So what should editors do, if the goal is to produce accurate, fair-minded coverage on this issue?
For starters, they need to know that these fights have been raging for decades, pitting progressive Catholic educators against pro-Catechism Catholics. It would help if reporters did some homework by reading “Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church)” — that’s the urgent 1990 encyclical by Pope John Paul II on reforming Catholic education. For St. John Paul II, “reform” meant asking schools to defend the basics of the Catholic faith, in words and deeds.
Journalists also need to familiarize themselves with this U.S. Supreme Court case — Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. The key: Private religious schools and institutions have the right to take doctrinal issues into account when hiring and firing teachers and staffers.
Why? Because the professionals in these academic communities are “ministers,” in that their lives and work are linked to the doctrines affirmed in their job descriptions, contracts and/or covenants.
It’s important that reporters — the USA Today story is only one example — frequently mention this “minister” status, without explaining the Supreme Court context. This “minister” status, obviously, doesn’t mean that all teachers, staffers, etc., are ordained.