E. Christian Brugger, theologian and senior ethicist for the Culture of Life Foundation, has responded to recent news and controversies in California, Georgia, Montana, Washington, and elsewhere with an analysis considering the question, “Should school teachers, faculty members or school administrators be terminated if they are found guilty of grave moral misconduct in their private lives?”
That question has arisen several times recently as Catholic schools have discovered concerns with employees such as same-sex weddings and association with Planned Parenthood. Catholic dioceses have tried to codify expectations in employee contracts, including Cincinnati, Columbus, Honolulu, Oakland and Santa Rosa.
Brugger’s analysis is the first of a collaborative series of studies published by The Cardinal Newman Society and the Culture of Life Foundation on moral issues in Catholic education policy. In addition to serving as a senior fellow and director of the fellows program at the Foundation, Brugger is the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Professor of Moral Theology at St.John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo.
In his paper, “Catholic Schools, Firing Policies and Teacher Misconduct,” Brugger recognizes that:
Because each Catholic school has elements unique to itself—mission statements, constituencies, financial needs—and each employment situation is unique, and the circumstances surrounding each instance of misconduct is unique, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to this question. But certain consistent principles can be considered and practical measures taken to assist schools in responding well to the problem of employee misconduct. This essay discusses both.
He notes that:
Making a good decision means not only being realistic about unintentional harms, but assessing whether or not tolerating (but not intending) one or more of them might either violate some moral duty or bean obligation in virtue of some other duty. Public relations (PR) concerns are often foremost on the minds of school authorities, and they are certainly not irrelevant. But they are by no means the only—and usually not the most important—concerns, the foremost of which are a true concern to avoid scandal and to maintain the integrity of a school’s Christian witness.
Professor Brugger not only steps through the theological and philosophical complexities involved in terminating an employee, but also analyzes the sound hiring practices necessary to reaffirming a school’s Catholic identity.
He writes that the two moral necessities for dealing with suspected instances of grave misconduct are “due diligence” and “moral certitude.” The first priority is to establish “beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not the suspicion is true.” Also, the assumption of innocence should be presumed “until evidence proves otherwise.”
The paper also discusses confidentiality, potential harmful effects of terminating or not terminating an employee and other morally relevant questions.
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