Who Will Defend Catholic Education?

Recent lawsuits by teachers fired from Catholic schools are part of a growing threat to Catholic education. Our schools and colleges increasingly face harmful lawsuits, legislation, the loss of accreditation, and social rejection if they do not fall in line with ideologies that deny the nature of marriage, sexuality, even human life itself.

Catholic education is the Church’s most important means of evangelization. Is every Catholic educator and bishop prepared to defend it?

America once had arguably the world’s strongest network of Catholic education, but enrollment and Catholic identity suffered greatly in recent decades. Many Catholic schools today are easy prey for those who would hollow out Catholic education altogether. In many cases, the danger comes from within the Church.

It was four years ago, when a firestorm erupted in San Francisco, California, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone insisted that Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese publicly uphold the faith, inside and outside of the classroom. He updated teacher contracts and faculty handbooks and created a new Office of Catholic Identity Assessment. Morality language in teacher contracts came as a shock and disappointment to some teachers, but it was applauded by Catholics who value the unique mission of Catholic education.

Now more dioceses are coming under fire from their own school leaders and teachers. A teacher fired from Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina, for publicly defending abortion is suing the school, which is recognized by The Cardinal Newman Society for faithful Catholic education. The leaders of Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School have filed a canon law complaint against Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson, appealing his declaration that the school cannot call itself Catholic. Brebeuf refused to dismiss a teacher in a same-sex marriage; but nearby Cathedral High School, which properly removed a teacher for the same scandal, is now being sued by the teacher.

The Lyceum, a faithful Catholic school also recognized by the Newman Society, successfully fought back a local government threat that could have severely compromised its Catholic identity, based on false claims that Catholic teaching discriminates against people who claim same-sex attraction.

Even the federal Education Department and accrediting agencies pose dangers to Catholic colleges — especially those that are committed to orthodoxy — because of poorly devised diversity and nondiscrimination requirements.

In faithful Catholic education, there can be no compromise on the role of Catholic teachers as witnesses to the faith and the key elements that are expected in Catholic schools. Catholic schools are about the integral formation of students, and teachers play a key role in witnessing and providing a faithful example. Catholic teachers are called to prepare students for sainthood.

According to the bishops’ National Directory for Catechesis (pp. 231, 233), Catholic schools are required to “recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals.”

If the role of the Catholic teacher is so essential, then it must be protected — not only by fighting lawsuits and legislation, but by doing everything possible internally to ensure that a school or college always acts consistent with Catholic values, which is essential to asserting protection for religious freedom under the First Amendment and various federal and state laws.

A good starting place is for Catholic school leaders to review model language for “morality clauses” in teacher contracts. The Newman Society compiled examples after reviewing the policies of more than 125 dioceses.

Much can be done by lay Catholics also, to help defend and renew faithful Catholic education. When Archbishop Cordileone made strong efforts to change the direction of the schools in his diocese, he faced significant backlash but also had strong and valuable support. When a secular San Francisco newspaper put up an online poll asking if Archbishop Cordileone should be removed from his position — no doubt expecting the majority of respondents to display outrage toward the Archbishop — Catholics turned the poll overwhelmingly in favor of his efforts.

The road ahead for Catholic educators will not be easy, but Catholics everywhere should rally behind and pray for these faithful school leaders. Pray that our bishops and Catholic educators will have the fortitude to insist upon faithful Catholic education, which, when done well, is a great blessing for young people and for our Church.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Humanae Vitae Dissenters Should Not Be Teaching at Catholic Colleges

Considering the morally corrupt and hypersexualized state of our culture, it’s not that surprising that dissenters from Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae would think now is a good time to revive their tired, old, anti-Catholic push to reverse the beautiful teachings of the Church regarding human sexuality — specifically, the use of contraceptives.

What should be surprising is that the leaders of this new campaign of public dissent against Church teaching are still allowed to teach theology, ethics, philosophy, religious studies, etc. at Catholic colleges across the country.

More than two dozen professors associated with Catholic colleges are involved in the new campaign to dismantle Humanae Vitae, organized by the dissident Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. Their report arguing that contraceptives are “morally legitimate and even morally obligatory” has the backing of the United Nations and was presented at the U.N. in New York on Tuesday.

The report of the Wijngaards Institute, “On the Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” features some of the old names of the anti-Humanae Vitae movement still clinging to their dissent, and, unfortunately, still shaping young minds. Professors from Georgetown University, Fordham University, San Diego University, Duquesne University, Fairfield University, Loyola University in Chicago, Loyola University in New Orleans, and several other Catholic colleges appear among the current list of about 150 signatures.

Theologian Father Charles Curran is probably the most well-known signatory. He was one of the most notorious dissidents in Catholic higher education before the Vatican ousted him from The Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1986. These days he’s found at Southern Methodist University.

The ousting of Fr. Curran helped spark a revival of Catholic identity at CUA that continues today. In fact, on the same day the Wijngaards Institute report was released at the UN, CUA hosted an event on campus announcing the release of competing statement affirming the truths of the Church’s teaching on contraception in Humanae Vitae: “Affirmation of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality.”

This statement, composed by faithful Catholic theologians and supported by more than 500 Catholic intellectuals, outlines how contraception “is not in accord with God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.” This is what the Catholic faith teaches, and this is what we should expect is being taught to students by theology professors at Catholic colleges.

Why is it that on issues of sexuality and gender, dissent from Church teaching is still accepted and even encouraged at Catholic colleges? Would those who deny the divinity of Jesus or the Trinitarian nature of God be acceptable as Catholic theology professors? One shudders to think if the answer is “yes.”

This scandalous situation, in which far too many Catholic colleges have put themselves, directly endangers the souls of students. For any Catholic college that seeks to follow its religious mission, it makes no sense for an employer (the college) to hire and retain employees publicly opposed to the college’s mission.

These dissident Catholic theologians supporting the Wijngaards Institute report are undermining the colleges that employ them and the entire Church in the process. Their scandalous behavior echoes beyond the walls of the classroom and should concern every faithful Catholic.

It will be interesting and telling to see if any of the Catholic colleges whose professors have signed in support of the Wijngaards Institute report decide to part ways with the offenders — or take any action at all. Looking at the list of colleges, it doesn’t seem likely. But Catholic families should expect better and deserve better from these institutions, as long as they continue to claim a Catholic identity.

This article was originally published by National Catholic Register.