On Orlando: Why Can’t Catholic Bishops Say ‘Gay’ ?

June 15, 2016

This past week, I have been in London, England, for New Ways Ministry connections, and so I feel somewhat disconnected from the grief and anguish that folks in the U.S. are experiencing these past couple of days.  I make the qualification “somewhat” because the news of Orlando is still very much in the forefront here.  For one thing, it’s Pride Week in London, and people are gearing up for their big parade on Saturday, though this year security will be beefed-up because of the Orlando tragedy.

Londoners rally in support of Orlando’s victims and the LGBT community.

Londoners’ hearts are very sensitive to the Orlando news, not only because they have experienced political terrorism, but also because they know the pain of an attack on a gay nightclub.  On April 30, 1999, a member of a neo-Nazi organization set off a nail bomb in a Soho neighborhood gay pub, The Admiral Duncan. The bomb killed three people, one of whom was a pregnant woman.  That event galvanized the LGBT community here in London. Networking with the LGBT Catholic community in England, I’ve learned that one of the positive outcomes of the renewed resolve for equality that emerged from the 1999 tragedy was the establishment of an outreach ministry to LGBT Catholics by the Westminster diocese.

I find it very hard to read news accounts of the shooting, and I don’t even dare attempt to look at any online video. So I’ve busied myself checking out Catholic responses to this tragic event.   New Ways Ministry’s initial response noted that the Catholic bishops’ first reactions were totally unsatisfactory.  Despite the fact that almost every headline reported the event as having taken place in an LGBT venue, statements from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishop of Orlando, and several other U.S. prelates, glaringly omitted any reference to the LGBT character of this event.

Were such omissions intentional?  Did the issuers of the statements go out of their way not to mention that the victims were predominantly members of the LGBT community and that the site of the shooting was an LGBT club?   Were they all so oblivious to the prominent details of the news that they did not detect what people around the world noticed about this event?  Last night, here in London, thousands of people marched in solidarity with Orlando. Rainbow flags were everywhere.

Perhaps the Catholic bishops’ omission of LGBT references was not intentional because their eyes have become blinded.  Are they so isolated from LGBT lives that they don’t even recognize the pain of these communities when it is staring them in the face?   Are the bishops so used to seeing LGBT people as opponents that they could not muster the most basic forms of Christian charity in the face of such a horrific event?   Have LGBT issues become so politicized in the bishops’ minds that it prevents them from seeing such a basic human tragedy? Or are  they so ignorant of church teaching condemning violence against LGBT people that they simply forgot to apply this official teaching to such an obvious case?

One of the most disappointing responses came from San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.  As leader of the church in one of the most populous LGBT communities of the U.S., one hopes that he would have shown better awareness of LGBT issues. His response did not refer to the LGBT lives lost.  Instead, trying to be sensitive, the Archbishop stated that “regardless of race, religion, or personal lifestyle, we are all beloved children of God.”

“Personal lifestyle”?  His advisors should have informed him that no one uses such language to refer to the lives of LGBT people because it is inaccurate and misleading; it wrongly implies that sexual orientation is a matter of choice and a matter of sexual actions.  He should have been warned that using such a term would push people further away, instead of drawing them closer to the Church and the love of God during this time of deep need.

At the London rally to support Orlando and the LGBT community.

Cordileone’s statement shows that bishops need much better education about LGBT issues than they have.  Without the simple knowledge of basic terminology, they cannot be pastorally sensitive in a crisis of any size, let alone one of such enormous and historic proportions.  Lack of education does not make someone a bad person.   But becoming aware of this lack makes it incumbent upon a person–especially a bishop–to seek better knowledge, especially knowledge of the Church’s teaching that sexual orientation is not a choice and is not just a series of actions.

In the Catholic world, this incident will be remembered not just for the sheer horror and tragedy of lives lost, but for the fact that it highlighted that so many church leaders still have a long way to go in being aware and sensitive to even the most basic human needs of LGBT people.

Thankfully, there have been a handful of bishops whose statements have offered condolences to the LGBT community.  We reported one on Monday,  three more yesterday, and today, the latest bishop to join this small band is Bishop Gerald Barnes, of San Bernardino, California, who noted in his statement that he wanted to “make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

Finally, I am truly saddened that the hierarchy’s LGBT omissions separate them not only from the LGBT community, but also from an overwhelming majority of the laity and the wider world.  In this moment of tragedy, people are banding together to support the LGBT community in a global expression of solidarity.  Catholics, people of other faiths, and people of no faith at all are finding common ground of compassion and witness because of this tragedy.  By ignoring the important LGBT character of this unique moment in human history, the bishops are excluding themselves from the many ways that God’s beloved children are building up the reign of justice and peace, as a way to counter the forces of terror and hate.  It is truly sad that our Catholic bishops are missing out on such an opportunity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Thank the Sisters and Archbishop for Protecting the Job of Transgender Teacher

May 13, 2016

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has issued a statement which indicates that he will not oppose the Sisters of Mercy’s decision to continue to employ a transgender teacher at Mercy H.S. in that city.

