need to expose an error in logic. It does not necessarily follow that because a teacher has violated church teaching, and his or her contract, that he or she should be terminated. Many teachers violate their contracts without being fired. The question is not simply: Did the teacher violate the contract? Instead it should be: Does the violation of the contract disqualify the teacher from educating students in a Catholic context?

Second, he focuses attention on the rights of the student and the duty of the school towards the students:

In Catholic schools, the moral priority rests with the good of the students. Schools exist for the students, not the faculty. The unique mission of Catholic schools is to educate and form the whole student—academically, spiritually and morally….Thus, while justice must be rendered to the faculty and staff, justice is primarily conditioned on what is best for students. The rights of faculty and staff are limited by the rights of students to receive a high quality Catholic education.

Third, he directly addresses the idea that underlies many (if not most terminations):  scandal:

[A]dministrators must discriminate between those imperfect people who can serve as witnesses for young people and those who should not. The dividing line may be found in the concept of scandal. Genuine scandal involves leading others to believe that immoral actions and ways of life are actually morally licit. Scandal is important because it has the potential to malform the conscience and character of young people. But not every immoral action or mistaken belief is scandalous. Unfortunately, it is notoriously difficult to discern what might “give scandal.” Does an unmarried pregnant teacher undermine the church’s teaching on premarital sex in the eyes of students, or does she provide a quiet witness to the value of bringing all children, even those conceived in less-than-ideal situations, into the world?

I do not (unfortunately) have the time to give his argument careful attention.  However, there are a few additional points I want to throw out:

First, the firing of teachers seems to be intimately connected with deep anxieties related to being Catholic in the modern world.  In other words, we fire teachers not simply because they violate Catholic teaching, but they do so in a way that is connected to the particular fears that are affecting us at the moment.

Second, the firing of teachers seems to be gendered:  many more women than men appear to be fired for this reason.  In my own experience I recently ran into a case where a male teacher was not fired for conduct in flagrant violation of Church teaching—he was allowed to teach until the end of his (multi-year) contract and then let go.  (I noting this I am mindful that the plural of anecdote is not data.)

Third, compassion and mercy always seem to take a backseat to justice in these matters.    In my earlier posts I framed the discussion as a matter of mercy and I was quite surprised by the pushback this generated.

The first and second points are perhaps debatable:  our perception of these matters is shaped by the secular media which finds that it gets more mileage from a story about the Church if it involves sex or gender issues.  And mercy and justice are difficult to balance and I do not claim to know where the golden mean lies.

So my  two questions for discussion are this:  what principles should guide the firing of teachers in Catholic schools? Does Professor Daly create a good foundation, or are there facets he has not considered?  Second, principles can exist in the abstract, so I think implementation is the key:  decisions must take into account the complex and sometimes hostile world we live in.   So how would these principles play out in the real world?  In particular, to what degree should our prudent response be shaped by the way our decisions are perceived by the larger world, or even by ordinary Catholics?

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  • What principles should guide the firing of teachers in Catholic schools?
    I think that the principles of fraternal correction apply here as in any other situation when we see a brother or sister at fault. First, is the fault serious? If not, then let it go. We all have little faults. The next thing is the need to consider who in authority has the obligation to correct this (serious) fault. If I am not that person, then I would let it go. However, if I am the principal or school administrator then I have a duty and obligation to approach the subject with this person. This should first be between the person in authority and the person in question. Like scriptures says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matt 18:15) Hopefully, this is all that would need to be done and the person in question would mend his ways. However, if not then the next step is to bring others in, etc. “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt 18: 15-17)
    How would these principles play out in the real world? Prudence is always needed as is charity.
    From what we are told in the “media” we have no way of knowing if these above principles were carried out or not, or if the situation involves someone strongly obstinate in changing and being corrected.
    Professor Daly does create a good foundation – we need to ask the right questions. I think another thing to take into consideration is that we don’t always know all the facts in the given situation. And we as Catholics need to always speak, preach the Truth!

  • Thales

    Wow, thanks for the good article. I was impressed with it – some really good points, some good thoughtfulness and prudence on this topic, which unfortunately doesn’t happen often.

