OAKLAND -- Catholic school teachers under the Diocese of Oakland are quitting and parents are withholding donations over new faith and morals contract language teachers at 54 schools must sign that references their private lives.
Diocese of Oakland spokesman Mike Brown said May 21 that three teachers at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland have quit over the new contract language.
O'Dowd parents and teachers plan a protest at the school Friday in the morning and later that day at the Diocese of Oakland offices.
The new contract language, authored by Diocese of Oakland Bishop Michael Barber, says that, in their "personal and professional lives," teachers must "promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals."
Parents, teachers and students upset with the new contract language worry teachers could be fired for being gay, having sex outside of marriage or even for using birth control.
Kathleen Purcell, a history teacher at Bishop O'Dowd and director of the school's career partnership program, got her contract for next year and signed it but crossed out the two new paragraphs that reference the faith and morals clause. Her contract was not accepted, and she refused to back down.
"I could have taken back what I did and said I could go along, but I can't do that," Purcell, 62, said. "My life is about advancing civil rights."
Purcell said last year she delivered a eulogy for a gay friend at her funeral that was videotaped and put on the Internet. The way she sees her teacher contract, that would not be allowed and she could be fired.
Annette Tumolo, a gay parent of an O'Dowd junior, said she is considering pulling her daughter out of the school and she may not write the $5,000 donation check she pledged to the school on top of the $15,000-a-year tuition.
"We were attracted to the school because of its inclusive and diverse nature," Tumolo said. "We want a moratorium on this new wording because the environment and the culture of the school will be damaged by it."
Barber responded to the uproar over his new contract language in a Q-and-A forum in the Diocese of Oakland newspaper, The Catholic Voice.
"I have heard it said that we are targeting teachers who might be gay," Barber said. "This is manifestly untrue. The Catholic Church treats all people, regardless of sexual orientation, as children of God. Sexual orientation does not lessen the dignity, worth or rights of any person. Pope Francis said, 'Who am I to judge?' I say the same."
He also said he has no "interest in monitoring or prosecuting personal private lives."
If that is the case, Tumolo said Barber should just take the language out of the contract.
"Good intentions are not ephemeral," Tumolo said. "He could leave tomorrow, but the language could still be in the contracts for someone else to interpret differently."
Eva Marlatt, director of academic support at O'Dowd, did not sign her contract because it represents "an unworkable dilemma forced upon us: the moral dilemma between our loyalty to a wonderful (and wonderfully diverse) school community and the demands of our personal sense of integrity and our dedication to social justice and civil rights."
She said the new language was introduced by the diocese with no dialogue on April 15 and teachers had until May 1 to sign. Brown said he hopes parents read what the bishop has said in The Catholic Voice before they make decisions on donations or enrollment for their kids.
He also had a message for teachers: "Wait to make that dramatic decision about your job until you are able to attend a proposed meeting that probably will happen (this) week with the bishop at O'Dowd. Let's not give up yet."
Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.