The National Catholic Reporter said they received a statement from the archdiocese which said Cordileone sees that the decision is within the “legitimate range of prudential judgment.”

The newspaper quoted other sections from the archbishop’s statement:

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“In his May 12 statement, Cordileone said he was ‘grateful that leadership of the Mercy Sisters spoke to me in advance and explained their reasoning and their plan on how to address the situation. In so doing the sisters strongly affirmed our Catholic beliefs and values and that they and the school do not advocate for policies or causes that contradict these values and beliefs.’

“Cordileone continued, ‘Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one’s life. In this particular personnel matter I am thankful to the sisters for seeking a response consistent with mercy and Gospel values and the corporate identity of the school as a Catholic institution of secondary education.’ “

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry congratulated and thanked the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy H.S., and Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer (the transgender teacher) for their courage in handling this situation so justly and faithfully.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement here.

Today, we invite Bondings 2.0 readers and all New Ways Ministry supporters to send letters of support to the Sisters, the high school, and the teacher, so that they know Catholics appreciate what they have done not only for their school, but for the entire Church.  Send a copy of your letter(s) to Archbishop Cordileone so that he knows that Catholics are glad that he has not intervened in the Sisters’ faith-based decision-making process. (All addresses are listed below.)  Please consider sharing parts of your letters with other Bondings 2.0 readers by posting excerpts from what you write in the “Comments” section of this post.

In writing your letter, you may use some of the ideas from New Ways Ministry’s statement and make them your own. Write from your heart, and tell your personal reaction to this decision.  Your heart-felt and faith-filled message will be very powerful.  Short letters are very effective.  Honest, plain language will be most powerful.  Thank you!

Addresses:

Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, President
Sisters of Mercy, West-Midwest Region
7262 Mercy Road
Omaha, NE 68124
Email: sgoetzinger@mercywmw.org (assistant)

Diane Lawrence, Board Chair
Mercy High School
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: zwan@mercyhs.org (office manager)

Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer
Mercy High School English Department
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: gbodenheimer@mercyhs.org
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
Archdiocese of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109
Email: info@sfarchdiocese.org
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

San Francisco Archbishop on Caitlyn Jenner: Trans* Identities Undermine Faith

June 7, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner

San Francisco’s archbishop said trans* people threaten the Catholic faith, adding another controversy to what many see as a record which has harmed the church’s relationship with LGBT people.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone used his address at a New York gathering on traditionalist liturgy last week to comment indirectly on the Vanity Fair cover story about Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) and the national conversation now happening about gender identity. Cordileone criticized “gender ideology,” the ambiguous term used by some Catholic prelates for LGBT matters. The National Catholic Reporter quoted some of his comments:

“The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female…Yet now we have the idea gaining acceptance that biological sex and one’s personal gender identity can be at variance with each other, with more and more gender identities being invented…

“When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths…then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.”

The archbishop suggested this development was “a reversion to the paganism of old,” bringing with it “postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities or the cult of priestesses.” Cordileone predicted more gender identities would be “invented” in the future:

“Cordileone said a friend recently pointed out to him that a major university advertised housing “‘for a grand total of 14 different gender identities.’

“I’m sure even more will be invented as time goes on,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience of about 200…’Those initials keep getting longer and longer,’ he added, referring to debates over whether the LGBT acronym — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — should include other categories.”

What Archbishop Cordileone does not understand is that being born male or female is not a “clear biological fact” in many cases.  Cordileone, who heads an archdiocese with one of the world’s largest LGBT communities, needs to learn more about the people God has entrusted to his pastoral care.

