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Cleveland Diocese Says Updated ‘Teacher-Minister’ Contracts Ensure Faith Formation in Schools

From Cardinal Newman Society

he Diocese of Cleveland is the latest to take the crucial step of securing the Catholic identity of its high schools by defining faculty as “Teacher-Ministers” and adding more detailed language in teacher contracts.

The Diocese’s spokesman told The Cardinal Newman Society that such steps are not intended to burden teachers, but instead serve to build up the schools’ mission by fully conveying the Catholic faith.

The revised language, “while not adding any new requirements or creating any new burdens on our teachers, spells out clearly the most prominent areas in which the Church’s teachings often conflict with views that have gained a significant level of acceptance in our current secular society,” spokesman Robert Tayek told the Newman Society.

The language was included in the contracts “to more accurately reflect the role of the educator in the faith formation of the students in our schools,” Tayek explained.

The same sort of provisions describing the moral responsibilities of teachers in Catholic schools ignited significant controversy in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Recently, a petition was drawn up by dissenting Catholics calling for Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s removal, due to his usage of so-called “divisive” and “mean-spirited” language in the Archdiocese’s teacher contracts.

In Cleveland, there has not been that sort of opposition, but significant media attention has been given to the contract’s stipulation that participating in behaviors contrary to Church teaching can result in termination of employment. Such behaviors include participation in or public support of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, surrogate parenthood, direct sterilization or same-sex marriage.

The actual contract wording, provided by Tayek, specifies that faculty members—or Teacher-Ministers—are expected to understand and acknowledge “that the Roman Catholic Church views the primary purpose of a Catholic school as a means of building up the Kingdom of God through the holistic and authentically Catholic formation of each student and that such development can only truly be fostered in a wholly Catholic environment.”

The contract stresses the importance of abiding by Church teaching, so that teachers will be “truly and in a very real sense engaged in a special ministry, or apostolate, of the Roman Catholic Church” and will “bear witness to Christ in their lives as much as in their classroom instruction.”

Last year, as reported on Cleveland.com, the Diocese made these same changes in contracts for elementary school teachers. According to a Diocesan statement:

Our teacher contracts have for quite a long time required that teachers be models of the Catholic Faith, because we recognize the great influence our teachers have on the Faith formation of our students, not only by how they teach in the classroom but also by how they live their lives. We recognize that now, more than ever, the secular culture is offering a view of life and humanity that is often at odds with Christ’s truth as presented through the Catholic Church.

Yet the importance of teachers ministering and evangelizing to their students has always been clearly presented in Church documents.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops laid out the significance of evangelizing in Catholic schools in thedocument Renewing Christian Witness: Reflections on Catholic Schools as Instruments of the New Evangelization. Catholic schools are “instruments of grace, sacred places where the Gospel comes alive daily—and where children and families encounter (and, not infrequently, re-engage) the faith,” the document explained.

“The preparation and ongoing formation of new administrators and teachers is vital if our schools are to remain truly Catholic in all aspects of school life,” the Congregation for Catholic Education stipulated in the document Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful. Additionally, “Catholic school personnel should be grounded in a faith-based Catholic culture, have strong bonds to Christ and the Church, and be witnesses to the faith in both their words and actions.”

And according to Gravissimum Educationis, the Vatican declaration on Christian education, teachers must recognize “that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs” and therefore should be “very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with the findings of the contemporary world.”

Jamie Arthur, manager of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll, said that a Catholic school necessarily “participates in the Church’s mission of evangelization” and “through Catholic education, teachers have the all-important role to model themselves with Christ, the Master Teacher. The transmission of our faith, culture, and Catholicity is dependent on these men and women.”

Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland emphasized this calling in his statement on his teacher contracts:

[I]t is clear that the effectiveness of a Catholic school in fulfilling its mission is not simply dependent upon the quality of the religious curriculum utilized or the religious instruction or catechesis that occurs there.  Instead, a Catholic school succeeds in its mission only if every aspect of the school is inspired and guided by the Gospel and only if instruction across the entire spectrum of studies is authentically Catholic.

“[Y]ou are engaging a beautiful and uniquely important vocation and ministry of the Catholic Church,” Bishop Lennon exhorted, adding that teachers “are instrumental in the development of each and every student as a whole and authentically Catholic person.”