Morals Clauses

(Note: This expands upon a response I originally left at Bilgrimage.)

There’s been a lot of discussion on the Catholic blogosphere on the subject of morality clauses being used against lay employees at Catholic institutions, especially if said employees are heterosexual females or some combination of LGBT. While all employees at Catholic institutions are theoretically held to the same standard of conduct, the only types of sins that these clauses seem concerned about are those of a sexual nature; to my knowledge, no one at a Catholic school or university has been sacked for gluttony or inhospitality, for example. Female employees are disproportionately targeted by these measures, since they literally carrying around the evidence of their perceived “sin” if they get pregnant out of wedlock or through IVF. LGBT employees of either sex are also vulnerable, should they chose to be open about their sexual or gender identity. In many cases, however, the school community has been sympathetic to the “sinners” point of view, leading to showdowns between the hierarchy in charge of enforcing adherence to faith and morals and the community that the school is supposed to serve.

The root of the problem is that there is confusion about what the purpose of Catholic education should be. If we go back in time to the pre-Vatican II 20th century church, we see that the point of Catholic education was to provide a low-cost alternative to public schools so Catholic children wouldn’t be indoctrinated by the Protestant majority. This was possible because the schools were run by teaching sisters who were essentially working for free, which kept operating costs down. Consequently, the quality of Catholic education was no better and maybe a bit worse than the public schools, aside from the more expensive prep schools for the upper classes. Since each parish had a school, which served a particular neighborhood, the academic environment was almost completely monocultural, especially in Northern cities with strong ethnic neighborhoods. In such a closed environment, there was no question that everyone was in lockstep agreement on matters of faith and morals.

Today, however, Catholic schools are much more expensive due to the collapse of the teacher orders, as well as the desire among parents that the schools be college prep and of a higher quality than the public schools. There is no longer that need for Catholic schools to insulate Catholic children from the evils of the Protestant world. Indeed, it is not unusual for children from Protestant, Jewish, or atheist families to attend Catholic schools if the school in question has a good reputation for academics. Such a thing never would have happened in the pre-Vatican II era. Because the belief systems of the student body are all over the place, these morals clauses can’t be enforced without alienating many of the parents and students, as well as prospective families who may be looking into the school.

While conservotrads may be cheering these morals crackdowns, few of them would ever send their children to a Catholic schools, because they perceive that these institutions aren’t orthodox/traditional enough. Indeed, when I was going to St F, there was a desire to start a traditional Catholic school among Fr B, but the homeschooling contingent didn’t trust that their “speshul snowflakes” could be taught by outsiders without injuring their morals. The “selective clericalism” one often finds among conservotrads means that the demographic who is most likely to desire Catholic schools aren’t going to patronize them. Also, since many conservotrads believe in the Humanae Vitae litmus test for belief (e.g., having large families), they probably won’t have the money to send four + kids to private school even if they wanted to. I know that the SSPX and the SSPV both run schools in their respective enclaves, but I’m not sure how that works; my guess is that they probably have their own teaching sisters to staff them, but I have no idea.

Since these morals clauses tend to sweep up certain groups of people more than others (something even conservotrads will admit), it’s difficult to enforce them without seeming capricious, especially when so few people in the school community actually believe that the actions in question are a sin. The insular nature and the “pray, pay, obey” attitude of many Catholic communities in the pre-Vatican II made it easy to ostracize someone who went against the wishes of the church hierarchy. You can still see this type of shunning and shaming going on in fundamentalist Protestant and ultra-Orthodox Jewish institutions, neither of which pretend to have any interest in providing students with a decent secular education. The clerical abuse scandal delivered a mortal blow to the church’s moral standing, and it’s unclear if it will ever regain it. However, even before then, few American Catholics paid attention to the hierarchy on the birth control issue, so this attitude didn’t just start. Studies indicate that a majority of Catholic support same-sex marriage, and Hispanic Catholics are even more likely than white Catholics to support it. The real question these morals clauses raise is who do the bishops think are listening to them?