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Teachers criticize Catholic school contracts that regulate their private lives

Saturday, May 24, 2014
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OAKLAND, Calif. — The Roman Catholic Dioceses in Oakland and Cincinnati have come under fire for new morality clauses that require teachers to conform to church teachings in their private lives.

Some parents, teachers and students worry teachers could be fired for being gay or engaging in behavior the church frowns on, such as having sex outside marriage, or for supporting gay family members.

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In Oakland, Calif., at least five teachers at Bishop O’Dowd High School have refused to sign the new contract, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, and parents and teachers plan to protest at the diocese’s offices on May 30.

The diocese runs more than 50 schools and employs about 1,000 teachers, many of them non-Catholics.

Diocese of Oakland spokesman Mike Brown says the new language is not a witch hunt, but an attempt by Oakland Bishop Michael Barber to be clearer about the contract.

“It simply states what was inferred before from a new bishop’s perspective,” Brown said. “There is no list of behaviors from this diocese.”

But some teachers see it differently.

Kathleen Purcell, a history teacher at O’Dowd High School, said she signed the contract, but crossed out the part about private behavior.

The section reads, “In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland.”

Her contract was not accepted, and she does not plan on returning to the school.

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“I could have taken back what I did and said I could go along, but I can’t do that,” Purcell, 62, told the Oakland Tribune. “My life is about advancing civil rights.”

In Cincinnati, a veteran Catholic school teacher whose son is gay, quit in protest of a new contract which specifies which violations of Catholic doctrine could put teachers out of a job.

The Catholic diocese in Cleveland has introduced a similar contract.

Molly Shumate, 49, of West Chester near Cincinnati, is the first known teacher of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s more than 2,200 educators to refuse to sign the new contract, which prohibits “homosexual lifestyles,” abortion, artificial insemination and public support for any of those causes.

Shumate said signing the contract would send a message to her son, who’s 22, that she doesn’t support him. “And I won’t do that,” she said.

Archdiocese officials defend the contract, saying it doesn’t mean that teachers have to sever relationships with gay family members, just that they can’t publicly act or speak against the church’s teachings. All of the Archdiocese’s teachers must sign the contract before the end of the school year if they want to remain employed.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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