Recently, I have noticed an increasing amount of news reports challenging morality clauses in employment contracts for Catholic school teachers. While yet another example of a teacher breaking a morality clause popped up this spring, another one struck my eye in late 2018, a little closer to home. This latter one didn’t only challenge the moral clause of one school division, but rather the legitimacy of moral clauses altogether within the Canadian province of Alberta—encompassing several school districts. This, to me, was the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. In the States, where religious liberty is protected, churches (and religious organizations) can hire and fire whoever they want. But in Canada religious freedom is more precarious. Not only is there no equivalent to the First Amendment to protect speech, but also in Canadian (and some provincial) law, certain things connected to gender and identity are (or are becoming) enshrined as human rights. As a result, unless clarity on these topics is ramped up (and soon), it could be that these sexuality and gender rights may come to trump what we understand to be freedom of religion.
After reading about these cases (and noting who was supporting the idea that moral clauses should be axed), I began to wonder: If this push to overrule the rights of religious educational institutions caught enough momentum, where would it stop? And would it stop? With prominent Catholic personalities (including one well-known Jesuit) weighing in to seemingly support the abolition of those morality clauses (under the guise that they cause LGBTQ people to be “unjustly discriminated against”), that stopping point seems to be far off in the distance.
Maturing in Faith
First of all, to me, the idea that these terminated employees are “unjustly discriminated against” (because “straight” people allegedly aren’t terminated for publicly rejecting Church teaching) seems overly juvenile. It reminds me of how one child might try to get out of being disciplined because their older sibling is doing a similar thing. No responsible parent would cave to such manipulation. Yet this rationale is peddled by those who are not only parents but spiritual parents. This is alarming to me because the souls who are fed this message are being distracted from pursuing a greater degree of truth. Instead they are being pacified with the easy message that one’s own experiences trump objective truth, and that the Catholic Church is going to somehow “change” (as though it has the authority to over-write what God has authored, and which it merely upholds).
From Victim Mentality to the Pursuit of Holiness
Obviously, to some, those policies are seen as discriminatory against the LGBTQ community. However, in being someone who has same-sex attractions and transgender inclinations as part of my own biography, I do not see the substance of those policies to be discriminatory at all even though I can understand the objections, given that “straight” teachers fall short of Catholic teaching, too.
The main reason I do not see those policies as discriminatory is because of how my attitude toward the Church changed over time. Today I know that going through the motions of being Catholic is not evidence that a person is truly striving for virtue and holiness. Case in point: as we know from the sexual abuse scandals, many people appeared to act Catholic in public while doing some awful things in private. To help us not be deceived, however, perhaps we should not look first and foremost at behaviors, but rather at whether or not people are open to growing in the fullness of virtue. This makes sense because virtue pertains to the state of our hearts and the degree to which we open our hearts to becoming further aligned with that which God has authored. And that greatly influences how we act.
Also, if we shift our focus to virtue-based agreements, then:
- No one will be discriminated against. This is because the invitation to grow in the fullness of virtue is for everyone. When I lived apart from the Church (i.e., rejecting virtue), I learned firsthand that people who reject the Church (i.e., rejecting the invitation to grow in the fullness of virtue)—and not the Church (or Catholic schools)—are the ones who reject people.
- We gain an opportunity to actually teach about virtue. This is very important because pursuing virtue also can lead to self-mastery, which can lead to people being less apt to become slaves to their desires (at the expense of their families, culture, and state of life). However, people can only intentionally pursue virtue if they have first learned about virtue.
- We find out who rejects virtue. This matters because those who are closed to growing in the fullness of virtue will never be role models for growing in the fullness of virtue. For what do teachers do? They model. Having people reveal their refusal to grow in the fullness of virtue might be the most valuable knowledge parents will gain from the controversy since they deserve to know who is forming their children. And, sadly, there are some teachers who look for opportunities to abuse their position by sowing dissent (which, to some degree, leeches out of every person who denies the Church is true, whether they think they are sowing dissent or not).
Can Virtue Be Measured?
Obviously, we can’t “measure” virtue only from external appearances. However, a refusal to grow in the fullness of virtue can be identified and assessed. And it’s important that we talk about the fullness of virtue, lest we give people the impression that it’s perfectly fine to believe—as many do—that being virtuous in some areas gives a person permission to neglect other virtues altogether. Nonetheless, when a person takes an outward, public stand in support of some ideology that itself explicitly rejects virtue, even after authorities explain to them privately how they are rejecting virtue, then it is fair to conclude that they indeed are unwilling to grow in the fullness of virtue—even if their intention is to behave virtuously based on some secular standard of social justice.
Let me add an important caveat: We must remember that a person who refuses to grow in the fullness of virtue might present himself as holier than a person who is open to growing in the fullness of virtue but who finds it difficult to successfully live those virtues. Only God knows for sure exactly how virtuous a person really is because he knows us infinitely more than we know ourselves. But only the person who is open to growing in the fullness of virtue will ever be able to actually model an openness to growing in the fullness of virtue. And more than ever, that is the kind of modeling our world needs to see.
A Chance for Greater Honesty
If anything, a virtue-focused agreement could give teachers a chance to be completely honest with themselves and their prospective employers early in the hiring process. This opportunity would allow them to boldly preserve their own integrity by walking away from such employment opportunities on their own accord. If, however, an applicant didn’t know what virtue was, then the interview process could provide a teaching moment for the candidate to learn what Catholic schools expect from their employees—the same standards that apply to everyone. It is often the case that school employees know what the Church teaches but are under the false impression that those standards will not be enforced and that the Church will rescind her prohibitions as public attitudes change. This can be avoided in the beginning if school officials insist that Church teaching be boldly taught to their students and expect virtuous conduct from their employees.
Catholic Schools of the Future
If we don’t move towards virtue-focused employment agreements that are legally binding contracts, it is possible that Catholic schools that terminate employees over immoral conduct will lose in the courts, especially in Canada where religious liberty protections are not as strong as in the United States. Sure, some places might not lose their Catholic schools due to legal challenges, but they will be mandated to hire people who are utterly against what the Church asks us all to pursue, which is the fullness of virtue. It reminds me of how in some countries (e.g., China) the government interferes with the Church and only approves a “less than complete” version of Catholicism.
If these teacher contracts get overturned because they are thought to unjustly discriminate against teachers who violate Catholic teaching, should we anticipate a rush of people deliberately seeking employment in Catholic schools so that they can cause even more mayhem from within? Or will an outcome like this merely further a similar trajectory that began years ago? An even bigger question is how far will it go before there is a turnaround whereby a new generation of Catholics, one actually open to growing in the fullness of virtue, will take the lead? Truly, I don’t know, but I hope it is sooner rather than later because I don’t know how long the Catholic schools will stand unless such a turnaround occurs.