A Look at San Francisco’s New Teacher Contract

In an August 19 press release, the Archdiocese of San Francisco announced the details of a collective bargaining agreement with its teacher’s union. The original proposal gained national attention when over 75 percent of the high school teachers signed a petition against Archbishop Cordileone’s efforts to add language to employment documents that specifically identified “hot button issues” (mostly around issues of human sexuality and reproduction) that they should not publicly contradict by word or example. Also at issue was how the private lives of teachers might impact their ability to teach in a Catholic school. Additionally, the union also objected to using the word “minister” in conjunction with their duties, as such a designation might reduce their employment protections. The Archdiocese and teacher’s union have since come to an agreement and released a new Appendix to their employment documents which reads as follows (emphasis added):

Appendix 2015-18 Collective Bargaining Agreement – Preamble Clauses on Catholic Education

WHEREAS, the Union and its members recognize the unique nature of the Archdiocesan high school system in that it is Roman Catholic, committed to provide education within the framework of Catholic principles; that Catholic teachings and precepts shall remain paramount throughout the term of this Agreement; and that nothing in the Agreement shall be construed as interfering in any way with the Superintendent’s functions and duties insofar as they are canonical; and

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

WHEREAS, the Union and its members recognize that all lay teachers covered by this Agreement shall perform all their duties as set forth in this Agreement in accordance with the doctrines and precepts of the Roman Catholic Church, and shall conduct themselves at all times during the performance of those duties in a manner in keeping with the standards of the Church; and

WHEREAS, the Parties to this agreement acknowledge that the purpose of Catholic schools is to affirm Catholic values through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to help students learn and develop their critical and moral faculties; and

WHEREAS, teachers are expected to support the purpose of our Catholic schools in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools; and

WHEREAS, the Parties acknowledge that disputes about teacher conduct on and off the job are subject to the grievance procedure to determine whether such conduct has adversely impacted the teacher’s ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools.

Supporters of faithful Catholic education will be happy to see that the Appendix states that education and all on-site duties are to be in accordance with “the doctrines and precepts of the Roman Catholic Church” and “in keeping with the standards of the Church.” This clause can be used by the Archdiocese to remove teachers who teach or lead students in a manner contrary to Church doctrines, standards and precepts. Such language is broad enough to give the Archdiocese power to remove errant teachers, however, best practice and the examples of some other dioceses suggest the benefit of clarifying that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Canon Law are critical sources of these doctrines and precepts. Unfortunately, few diocesan documents reference the Catechism and Canon Law as specific sources of Church teaching. However, not mentioning them specifically does not change that reality. It simply misses the opportunity to assist possibly misinformed Catholic school teachers where to find clarity on the Church doctrines, standards and precepts they have freely agreed to work within so as not to fall afoul of their contracts.

The Appendix also helpfully identifies the purpose of Catholic schools as being “to affirm Catholic values through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to help students learn and develop their critical and moral faculties.” This statement is fine as long as it is understood that Catholic values and moral teaching is guided by the Catechism, Canon Law, and magisterial teaching and not just local or personal interpretations of what the Church should be, do or teach, on a particular matter.

It is notable that in this section (and presumably in the employment agreement as a whole) the use of the word “minister” is removed as requested by the teachers union. This is disappointing, however the removal of the word does not result in the removal of a deep reality or eventual access to the constitutionally protected ministerial exemption process. Before the ministerial exemption was identified by the Supreme Court, so as to keep employment law from interfering between a church and those it hires to carry out its mission, the Catholic church had proclaimed in Vatican II that “it depends chiefly on them [teachers] whether the Catholic school achieves its purpose” (Gravissimum Educationis, # 8.) While the use of the word “minister” in a contract may save a few steps in defending removal of a teacher for being a poor Christian witness or a poor participant in furthering the Catholic mission of the school, such a ministerial defense is still possible and appropriate. Ministerial exemption cases have been successfully decided in the past without explicit use of the term minister. It’s what teachers do, or what they are supposed to do that matters. Teachers are primarily responsible for the mission success of a Catholic school. So while at least 25 of the nation’s dioceses, clearly identify teaching as a ministry, San Francisco’s lack of use of the term does not negate the reality or access to the legal exemption.

Finally, the Appendix states that a teacher’s personal conduct outside of school must “not adversely impact their ability to teach.” While this is a bit of a vague statement, it at least designates a “grievance procedure” to address the inevitable crises that will arise under this clause. While virtually all diocesan employment agreements have a similar clause, this is among the vaguest.

