Eight California lawmakers, San Francisco archbishop exchange letters on faculty handbook

This story appears in the San Francisco faculty handbooks feature series. View the full series.

by Dan Morris-Young

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San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has told eight California state lawmakers that he respects their "right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission" and asks "the same respect from you."

Dated Feb. 19, the letter pushes back against a Feb. 17 letter signed by eight San Francisco Bay Area state legislators in which they accused Cordileone of sending "an alarming message of intolerance" to students of the four Catholic high schools administered by the San Francisco archdiocese.

The eight urged the archbishop to "reconsider and withdraw" a new section slated for the schools' 2015-16 faculty handbooks and to drop an effort to have Catholic school employees classified as "ministers" in teacher contracts.

Cordileone referred the lawmakers to "a number of documents and videos giving accurate and more complete information about this contentious issue" on the archdiocesan website that would "help to clear up a lot of misinformation being circulated about it (such as, for example, the falsehood that the morality clauses apply to the teachers' private life)."

Cordileone and other archdiocesan officials have emphasized that the new faculty handbook language does not signal an initiative to scrutinize teachers' private lives.

The 2,000-word insertion does, however, stipulate that "administrators, faculty and staff ... are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny" Catholic church teaching.

In his letter, Cordileone asks, "Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?'

"On the other hand," he continued, "if you knew a brilliant campaign manager who, although a Republican, was willing to work for you and not speak or act in public contrary to you or your party -- would you hire such a person? If your answer to the first question is 'no,' and to the second question is 'yes,' then we are actually in agreement on the principal point in debate here."

Expanding on his point, Coridileone wrote: "Now let's say that this campaign manager you hired, despite promises to the contrary, starts speaking critically of your party and favorably of your running opponent, and so you decide to fire the person.

"Would you have done this because you hate all Republicans outright, or because this individual, who happens to be a Republican, violated the trust given to you and acted contrary to your mission? If the latter, then we are again in agreement."

In their joint letter, the lawmakers called distillations of church teaching slated for the handbooks "morality clauses." They described as "new conditions for employment" the new section's cautions about employee behavior that could appear in conflict with church doctrine.

Cordileone made the new 2,000-word faculty hand book statement public early Feb. 3 along with clauses the archdiocese would like included in teacher contracts. Among other things, the contract language would designate teachers as "ministers."

The legislators' letter claimed that the "minister" classification "effectively removes civil rights protections guaranteed to all Californians" and that "the narrow exception for 'ministers' in federal anti-discrimination law was never intended to be a tool for discrimination."

Cordileone told more than 350 high school teachers at a Feb. 6 convocation that he would consider alternative language to "minister" if his two main goals were achieved: making clear that all employees of a Catholic school are part of its mission, and that the schools as institutions embrace the entirety of Catholic church teaching.

According to a Feb. 17 Associated Press story, the politicos' letter was written by Democratic assemblymembers Phil Ting of San Francisco and Kevin Mullin of San Mateo and "signed by every [state] lawmaker representing the communities served by the four Catholic high schools."

The other signers were assemblymembers Richard Gordon, David Chiu and Marc Levine, and senators Mark Leno, Jerry Hill and Mike McGuire.

Developed by Cordileone and titled "Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church," the new section has been criticized for its use of descriptive language such as "intrinsically evil" and "grave evil," notably in relation to LGBT relations.

The statement synthesizes church prohibitions on artificial birth control, same-sex marriage, homosexual relations, "artificial reproductive technology," masturbation, pornography, human cloning and women's ordination.

It also warns educators to "refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves 'Catholic' but support or advocate issues or causes contrary" to church teaching.

"Although your position wields discretion over working conditions at schools affiliated with the Catholic Church, the standards within the morality clauses would be illegal for any [other] employer," the lawmakers' letter states.

"Your proposal goes beyond regulating behavior in the workplace and infringes upon the personal freedoms of your employees," it adds. "It strikes a divisive tone, which stands in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and its history."




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