Cautious optimism and a fair dose of confusion seem to be the effects of an announcement by the Archdiocese of San Francisco that its revisions to the high school teachers’ handbook will be reviewed and refined by a committee of theology teachers from the schools. 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.
“Publicist Sam Singer, who is representing parents and alumni of San Francisco Catholic schools as they try to counter the proposed dictates, said the archbishop’s statements were welcome news.
“ ‘The proof is in the pudding, so we’ll have to take a look at what the archbishop comes back with,’ Singer said. ‘But this is certainly a step in the right direction, and is welcomed by many of the parents, teachers and alumni. But there is still much work to be done.’ ”
But a certain amount of confusion about what Archbishop Cordileone wants this committee to do also exists.
“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“The Archbishop has not repealed anything.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 Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”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.”
As Sam Singer, who was quoted at the beginning of this post, said, “The proof is in the pudding.” The committee’s recommendations may or may not be able to change the material in the handbook which many find damaging. The language that is developed to describe a teacher’s “ministry” will need to be parsed by theologically and legally to see what the ramifications in both areas are.
Cordileone’s charge to the committee is a narrow one. The archdiocesan statement and his letter indicate that the substance will not change. How the committee responds to its charge will be critical in determining the next step of this controversy.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
National Catholic Reporter: “Controversial San Francisco handbook to be reviewed, expanded by theology teacher committee”