  • FGB

    As for the dismissal of teachers in Catholic schools who do not live up to the ideals of Catholic moral teaching, I do not know. I do not consider it, because I am not completely sure of what the mission of Catholic elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education is in 2014 in the United States beyond “just do it.” I am 35 years of age, and the product of Catholic elementary, secondary, and post secondary education. I appreciate having been educated in my parish school, trained in the tradition of our town’s Catholic high school, and greatly value the Jesuit education I received in university at which I obtained a degree in biology; there are many good points of formation in the Catholic educational system. With this said, while I enjoyed each, and I think there is merit in each, I am not sure of the grounding principle of Catholic education today in America. Instead of writing a treatise, I will just number a few points without expounding. 1) If Catholic education is so, so important, why is it not a priority that all (at the very least all Catholics) have guaranteed access to it. (Committing to the sacrifice this entails) 2) Since this is not the case in America, at least mostly not the case (I have heard of some places making this a priority), is Catholic education truly a ministry? In light of the Holy Trinity creating us, God becoming human, accepting even death, death on a cross, resurrecting, inviting the totality of our humanity to share in the inner life of the Holy Trinity – in that light, is it truly a ministry? This is the Eternal Squander. It seems that most of our ministries are fee for service (like Catholic education) so is this Squander revealed in our ministries? 3) Even if commitment to Catholic education for all is truly exceedingly difficult, this does not excuse a lack of ministerial/missionary activity to the poor as is the case in most American parishes- resources are for only those who can afford- this is scandalous. 4) In Catholic higher education, the emphasis seems to be “to do for”, rather than “to do with” or “to enter my profession to transform society.” (Really, all are needed.) Rather than explain- I simply offer this article- this was my experience (even though there were many wonderful dimensions to my experience and the Holy Spirit did move there, of course)- 5) Building on this last one- do any of the levels of Catholic education promote true solidarity, deeper than volunteerism (which is also needed, and is a form of solidarity- but I mean going beyond this- to do with, to socialize with, to include with in our plans for development, etc.) Solidarity is extremely important- it is a sacramental sign that God has become human, entering into the vulnerability of human history, weakness, sharing our humanity and gifting us to share His life- this is radical solidarity and we are called to reveal this mystery in our lives.

    There are many more points to consider. None of this is to say that no fruit is borne in Catholic education, as I do think that there is good fruit borne, but I do think there are some serious short-falls to consider. I am not saying that we should shut the doors on Catholic education tomorrow, but I do think we need to recalibrate our notion of the ideal, and then working from that ideal (modeling our lives, missions, and ministries on the life of the Holy Trinity- obviously this entails transformation by the Holy Spirit, conversion, and for us to embrace the call to sanctity, which of course is easier said than done, but at least we could state this as the starting point, which of course would elicit what is the way of holiness and all other complexities, but perhaps if we sincerely trust the Lord whose eternal desire is to create in generosity, espouse his creation through the incarnation even exposing himself to the folly of the cross, and resurrecting, thereby revealing the totality of our humanity is to share in Divine Life- we could then move forward and renew.)

    Considering these points, how does one consider the teacher that publicly causes scandal? In my opinion, the privatized notion of Faith, and a worldview that disconnects Faith and life are operative in both the teacher (at least the teacher who is recalcitrant) and the system itself.

    • LM


      The reason why Catholic education was so affordable in the past is because there were thousands of women (e.g., religious sisters) staffing the schools and working for poverty wages.With the collapse of the teaching orders, Catholic schools are now lay run, and can’t and won’t work for nothing, especially if they have children of their own to support. I don’t see the teaching orders coming back in any major fashion, as I think many women became nuns because it provided an alternative to conventional marriage. Now that women have more career options, becoming a nun isn’t as attractive. Even so, I don’t think many contemporary Catholics see Catholic schools as an absolute must anymore, and it would take a major re-alignment for them to come to this conclusion.

      • Dante Aligheri

        Certainly I don’t think Catholics see it as a “must” – at least, not when they were less assimilated into the mainstream of American Christianity.

        As someone who has moved through this milieu my whole life, I agree there’s no easy solution especially as they become lay institutions which support families. Even then, a lot of Catholic school teachers are paid less than their public counterparts – often with multiple jobs on the side. At the same time, there seems to be a strong belief and tradition in the school among many – which keeps them going. It is not necessarily a religious faith explicitly but one which nonetheless believes.

        Yet…at least in the areas I am personally familiar with many Catholic and non-Catholic families (I read something recently about how Muslim families are more comfortable with Catholic education than the public alternative – and I have seen that personally in the schools – an interesting dynamic) do not trust public education, and, to some degree, that is warranted.

        It’s unfortunate because I do want to believe in public schooling – in principle, that every person regardless of their socio-economic status has the right to access quality education. But I do not believe that this current system is it.

        By default, I do not think that Catholic education is in danger of dying out numerically. Yes, religious education does need more rigor, but that is a separate issue.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          For what it is worth: 20 years ago in Oakland my parish had a small school and about 75% of the students were Protestant. The families in the neighborhood valued it for the quality of the education.

      • FGB

        Yeah, I agree that Catholic education was wide spread due to the ministry and mission of religious sisters, and with schools run by lay teachers, still recognizing they often are paid less than their counterparts in public or private schools, they have families, there are practical concerns, and, even still, there is not the same zeal for Catholic education in its current form. But all this is part of my point that there seems to be no rooted organizing principle for Catholic education other than “just do it” or “just keep it going.” Conditions have changed, but I am not sure if we have considered the underlying mission in light of the changes. Granted, we have changed in the sense of considering salaries for teachers, health insurance, retirement, etc., but what is the mission in this context. I have to say, that, when I hear a speech that Catholic education today is continuing the work of Mother Seton, I have to ask myself if this is true. I mean, Elizabeth Ann Seton sacrificed, and benefactors sacrificed so that the children of the poor could be educated. In this light, are we continuing this mission, or are we simply keeping institutions running, or even opening new ones simply because “this is what we do.” For, we could just as well have parochial coffee shops, or parochial gyms, or even parochial wine bars; I do not mean to sound sarcastic, but I mention this to highlight part of the problem.

