Students’ Resistance to Archbishop Cordileone Exemplifies Best of Catholic Education

Students lead vigilers in song and silence on Ash Wednesday

In San Francisco, hundreds of Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to protest the morality clauses for school teachers that the archdiocese has added recently. Singing and praying outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, the group held a candlelight vigil after sunset.

Students led this second major rally, organizing under the hashtag #TeachAcceptance, and were joined by parents, church workers, concerned Catholics, local teachers’ unions, and others.

Bay Area Catholics and their allies are persisting in their demands for justice following the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s announcement of new morality clauses in teaching contracts  that prohibit, among other items, public support of LGBT people.

Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the new clause is available here.

One of the latest rally’s organizers, high school senior Mairead Ahlbach, told the National Catholic Reporter that students were:

” ‘learning and living the Catholic values of acceptance and love…We hope the archbishop hears this. [Jesus] would be here next to us.’ “

During intercessions, other students prayed for teachers, parents, those who are marginalized, and an openness of heart for Archbishop Cordileone. 14-year-old Hannan Regan told The Huffington Post:

” ‘The message we’re trying to get across is that we support all of our teachers, no matter their gender, sexuality, religion or race…The majority of students are very concerned about our teachers and all we want to do is show our love and support.’ “

Parents echoed those sentiments, including Vincent Campasano, a married gay man with a son in one of the affected Catholic high schools, who said the clause instills a “sense of fear.” He continued:

” ‘We object to this type of language. We are afraid we are going to lose teachers, good teachers, some of the best in the world, because of that fear that I mentioned earlier.’ “

Students rallying for #TeachAcceptance

Teachers and parents expressed concern for students when these new policies are implemented, especially LGBT youth. Veteran teacher Jim McGarry, who taught in area Catholic schools for over 25 years, said the archbishop’s decision may force LGBT youth to remain closeted and doubt their dignity and worth:

“At the same time, McGarry said he believes the vast majority of students ‘cannot and will not turn their backs’ on their gay peers. Students are very aware of the violence to which their LGBT friends can be exposed, he said, and many ‘have seen gay friends of theirs beaten up.’

” ‘The church needs to be “putting its arms around, providing extra layers of protection’ for the gay community, not turning its backs on them as he feels the new handbook statements could encourage, he said.”

Local clergy have privately and publicly questioned the wisdom of this new morality clauses as well. Fr. David Ghiorso said to the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘This is a wonderful church in the archdiocese…[but] I struggle with understanding what is transpiring…We can be so much better than what is happening presently in this local church.’ “

The action on Ash Wednesday follows a previous rally of more than 200 people at the cathedral. Bay Area Catholics are promising more actions in coming weeks. A online petition has gathered more than 6,300 signatures. You can sign it here.

Archbishop Cordileone added to the already tense controversy in his response to a letter from Bay Area lawmakers who asked the archbishop to remove the morality clauses which they called “discriminatory and divisive.” According to Crux, The eight state legislators represent in those areas where Catholic schools will be affected. In his response, Cordileone defended the right to fire church workers by asking legislators:

” ‘Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those you stand for, and who shows disrespect for you and the Democratic Party in general?’ “

The National Catholic Reporter  added that the archbishop claimed the legislators’ view was a misunderstanding.

Cordileone’s explanation only fanned the flames, however, according to SF Gate columnist C.W. Nevius:

“Here’s the concern the teachers have. What if a high school student comes to one of them in confidence and says he or she is having questions about their sexuality. That they think they may be gay and are worried about how to handle it in their life.

“What should the teacher say, that homosexuality is a mortal sin? That they must never think of a lasting, loving relationship? That marriage is out of the question? Because that’s Cordileone’s party line.

“And if the teacher should cave in and counsel the student with some actual sympathetic advice, tell him or her that it may be difficult but a normal part of human existence, what would the consequence be? Because it sounds, from Cordileone’s letter, that the teacher would be fired.”

Further actions on this controversy are coming from organized labor. They are concerned about Archbishop Cordileone’s suggestion that educators in Catholic schools would be designated as “ministers” and deprived of employment non-discrimination rights.

Cordileone addressed the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers Local 2240 in early February, but according to the National Catholic Reporter few faculty members were appeased. Union representatives are presently in contract negotiations and though the archbishop signaled he was flexible on the ministerial designation, no positive steps have been announced in the weeks since.

The California Federation of Teachers expressed its support for the local union and concern for the archbishop’s actions in a February 13th statement, saying the autonomy of religious institutions should be respected but “those views must be questioned and confronted when they fundamentally violate the constitutional rights of individuals who work in these schools.”

At the same time as the debate about the new morality clause intensifies, a related controversy shows the potential impact new teaching contracts could have. Elementary students at The Star of the Sea School received an examination of conscience pamphlet from the parish’s priest (the same priest who made headlines for banning female altar servers) asking them about their sexuality, including topics like masturbation, sodomy, and sterilization.  Many students, no older than 10 or 11, were mystified. Columnist C.W. Nevius connected this bizarre incident with the teaching contracts:

“And [Cordileone] doesn’t think that has a chilling effect on the teachers? Or that when teachers at Star of the Sea, a Catholic school in the Richmond, had grave reservations about a pamphlet including some questions about sex that was given to students they supposed to keep silent and let students read a document that was clearly inappropriate?…

“The fact is the teachers were right about that pamphlet in the first place. And they shouldn’t have to check their conscience at the door when counseling students — even (gasp!) if some of them turn out to be gay. It’s unfair, unethical and a misrepresentation of a religion that celebrates a loving, accepting God.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to scrutinize church workers’ lives according to a narrow understanding of Catholic identity and Christian faith is deeply troubling and an unfortunate move for the archdiocese. However, the witness of students and teachers to resist discrimination and exclusion is a clear indication that the church–the People of God–are far more adherent to the Gospel and willing to struggle for LGBT justice.

To lend your support, connect with the #TeachAcceptance movement on Facebook, Twitter, or the online petition. You can also sign up online to volunteer through the Google form here.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equal rights made public since 2008 here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

4 Responses to Students’ Resistance to Archbishop Cordileone Exemplifies Best of Catholic Education

  1. Cordileone is known as a homophobe and was sent by John Paul II to one of the most homosexual towns in the universe. This is the Vaticans show of discipline to San Francisco though Gods plan may be that just the opposite will happen.. Nothing better than a good challenge to bring about change. Hooray for Love. That is what God wants. Love everyone. No gender barriers.

  2. Anton says:

    Cordileone (and other bishops) is acting like Henry VIII and his “Oath of royal supremacy (1534). Catholics in England resisted Henry and I’m glad to see that people in San Francisco are also resisting Seems the archbishop is using a tactic that was once decried as “unfair” in the church. I guess it’s no longer a sin to be bigoted. “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what the hell they’re doing!” Thank you, Jesus!

  3. Friends says:

    The bottom line is that today’s Catholic young people are having none of Cordileone’s arrogant and misguided nonsense, and (apparently and thankfully) neither are most of their parents. When an Archbishop makes himself a “Sovereign Committee Of One”, while some 80% of the affected practicing and professing Catholics in the school system conscientiously disagree with his imperial dictates, it’s not hard to see where the Holy Spirit is manifesting the Authentic Presence of God!

  4. […] teaching regarding sexuality (including LGBT issues), be added to the publication.  A number of protests by teachers, parents, and students have […]

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