Following a recent demand by the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese that all teachers under its jurisdiction sign a "morals addendum" to their contract, some teachers at St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma say they are struggling with what they see as discriminatory language contained in the document, and worries about the community's resulting perception of their institution.
"Even the teachers that I consider to be the most devout Catholics are uncomfortable with this addendum," said a St. Vincent High School teacher who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
The addendum requires teachers to believe, among other things, that contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia are "modern errors" that "gravely offend human dignity."
According to the teacher who spoke to the Argus-Courier, the addendum is not asking teachers to change curriculum in their classrooms. Instead, many teachers feel the document is forcing teachers who may not share traditional Catholic beliefs, to now adopt these teachings as their own.
"All that matters is that we're setting a good example for our students," the teacher said. "Typically, there is a widespread belief that teachers in Catholic schools can (personally) disagree with the church, but still teach its ideals. But what the Diocese has outlined in this addendum would end that."
When teachers at St. Vincent's first heard that Bishop Robert Vasa was planning to require teachers to sign a morals addendum, faculty at St. Vincent's came up with an alternative document they felt would adequately uphold the school's inclusive environment. They hoped that the Bishop would use their document as the morals addendum to their contract instead. An excerpt from the document reads:
"We accept and promote Catholic moral values and we agree to uphold the Gospel spirit of peace, brotherhood, love, patience and respect for others &#8230;We accept our responsibility to create an environment for our students and their families that reflects the virtues of love, respect, compassion, stewardship and humility, with the goal of fostering a school community that is &#8230; a model of Jesus' instruction to act as witnesses for his message."
According to teachers at St. Vincent's, their message is at odds with the Diocese addendum.
"Our document gives you the sense of what we see our school as being all about, as opposed to what someone in an office sees us as needing to be about," said the St. Vincent teacher. "Our primary motivation of how we should behave toward our students is to follow the model of Jesus and many (teachers) here don't believe that Jesus would call out people for being different. He would embrace them."
Part of the challenge comes from the fact that a larger number of teachers in Catholic schools are not members of the church, the result of fewer trained Catholic teachers to draw from. Today, the Diocese estimates that 25 percent of its teachers are not Catholic.
Bishop Vasa said Tuesday that being a good teacher and following the rules of Catholic dogma are not mutually exclusive. "Many think that either we are an institute of academic excellence or we are a faithful catholic institute," said Vasa. "The past has proven though, that we can be, and have been, both."
Vasa said that realistically, the addendum is not meant to do anything other than remind Catholic teachers what their religion calls them to believe. He said that teachers could conceivably sign the document without believing what it said, and the Diocese would not know. "If someone signs this without believing what's in it, I'll never know and their students would never know," said Vasa. "But I'm hoping that it would at least twinge their conscience a bit."