Catholics say Archbishop Cordileone stumbled in remarks on gender identity

San Francisco — If San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone garnered any goodwill among critics in his flock by softening language in a high school teacher handbook and choosing not to attend a national rally for traditional marriage, he may have lost it when he addressed a convocation for Latin Mass enthusiasts in New York City earlier this week.

In his talk at the Sacra Liturgia conference, Cordileone joked about the number of transgender identities, saying, "I'm sure even more will be invented as time goes on," Religion News Service reported. He also stated that acceptance of what Pope Francis has termed "gender ideology" threatens the Catholic faith.

"The language the archbishop used at this conference was ill-considered, hurtful and lacking in knowledge and compassion," said Micaela Presti, an alumna of and parent of children in Marin Catholic High School, which is under the purview of the archdiocese.

"Our group, Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance, continues to be very concerned with the archbishop's proposed changes in language of the faculty collective bargaining agreement and faculty handbooks, and the potential harm such language may have on students at these schools who may be questioning their identities and on the students, parents, and/or faculty who have identified as other than heterosexual," she added.

Cordileone has been embroiled in a dispute about employment terms for teachers at four archdiocesan Catholic high schools. He has proposed an addition to the teacher handbook that condemns homosexual practices, contraception and other matters related to sex.

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On the state and national level, the archbishop has opposed LGBT civil rights: He helped draft California Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. He also criticized a presidential executive order that would outlaw employment discrimination against LGBT people. Although last year he spoke at a rally for traditional marriage, this year, he declined to attend.

Several of Cordileone's critics expressed concern that the archbishop's words would engender violence against transgender people. When asked what he thought of the speech, Jim McGarry, a former religious studies teacher at St. Ignatius and Mercy high schools in San Francisco, said, "My first reaction is to say the name of a person, which is Gwen Araujo." Araujo was a Newark, Calif., teenager who was killed by four men in 2002 after they discovered Araujo was transgender. "He's adding to persecution of people like Gwen."

Added Ted DeSaulnier, former religion department chair at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco: "The transgendered youth who attend the high schools of San Francisco will have one more burden to overcome in the prejudice against them: Their very existence threatens the foundation of our Catholic faith."

That statement of Cordileone's was rejected by Fr. John Coleman, associate pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco. "Whatever you think about transgender issues, I find it really hard to say it is 'a threat to the faith,' " he said.

But others in the archdiocese say while transgender people deserve compassion, sex-reassignment surgery is not the solution. They agree with the archbishop's stance that transgender identity is a disorder that should not be treated with a sex-change operation, but with faith and acceptance of the sex one was born into.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of the conservative Ignatius Press, said transgender identity is an ailment: "It's like a cleft lip," he said. "We don't have cleft lip pride day."

Fr. John Direen, pastor of St. Joseph in Pinole, said, "As a chaplain of Courage and pastor of a parish I try to help people accept their current situation and to focus on becoming a better disciple of our Lord." Courage is a worldwide organization that encourages gay Catholics to remain chaste.

Other supporters of the archbishop said they are not prejudiced against sexual minorities, but sympathetic to their plight.

"The way I see it, there are all kinds of people making bank off of people suffering from gender confusion -- pharma, surgeons, insurance providers and voyeuristic media -- but I question whether any of these are really capable of helping them find peace with themselves and with the people in their lives," said Vivian Dudro, a senior editor at Ignatius Press in San Francisco.

Eva Muntean, marketing manager with Ignatius Press and creator of the website sfcatholics.org, founded to support Cordileone, said the church and the archbishop care about transgender Catholics.

"The church will always be there to help people in their suffering, whatever type of suffering it may be, and she [the church] will do it with both love and truth," Muntean said.

[Mandy Erickson is a freelance writer in the Bay Area. NCR West Coast correspondent Dan Morris-Young contributed to this story.]

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