Paul Brinker holds a sign supporting Richard Hague’s refusal to sign the new contract for Catholic teachers. Photo by Aimie Willhoite.
Teacher refuses to sign ‘morality clause’
By Gregory Flannery
One measure of Richard Hague’s dedication to his students is the fact that he didn’t attend a rally in his honor May 22; he was busy teaching.
In fact he asked that the rally not be held at Purcell Marian High School, where he taught literature and writing for 45 years. The rally would distract students from exams, he told friends and supporters. At his request, the rally was held outside the downtown offices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
A better measure of Hague’s dedication was the number of former students and allies who stood for hours honoring his work and calling on the archdiocese to make it possible for him to continue.
Jason Brown, who organized the rally, attended Purcell Marian for three years.
“I’m here to support my hero, mentor and friend, Richard Hague,” Brown said. “Dick Hague was the most compassionate, loving and caring man I encountered in a long time. He taught me never to be silent – and to stand up for what you believe. We are standing up for what’s right. He taught us well.”
‘A witch hunt’
Hague, who declined to be interviewed, has refused to sign a controversial new contract containing what critics call a “morality clause.” The contract requires teachers to refrain from publicly supporting or engaging in “a homosexual lifestyle,” sex outside marriage, artificial fertilization and other conduct that violates Catholic teaching.
In a letter of resignation, Hague said signing the contract would betray the gay students, teachers and professors to whom he has ministered during his career. Moreover, he wrote, the list of prohibitions is hypocritical, coming from an archdiocese convicted of crimes against children.
“The explicit spelling out of this list of mostly sexual ‘thou shalt nots,’ coming from an institution whose former Cincinnati leader has pleaded guilty to covering up the sexual abuse of children, is so hypocritical as to beggar belief,” Hague wrote.
Author Michael Henson told the May 22 rally that Hague’s assessment was on target.
“People who are unwilling to protect children from their own ranks are now trying to protect us from people who think too freely, who love too freely, who love people instead of rules,” Henson said.
One of Hague’s former students, Laura Luehrmann, a professor at Wright State University, told the small crowd that his resignation is more than the loss of one talented teacher.
“The moral edifice of the church is falling like a house of cards,” she said. “One of my most talented teachers is stepping away from a job that he is a master at, years before he should.”
Hague, chair of the English Department at Purcell Marian, had been named Teacher of the Year. He is the author of 15 books, including one nominated for the National Book Award, and was a contributor to Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS.
Pam Korte, a professor at the College of Mount Saint Joseph and Hague’s wife, attended the rally. She explained her husband’s decision to stay out of the spotlight.
“He said, ‘It’s time to let the students do what we taught them to do.’ If they really got an education from Dick Hague, they know what they’re supposed to do,” Korte said. “They know they’re supposed to stand up for the marginalized. They know to stand up for what’s right.
“This contract allows for a witch hunt. On so many issues, it’s just really wrong. It leaves students unprotected because teachers can’t advocate for them. They can be subjected to bullying. Their bedroom lives are part of a labor contract.”
Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on Hague or the rally, saying it is a personnel matter. But he denied Korte’s assertion that the new contract will lead to the bullying of gay Catholic students.
“The strong anti-bullying policies of our schools specifically mention sexual orientation as something for which students are not to be bullied, and teachers are expected to enforce those anti-bullying policies,” Andriacco’s statement said. “Our schools are built upon Christian principles of love, respect, and dignity. Bullying and teasing based upon any criteria are contrary to our mission and are not tolerated.”
‘Nobody can find out’
Although much of the criticism of the contract focuses on its list of prohibited sexual conduct, Hague and his supporters also see it as an attack on labor rights. The contract uses the term “teacher/minister,” effectively making lay teachers ineligible for protection from discrimination based on religion – and for collective bargaining.
In his letter, Hague cited efforts by the archdiocese in the early 1970s to prevent teachers at Catholic schools from forming a union.
“That legal maneuvering to avoid the Catholic Church’s own teaching on social justice and the rights of workers to organize was only the first example of the archdiocese’s cold abortion of what should have been warm and loving negotiations,” Hague wrote. “And now we have this contract, which could never have been thrust upon us had we been able to organize to protect our own dignity as workers back then.”
Korte, who said teachers at Catholic schools earn an average $10,000 less per year than teachers at public schools, described the new contract as a cynical ploy.
“This isn’t really about Catholic doctrine,” she says. “This is a subversion of U.S. labor law.”
Jennifer Teleha of Dayton, a representative of the new Southwest Ohio Catholic Educators Association (S.W.O.C.E.A.), distributed literature at the rally. She is a former teacher at a Catholic elementary school.
“We are not protected under the National Labor Relations Board because we are a religious organization,” she said. “We are protected under the social-justice teaching of the church. We need to protect not just ourselves but the archdiocese. When you have a process such as a union or an association, dialogue becomes civil. Sitting down at a negotiating table, there’s a prescribed set of rules. Nobody has the upper hand or the final word.”
Perhaps underscoring a climate of fear among teachers at Catholic schools, Teleha assured people that membership in S.W.O.C.E.A. is confidential.
“Nobody can find out,” she said.
Teachers at two schools in Dayton have formed associations under S.W.O.C.E.A., according to Teleha, but she declined to name them.
“It’s confidential,” she said.
Luehrmann told the rally she belongs to the church of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador while saying Mass and calling for an end to the U.S.-backed military dictatorship; and the late Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement.
“I’m afraid my two young boys are going to fall away from a church that has so much good to offer,” she said.
At one point several demonstrators entered the archdiocesan offices and asked to speak to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. They were rebuffed.
Reporters for National Public Radio and CNN were among media at the rally. No one from the Catholic Telegraph, the archdiocesan monthly newspaper, crossed the street to cover the event.
The June edition of the paper did, however, feature a letter from Schnurr, urging Catholics to participate in Fortnight for Freedom by posting yard signs saying, “Preserve Religious Freedom.”
Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese, said very few teachers have refused to sign the new contract.
“We are aware of nine teachers who have declined to sign the contract because of concerns about the moral conduct clause,” he said. “There may be more, but that’s what our schools have reported to us. If that’s the total, that would be one-third of 1 percent of the 2,800 teachers covered by the contract.”
One of Hague’s friends, Vickie Cimprich, told the rally that the small number doesn’t necessarily represent support for the contract.
“I fully support Dick and his family on this principled decision not to sign the contract, but I also support archdiocesan employees who share Dick’s principles but are going to continue in hidden ways to teach Catholic morality in the spirit of Pope Francis, who said, ‘Who am I to judge gay people?’ Leave the church?” she said. “We are the church.”