Canada

The casting of the first stone

Susan Riley June 30 1980
Canada

The casting of the first stone

Susan Riley June 30 1980

The casting of the first stone

Ontario

The hour was late and the meeting had been long and arduous, so the Carleton separate school board trustees could be forgiven for temporarily setting aside one of the most sensitive items to cross their agenda in ages. After all, it is an issue that has frustrated Catholic boards across the country: how to ensure Catholic

teachers are Catholic in more than name. The policy put before the Carleton Roman Catholic School Board last week was intended, simply, to end flagrant displays of “non-Catholic behavior” by teachers in their professional and private lives. But the result, say some of the board’s 1,000 teachers, could be a witch-hunt. “Where will it end?” asks teacher Alain Lamoureux. “Are they going to want to know who is on the pill and who isn’t?”

In fact, the policy being considered by the Carleton board for its 52 schools ringing metropolitan Ottawa isn’t that specific. If passed later this summer, newly hired teachers would have to provide a letter from their parish priests attesting to their religious devotion.

Teachers already on staff would be “encouraged” to live their private lives according to Catholic dogma and, as taxpayers, to support the separate-school system where possible. But behind the polite language is old-fashioned disapproval of teachers who divorce, marry outside the Catholic Church, live “in sin” or—and perhaps most importantly—do any of those things boldly and publicly. Carleton trustee Yvonne O’Neill says the board realizes social mores have “loosened” and that teachers, like everyone, are questioning traditional values. But the policy is aimed at those “who are having more than a normal struggle of faith; people who don’t want help or don’t want to be part of the system. Certainly no witchhunt is intended.”

The thorny problem of ensuring the “Catholicity” of teachers is a direct consequence of the near disappearance of the priests and nuns who once staffed Catholic schools.* In the late 1960s, when teachers were scarce, “almost anyone who said he was Catholic and could show a teaching certificate” was hired, says Father Pat Fogarty, executive secretary of the Federation of Catholic Education Associations of Ontario. Now, with jobs scarce and teachers plentiful, boards are tightening standards. The most celebrated crackdown occurred 5 xk years ago when the Essex County Roman Catholic Separate School Board fired two women teachers for marrying outside the Catholic Church. The teachers appealed to the Ontario Supreme Court and lost because of a judicial interpretation of the British North America Act allowing Catholic boards to recruit Catholic teachers.

The underlying problem, of course, is what exactly constitutes “Catholic.” Is it someone who attends mass weekly, someone who lives sin-free? And Carleton teachers, in whispered conver-

*For example, 5k per cent of separate-school teaching staff in Metropolitan Toronto had religious training in 1966, only 17 per cent in 1979.

sations in lunchrooms, express resentment that, while their personal lives might be subject to scrutiny, no one is checking the bedroom or barroom behavior of trustees or school administrators.

But even church officialdom is torn between compassion for individuals caught in social change and the need for moral absolutes. “We’re not interested in judging a person’s moral life, but when they do something publicly opposed to the church a board must act,” says Fogarty. But isn’t that hypocritical-objecting not so much to the behavior as to the public scandal? Fogarty disagrees: “Where the facts are indistinct, we must presume good reputation.” Then he quotes Jesus: “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Besides, he adds, provincial law and the sensitivity of teachers’ unions to the issue will prevent the outbreak of any latter-day Inquisition.

Susan Riley