CINCINNATI -- When the Archdiocese of Cincinnati introduced its new teacher contract, which prohibits participating in and supporting things such as gay lifestyles and out of wedlock sexual relationships, teachers spoke out.
And now a local group is fighting back.
The contract, introduced in March, made waves after clauses were added threatening termination if certain offenses occurred.
“Such conduct or lifestyle that is in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals includes, but is not limited to, improper use of social media/communication, public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle, public support of or use of abortion, public support of or use of surrogate mother, public support of or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, public membership in organization whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals, and/or flagrant deceit or dishonesty.”
The Greater Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful, a national and international lay Catholic movement organized in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, is the organization behind 12 new billboards set up across Cincinnati that pose the question, "Would Pope Francis sign the new Catholic teacher contract?"
The Voice of the Faithful put $5,000 behind their billboards to beg the question of the Pope's signature. Chris Schroder of Voice of the Faithful feels the signs help defend teachers.
"(The billboards) give a voice to the people - the real church who are not allowed to discuss issues," Schroder said. "There’s no letters to the editor in our Catholic Telegraph so there is no way of getting information out to people to let them know what is happening to the schools."
He believes teachers deserve to be heard.
"We are the Catholic Church, that’s the big issue," Schroder said. "We are the church, so to say that the church says this ... that’s the hierarchy speaking but not the people."
If teachers are able to voice their concerns, he feels it would relieve intimidation and pressure they may be feeling.
"That does not seem like an open Christian kind of church." Schroder said.
Dan Andriacco, the archdioceses' spokesman, believes Pope Francis would sign the contract if he were seeking to be a teacher. He finds it impossible the Pope would disagree with it, he told WCPO reporter Amy Wadas.
Andriacco told WCPO in March that what’s now listed in the contract isn’t so much new as it is further spelled out for clarification.
“We’ve had a moral conduct clause in our contract for years," Andriacco said. "It’s become apparent to us that some teachers didn’t fully understand what that meant. The new languages makes the clause more explicit by giving some examples of conduct that is unacceptable as being contrary to Catholic teaching. We think that’s fairer to the teachers and a help to them.”
But not everyone thinks it's "fairer to the teachers."
Molly Shumate has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Hamilton County for 14 years. She has a gay son and refuses to sign a contract that says she can't publicly support a homosexual lifestyle.
"I would never initial next to a statement saying that I will not support my son who in my eyes my God made perfectly. I will not do that," Shumate said.
Shumate wants the word spread about the new billboards so those outside the Catholic community know what's happening.
Dr. Jim Rigg is the director of educational services and superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese. He hasn't seen the billboards, but he doesn't understand their point.
"I think it is unusual that what seems to be an organized group of people would go to the time and trouble and expense of purchasing billboards and putting them around the city," Rigg told WCPO's Julie O'Neill.
He stands by the archdiocese's decision to revise the teacher contract, even though some teachers have protested with arguments that the contract unfairly defines them as ministers.
Rigg said although he can't speak of one specific person, he hopes all teachers realize that the expectations outlined in the contract are the same as they were in past years. If a teacher has a homosexual family member, he believes signing the contract doesn't change their relationship.
"I’m somebody who has somebody in my family who I am close to who is gay and I don’t feel like there is a conflict between signing the contract and living out the ministry that I am called to and continuing to love my relative," Rigg said. "What the teacher - minister contract simply asks our teachers to do is make certain that they don’t represent teachings
that contradict the church and their work with our children or in their public witness. It doesn’t say that they have to sever any relationships of love compassion or support for people amongst their family and friends."
Rigg encourages teachers to be careful, especially in the public eye.
"I think teachers at all schools, public, private catholic, etcetera have to be careful when they are in public to make sure that they represent themselves and their schools and school districts and diocese in a way that does not reflect negatively upon them," he said. "They have to use their best judgment as to whether their presence publicly supports a stance that is at odds with the Catholic Church."