San Francisco, Calif., May 1, 2015 / 16:22 pm
The Archdiocese of San Francisco has stressed its "greatest admiration and respect" for those working in Catholic education, pledging to take into account teachers' concerns while lamenting that some reports about its proposals for Catholic schools have been "incorrect" and "inflammatory."
The archdiocese said April 27 that teachers "make vital contributions to the formation of minds and of character."
"They teach our students to think, read, speak, and pursue wisdom and happiness in a place where the gifts of each person are cultivated and valued. This cannot happen without skilled and dedicated teachers who remain inspired and motivated by their calling."
The archdiocese repeated its commitment "to do what we can to listen to teachers' ongoing concerns, to restore respectful discussion, and to heal any rifts that may remain."
The statement follows several months of controversy.
In early February, Archbishop Cordileone announced changes to archdiocesan high school teachers' handbooks intended to clarify Catholic religious and moral teachings on several controversial topics, including religious teaching, sexual morality, and the ethics of assisted reproductive technologies.
The archbishop also proposed a clause to Catholic high school teachers' contracts outlining a ministerial understanding of the role – a proposal he later withdrew.
A 2012 Supreme Court decision granted religious organizations significant freedom from outside interference in hiring decisions, on the understanding that employees had a ministerial role.
The archbishop's actions drew heated political and media opposition, as well as opposition from many Catholic high school teachers, students and their parents. The archbishop's critics have variously said that the changes put the teachers' labor rights at risk, are discriminatory towards gays and lesbians, or show a lack of acceptance inconsistent with San Francisco culture.
An open letter, whose signers included wealthy and influential Catholics of the Bay Area, called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone. The letter was published in a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle April 16. Some of the archbishop's opponents have hired a public relations firm to undermine him.
The San Francisco archdiocese on April 27 said that media coverage "exaggerates and mischaracterizes the archdiocese's intentions with regard to the proposed teacher contract."
"Some of the information in these stories has been so inflammatory as to cause genuine pain and unease with many teachers," the archdioceses said, criticizing a "most disturbing" suggestion that contract negotiations are being used "only to provide an excuse to fire teachers."
"That could not be further from the truth," the archdiocese said. It noted that Archbishop Cordileone on April 27 met with some high school administrators and "reiterated his determination to keep teachers, not fire them."
"There will be no 'witch hunts,' no prying into people's personal lives, no shaming, no hidden agendas," the archdiocese added.
According to the archdiocese, the archbishop understands that the teachers want to ensure the final contract language "both promotes Catholic identity and protects the rights of teachers." The archbishop is willing to make adjustments to secure their rights, it added.
Several protests of the archbishop have taken place. On April 27 more than 100 protesters, including some Catholic school teachers, held a demonstration outside the archdiocese's headquarters. They waved rainbow banners and sang songs, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Archbishop Cordileone's supporters have also begun to organize shows of appreciation, though some have said they have felt afraid to speak up.
Among the critics of the bishop is the group Call to Action, a decades-old organization that dissents from Catholic teaching. The group has launched a petition against the archbishop. It also runs a program opposed to many Catholic institutions' employment policies, including morality clauses in Catholic schools.
Over the period of April 24-26, Call to Action co-sponsored a three-day weekend strategy meeting at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union.
On the Call to Action website, program director Ellen Euclide said the strategy meeting was intended "to build a worker led movement supported by organizations committed to creating a more just workplace and holding our Church accountable to its own teachings." Morality clauses were among the topics addressed.
The meeting's other co-sponsors were DignityUSA and New Ways Ministry, LGBT advocacy groups which reject Catholic teaching on sexual morality; a pro-abortion rights group Catholics for Choice; and the Human Rights Campaign, an influential LGBT activist group whose sponsors include many wealthy U.S. corporations.
The news site Crux reports that the meeting's approximately 30 attendees, which included Catholic church and school employees as well as representatives from co-sponsoring groups and from the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. At least two participants were from San Francisco, including a teacher. One participant was a Human Rights Campaign volunteer based in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the local archdiocese has also worked to clarify morality expectations in Catholic school teachers' contracts.
Grants from the Human Rights Campaign helped several participants attend the meeting.