Catholic Identity & Legal Perspective

Catholic identity is a prominent issue among Catholic educators and the communities they serve. What makes a school Catholic? What is Catholic heritage and how is it manifested in our schools? What must we do to be, in fact, a Catholic school? What should I say if a student asks what I think about a certain issue and I don’t agree with what the Catholic Church teaches about it? Is it dishonest to support an issue you think is wrong? These questions are undoubtedly familiar to teachers in Catholic schools. Let’s look at what is required from an educator in a Catholic school from a legal perspective.

A Three-Fold Commitment

Calling an institution Catholic does not, of itself, make it so. To be Catholic, an institution must be committed (a) to the Gospel, (b) to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and (c) to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This three-fold commitment is required both when it is convenient to be committed and when it is not. If any of these three are compromised, the school is eroding its Catholic identity. To be an educator in a Catholic school is to support the school’s commitment to its Catholicity.

One’s Contractual Obligation

Teaching in a Catholic institution is not the same as having a job in business or industry.

An educator in a Catholic school—whether Catholic or not--has a primary contractual duty to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and the mission of the school. This is a serious and sacred trust entered into by the educator with parents, administration, students and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa. As educators in a diocesan, Catholic institution, teachers employed by Bishop Kelley High School are considered agents of the Church and as such must not teach or behave in a manner inconsistent with the Gospel message of the Church or its teachings.

Parents who send their children to Bishop Kelley have a right to expect that their children will be taught in fidelity with Church teaching. Educators in Catholic schools must have a clear understanding about the Church’s position and be able to articulate it without the interference of personal viewpoints. This means, for example, that if my opinion about a matter differs from what is Catholic Church teaching, I am not at liberty to share that opinion with the students in my classes, precisely because I am an agent of the Church. To speak or teach an opinion counter to the teachings of the Church is to fail in one’s primary legal obligation. Bishop Kelley provides new teacher formation programs to assist educators in clarifying issues related to Church teachings and the school’s mission.

Teaching By Example

Educators are role models for young people. This is especially true of educators in a Catholic school. What one does both inside and outside the classroom matters, as example, is a more powerful teacher than words. Educators employed by Bishop Kelley High School are required to become familiar with the specifications of their contract and to live lives and speak words consistent with church teachings. If a teacher’s behavior becomes a matter of scandal to the school or to the community it serves, the administration has a legal and moral obligation to address it. As St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach the gospel to all the world, and if necessary, use words.” Not every educator employed by Bishop Kelley High School is required to teach the content of the Catholic faith; as educators in a Catholic school, however, we may not publicly oppose it.