        An example- At the present moment, in my area we are in the process of raising funds for a new Catholic high school; rest assured the funds will be found. At the same time, a high school that was ministering to poor African Americans has closed, and another parochial school ministering to poor African Americans languishes. Now we will not broach the issue of schools ministering to a certain racial group, issue of racial solidarity and the like, because that will open even more dimensions of complexity, however, my point is we spend much time, effort, and money that will benefit mostly those of middle, upper middle and upper class. So, is this something we need to continue? Should we take a step back and begin something new, like Mother Seton? Is the route we are currently taking even sustainable, not only for Catholic education, but also for public. (The drive to have bigger better, and nicer gadgets. Some will say it must be done so, but whom does this benefit? Tech corporations? Those who already have “options”?) I guess part of my point is circumstances have certainly changed, and we are changing to keep these modes alive, but have not evaluated the mission in light of these changes. Again, referring to the thrust of the article regarding teachers and Catholic morality, another point to examine is if this Catholic educational system is conforming to Catholic morality, a morality informed not only by natural law, but lifted by the communion of the Holy Trinity, revealed by the Son who took the form of a slave being born in the likeness of men, and then accepting even death, death on a cross, and furthermore rising, thereby inviting humanity, in the totality of who the human is, to share in the life of the Trinity.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          These are interesting points, but let’s try to focus on the main point of the original post. FGB, you are heading back in that direction at the end of your comment.

        • FGB

          Yeah, I agree that this is venturing into other areas than the topic that was explicitly proposed, but my point is that the issue of a teacher being released from work due to not living to the ideal of Catholic sexual morality should be considered in the broader context of Catholic education today, as well as that of society. I wonder if there may be a common underlying principle that is present in the recalcitrant teacher, the system itself, and American society; I do not think we should (or can) separate these. Further, I think we should consider all this in light of the fundamental life-giving reality of the Church, the People of God, namely the reality of the Holy Trinity creating us, espousing us through the incarnation of the Son, who accepted death, and rose- my point is that this is fundamental to our life, and should be the grounding source, life-giving source, for mission, ministry, morality (social and private), prayer, work, etc., touching all of “my life” and all of “our lives” in short, the form of the Church, the People of God, as sacrament.

  • Commoner

    Isn’t a good part of the reason the “prudent” response of firing, say, married gay teachers who refuse the farce of divorce to keep their jobs turns people off to Catholicism the fact that a blind-eye has been turned to all sorts of sexual misbehavior by the Church so many times in the past? And the fact that I can’t remember the last time I heard of a Catholic school teacher being fired for posting something to FB that clearly shows his or her beliefs are not in conformity to say, Catholic social teaching? When was the last time we’ve even heard of a male philandering Catholic school teacher being fired? (perhaps there have been some, and I’ve missed the headlines)

    It’s an especially tough row for the Church to hoe in the present milieu considering how much shuffling, covering up, and not-so-benign toleration there has been for so many sexually predatory priests within the ranks, including plenty of priestly school teachers preying on their students.

    The result is that firings of unmarried pregnant women, or even that super-awesome beloved gay coach who has been teaching at the school for 25 years taste quite sour to most and likely turns a lot of the students (and their parents) off to Catholicism, prudent or not.

    There is a price to be paid for changing course mid-stream.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “When was the last time we’ve even heard of a male philandering Catholic school teacher being fired? (perhaps there have been some, and I’ve missed the headlines)”

      In fairness, I think it does happen, but does not get the attention these cases do. For instance, I recall reading a short news item (in the police blotter) about a coach at a local Catholic HS who was arrested for growing marijuana. I never heard the disposition, but I would be surprised if he were not fired. On the other hand, I would not be too surprised if he was not, either, depending on the outcome of the legal case against him.

    • “When was the last time we’ve even heard of a male philandering Catholic school teacher being fired? (perhaps there have been some, and I’ve missed the headlines).”

      To their credit, the story in America magazine did mention that, when a couple of unmarried teachers had a baby out of wedlock, both the man and the woman were fired. That was a bit of a relief to me because it does bother me that women who become pregnant out of wedlock is often fired at a Catholic school.

      Commoner does bring up some excellent points about the sex abuse cover ups. For better or for worse, there is no escaping that legacy at the present time.

      • Both you and David are fudging on the issue of the Church’s hypocrisy, so let me give you an instance of it:

        During a short period of time in my life, when I returned from India and Sri Lanka and was consequently jobless at first, I did a long-term substitution in a Catholic high school in Connecticut. One of my students was the daughter of two well-heeled lesbians whose relationship was very much flaunted in that small Connecticut community. Despite the Archdiocese’s command that Catholic sexual morality be affirmed and enforced in all of its schools, this couple’s daughter, who boasted of her parents’ relationship, and whose parents themselves came to conferences together, was allowed to remain in the school and was graduated from it.

        So teachers, largely under-paid in Catholic institutions anyway, can be sacked for discretely solemnizing their “same-sex” unions, but clients who are a lot more publicly defiant of their flouting of Catholic moral standards can be kept on?