Bay Area Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues for nearly six months now. They have even called for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics. San Francisco’s Catholics have criticized his recent comments on trans* people as well, reported the National Catholic Reporter:

  • Micaela Presti, alumna and parent at Marin Catholic High School: “The language the archbishop used at this conference was ill-considered, hurtful and lacking in knowledge and compassion.”
  • Jim McGarry, a retired religious studies teacher: “My first reaction is to say the name of a person, which is Gwen Araujo [a transgender teen murdered in 2002]…He’s adding to persecution of people like Gwen.”
  • Ted DeSaulnier, the former religion department chair at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco: “The transgendered [sic] youth who attend the high schools of San Francisco will have one more burden to overcome in the prejudice against them: Their very existence threatens the foundation of our Catholic faith.”
  • Fr. John Coleman, associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish: “Whatever you think about transgender issues, I find it really hard to say it is ‘a threat to the faith.”

Dan Morris-Young, in a lengthy National Catholic Reporter piece, said “conflict has marked the tenure of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone since his arrival in San Francisco in 2012.” Morris-Young described a striking difference of opinion in the city:

“The Bay Area has become an epicenter for colliding visions of what being Catholic means, the role of conscience, church teaching on sex and sexuality, the core role of Catholic schools, the understanding of revealed truth, and how authority should be exercised.

“In short, Catholic identity.”

He quoted Catholics who have been deeply troubled by the archbishop’s actions and statements. Thomas Sheehan, a Stanford University professor, says Cordileone has an “arrogant, condescending attitude, almost bullying.”

Nick Andrade, a friend and adviser to the archbishop who is also a partnered gay man says, predicted a dire future if Cordileone’s continues to insist on using harmful language about homosexuality like “gravely evil” and “intrinsically disordered”:

“…some young man is going to kill himself, and that is not what you want at all. Therapists will tell you that that is exactly what can happen, that some kid is going to kill himself because he has been told he is gravely evil.”

Toinette Eugene, a founding member of the National Office for Black Catholics, says this affects all Catholics concerned with justice and equality:

“From the perspective of the ordinary person in the pew…I think that dealing and dialoguing more directly and pastorally with the constituencies who represent the cultural, social, racial and sexual diversities of the archdiocese is a critical priority.”

Even Cordileone’s priests are troubled, according to Fr. John Coleman, S.J. of St. Ignatius Parish. They are hurt by administrative decisions like the archbishop’s decision to use conservative priests from outside the archdiocese for key positions. and at times failing to care for priests who are ill or who pass away. These and other actions have led to all time lows in morale among the archdiocesan clergy, reported NCR, with Coleman adding:

“I have never known an archbishop of San Francisco with so much public opinion, elected officials, good Catholic businessmen, school teachers and students against him — as well as such lack of support from priests.”

Thankfully, these Catholics understand what genuine faith and the Gospel look like concretely. They are advocating for a church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, “home for all.” These Catholics understand that human diversity does not undermine faith, but enriches it and all who partake in the community. They understand that LGBT acceptance and justice are integral to Christ’s call for us, and they are pushing our church towards it. Religious Studies teacher Jim McGarry writes:

“Doctrinal development matters. Discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. Persecution of homosexuals is real…If church teaching is not part of the protection of a vulnerable population, it is part of the persecution. Civil rights for gays must be understood and incorporated into the Catholic tradition — theologically, just as opposition to slavery finally was promulgated. This inclusion of civil rights in moral teaching may or may not imply other developments of doctrine on this issue, but this first, true step must be fully taken — to the point of support for civil marriage as a human right — in a world where violence against gays, lesbians and transgender people is still the norm.”

“Mercy does not mean acquiescence or procrastination. We do not condemn our opponents but we do not wait for them. We pray that they will eventually come along. The long arc of Church history suggests that they will.”

Indeed, Archbishop Cordileone’s ill-spoken gender identity comments reveal the need for LGBT advocates to invite him along on the journey towards greater affirmation and inclusion. I hope to offer one such invite to the archbishop and his peers in a Bondings 2.0 post later this week.

As a starter, I suggest that he reads these powerfully insightful essays from Janet Mock and Laverne Cox regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Nuns Who Walked Out of Catholic H.S. Need a Lesson in Gospel Reconciliation

April 24, 2015

San Francisco’s continuing saga with the intersection of LGBT issues and Catholicism took an unusual turn this week when five Dominican Sisters of Mary walked out of their classes at Marin Catholic High School, just outside the city, to protest some students’ involvement with the national Day of Silence, a campaign to show solidarity with LGBT youth who are bullied.

The walk-out happened one day after a full-page ad appeared in the city’s daily newspaper in which over 100 Catholic lay leaders called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from pastoral leadership in San Francisco.  The archbishop’s attempt to add morality clauses, a number of which referred negatively to LGBT issues,  to archdiocesan teacher handbooks has set off a movement of teachers, parents, students and other Catholics to call for the removal of such clauses, though Cordileone has remained firm.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the nuns objected to the Day of Silence campaign because it is spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which, according to one of the Sisters, they see as a group which “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

The article reported a GLSEN official’s explanation of the organization’s mission:

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group ‘actively promoted’ homosexuality in the classroom.

