What If Catholic “Morality” Rules Applied to All Employees?

Can a morality code go too far? We’ve seen teachers at religious schools fired for their sexual orientation, for having children out of wedlock or for getting a divorce. In all of the cases, administrations have been able to justify the terminations as adhering to the schools’ “moral codes.” Yet in Cleveland, Ohio, the Catholic Diocese believes that the codes aren’t strict enough and are announcing a new, “expanded” list of offenses, and have reclassified teachers as “ministers” to justify it.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, teachers at five Catholic schools in the city now will be forced to adhere to this new expanded morality clause, or they will find their jobs in jeopardy. The list of forbidden behaviors includes “[p]ublicly supporting abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, surrogate parenthood, direct sterilization, or so-called homosexual or same-sex marriage or unions,” as well as having or helping someone obtain an abortion, any extramarital sex or living with a partner without being legally married, “lewd or sexually suggestive” emails or texts, pornography use or unlawful drug use.

While the diocese states that these changes are all meant to make things more “authentically Catholic,” and that renaming teachers as “teacher-ministers” officially in the contract helps emphasis the role of teachers when it comes to educating the next generation. “The Church has long recognized the uniquely important and true ministry of teachers and administrators in fulfilling this mission,” Bishop Richard Lennon wrote in a letter to the affected teachers. “…Each and every teacher and administrator in a Catholic school, whether they teach religion as a subject or not, is called by the Church to model Jesus.”

Obviously, not every teacher at a Catholic school is necessarily going to be a Catholic, and, even if they all were, the Bishop’s rigid definitions of what constitutes “authentically Catholic” appears very heavy on the “hate the sin” and light on the social justice side of Jesus’s teachings. In the face of the ceaseless pushes for religious freedom bills and the ability to discriminate based on religious beliefs, frankly, a move like the Catholic church in Cleveland is not surprising, and is just following the steps of similar dioceses like the one in San Francisco that has caused so much push-back in their own community.

What is different and alarming, however, is the designation of teachers as “ministers.” While currently it is only being used in this one instance to reiterate why the staff should be obligated to follow all moral code language even though an employee’s personal life should be off limits to an employer, it’s a new line that could have the potential to spread. After all, if a teacher is “ministering” to a student by teaching him or her math — not even religious studies — why wouldn’t a medical practitioner be seen as “ministering” to a patient when providing health care at a Catholic hospital? Wouldn’t any worker at a Catholic non-profit be seen as ministering to a community by providing services to people without an attempt to earn excess revenues? Is a cafeteria worker in a Catholic building ministering to people’s bodies by providing nourishment?

If the argument sounds ridiculous, well, so did the “religious liberties” of for-profit companies until the birth control mandate started getting challenged. Now, auto dealerships and manufacturing firms are able to cite themselves as “ministries” and forbid allowing employees contraception in their insurance plans. Could a moral code be far behind?

In the meantime, the school will ratify the code and teachers will sign on whether they agree with it or not, just as teachers did with a similar code passed earlier in Cincinnati. As Roger Rosen, a French and Latin teacher in a Catholic School in Cincinnati told CNN after signing a similar contract over his own personal objections to it because he needed the job, “I’m a coward…Isn’t that terrible?”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

Can the Catholic Church expect its lay teachers to behave any better than the official clergy? Until the sexual abuse mess is finally cleaned up, it's hypocritical.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

When hired by an employer, they tell you about their dress codes and any other rules they might have such as morality. If you don't like them. then quit!

Vikram S.
Vikram S3 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

I don't think any job should be able to dictate what an employee does outside of work.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago


Arnold B.
arnold B3 years ago

thanks for sharing

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan B3 years ago

Several people have commented that this such apply only during working hours. Tell that to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Then there is the story of Justine Sacco. Organizations have reprimanded, suspended, and fired employees for moral indiscretions all the time. People do not work just 9-5 anymore. Where do we draw the line with behavior?