While Oakland Diocese Relaxes Teacher Contract, San Francisco Tightens Theirs

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”







As Firings and Restrictions Continue, So Does the Determination of the Faithful

It seems that almost every day, we receive news concerning employees from Catholic institutions being terminated because of LGBT issues.  Such news can be depressing, when we think about how much our church leaders need to learn about LGBT issues and Catholic principles of human dignity and equality.  On the other hand, sometimes these stories can be inspiring when we learn about the courage of individuals who are standing up to the oppression, and of groups of Catholics who are making known their opposition to using support for LGBT issues as a reason for being fired.

In the latest round of news on these matters, we have witnessed two more teachers who have refused to sign new diocesan contracts which restrict school employees from showing support for LGBT people.  Let’s hope and pray that their courage inspires others to resist.

Kathleen Purcell

In the first case, Kathleen Purcell, a teacher and program director at Bishop O’Dowd High School, Oakland, California, signed the new contract, but crossed out the offending clauses with which she disagreed.  Purcell, a former constitutional lawyer, interviewed by ABC7News.com, said:

“This contract would be a huge step backwards, and would say, ‘We’re stripping these employees of civil rights.'”

Purcell added:

“Then you throw the employees’ personal lives into the middle of all the disputes currently in the Catholic Church.”

The news report noted that the schools’ parents are threatening to withhold donations, as a sign of support to Purcell.  We have seen time and again in disputes like this that parents and students have organized in support of courageous teachers.

Richard Hague

Such was the case in Cincinnati, Ohio, this week, too. Students, alumni, and parents demonstrated outside of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s office in support of Richard Hague, a teacher who worked for 45 years in Catholic education and has refused to sign his diocese’s new contract.  Hague, who teaches at Purcell Marian High School, was eloquent in his letter to the archdiocese explaining why he will not be signing the new, restrictive contract.   WLTW-TV quoted from Purcell’s letter:

“I simply cannot believe that Jesus would require me to condemn my friends, nor that Jesus would require me to report any of my colleagues who supported, even loved, gay persons, nor do I believe for a moment that Jesus would punish me for my earlier ministry.” 

Robin Hoopes and Richard Miller

And another Cincinnati teacher was told by his employer that his contract would not be renewed next year.  Richard Miller, a teacher at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf, lives with another man, Richard Hoopes, and their six children, in a committed relationship.  He told WNKU-Radio that he told his employer of his relationship when he was hired:

“I was assured at that time that what I did in my personal life was my business and I was being hired for my abilities and my capabilities as a teacher and he was very excited to have me on board. About three weeks ago, I was issued a letter by the very same director stating that my contract would not be renewed and when I was asked why my contract would not be renewed his response was, it was just too risky.”

Flint Dollar

In Macon, Georgia, Mount de Sales Academy’s band leader, Flint Dollar, was just fired , because he announced plans to marry his male partner.  WMAZ-TV reported, though, that just as soon as the firing was made public, parents of the school’s students have begun to organize, and that within two days of the news, they are planning a public protest.

The school, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, has an employment policy that says the institution is “committed to the principles of equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, gender, ancestry, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, or any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.”

Principal David Held sent a cryptically-written email this week to parents “to address recent social media posts regarding personnel decisions at Mount de Sales Academy, and to share some information that might clarify some of the rumors that are circulating.” Yet, though he discusses school governance and policy making, he does not mention Dollar or his firing in the email.

Catholic commentators have also weighed in on these new contracts, questioning how these new policies fit into the seemingly new agenda that Pope Francis is setting for the Church.  In The National Catholic Reporter, Isabella Moyer recalls a homily last year where the pope asked people to build bridges, not walls.  The new contracts, she observes, are basically walls, designed to be defensive. Bridges are especially needed for people who are tenuously attached to the church.  Moyer writes:

‘There are many good women and men hovering around the doors of the church. Some are contemplating joining us for the first time or returning after long absences. Others are struggling with a growing desire to leave. Hard-handed tactics and judgmental pronouncements will not convert hearts. Sadly, they might provide the final push out the door.”