“ ‘We are not trying to convert anyone,’ she said. ‘We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.’

“Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.”

The nuns’ protest set off a chain-reaction of rumors and accusations, with some students saying that the nuns didn’t care about bullying (which the nuns denied) and with the nuns charging GLSEN with being anti-Catholic (which it is not). And although the involvement with the Day of Silence was an initiative started only by a group of students, some spread the false notion that it was the school as a whole who was sponsoring it and partnering with GLSEN.

When things get magnified so wildly, it is obvious that the atmosphere in this metropolitan area has become a tinderbox ready to explode.  The Chronicle reported that the school’s principal, Chris Valdez tried to diffuse the situation by sending a letter to parents which said it was “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

Valdez has her work cut out for her, as she now tries to restore a productive school atmosphere in this charged environment.  She noted that she is trying to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus.”

It seems that among the lessons that needs to be taught is one to the protesting nuns, who seemed too quick to castigate GLSEN simply because they support LGBT youth.  The nuns seemed to have jumped immediately to assuming that GLSEN, because it is pro-LGBT, has nothing in common with Catholic values.  That is a very shortsighted assessment, and one which it seems was encouraged by the volatility of the atmosphere in the Catholic community of the Bay Area right now.

Another lesson that I wish were taught in this school, and in Catholic institutions everywhere, is that it is not charitable to cut off all connection with a person or organization just because one doesn’t agree with everything the organization stands for or because of their other associations.  Jesus was himself was harshly criticized for associating with people and hanging out in places that the religious leaders did not tolerate.  Part of following Jesus is about finding common ground and the good in people we may have disagreements with–even with people we might initially think of as enemies. That’s how reconciliation occurs.  That’s how love grows.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Large Majority of S.F. Teachers Publicly Reject Archbishop Cordileone’s Handbook Changes

March 5, 2015

Students protest handbook changes outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (NY Times Photo)

80% of the teachers and staff at four Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic high schools have signed a statement to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in which they reject the changes that he has made to the teachers handbook which include an immense amount of “morality clauses” which condemn a wide variety of sexual issues, including homosexuality.

SFWeekly.com reported that the statement, which comes amid contract negotiations, declared the teachers’ reaffirmation to their

“commitment to our students and the Catholic educational mission … and the principles of respect for individual conscience, and the value placed on the diversity of our faculty, staff, and student and parent bodies.”

“We believe the recently proposed handbook language is harmful to our community and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. We believe our schools should be places of inquiry and the free exchange of ideas where all feel welcome and affirmed. Such language has no place in our handbooks. We respectfully ask Archbishop Cordileone to use the faculty handbook currently in place.”

One teacher explained the motivation behind the statement:

“Jim Jordan, an English teacher from Sacred Heart Cathedral, noted ‘As teachers, we are not only seeking to preserve a safe and vibrant community that supports education and the free exchange of ideas, but the safety and well-being of our students. This language in this judgmental context undermines the mission of Catholic education and the inclusive, diverse and welcoming community we prize at our schools. It is an attack not only on teachers’ labor and civil rights, but on young people who are discovering who they are in the world.’ ”

The San Francisco controversy is shaping up to be one of the most protracted protests in the numerous cases of diocesan morality clause additions and firing of church workers over LGBT-related issues.   Last week, Cordileone announced that he would form a committee of theology teachers from the affected schools to review the language of the additions, but a diocesan spokesperson said there would be no changes in substance, but only refinements in language to be more accommodating to ordinary readers.

In a New York Times article, one scholar noted that this situation serves as an example of a wider trend in modern Catholicism:

“Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who has written a book about American Catholics, said the situation in San Francisco reflected the flux in attitudes among people in the faith.

“ ‘The church wants people to be aware of official church teachings because they think there is confusion in the culture,’ Professor Dillon said. ‘A lot of Catholics aren’t confused. They simply ignore the church’s teachings.’ ”

The Times article carried responses to the handbook changes from a variety of different people connected to the schools:

“We pray for the archbishop that his heart is changed,” said Gus O’Sullivan, an openly gay senior at Sacred Heart who spoke at the candlelight protest.

Mr. Vezzali, the union official, who is also chairman of the English department at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, said that union members were “worried about teachers who are gay and who are not able to live publicly.”

