Looking for “morality” in all the wrong places

by Ben Seeley ’14

Last week, the Diocese of Cleveland announced it would be adding a “morality clause” to the contracts of all Catholic school teachers. (Editor’s Note: As employees of a Jesuit school, teachers at Saint Ignatius are not subject to the new contract). The new language prohibits teachers from publicly supporting positons contrary to Church teachings–about abortion or gay marraige, for instance–and from engaging in a whole list of behaviors, including the sending of “improper” tweets, texts, or emails.

The Diocese opens itself to easy criticism. What they fail to consider is that they add further disincentives to entry to a profession featuring a preexisting drawback: a lower salary. If it’s a deeper, more diverse labor force the Diocese wants for its students, placing severe limitations on the job isn’t exactly going to help.

Of course, the prohibited actions aren’t necessarily easy to identify, which is perhaps the reason the Diocese insists on them—as guidelines as a part of a PR move, not mandates intended to undermine teachers’ individual rights. But still, a contract is a contract. Teachers’ jobs are placed in jeopardy for violations as tenuous as sending conceivably distasteful messages in private or engaging in premarital sex.

The teachers aren’t forced to sign the contract, but failure to do so is a virtual guarantee of unemployment. And with today’s job market, the risk carried by a failure to comply is too daunting to consider. Resultingly, the teachers are coerced into a loss of liberties they didn’t sign up for. That’s unfair.

All of this comes in light of a new papacy that has stated outright its intention to turn its sights on revitalizing the Church, and not necessarily on adherence to Catholic expectations of an individual’s personal life. The belief of Catholics may be that something like homosexual marriage is wrong, but that doesn’t mean a crusade against gay marriage should be the priority. But that’s how it seems to have become for the Church, and Francis won’t stand for it.

The reality of the situation is such that the Church isn’t doing so well in places like the U.S. and Western Europe. So does the Diocese think a dictatorial overstep like this is the solution? Is focusing on the Church’s nuances, and not the Church itself, really imperative, or even recommended?

What’s perhaps most unsettling is the doors the “morality clause” opens for future breaches of liberty. For example, though I’m not someone in favor of drug testing teachers, would that not seem a logical next step for the school with the new clause? If it’s expected, and explicitly outlawed, that some teachers will be violating Diocesan policy, it should be no further misstep to act on that suspicion.

At the end of the day, the people all just fall victim to organizations bigger than themselves and submit to that victimization. The cycle continues, and we drift, wearily but together, into the pathway of our bosses and their prescriptions. Silenced are our voices and rendered futile our intentions, but fear not: for we have leaders to lead us back to the light.