Regina Brett, columnist for Cleveland’s Plain Dealeralso referred to Pope Francis in her commentary about the new contracts:

“Just when the new pope made the church more welcoming, the church found another way to turn more Catholics away.

“My church needs a heart transplant. I thought it got one with the new pope. Now I’m not so sure.”

The firings and new policies seem to be coming at us fast and furious.  Catholics, however, are ready to stand up to these measures with an equal amount of determination and vigor.  One can become depressed by such oppressive actions, or one can attempt to band together with others and stand up for what their consciences are telling them is right and just. Our church will change not because the hierarchy changes, but because Catholics are willing to make their voices heard and stand up for their faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

U.S. Catholic: “Food pantry worker gets fired as the Catholic litmus test gets more stringent


New San Francisco Archbishop is Defender of Traditional Marriage

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, who has a strong record of opposition to LGBT issues, to head the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which has a strong community of LGBT Catholics.

The San Francisco Chronicle describes Cordileone this way:

“Salvatore Cordileone, 56, organized religious leaders and helped raise significant sums of money to get Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, on the ballot and spoke forcefully in support of it. He is also chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

“In his first statements after the Vatican’s announcement, Cordileone, the current bishop of Oakland, touched on a range of topics, from cultural diversity to immigration reform. But reporters barraged him with questions about same-sex marriage. His response was resolute.

” ‘Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because children can only come about with the embrace of a man and a woman together,’ he said. ‘I don’t see how that’s discriminatory against anyone.’ “

Cordileone recently required board members of the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries to sign a loyalty oath, but the members have refused to do so.

The Chronicle also reported reactions to the appointment:

“San Francisco is ‘one of the hearts of the gay liberation story,’ said Michael Harank, 59, a lifelong Catholic who founded an independent Catholic agency in Oakland for homeless people with HIV. “He may be pastoral, but his work as one of the financial fathers and creators of Prop. 8 is clearly a slap in the face to the gay community.” . . .

“The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said the appointments of increasingly conservative bishops in the United States started with Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005.

“Though it would be impossible to find a Catholic bishop in favor of same-sex marriage, Reese said conservatism today includes a particular focus on marriage.

“Clearly, the pope and the Vatican are very concerned about the issue of same-sex marriage and are very opposed to it, and that’s reflected by the kinds of bishops that are being appointed in the United States,’ he said.”

The San Jose Mercury News reported another comment which highlights that this appointment was made because of LGBT issues:

“Charles Martel, president of Catholics for Marriage Equality, said Friday that he believes Cordileone was appointed to combat the acceptance of gay marriage here and abroad. ‘They see this as ground zero,’ he said.”

New Ways Ministry‘s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo released the following statement about Cordileone’s appointment:


“Bishop Cordileone’s record on LGBT issues has not been welcoming.  He will have to learn to be more sensitive and pastoral as he takes over in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which has a large LGBT community, and very active and organized groups and parishes of LGBT Catholics.  The experience of working with such a vibrant and diverse community can help him to grow personally and pastorally.


“The Catholic Church in any community is so much more than who the local bishop is.  Lay Catholics in San Francisco will need to work with Bishop Cordileone to let them know what kind of leadership that they want from him. If he does not heed the prayerful requests of faithful Catholics there, the church in San Francisco will be greatly diminished.”

Noting Cordileone’s recent pressure on the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries, a blogger on San Francisco’s KQED radio station website cited Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley:

“As Archbishop of San Francisco, Cordileone could put similar pressure on individual parishes that have welcomed gays and lesbians, Schlager said. . . .

“As archbishop, Cordileone could force priests to sermonize against gay marriage, too.

“Schlager doesn’t think he’ll do that, because it would be too controversial.

“But Thomas Sheehan, a professor of religious studies at Stanford University, isn’t so sure the archbishop will refrain from meddling in priestly business on LGBT or other issues. ‘He could well demand that priests reinforce the church’s teaching on contraception,’ Sheehan said.

“But ultimately Sheehan thinks the effects on individual Catholics will be modest. ‘I doubt it will affect how people practice,’ he said. ‘People look less and less to the hierarchy.’

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry