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Archdiocese releases Q&A on union contract proposals

February 6, 2015

The Archdiocese of San Francisco released this series of questions and answers regarding its proposals in its new collective bargaining agreement with the union representing teachers at the four archdiocese high schools.

Q: Since the Collective Bargaining Agreement (the CBA) has for many years contained whereas language that addresses conduct of our Catholic school teachers, what is the reasoning behind the inclusion of the new whereas language and the “affirm and believe” statements?

A: The goal is not to add anything new, but to make more explicit what has always been required. In relation to the so-called morality clause, this CBA is different from former contracts only in its clarity. By spelling out the expectations that have always been present, we believe it is better for all parties involved. Teachers have a better idea of what is expected of them as educational ministers of the Gospel, and the schools have a better idea of what goals and expectations they should have for themselves as Catholic institutions and with respect to their faculty. Clarity and transparency help everyone.


Q: Will Teachers be required to sign an “oath” or “affirmation” of religious belief as part of this collective bargaining agreement?

A: No. the Archdiocese has no intention of “rooting out” those who are not Catholic or those who do not assent completely to Catholic teaching. The Archdiocese and the schools stand for the teachings of the Catholic Church in their entirety, and the handbook for each of our high schools will contain a statement affirming certain key facets of these teachings. But these statements are of the school as an institution, not of the individual teachers. On the contrary, the statement specifically acknowledges that not all of our teachers will agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches.

Similarly, the point of the CBA is not to require assent to any of the teachings of the Catholic Church. But it will, as it has for years, ask teachers as a matter of professional obligation to honor the Catholic identity and mission of our schools, which is now more clearly stated in the teacher handbooks. If they cannot do so in their beliefs, then they should at least avoid publicly undermining the lessons taught at the school of their employment.


Q: Why are the teachers referred to as “ministers”? Most of them are not religious leaders. How can, for example, a math teacher be considered a minister?

A: In the Catholic Church, the word “minister” has a very wide meaning, indicating anyone who carries out a role of service in the Church. This includes forms of lay ministry as well as ordained; many lay ministers, in fact, do not even have specialized training for their ministry (e.g., parish ministers of hospitality). There are other faiths as well that have many different kinds of leaders, some ordained and some not, and they go by many different names (rabbi, elder, pastor, priest, etc.), while still others do not even have “ordained” clergy. For that reason, the word “minister” does not refer only to ordained persons or those with any particular education or title. The Supreme Court (see EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor) has defined a minister as one to whom a church gives a leadership role in, and the primary duty of, helping the church spread its message and carry out its mission.

Not all employees of the Catholic Church are “ministers,” but in a Catholic School, all teachers are ministers of our faith. Certainly specific religious activities are at the heart of our Catholic schools: celebrating Mass, class prayer, celebrating special feast days, fostering the sacramental life of the Church, etc. But beyond this, it is a fundamental part of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition to give students the tools they need in life to find God in all kinds of work and all areas of knowledge, to give them the skills they need to grow into full and mature Christians and so to stand as a witness of the Gospel at all times. Moreover, in the tradition of our Catholic schools, our schools do this not just for the students but for their families and the community at large as well. A teacher is the irreplaceable leader in this vital religious activity, and without whom the school could not fulfill this basic mission that the Church has entrusted to it.


Q: How does the Archdiocese define the support that teachers must give to the Catholic mission of the schools in which they teach?

A: The CBA does not use the term “in support of.” What the new contract language seeks to do is point out that teachers in a Catholic school – regardless of their personal beliefs – have a professional obligation not to act publicly to “contradict, undermine or deny” the religious message that the school exists to proclaim and which they are hired to advance. From the Archdiocesan viewpoint, this would mean public and active behavior that by its nature contradicts the school’s message.

The language is not aimed at the many kinds of activities that do not in and of themselves send a message of endorsement, such as mere attendance at a same-sex “wedding” or ceremony of a family member or friend. Moreover, because many of our teachers do not assent to all aspects of our Catholic faith, the language is also not aimed at private belief or conduct, such as an employee’s home life or membership in a different faith community. Each situation would be looked at on a case-by-case basis through the lens of whether a teacher has chosen by public conduct or speech to undermine the very message she or he has been appointed to advance.


Q: Will parents who support children who live a lifestyle contrary to the Church be terminated?

A: It would depend on the level and type of support. If their support is on a purely personal, non-public level, then no, they would not be terminated.

It is important to note that it is not the purpose of the CBA or the intent of the Archdiocese to terminate anyone. We value our teachers, who are our most important educational resource. But we wish to make clearer what the CBA has long stated: that teaching comes from actions as well as words, and some actions and words are consistent with our message and others are not. As St. Francis is reported to have said, “Always preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary.”