        What’s going on there, except hypocrisy, in the interest of profits?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I Don’t know this particular story, but on the flip side, it is easy to find the story of Archbishop Chaput dismissing a child (children?) from a parochial school because her/his parents were a lesbian couple.

          Again, the question is prudential: is it in the best interests of the child to keep them in Catholic school, or is it better for the other students to dismiss him/her. Does money play a role? Of course: I am not completely naive.

        • You’re absolutely right, it is hypocritical to take money from people who are flaunting their lifestyle. (I suppose the argument could be made that teachers at a Catholic school are acting in a ministerial capacity, but I find that unconvincing, especially in the cases of people who teach purely secular subjects, such as math.)

          Now that you bring up this instance, I remember hearing about one Catholic school that did not want students from same sex couples. I remember thinking, “Are they going to accept students from divorced couples?”

    • Dante Aligheri

      Actually, I know of a teacher who was let go for explicitly advocating the Republican Party in class. So it does happen.

      I agree that Catholic Social Teaching needs to be taken seriously. The problem seems to be that, if the Church made CST have the same binding force, there would be a great winnowing of the Church. The Church wants to be at least (not saying that it is) apolitical or super-political – this is, not dictating the voting policies of voters. It wants to be the “big tent.” For example, should someone in a ministerial position be fired for support of the Iraq War or opposing universal healthcare?

      Now, one will say that teachers should never advocate political positions like this, and I would agree. Any teacher who does that should be fired on the spot since, after all, he or she has the sacred charge – and it is sacred – on behalf of the parents, the foremost educators of their children, and the students for intellectual integrity. Lamentably, this happens. I have heard too many stories about creationism in science classrooms or even maliciously suggesting Obama is the anti-Christ. This was not a Catholic school by the way. It was a public school on border of the Mason-Dixon.

      But should someone be denied Communion with advocating a war that the Pope does not agree with? The Church wants to keep itself with a range of opinions among its members. The problem becomes when these “optional” (which aren’t really optional – just principles rather than policies, which people take as an excuse for outright libertarianism) issues happen to fall in the Left side of the camp, meaning the Right looks more immaculate than it is. So it looks like the Church is focused only on sexual issues.

      When you suggest that teachers be held accountable to Catholic Social Teaching, what would that mean in practice? What would teachers be allowed and not allowed to do or say other than blatant political agitating which they already are not allowed to do?

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        With regards to CST: a man I know was fired about 10 years ago from a Catholic school because he would stand and lead his class in the pledge of allegiance every morning. He had no objections to the students doing, but he would not participate in what he regarded as idolatry. (He was/is a member of the Catholic Worker and shared in their radical pacifism.) This seemed perverse to me.

  • crystal

    To say that official Catholic doctrine’s worth is irrelevant is, I think, just nuts … those children probably don’t live in a Catholic vacuum and the disparity between the church’s views on sex, marriage, divorce, contraception, LGBT rights, and the way the rest of the world feels about these issues must be obvious to them. In fact a majority of Catholics themselves do not agree with the church on these issues, as can be seen in polls and the recent Vatican surveys for the upcoming family synod from all over the world. V2 said (I think?) that the church should learn from the world, as well as the world learning from the church … the fact that the church refuses to even consider that seems the real scandal.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      ” those children probably don’t live in a Catholic vacuum and the disparity between the church’s views on sex, marriage, divorce, contraception, LGBT rights, and the way the rest of the world feels about these issues must be obvious to them.”

      I think we need to distinguish between ages of kids. Elementary and even middle school kids are probably not in tune or even aware of these issues. It was only in middle school and then in high school that my kids became aware of them. This is where prudence needs to play a role in determining scandal.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Participation in a state same sex marriage ceremony cannot be morally illict per se, because there is nothing in the promises made by the spouses, viz to love and be faithful to each other until death, that is in any way contary to any Catholic moral teaching.

    The fact that all the attention seems to be on sexual morality and none on say wealthy businessmen expoliting their workers or supporters of unjust wars, clearly indicates the unbalanced nature of this witchunt, one which seems peculiar to the United States.

    I agree that mercy and compassion are paramount in these cases, but I do not think that most of cases are actually serving justice because many seem to be fundamentally unjust.

    There is insufficient emphasis on the rights and dignity of the workers.

    God Bless

    • Dante Aligheri

      Chris Sullivan, I agree with you regarding the need for more emphasis on Catholic Social Teaching and the formation of teachers in it – even contractually. But what would this entail practically?

      Please see my response to Commoner.

      Let us say that Catholic school teachers were required to attend a Catholic Social Teaching classes akin to what some dioceses that require teachers to go to Theology of the Body classes – not an inherently unfeasible idea. I would say that, just as such classes are sort of grudgingly attended today, so too would the CST class – a requirement which can be forgotten about.

      Very few would change their socio-economic or political preconceptions because of it – at least in my view.

