Catholic school teachers must be role models of faith and morality for their students to emulate, Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland, Ohio, has told teachers in his Diocese.
In a letter sent to diocesan teachers and administrators and provided to The Cardinal Newman Society by diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek, Bishop Lennon highlighted teachers’ irreplaceable role in inspiring their students to deepen their Catholic faith.
“As a teacher or administrator in a Catholic school, you are engaging a beautiful and uniquely important vocation and ministry of Christ’s Church,” his letter states. “You are instrumental in the development of each and every student as a whole and authentically Catholic person… As such, it is a great honor and privilege to play such a special and important role in the life of the Church through your ministry.”
Bishop Lennon’s statements are similar to those of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in San Francisco, who has proposed contract changes to ensure that his Catholic school teachers are witnesses to the Catholic faith. The Diocese of Cleveland also recently defined faculty members as “teacher-ministers” and added detailed language in teacher contracts to require moral behavior.
According to a Diocesan statement, these changes are necessary for students’ faith lives:
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.
Cleveland’s Catholic teachers and school leaders sign a contract “which recognizes his/her role as minister and role model of the Faith,” Tayek explained to the Newman Society. The contract agreement for administrators states:
The Administrator-minister further understands and acknowledges that it is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that administrators in a Catholic school are truly and in a very real sense engaged in a special ministry, or apostolate, of the Roman Catholic Church and that such administrators should be witness to Christ in their lives as much as in their classroom instruction.
This “morality” clause “has always been a part of the teacher-minister contracts for elementary and secondary educators in the Diocese of Cleveland,” Tayek continued.
Additionally, Diocesan guidelines dictate “essential qualifications” for teaching candidates which include that the person “be of good moral character whose lifestyle is consonant with the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Teachers are “expected to support the statement of philosophy, mission and goals adopted by the individual school,” and religion classes are taught exclusively by practicing Catholic teacher-ministers.
Bishop Lennon’s letter to teachers and administrators cites the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education’s document Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, which highlights the necessity of educators to “give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students” and to act with “the Christian attitude and behavior that is often so conspicuously absent from the secular atmosphere in which they live.”
During his time in the Cleveland diocese, Bishop Lennon has prioritized “the education of pastors and parish staffs… and the establishment of norms on models for Catholic Schools and Catechetical models for Children,” according to the Diocese’s website.