On those (hopefully rare) occasions when a teacher publicly endorses a message opposite to the one of the school he or she was hired to teach at, that can become a problem and our teaching becomes confused and confusing. We hope to avoid that situation. But not every potential violation of the CBA by a teacher’s conduct will result in termination of employment. Instead, if such a situation arises, we would address it on a case-by-case basis as appropriate.


Q: What groups or organizations are we not allowed to be a member of? Isn’t this a suppression of our rights? What about the Democratic and Republican parties? They both at times support policies that contradict our Catholic values.

A: This would be determined on a case-by-case basis and would depend on the mission and the message of the group. A teacher can belong to virtually any political party. If a party’s platform differs from Church teaching in places, mere membership does not necessarily imply public endorsement. However, some organizations preach messages that are so hostile to the teachings of the Church at their core that membership itself is incompatible with the status of teacher. For example, a teacher could not be a member of the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood and expect to remain a teacher in a Catholic school. Yes, the teacher has a perfect right to be a member of whatever legal organizations he or she desires, but should not, in honesty, publicly proclaim two contradictory messages at the same time.


Q: If teacher-ministers serve in the armed forces and they participate in military action that is incompatible with Catholic teaching, will they be terminated?

A: No, they will not be terminated for serving their country in the armed forces.


Q: Will Catholic teachers married outside of the Catholic Church be asked to get married in the Church or be terminated?

A: No, they will not be required to get married in the Church in order to retain their employment. But again, every case has to be examined on its own merits. No scandal is caused by a Catholic married outside of the Church who does not make an issue of it. On the other hand, if, for example, the teacher tells his or her class that the Church is wrong for providing any regulations for the marriage of Catholics or for teaching at all about the proper ordering of human sexuality, and presents himself or herself as a Catholic in good faith, this would mislead the students regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage. Such a situation would constitute a professional issue needing to be addressed and resolved according to the particulars of the case.


Q: Will teachers who use contraceptives, specifically women, be terminated?

A: Unless a teacher voluntarily shares she is using contraception, it would be impossible for the school to even know that she is and therefore to take any kind of employment action. However, if she did voluntarily offer this information in such a way as to challenge Church teaching on responsible parenthood, then this, too, would constitute a professional issue needing to be addressed and resolved according to the particulars of the case.


Q: Does the Church have a right, by this contract, to force us to disclose memberships if it has reason to believe we belong to specific groups that are “incompatible” with the Church?

A: School or Church leaders will not be pro-active in seeking out the memberships of their teachers. This is far from the case. If something is brought to our attention, however, we will investigate and take action if and insofar as appropriate.


Q: Are we not allowed to address current issues in a current issues class? How do we handle the issue and a student who states they support that issue if it is against Catholic teachings?

A: Yes, you can address current issues in a Current Issues class (or as appropriate in other classes). A student making a statement in support of an issue that goes against Catholic teachings is not relevant to the teacher contract or employment. The teacher, though, should make clear what the Catholic teaching is on the issue.


Q: How do we handle a situation where a student comes to us and says they have same-sex attraction or were born through in vitro fertilization, etc.? What if that child is being made fun of for their parents’ decisions? Can we support that child?

A: Yes, we will support that child in all of these scenarios. We are firmly against bullying, and we have policies and procedures in place to enforce this.


Q: Why do staff members not have to sign this contract? Why is this only for teachers?

A: Staff members are not members of the High School Teachers’ Union and so are not subject to the CBA, but are “at will” employees. Insofar as they help spread the Church’s message as teacher-ministers do, they, too, are expected to advance the moral and ethical teachings of the Church. Under certain circumstances, they can even be “ministers” themselves. But most staff members serve a different role in the school, one that does not have the standing and authority of a teacher-minister.


Q: Who is responsible for enforcing the terms of this contract?

A: The CBA, like all contracts, sets out expectations, procedures and standards of performance, and the means of resolving disputes binding on the employer and the union members alike. On the employee side, the primary representative of teachers continues to be their union. On the employer’s side, the Department of Catholic Schools working with the president and principal, and under the Archbishop, ensures that procedures are followed and all standards are met. This is unchanged from the prior CBA.


Q: What is the mechanism for investigating a violation?

A: A complaint would most likely first come to the attention of the principal or president at the individual school, who would work in conjunction with the Department of Catholic Schools and, as appropriate, the Archdiocesan Office of Human Resources. This is unchanged from the prior CBA.

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