    • Ho,ho, ho! “Rights of workers,” indeed! Do you have any idea of the degree to which Catholic schools in many dioceses deprive teacher-“workers” of their rights? In the God-forsaken archdiocese of New Mexico, the corrupt Archbishop made a deal with the legislature of the State that their schools should not be required to pay into Unemployment Insurance. I’d have much less of a problem with that, if the teachers were actually informed of that at the time of contract-signing, but they’re not; it goes un-mentioned and one doesn’t learn of it until one is “non-renewed” for something like what’s being discussed here.

  • LM

    I think it’s worth remembering that Catholic education in 2014 has a very different intention than Catholic education from, say, 1954. In 1954, the aim of Catholic education was to provide a low-cost alternative to the public school system for Catholic children because it was feared that they would be subjected to Protestant influences. The entire parochial system was established because Catholic children were being forced to read from the KJV bible and repeat the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer in the 19th century. Consequently, the pariochial schools of the 19th and 20th century were about as good as public schools, but generally not better unless a parent was willing to pay extra for a private prep school (I say this because classroom size could range anywhere from 30-50 students and I doubt that many of the teaching sisters had the ability to teach higher math). The presence of a low-cost workforce in the teaching nuns combined with the Catholic ghetto where parishes and schools were in walking distance created ethnically and ethically homogenous communities.

    Today, the landscape is much different. Without the teaching sisters, Catholic schools have become much more expensive, although still more affordable than the average independent school. However, they have also become college prep by default, which is also a major change in orientation. The presence of students of varying religious faiths (or none at all) of modern Catholic schools is also noteworthy. The intent of pariochial schools in the past was to immerse the child already born into a Catholic home in a Catholic academic environment. The cloistered nature of the Catholic ghetto was such that one could reasonably assume that almost everyone in the school community shared the same values. Today, the aim of the Catholic school is to provide a structured, college prep learning environment that just happens to be Catholic. When so much of the student body and teaching force is non-Catholic and already doesn’t buy into the more contentious aspects of Catholic morality, it makes it difficult to impose a particular set of morality on them.

    The reason why Catholic schools seem better than public schools is that the latter has to educate “the public,” which includes children who speak English as a second language, children dealing with domestic violence, children who come to school hungry, children with learning disabilities, children with mental illness, children in gangs, and so on. As private schools, Catholic schools by definition don’t have to deal with “the public” in the way that public schools must. The fact that a parent is willing or able to pay for a private school already distinguish themselves from many members of “the public.” The question facing contemporary American education is how to educate “the public,” regardless of the circumstances into which they were born.

    • You bring up an excellent point. People used to flock to Catholic schools because they believed that the public schools were indoctrinating their students with Protestant theology, and in the 19th century, that was frequently true. Now, academics are the main drawing point, not theology.

  • crystal

    “Elementary and even middle school kids are probably not in tune or even aware of these issues.”

    I don’t have kids so I don’t know about this, but I imagine that some of those kids may *have* gay parents. But anyway, if they are oblivious to the church discriminating against LGBT people, how then would the fact that one of their teachers is gay and married cause them any scandal?

    • I understand you disagree that it is sinful, but it’s quite certain that children’s parents are engaged in all sorts of sin. That doesn’t mean that Catholic schools don’t cause scandal by modeling them.

      Some parents are likely racist. That doesn’t mean that a Catholic school employing a teacher who made a notoriously racist statement would not cause scandal.

  • Please ensure that whatever principles you assert, would, if applied by the NFL, have led to your preferred outcome in the Ray Rice case.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Why do you think these two cases are parallel?

      • In both cases, we have an employer disciplining/dismissing an employee based on behavior not directly tied to his job. In both cases there is concern that by failing to strongly discipline the employee, the employer is sending a message that it condones the behavior in question, or at least does not take it sufficiently seriously.

        Obviously, there is greater cultural consensus against Rice’s actions than the teachers.

        On the other hand, Ray Rice wasn’t hired to teach children.

        And obviously, mercy is not part of the NFL’s charter, whereas it is in ours.

        It seems to be a slam dunk consensus that the NFL was initially too lenient with Rice, that it should have acquired the videotape if TMZ was able to acquire it, etc.

        This seems to be in stark contrast to most of the commentary in these type of cases.

        Again, obviously, this is because domestic violence, particularly of the brutal sort that Rice is apparently guilty of, is universally shunned, and the offenses the teachers are guilty of are not.

        But, if we’re following Prof. Daly’s advice, that shouldn’t matter. Like it or not, the Church officially teaches against same sex marriage, abortion, artificial birth control and IVF. This isn’t the whole of the Church’s identity, but neither is opposing domestic violence a major part of the NFL’s identity.

        In light of some of the arguments deployed in the Hobby Lobby debate, where it was assumed that we should be shocked by any interest our employers took in our personal lives, it is interesting to see people say that the NFL dropped the ball by not pursuing these details with the same zeal as a tabloid TV show.

  • Agellius

    Little late, sorry.

    I think Daly hits it on the head in the two criteria he gives: “The unique mission of Catholic schools is to educate and form the whole student—academically, spiritually and morally … justice is primarily conditioned on what is best for students”; and “Genuine scandal involves leading others to believe that immoral actions and ways of life are actually morally licit.”

