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Catholic school parents, faculty preparing letter to bishop on morality clause

Published: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:54 a.m.

A group of Cardinal Newman High School parents is drafting a letter to Bishop Robert Vasa urging him to extend to the teachers of their children the same exemption from a morality clause that he granted to as many as 11 teachers in Ukiah.

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Robert Vasa

PD FILE, 2012

Parents said they are worried the controversy over the requirement that teachers sign an addendum to their contracts or lose their jobs will drive away good teachers and harm recruitment efforts for next year's freshman class.

"I'm a Catholic, but to have the bishop do this is not the type of Catholicism my faith teaches me," said Lori Edgar, the parent of a Cardinal Newman senior and freshman.

Teachers have until April 15 to sign the addendum, which states that "modern errors" such as contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia are "matters that gravely offend human dignity."

The contract addendum has been distributed to the 200 educators at 11 Catholic schools who are formally employed by the bishop. These schools, which include Cardinal Newman and St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma, have about 3,100 students. Four Catholic schools in the diocese, including Justin-Siena High School in Napa, are not under the direct authority of the bishop.

Cardinal Newman faculty also are involved in drafting the letter, which will be put online using software that allows various people to work on the document, Edgar said.

Once completed, the plan is to gather signatures of support from faculty and community members, Edgar said. The goal is to have a meeting with Vasa and convince him to grant them the same one-year reprieve given to 11 teachers at Saint Mary of the Angels Catholic School, a K-8 school with 240 students.

Specifics of that decision were not available Friday. Neither Vasa nor Rev. Alvin Villaruel, the Ukiah pastor, returned calls for comment.

A Tuesday letter to St. Mary's parents disclosed that Villaruel took the faculty's concerns about the addendum to Vasa, who "offered Temporary Pastoral Accommodation" allowing teachers to remove the addendum from their contracts.

It was unclear if all teachers had been granted the exemption, or whether it would be made available only to those requesting it and under what circumstances.

Vasa, Villaruel and Superintendent John Collins attended a meeting with St. Mary's faculty Friday afternoon, but details were unavailable.

Collins, who also did not return a call for comment, has previously said teachers were "being invited to grow in an understanding and appreciation and embrace of the Catholic Faith."

One Cardinal Newman teacher said faculty members are offended that the pledge encompasses not just their words and deeds, but also their thoughts.

He said he is aware of at least one teacher who is struggling between signing something she doesn't believe or losing her job and being forced to sell her home.

"That's how divisive and ugly it's getting," the teacher said.

Teachers are hoping parents will come out strongly in support of them, forcing Vasa to consider the possible financial implications of losing teachers or students.

"We're really the biggest source of income in this diocese," the teacher said.

There is concern that Vasa is taking a step closer to implementing here a program similar to that in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, where teachers are required to take catechism classes through an organization called School of Faith.

The organization is "designed to provide doctrinal and spiritual formation for Catholic school teachers and administrators" through programs that "that stress the call to prayer, virtue, and holiness of life," according to its website.

The move is the latest evidence to some that Vasa, who took over as bishop two years ago, is seeking to impose a more conservative doctrine on a diocese that has historically been more tolerant.

Some Catholics sympathize with goal of ensuring teachers support church doctrine, but think Vasa isn't going about it the right way.

"It seem to be a very heavy handed and not really a pastoral approach to instilling a sense of faith in your teachers," said Robert Wedell, a retired police chief and former Catholic priest who lives in Sonoma. "Did Jesus have his apostles sign a loyalty oath? I don't think so, but they were willing to give their lives to him."

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater

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