Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Teacher trouble back in my home town

Omaha’s V. J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School was established in 1993, eleven years after I graduated from Northwest, so I never had the opportunity to attend. (In fact, I only spent my freshman year at a Catholic high school; I graduated from a public school.) It’s a college-prep school, with a small teacher-to-student ratio (1:16); in 2012, it was one of 50 private schools to win the prestigious “Blue Ribbon School” title.

Unfortunately, Skutt is in the news for a different reason. An English teacher and the school’s speech coach, Matthew Eledge, advised the Archdiocese that he is engaged to marry his boyfriend, Elliot Dougherty. The Archiocese advised him in return that, pursuant to his contract, he would not be invited to return to Skutt.

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth ... not to mention the petitions and the endless bloviating about the Church “targeting” gay teachers.

People who complain about the Archdiocese poking its nose into its teachers’ private lives either miss or completely ignore a salient fact that shows up in most “morals clause” disputes: they arise when the teacher him/herself tells the (arch)diocese. It’s a fairly obvious rule: if you don’t want the Church to know your private business, then keep it to yourself. The Church no longer has an Inquisition; even when she did, it operated ad hoc, not on an ongoing basis (except in Spain, for reasons peculiar to that country). Teachers in adulterous relationships don’t notify the chancery of their infidelity. Contracepting teachers don’t put their estrogen prescriptions or receipts for Trojans purchases on the bishop’s desk. The Church isn’t “targeting” gay teachers; by confessing (so to speak) their violations of the morals clauses of their contracts, they consciously and willingly put bullseyes on themselves.

However, I do know of at least one case where the Church’s knowledge of the relationship came from outside sources — tattling, if you prefer. It’s one of those rules of life that hidden truths eventually come out ... usually at the worst time possible, and in the worst light possible. This brings up a second point: No one is legally required to work for the Church. If the company you work for has a moral clause in its employment contracts, then when you sign the contract, you willingly make your private life the company’s business. So it’s basic honesty and observation of one’s own best interests to not sign a contract if you can’t honestly live up to your half of the terms.

Third point: The Catholic Church’s primary mission is not the provision of a quality education, or to be a non-profit charity. The Church exists to conserve, teach, and promote a religion. The Great Commission was not, “Get out there and build thousands of schools and soup kitchens;” rather, it was, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The Church’s education and charity efforts are logical and organic extensions of that mission, but not her raison d’être.

This gives us three corollaries: 1) You should not expect the Church to hire, retain, or promote teachers who, by their words or actions, deny or misrepresent the doctrines the Church teaches. 2) You should not expect the Church or her schools to teach what you believe unless you believe what the Church believes. 3) If you don’t believe what the Church teaches, and you don’t wish your children to believe what the Church teaches, you shouldn’t send them to a Catholic school.

I realize that, for many non-Catholic parents, Catholic schools represent more-affordable alternatives to other private schools, as well as a potentially better education than public schools. (Whether any particular Catholic school does provide a better education ... well, your mileage may vary.) However, the Church’s willingness to extend opportunities to non-Catholic students doesn’t create an obligation — legal or moral — to leave off teaching the Faith.

Should children be exposed to alternate religions, or different points of view? That’s ultimately the parents’ choice, but not the Church’s obligation. Eventually, the children will go out into the world to confront these alternate points of view; I believe the Church would best suit her mission by preparing the children beforehand for these encounters, by teaching not only what the Church believes but why the Church believes it, and how to defend those beliefs on at least a “street” level.

However, Catholics have a reasonable expectation that their children will be taught the Faith before they’re taught that others disagree with it, and that they won’t be taught to deny or dispute it in the Church’s own house; the Church has no obligation, legal or social, to refute or repudiate her own doctrine. If Christians should not proselytize the children of non-Christians behind their parents’ backs — just for the record, such deceptiveness and trading on trust is wrong, even on Christian grounds — then non-Christians should not expect to be allowed to proselytize Christian children against their parents’ will. If Christians cannot teach their morality in public schools, neither should non-Christian morality be imposed upon Christian schools’ curricula.

On a personal note: Being unemployed myself, I’m sympathetic to Eledge’s upcoming unemployment; I do believe that people should be able to work, and that there should be enough jobs for everyone who is willing and able to work. But I don’t believe people are entitled to whatever job they want; nor do I believe that a right to work necessarily entails the right to work against the best interests of one’s employers, to subvert the mission and activity of that employer.

I’m sure Eledge and his supporters believe they’re taking a principled stand. I just think the stand would have been on firmer ground if Eledge had refused to sign the contract in the first place.