“We want to support our gay students,” Mr. Vezzali added. “We understand we are there to carry out the church’s mission.”

Mr. Vezzali said the archbishop was “a very wise man” and added, “We feel our schools are places where we’re supposed to share the gospel of Jesus and love, no matter what.” . . .

Some critics say Archbishop Cordileone should align his priorities more closely with those of Pope Francis, who has emphasized the plight of the poor.

“We sent our kids to these schools because they uphold the fundamental principles of our faith of love, acceptance and respect,” said Kathy Curran, a mother of a Sacred Heart freshman. “This language says some people are not O.K. — and that’s not O.K.”

With such an outpouring of protest from all quarters of these schools’ communities, it will be important for Archbishop Cordileone to take the path of reconciliation and justice.  He has already met once with teachers, but the fact that so many are now protesting his proposals indicate that he must continue to dialogue and reconcile.  The community of people protesting the new rules are not just employees, not just customers of an archdiocesan service agency.  They are Catholics who are expressing their faith, and by virtue of that, they need to be listened to.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Proposed Review of San Francisco Teachers’ Handbook Brings Confusion

February 26, 2015

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has announced that its revisions to the high school teachers’ handbook will be reviewed and refined by a committee of theology teachers from the schools, but how far their recommendations will be allowed to reach is not well understood.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone proposed a long list of loyalty oaths, primarily focusing on areas of church teaching regarding sexuality (including LGBT issues), be added to the publication.  A number of protests by teachers, parents, and students have erupted.

A certain amount of confusion about what Archbishop Cordileone wants this committee to do exists, based on a conflict between what some press outlets reported and what archdiocesan statements have said.

SFGate.com reported:

“Under pressure from parents, students and staffers at the San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese’s schools, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said Tuesday that he is re-examining strict guidelines he proposed for teachers that would require them to reject homosexuality, use of contraception and other ‘evil’ behavior.”

Yet a statement from Fr. John Piderit, Archdiocesan Vicar for Administration and Moderator of the Curia, indicated that the committee would be doing much less than re-examining:

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything.  He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.  The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material.  Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

Crux reported that Cordileone is asking the committee to “recommend to me an expanded draft” and “adjust the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider leadership.”

One critical area that does seem to indicate some change from Cordileone is in regard to his proposal that teachers be classified as “ministers.”   Such a classification would exempt them from labor law protection.   The statement from Fr. Piderit indicates that there will be a revision in this language:

“With respect to the use of the word ‘ministers,’ the Archbishop only said that ‘ministers’ is no longer being considered. That is all the Archbishop said.  The word currently being used is ‘ministry.’ Nonetheless, the Archbishop did say that he would work hard to find language that satisfies two needs.  One is the need to protect the rights of the teachers in the Catholic high schools to have complaints fairly treated.  The other is the right of the Archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to their mission.  Language must be identified that meets both needs.  Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found, the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions.”

A letter Cordileone sent to teachers explaining the formation of the committee was published in Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.  In one section he encourages their participation in the process and thanks them for their concern:

“. . . [A]fter speaking with your union negotiators, I have decided to form a committee consisting of theology teachers from the four Archdiocesan high schools to recommend to me a draft which, while retaining what is already there, expands on these statements and adjusts the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider readership. I will also leave to their discretion how to include the proper wider context within which to understand these points of doctrine. . . . Each of you may approach them with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions which they can then take under consideration as they prepare their draft. It is my hope that this can all be completed prior to the beginning of the next academic year.

“After my address to you on February 6, a number of you spoke to me seeking advice on how to effectively present the Church’s teaching in a compassionate and compelling way to your students who may be struggling in these areas and perhaps even feeling rejected or unwelcomed by the Church because of them. I was moved by your sincerity and commitment. Please know that I have already begun to look into resources that we can make available to you to assist you in this most important work.”

While Cordileone’s statement to the teachers is reconciliatory, his charge to the committee seems very narrow.  Based on what they are being asked to do, the committee may or may not be able to make recommendations to substantially change the material in the handbook which many find damaging.  Moreover, the language that the archdiocese develops to describe a teacher’s “ministry” will need to be parsed theologically and legally to see what the ramifications in both areas are.

