What is really toxic in the new San Francisco teacher handbook

by Brian Cahill

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Continuing to ignore the spirit of nonjudgmental inclusiveness of Pope Francis, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is inserting a new document into the handbook of the four Catholic high schools under his control.

The document creates a clear demand to adhere to Catholic teaching on sexual issues. Cordileone says he is not going after individual teachers, but at the same time he is attempting to reclassify all school employees as “ministers,” a convenient way to dodge anti-discrimination laws and other workplace protections. Cordileone says he understands that not all teachers are Catholic and they may not agree with all church teachings. But the document includes multiple “affirm and believe” declarations relating to abortion, birth control, “artificial reproductive technology,” as well as pre-marital sex, same-sex acts or marriage, and masturbation. There is also a prohibition from joining organizations that call themselves Catholic but oppose church teaching. Cordileone says that the statement is “made on behalf of the institution, not all individuals in the institutions.”

Cordileone suggests that he will not be invading the private lives of employees. However, it’s safe to assume that on these high school campuses no public masturbation takes place, no abortions, no distribution of condoms, no in vitro fertilization, no same-sex weddings. Therefore the only possible area of focus is in the non-work lives of teachers. Will a gay or lesbian teacher who belongs to DignityUSA be fired? Are married teachers who use contraception at risk?  What about teachers who are in legal same-sex marriages? And what is the point of adding masturbation? In the spirit of “affirm and believe” will employees have to resort to issuing “Nixonian” denials of such activity?

The language of the statement clarifies that employees must “arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny” these Catholic teachings. The key word here may be “visibly.” That would suggest if employees get caught breaking any of these rules, they would be fired, as teachers have been fired all across the country in Catholic high schools, but if they could just be discreet — then no harm, no foul.  That’s pretty much what has become the fallback position of Oakland, Calif., Bishop Michael Barber when he tried this. Now his effort is seen for what it is — a clumsy, inept Catholic version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

No one should be surprised at this latest action of our culture warrior archbishop. This is the man who made his career on Prop 8. This is the man who says every child should have a mother and father but blissfully ignores the hundreds of thousands of children placed in the foster care system because of the abuse and neglect of their mothers and fathers, parents who are living proof that sexual orientation is not an indicator of good parenting. This is the man who is opposing workplace protection for gays and lesbians. This is the man who hung out with documented bigots last year at the National March for Marriage.

Cordileone stated that Catholics who endorse contrary views “create toxic confusion about our fundamental values.” But if Catholic couples, in the spirit of the pope’s recent comments, limit the number of children they have, is that toxic? If you are a little girl who is only here because science helped her mom and dad conceive her, is that toxic? If you are a 10 year old abused child and the only adoptive parents who want you are a loving, qualified gay couple, is that toxic? If you think that the civil rights of gays and lesbians should be protected, is that toxic?

[Brian Cahill is the former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities.]

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