    If there were a teacher who habitually used the F-word in and out of class, there is no question but that he would be fired. Yet is cussing a worse sin than adultery or fornication?

    The reason there’s no question that he would be fired, is that cussing is something that anyone can see to be inappropriate, no matter his level of personal faithfulness or devoutness. Whereas sexual sins, or the appearance of sexual scandal, gets harder to detect the less seriously you take your faith. Since the level of devoutness varies so widely among families in a typical Catholic school, firing someone for such an offense is more controversial.

    The reason behind the firing in both cases is the same: We don’t want to give the impression that the Catholic Church approves of such things, for various reasons, but primarily having to do with wanting to attract people to the Gospel rather than drive them away.

    But going along with this is the need to attract people to the *Gospel* and not merely to the Church. By tolerating all kinds of sin we may lead people to find the Church accepting and loving and therefore a nice place to be. But for that matter, we might attract people to the Church by holding burlesque shows and giving out free booze.

    Thus, it’s not enough just to attract them, we also have be clear on what we are attracting them to, and that it includes chastity and temperance as well as charity and kindness.

    • Jorge


      I think this is the point. The point where you mix up different things.
      It has not so much to do with taking seriously faith. It has more to do with taking seriously public morality.

      I think the importance of public morality is (or was?) frequently over-estimated in the US culture as a whole. For me as a non-American, not only American Catholics, even more Protestants and also secular or liberal Americans seem to be very much concerned for other people to comply to their rules of public moral hygiene, especially in sexual and racial and worldview issues, and very much scandalized if somebody does not fit into the established schemes of morality they support.

      Of course, in a post-Christian context these rules are not the same as they were lets say in the fifties. The structure of thought is the same, nevertheless, whether you kick out unmarried pregnant teachers from a Catholic school or kick out nuns from a public-financed hospital because they don’t want to pay for or assist in abortions.

      I suppose, this kind of thinking is an American problem.
      It has nothing to do with the Gospel!
      The Gospel shows a very different kind of attitude towards outsiders than this kind of public morality does. Public sinners are especially adressed and even praised in the Gospel (not for their deeds, but for their condition).

      So, the problem is a question of criteria.
      Public morality tends to mix up real evil things with not so evil things. You speak about “sexual sins” without distinguing lets say raping or child abuse from marrying twice or being gay. You disqualify both things as “public sin”.
      When the Pope says “Who am I to jugde” he refers to people who are sinners but not really evil ones. He certainly would not say the same referring to rapers or child abusers.
      So, this is how we should judge if we take seriously our faith. The Christian criteria should be good and evil and not public morality.

      Sorry for my bad English!

      • Jorge

        Sorry, I made a formatting mistake, in the beginning of my last posting there was a citation which does not appear, reading as follows:
        “Whereas sexual sins, or the appearance of sexual scandal, gets harder to detect the less seriously you take your faith.”

        Also, I would like to add the following paragraph at the end of my contribution:
        In a pluralistic society it is not so important for a Catholic school that all teachers share the same Catholic habits and beliefs and views on moral issues. What matters is that the teachers are good and honest persons and the students get to learn Catholic views, teachings and values in a positive light, without exaggerating.

        Thank you and God bless you all, my Catholic brethren!
        Again sorry for my low language skills and formatting problems.

      • Agellius


        You write, “The Gospel shows a very different kind of attitude towards outsiders than this kind of public morality does. Public sinners are especially adressed and even praised in the Gospel (not for their deeds, but for their condition).”

        Your English is fine.

        I think you may be overlooking Matt. 18:15-17.

        • Jorge

          Thank you for your answer! I know my English is not too “fine”, but I hope I can express myself.
          Yes, we have to overlook and understand this passage properly.
          It is interesting that you seem to think that one could find some kind of support for your perception of morality in Jesus’ dictum. I read quite the opposite in it. Those who cause the scandal (i.e. those who fire a pregnant teacher or nurse just because she is not married) are sentenced to eternal punishment. So, what we should avoid is to cause scandal by imposing unjust measures to innocent people, isn’t it?
          The reason is that those condemned by this logion act in the name of God judging others according to their own criteria of morality. They are not considering that God looks at the hearts and does not care very much about compliance to socially imposed behaviour patterns. So, they replace Jesus’ and His Father’s Law and criteria for good and evil by the community’s laws and criteria for right or wrong, and they lead people to confusion because one could think that God is with the rulers of community and not with the poor.
          In result, the aim of this sentence is hierachy and holders of influence over social and religious codes. It is not so much the individual sinner or wrongdoer who provokes the scandal, but the one who incites the crowd to judge the wrong person.

          Of course, people who think that God and ‘law and order’ is one and the same thing, will not join this view. But we have to realize that these people are exactly those who incited the crowd to kill Jesus.

          I think the main difference in our interpretations is the understanding of what Jesus referred to as ‘scandalon’.
          As for instance St. John often points out in his Gospel, we tend to read the Scripture without understanding what the Gospel ist all about.
          To understand what the Gospel ist all about, we have to get the clue about inclusion and exclusion in Jesus’ teaching.