How the committee responds to its charge will be critical in determining the next step of this controversy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Controversial San Francisco handbook to be reviewed, expanded by theology teacher committee”

 


While Oakland Diocese Relaxes Teacher Contract, San Francisco Tightens Theirs

February 5, 2015

Two dioceses on either side of the San Francisco Bay have taken different approaches to morality clauses in their contracts for Catholic school teachers.  The difference highlights the fact that a detailed, micro-managed approach to employees’ lives is not necessary for a Catholic institution.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco released the “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church,” one of the most detailed and restrictive of the recent spate of “morality clause” documents which some U.S. dioceses have introduced over the past year.

Bishop Michael Barber

Just the day before, on the other side of the Bay, the Diocese of Oakland released a letter from Bishop Michael Barber to teachers, explaining the new contract revisions of  morality clause language that had been introduced last year.   and at least one principal said that the revisions are more relaxed than last year’s original.

San Francisco’s statement outlines a number of theological concepts that must be affirmed and believed by the school, including the nature of God, the efficacy of the Sacraments, redemption, and the nature of the male-only priesthood.   Additionally, the statement requires affirmation and belief in a number of moral issues including:  opposition to contraception; condemnation of homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography; upholding heterosexual marriage as the only legal option; condemnation of artificial reproductive technology and cloning.

Students in the archdiocese have responded by setting up two Twitter hashtags, #teachacceptance and #trustSFteachers, and an online petition.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

In a letter to teachers, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said:

“At the outset, I wish to state clearly and emphatically that the intention underlying this document is not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers, singly or collectively, nor does it introduce anything essentially new into the contract or the faculty handbook.”

The archdiocese also released a Q & A list related to the new material in the handbook.

Though the statement is framed as a manifesto of beliefs of the school institution, not of the individuals employed at it, the document also states:

“As effective professionals in a Catholic School setting, we all – administrators, faculty and staff – are required and expected to avoid fostering confusion among the faithful and any dilution of the schools’ primary Catholic mission. Therefore, administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith, are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths. To that end, further, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law. Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves “Catholic” but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

On the other hand, Oakland revised its 2014 statement which originally said:

“In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland.”

The new version states that teachers should:

“demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and refrain from taking a public position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

While the change here might be subtle, Catholic educators in Oakland expressed satisfaction with the new language, noting that it removed worries that the diocese would be investigating employees’ private lives.

An article on SFGate.com attempted to parse out the distinction:

“What if a teacher is part of an openly married, gay couple — is that a public position? What if a teacher marches in a pro-choice rally? Would a teacher who lives with a partner out of wedlock be fired?

“ ‘No to all of those,’ said Pam Shay, principal of Bishop O’Dowd High School, where parents demonstrated in support of teachers after The Chronicle reported on the details of the contract language change.”

“ ‘Now, if they were wearing their O’Dowd sweatshirt and marching in a (pro-choice) demonstration or posting a picture of them smoking a joint while wearing their school sweatshirt, that might be a different story,’ Shay said.”

The detailed approach that the San Francisco Archdiocese has instituted shows both a remarkable lack of trust in their employees and an incredibly restricted view of Catholicism.  Do they think that the professionals that were hired need to be policed so minutely?  Do they believe that the richness of the Catholic faith, identity, and tradition all boils down to this handful of dogmas and a list of sexual ethics issues? There is nothing in this list about conscience or respecting human dignity.  There is nothing in this list about a wide variety of personal and social sins that are other than ones connected with sexuality.

Perhaps the reason, however, is legal.  The Archdiocese may be listing these items because they want to be able to fire people legally, and not be vulnerable to suit afterwards.  While legal issues are important, pastoral ones are, too.    Though Archbishop Cordileone has said that he did not approve this language to target teachers for dismissal, one has to wonder why else it would have been written in such precise detail.  The future will tell if this language will be used to fire people or not.

Legalistic micro-managing will end up doing intense damage to Catholic schools as an institution in the archdiocese.  If competent professionals in these schools feel threatened by the restrictive language, they will likely seek employment elsewhere.  Parents who want their children to receive a quality education which emphasizes moral responsibility will avoid sending their children to schools that do no better than to cherry-pick morality. Catholic schools will become insular enclaves with no ability to communicate with the outside world.

Catholic schools will need to learn a better way to establish Catholic identity than just figuring out infractions by which to judge teachers’ fitness to educate students.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

National Catholic Reporter: New faculty handbooks in San Francisco to include statement developed by archbishop

SanFranciscoCBSLocal.com: “Gay Sex, Adultery, Masturbation, Porn Are ‘Gravely Evil’: SF Archbishop Clarifies Sexual Morality For School Staffs”

East Bay Express: “San Francisco Archbishop’s New Proposed Teacher Contract Calls Gays “Gravely Evil”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,336 other followers