Friday, May 30, 2014

Oakland bishop softens on controversial morality clause in Catholic teacher contract

Joe Garofoli
SF Gate
May 28, 2014

Oakland Bishop Michael Barber is reconsidering the controversial morality clause he ordered to be inserted into the contracts of Catholic school educators in the East Bay this year. Several teachers did not sign the contract because of a new clause, which said educators must obey Catholic teachings in their private, as well as professional lives. Roughly 20 percent of the diocese’s teachers are not Catholic.
But after a meeting Tuesday afternoon with teachers and administrators at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, where the outcry has been most prominent, Barber “has committed to readjusting the contract language for the 2015-16 academic year,” according to an account from both O’Dowd administrators and teachers.

But that might be overstating things, diocese spokesman Mike Brown told The Chronicle when informed of the characterization of the meeting.

“‘Commitment to readjusting’ the contract language is way too strong,” Brown said. He emphasized that while the bishop found the meeting to be “very positive,” changing the contract language for next year is “a good possibility, but there is no commitment.”

UPDATE: After reading this blog, Barber called Bishop O’Dowd president Steve Phelps Thursday morning to reaffirm that he is “committed to readjusting the contract language,” according to a note that Phelps sent to O’Dowd staff and family. Barber told Phelps that his spokesman’s statement was made “without the Bishop’s knowledge.”

According to Phelps’ note:

Last night a story appeared in the SFGate blog that could be interpreted as lessening the Bishop’s commitment to readjusting the 2015-16 contract language. The Bishop called me this morning to say that the statement made by Diocesan spokesperson Mike Brown is not correct and was made without the Bishop’s knowledge.

He did not direct Mr. Brown to make that statement, and wanted me to assure you that that he is committed to readjusting the contract language as was discussed in our meeting with him and outlined in our Tuesday afternoon e-mail to you. He will also have Mr. Brown issue a statement to this effect and we will forward that to you.

UPDATE No.2: In a statement Thursday, the Bishop said:

“I’m very happy that both the O’Dowd and De La Salle faculty invited me to meet with them. The meeting at O’Dowd was a very positive experience for me. We had a rich discussion of their concerns and I came out of that meeting understanding that we are working together. I heard their concerns and believe they understand both my intent and goodwill for them as teachers in our Catholic schools. “I am committed to further clarifying my meaning for all of our Catholic school teachers. I also committed to collaborating further in making decisions about any related language in our 2015-16 teachers’ contracts.

“Most importantly, I came away from the discussion very pleased with our strengthened commitment to the mission and ministry of Catholic education.”

At the meeting with O’Dowd staffers, Barber did not mention bringing back teachers who refused to sign their contract.

Next week, Barber will meet with staff from DeLaSalle High School in Concord, “perhaps about this and other issues,” Brown said. After that meeting, Barber may make a general statement explaining his reasoning — again — for suggesting the language change. And then, before next year’s contracts go out, “perhaps” he will adjust them, Brown said.

The tone coming from O’Dowd administrators — who are facing parents withholding contributions and a demonstration Friday at the school in support of teachers — was decidedly more positive Wednesday.

Here is what O’Dowd administrators said, according to a note sent to O’Dowd parents and community members Wednesday afternoon by president Steve Phelps and principal Pam Shay:

Representatives of our faculty and staff and Bishop Barber came together on May 27 to discuss our school community’s concerns regarding changed language in the Diocese of Oakland school contracts. The Bishop met with a group of concerned students that day as well.

Bishop Barber spoke openly about his rationale for changing the contract language, his view of the importance of the role of Catholic school educators in the lives of young people, and about his ongoing pastoral work that supports the full diversity of humankind.

Faculty and staff members had the opportunity to ask the Bishop questions and engaged in an open, honest exchange with him about their concerns. During this process it became evident to all present that there is a shared understanding and support of our common mission to provide a Catholic Christ-centered education.

Bishop Barber agreed to draft a statement that clarifies the intention of the new contract language, and has committed to readjusting the contract language for the 2015-16 academic year based on further discussion with leaders of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland.

The Bishop made it clear that he does not intend to monitor the private lives of teachers and staff – he simply wants them to refrain from doing anything in their private lives that results in public scandal or which could cause harm to the students. He also wants to ensure that educators present moral codes aligned with Catholic teachings.

We have faith in the Bishop’s word that he will not monitor our private lives and of his support for our shared mission.

We’d like to thank the faculty and staff representatives, as well as the students, who met with the Bishop. As soon as we receive the Bishop’s clarifying statement it will be posted on our website.

Thank you,

Steve Phelps, President

Pam Shay, Principal

An account of Tuesday’s meeting with the bishop written by teachers who attended the meeting also indicated that Barber seemed open to adjusting the contract language for next year. Here is a note that O’Dowd faculty received, which was obtained by The Chronicle:

Rather than reading from a prepared statement, the Bishop chose to speak openly about his rationale for changing the contract language and his view of the importance of the role of the educator in a Catholic school.

The members of the faculty and the staff were then able to express their concerns to the Bishop, engaging in healthy discussion. As a result, we found that we shared more common ground than we previously believed. Based on this meeting, and following additional meetings with another high school, the Bishop agreed to draft a statement that clarifies his intention behind the new contract language. The Bishop doesn’t want to invade the private lives of teachers, but is concerned that teachers not do anything in their private lives that can become an occasion for public scandal which could cause harm to the students. He also wants to ensure that educators not use their classroom to present divergent moral codes contrary to Catholic teachings.

The dialogue will continue with the Bishop and Catholic schools in the Diocese next year to readjust the contract language for the 2015-2016 academic year. We all walked away with a renewed sense of hope and trust in our shared mission of Catholic education.


Carlos Trujillo and Bonnie Sussman

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