San Francisco, Calif., Mar 12, 2015 / 16:05 pm
Amid a PR campaign and protests against Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s attempt to clarify Catholic teaching in the San Francisco schools, those who support the archbishop say their voices are not being heard.
“People are afraid to speak up because most of their colleagues oppose the additions to the handbook and because of just how disturbingly negative yet powerful the voices of opposition are,” a Catholic teacher who has worked at an archdiocesan high school for several years told CNA. “The media campaign against the archbishop has also caused fear among his supporters.”
His words were echoed by a former teacher of theology now living in Marin County, who asked not to be identified by name. She said that some of the archbishop’s supporters are concerned they will face “defamation of character and ostracism.”
“I believe the archbishop’s new additions to the Catholic high school handbooks are coming from a place of love and responsibility and not from hate, contempt or intolerance,” she said. “I am not surprised that he continues to be personally and politically attacked. It has never been easy to be Catholic and the teachings are challenging to many, but once understood and prayerfully engaged, their truth, beauty and goodness are unparalleled.”
The San Francisco archdiocese on Feb. 3 announced that explanations of Catholic teaching, as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other church documents, would be added to the faculty and staff handbooks for its four high schools. The archdiocese said the changes to the handbook did not contain anything new but were intended to “clarify existing expectations that Catholic teachers in their professional and public lives uphold Catholic teaching.”
Much of the media coverage surrounding the changes focused on the handbook’s expectations that teachers not publicly contradict Catholic teaching on sexual morality and abortion.
The former theology teacher told CNA that the handbook discusses tenets of the Catholic faith that are “often misconstrued, confused and opposed in today’s culture.”
“Without clearly stating them, how can you expect the staff members to effectively understand and carry out the integrity of the mission?” she asked.
Some local politicians have threatened legal action against the archdiocese, while the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution critical of the handbook changes. Over 350 employees, about 80 percent of the staff and faculty at the archdiocese’s four Catholic high schools, signed a petition against the handbook additions. Students, teachers and parents have also engaged in several protests.
Jim Jordan, an organizer of the petition and a teacher at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, told CBS SF that the handbook language has a “judgmental context” that undermines Catholic education’s mission and “the inclusive, diverse and welcoming community we prize at our schools.”
CNA’s source in the archdiocesan schools had a different view of the controversy.
“How ironic is it that those who support strengthening Catholic identity are made to be the problem?” he asked. He lamented that the petition referred to Catholic teaching as “harmful” and “hurtful” and was publicized via school e-mail.
The teacher, who did not want to be identified by name, said he was saddened to see “such misguided anger directed at the archbishop” and frustrated that so many teachers lacked “a shared vision of ministry.”
At the same time, he emphasized his support for the Catholic schools. He said they are “safe and welcoming places for students and families” with “a profound sense of community.”
The former theology teacher said teaching in the archdiocese was “a wonderful experience” and she had students who were “very open, inquisitive and respectful.”
However, she said she found “many teachers,” including self-identified Catholics, who “actively work to undermine the Catholic mission of the school.”
“I was often confused as to why these teachers did not seek employment at some of the great public schools right down the street. Only God can know a person’s heart and reasons for acting.”
She said she was not surprised at the controversy, given that Jesus and his teaching “were rarely welcomed without protest.”
“Being a follower of Christ requires a submission to His teachings, it does not mean creating your own brand of spirituality,” she said.
A public relations campaign could be aggravating the controversy. Sam Singer, founder of the influential San Francisco-based communications firm Singer Associates, told the SF Weekly that “concerned parents” are paying for his services in their dispute with the archbishop. Singer’s social media accounts are publicizing negative interpretations of the archbishop and the archdiocese while promoting stories siding with the protesters.
His other clients include big names like the Chevron oil company, as well as Cordileone critics like the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner.
The morning of an Ash Wednesday protest, Singer on his Google+ account posted a critical story about local priests and said, “Everyone is praying that the Pope will remove the San Francisco Archbishop and these priests.”
Rather than pray for Archbishop Cordileone’s removal, the current Catholic teacher told CNA he prays “for a strengthening of our Catholic schools and their role in forming students, for an examination of conscience for all who serve as teaches in the archdiocese, and for a recommitment to our shared calling.”
“But ultimately, I pray for God's will to be done.”
“Mr. Singer has no real interest in this situation and it’s sad to see him using teachers, parents, and students for his own profit and to slander the archbishop,” he added.
Vivian Dudro, a San Franciscan Catholic mother of four, said the involvement of Singer makes the controversy over Catholic schools into “a real David and Goliath story.”
She too was critical of Singer’s stated desire for Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone.
“It breaks my heart to hear that Catholics are praying this Lent for the removal of their shepherd instead of praying to become better disciples of Christ,” she said. “I am praying for courage for our archbishop and his priests.”
One of Dudro’s daughters had been accepted to Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School eight years ago, but went elsewhere. Dudro said the cost of the school would have been too burdensome and she worried the education there “would not be in conformity with the Church.”
She said friends with a daughter at the school had been “scolded and ridiculed” when they excused their daughter from a sex ed class that taught condom use.
The University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution, will host a March 16 forum for parents, teachers, students and their allies opposed to the archdiocese. The university’s Institute for Catholic Education and Leadership and the group Concerned Parents and Students-Teach Acceptance are co-sponsoring the event.
Forum speakers include Brian Cahill, a former executive director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities affiliate who has often criticized the archdiocese; Jim McGarry, a former Catholic school religious studies teacher; and Leslie C. Griffin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who has previously worked with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Dissenting Catholic groups have also seized on the controversy. An early petition against the archbishop was created by Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of Call To Action. His group’s JustChurch project specifically opposes morality clauses in Catholic schools.
Other petitions have been launched in support of Archbishop Cordileone, such as a CatholicVote.org effort that collected over 35,000 signatures.