          Usually, a religious community (including the Church in her natural condition as one religious community among many others) has rules, and those who fulfill them are inside and the others are outside. In this natural scenary which is common to any human society, it is considered a ‘scandal’ if someone who claims to be inside does not fully comply with the rules set by the majority and/or the leaders. This ‘scandal’ drives the crowd and/or the leaders to kill or otherwise punish the offender.
          In Jesus’ teaching things are inverted. Those who claim to be inside are rebuffed, and outlaws from outside are invited to come and see the glory of the Lord. The ‘scandal’ is set by those who do not accept this inversion of social logic and tell the poor that Jesus is a liar and that they are not allowed to come in.

          In consequence, the Church in her supra-natural condition as an anticipation of God’s Reign cannot act simply as if she were just one religious community like many others. She has to beware and avoid the ‘scandal’ of rejecting the sinners in a way Jesus did not. Especially, she has to avoid using human criteria of “right or wrong” instead of good and evil. This is, I think, the right sense of what you called “attract people to the Gospel”.

          • Agellius


            I’m not sure if we’re reading the same Bible. : )

            When Jesus “welcomes” sinners, he also insists that they repent of their sin. The New Testament states over and over that unrepentant sinners are to be excluded from fellowship in the Church. Repentant sinners, obviously, are always welcome, since without them the Church would be empty.

            Of course each situation should be judged individually. I don’t say that every teacher who gets pregnant must be fired.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Well, in Jorge’s defense, Jesus’ interaction with sinners was nuanced. He forgives the woman caught in adultery without her ever explicitly repenting, and similarly, the Samaritan woman at the well.

          • Agellius

            “I don’t say that every teacher who gets pregnant must be fired.”

            I meant to say “every single teacher”.

        • Jorge

          Well, I did not mention the problem of repentance in my statement. We were talking about ‘scandal’ in Matthew. Jesus does not even mention sin there, neither he speaks about repentance. He talks about those who are inciting the poor and innocent not to follow him (telling them that they are sinners and have to repent instead of listening to Jesus’ false promises).

          I think nobody can reasonably deny that repentance is necessary to obtain foregiveness. It is not true that Jesus “insisted” in this aspect very much. He just takes it for granted, I think. The prodigal son does not really repent, he just returns home and not even has to ask to obtain foregiveness.

          • Agellius


            You write, “I did not mention the problem of repentance in my statement. We were talking about ‘scandal’ in Matthew.”

            The point is that repentance is necessary not only for forgiveness, but also for fellowship. Of course Jesus dined with sinners. Why? To save them. Save them how? By bringing them to repentance. Did Jesus really want his Church filled with unrepentant tax collectors and prostitutes?

            As to the prodigal son, I think there’s little question but that he was contrite, confessing that he no longer deserved to be called a son.

            The clear message, to me, is that God is not stingy with forgiveness. It’s easy and free. Nevertheless as St. Paul makes abundantly clear, the fact that grace abounds doesn’t mean that sin may abound all the more.

            Many people think it’s very important that the Church present a face of tolerance and kindness. And rightly so. But shouldn’t the Church should also present a face of chastity and temperance? Is the Church to be known to the world as kind and tolerant, yet also a bunch of fornicators and drunkards?

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Point taken. I would point out, if only to be puckish, that according to Roman sources, the early Church was known as a bunch of fornicators and drunkards. 🙂

        • LM

          The Church seems to have a schizophrenic response to the LGBT people. In the West, we are told that LGBT people are “objectively disordered” individuals who should be treated with a mixture of pity and contempt, but not physically harmed. In the developing world, the Catholic church (not to mention Islam and the other branches of Christianity) teach that LGBT people are a demonic social menace who must be punished as much as possible, socially, legally, physically, and psychologically. So which view is the Church’s real stance? The milder, more PC view that gays should considered a tolerated, but otherwise despised minority or they should be seen as enemies of society and God that must be rooted out? The recent gay-bashing committed by former students (and a coach!) of a Philadelphia area Catholic school suggests that the two attitudes cannot be readily separated:

          • Agellius


            You write, “So which view is the Church’s real stance? The milder, more PC view that gays should considered a tolerated, but otherwise despised minority or they should be seen as enemies of society and God that must be rooted out?”

            The Church’s real stance is in the Catechism, 2357-59. If Catholics in some places are acting otherwise then they should certainly be corrected.

        • Jorge

          Hi there. @Agellius: You write: “Of course Jesus dined with sinners. Why? To save them. Save them how? By bringing them to repentance.” Who told you that strange stuff?? I’m not sure if we’re reading the same Bible. : )

          Jesus dined with sinners because they are the chosen people of the Lord. Of course, if they really were sinners (not only marginalized as being sinners by the mainstream religious community or society), they had to repent and change their minds. Nobody will deny that. That’s just natural. The humble is not automatically a good person. Repentance and change of mind comes rather automatically if you follow Jesus. But it is not the reason for Jesus to join them. Jesus was not a missionary of mainstream moral teaching and religion. That is Puritanism.

          What I wanted to point out earlier is that what you call a ‘scandal’ is not the same thing as Matthew calls a ‘scandal’.
          People (Catholic or not) who see a ‘scandal’ in a woman being pregnant without a husband (or a nun who acts against civil laws) are quite the same kind of people who would have scandalized most with Jesus’ behaviour towards the poor.
          That is the point. Puritans are not to be saved. They are causing a scandal to the poor discouraging them from following Jesus.

          • Agellius


            You write, “[quoting me] ‘Of course Jesus dined with sinners. Why? To save them. Save them how? By bringing them to repentance.’ Who told you that strange stuff?? I’m not sure if we’re reading the same Bible. : )”

            I’m not sure what you consider strange. That Jesus wanted to save sinners? That he tried to bring sinners to repentance?

            You write, “People (Catholic or not) who see a ‘scandal’ in a woman being pregnant without a husband (or a nun who acts against civil laws) are quite the same kind of people who would have scandalized most with Jesus’ behaviour towards the poor.”

            I’m not aware of people being scandalized by Jesus’ behavior towards the poor. Can you give an example?

            You write, “That is the point. Puritans are not to be saved. They are causing a scandal to the poor discouraging them from following Jesus.”

            I don’t follow your reasoning here. What does being poor have to do with it?

  • crystal

    I’m not sure if the above comments by john mcg are for me or not, but those comments are a good example of the huge divide between how most of the country (and most Catholics) see marriage equality and how the church leaders see it. Ray Rice committed a crime …. gay people marrying is not a crime. Neither is a gay person marrying equivalent in any way to someone being a racist. The church’s teaching on gay people marrying is not even inherently Christian … there are many Christian denominations that are fine with that, including the Quakers, the UCC, and the Presbyterian church. When the pope says “who am I too judge” on gay issues, but Catholic schools fire teachers for getting married, this doesn’t remove the threat of scandal, it causes it.

    • We don’t take our values from opinion polls or what the rest of society has deemed a crime.

      Nor do we take our cues from other Christian denominations. It’s also true that many Christian denominations take a harder line on homosexuality than dismissing teachers who are in civil same sex marriages. Should we follow them?

      Need I provide reminders of various atrocities that have been “perfectly legal?”

      Does this mean that same sex marriage is “as bad” as those? No.

      But I don’t think Catholic schools should employ someone who was a public and proud consumer of pornography, either, regardless of its legal status.

    • Also, to be clear I see “firing the teachers” as the least bad among bad options, not a preferred method of teaching. It would be much better if someone whose conscience compels him to act publcally against Church teaching to pursue another job, or repent.

      It is my hope that this does happen on occasion, though those stories probably don’t make the news.

    • Agellius

      Crystal writes, “When the pope says “who am I too judge” on gay issues, but Catholic schools fire teachers for getting married, this doesn’t remove the threat of scandal, it causes it.”

      True. Maybe truer than you realize.

  • crystal

    OK, I’ll leave you guys to what appears to be a profound contempt for those unlike yourselves. Jesus would be so proud.

    • Can you please cite the words I wrote that lead to that conclusion?

  • LM

    I swear I’m not being impertinent when I ask this, but what percentage of students and faculty at Catholic schools actually trust the Magisterium on issues of faith and morals? I ask this because, given how many of these school communities rally to the aid of teachers who have been dismissed because of morals clauses, I’m inclined to say not many. In my experience, many “orthodox Catholics” don’t trust Catholic schools because they think they’re too liberal, so the segment of the population who would agree with such measures have voluntarily separated themselves from these institutions. That leaves non-Catholics who choose Catholic schools for the academics and Catholics who don’t take everything the Magisterium says at face value.

    • Agellius


      I think you’re right on the money; although you’re only looking at the student/family side and not the faculty side, which I think by and large has the same issue. I think it’s a serious problem to advertise a school as “Catholic” in which most faculty and students/families do not trust the Magisterium. I think that’s all the more reason why pastors and bishops need to make the schools’ Catholic identity clear, in the ways under discussion and in other ways. Either that or stop putting on the pretense that they’re Catholic.

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  • New chicken

    I believe that professor Daly creates a very strong and solid basis for the firing of a certain teacher because of his personal preferences. However, I also believe that it should definitely not be allowed to fire a teacher or worker for these personal preferences. The world is a hostile and dangerous place for students who are still deciding and learning correct values. If teachers are fired for being homosexuals then, by example, we are cementing in students a stubbornness and a prejudice towards anyone with different point of view from them. Catholic Schools not only teach students math and English, but also the correct moral values which the Lord has taught us about through his words in the Holy Bible. In 1 Peter 2:17 it says ” Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear god, honor the king.”. Here the lord teaches us about honoring all people and that certainly does not mean discriminating against a certain group of people. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” Matthew 7. We must teach students not to be insensitive to others opinions or beliefs. But in fact our schools must teach to accept differences in opinions even if you strongly disagree with them. Schools must not tell students to do this and that, especially not to teenagers who are in a crucial stage of building their personalities. Actually, schools must mold and guide students to enable them to choose between right or wrong. They must condemn what is wrong and glorify what is right, thereby teaching students to make the correct decisions later on in their life.