The Diocese of Galveston Houston, for example, calls on teachers “to exhibit respect at all times, through his/her individual conduct and behavior (whether on or off campus and whether on or off duty) for the Catholic-Christian ministry, beliefs, teachings, message and faith … and avoid any personal conduct or lifestyle that would be inconsistent with or contrary to [Church teaching].” More than 30 percent of the 166 dioceses Newman Society researchers examined have moved to specific lists of behaviors which might affect employment most often referencing inappropriate lifestyles or conduct and often specifically referencing issues of abortion, euthanasia, cohabitation, adultery, homosexuality and invalid marriages. The Cleveland Diocese offers perhaps the most comprehensive:

1.  Public support of positions contrary to Roman Catholic Church teaching (including, but not limited to, publically supporting abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, surrogate parenthood, direct sterilization, or so-called homosexual or same-sex marriage or unions).

2.  Procuring or assisting another in procuring an abortion.

3.  Making use of or participating in artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization, or surrogate parenthood.

4.  Preparing for or engaging in a same-sex marriage or union.

5.  Engaging in or publically supporting sexual relations outside of marriage (which shall be understood for purposed of this Agreement as being the marriage between one man and one woman.)

6.  Living with another as husband or wife without the benefit of a marriage recognized as valid by the Roman Catholic Church or cohabitating outside of marriage.

7.  Engaging in or supporting transvestitism, transgenderism, or sex reassignment.

8.  Membership in any organization that is anti-Catholic or whose philosophy is in any way contrary to the ethical or moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

9.  Indecent or lewd behavior (including, but not limited to, the unlawful use of drugs, substance abuse, or use of pornography).

10.  Serious dishonesty.

11.  Entering into a marriage with a person when one of the parties to the marriage is validly married to another person in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church (e.g., entering into a marriage if one of the parties has entered into marriage previously and has not received an annulment from the Roman Catholic Church).

The fact that the San Francisco document does not get into such detail is understandable given the tremendous confusion present on such issues in the general San Francisco area and how counter-cultural many of the doctrines, precepts, standards and morals guiding Catholic schools are to some Bay Area natives, including teachers in Catholic schools. But just because—for presumably very practical reasons—the Archdiocese has not used specific contractual language in these areas does not mean that it cannot access the legal protections which allow Catholic schools to rightfully and successfully dismiss teachers for violating them or of any other behavior putting them in violation of Canon Law 803 §2 which states that “teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life.” It just means San Francisco must go through more steps on the process to releasing teachers for “behavior which adversely effects their ability to teach.”

In other words while many other dioceses lay out explicit connections between moral behavior and teaching, the fact that San Francisco does not connect the dots in the contract, does not mean that the dots do not invariably connect.

The Church clearly and consistently teaches, (especially as more recently emphasized by Pope Francis) that by far the most effective way to teach Catholic values, the Gospel, and provide moral guidance is by sincere personal witness in one’s life. Vatican II states that, “teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher.” (Gravissimum Educationis, #8)

For example, known immoral behavior outside of school, such as being actively engaged in sexual relations (homosexual or heterosexual) outside of sacramental marriage, does indeed impact a teacher’s ability to work in a Catholic school. This is because teaches are not hired simply to just teach abstract, secular course content, but rather they are expected to help fulfill the school’s mission of leading the students to a living encounter with Christ. This is accomplished primarily by a teacher’s personal witness, integrity, prayer, and complex accompaniment of students. It happens not just via 50 minutes of content instruction, but in the hallways, the classes, the dances, the plays, etc. In other words, everything in the student’s Catholic school experience is to be permeated with the possibility of assisting the student to encounter Christ. Stated another way, behavior contrary to Catholic teaching impacts the ability to teach in a Catholic school because the teacher is not just hired to teach English, but is hired to assist in the very mission of the school which requires a lived affirmation of Catholic values so as to lead students to Christ.

In summary, the San Francisco Appendix, on its own, is not a strong document, and certainly not as strong of a document as what some other dioceses are producing to ensure clear communication and clear and strong legal defenses against off-mission employees. It is a usable document if understood in a full Catholic context. But perhaps it is the best that can be done in the current cultural climate to keep the peace and continue on a long process of evangelization in and of the Archdiocese. Catholic education did not end up in the state it is in overnight; it happened over decades, and it will take time to renew and strengthen Catholic schools. The important thing is for courageous men to begin. There is no doubt that Archbishop Cordileone has both the skills and the shepherd’s heart to keep moving his flock closer to the heart of the Church and the loving heart of our Savior dwelling therein.


  • Daniel Guernsey

    Dr. Daniel Guernsey is a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...