Despite questionable local support, San Francisco archbishop lauded by conservatives

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

by Dan Morris-Young

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Support appears shallow in the San Francisco Bay Area for Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's imperative that faculty handbooks of high schools under his jurisdiction underscore church teaching on "hot-button" issues and that employees not contradict church doctrine on or off campus.

However, viaducts of encouragement are pouring into his office from multiple sources outside the archdiocese, including support for his move to have upcoming teacher contracts include language emphasizing employees' role in Catholic educational ministry.

For example, LifeSiteNews, an organization focused on issues such as abortion and euthanasia, launched an online petition in cooperation with the American Life League backing Cordileone that as of Monday had been signed by more than 37,500 people.

An introduction to the petition summarizes much of what other Cordileone proponents contend: "Gay activists and dissident Catholics have launched an all-out war against his [Cordileone's] attempts to protect the Catholic identity of his schools, and to promote pro-life and pro-family values."

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has pushed back against state politicians who have charged Cordileone with creating a "divisive tone ... in stark contrast to the values of the Bay Area and its history" and with seeking to alter teacher contracts to remove "civil rights protections guaranteed to all Californians."

In a letter to the chairs of the California Assembly's Judiciary Committee and Labor and Employment Committee, Donohue warned lawmakers they were overstepping their bounds to insert themselves into church governance issues.

An Our Sunday Visitor magazine report quotes Donohue as saying it is "common sense" to require teachers in Catholic schools not to contradict Catholic doctrine in the classroom or in their public lives.

OSV also editorialized on the topic, arguing that "the Church is clearly swimming against the tide of public opinion in many places" and noting that a "recent Pew Research Poll puts the 2014 yearly average level of support for same-sex marriage at 52 percent, a number that has skyrocketed nearly 20 percentage points in the last five years."

"As that number increases, so does the pressure on Catholics and on the Catholic Church to mute their opposition," the editorial continued. "This is why, as Church institutions around the country combat an increasing number of lawsuits, they are inserting detailed contract protections such as is the case in San Francisco. It is also why Church leaders are insisting upon institutional and individual conscience protection from our government on the basis of religious liberty."

The editorial echoes the position of Cordileone and other archdiocesan officials that many Catholics, including some educators, lack sufficient faith formation.

The controversy centers on the statement developed by Cordileone and scheduled for insertion into the 2015-16 faculty handbooks of the four high schools owned and operated by the archdiocese.

Titled "Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church," the 2,000-word document focuses on sexual and marital morality and religious practice. It cautions "administrators, faculty and staff" to "arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny" church teaching.

Many criticize the focus on sexual topics, say the document crosses the line on invading private lives, and claim some passages are insensitive and incendiary, notably usages such as "intrinsically evil," "grave evil" and "gravely evil."

The handbook statement and desired labor contract language were made public Feb. 3.

Conservative columnist George Weigel recently wrote that Catholics should be "grateful for the courageous leadership shown by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, whose San Francisco archdiocese is arguably ground zero of the culture war that cannot be avoided -- and that must be fought if Catholic institutions are to remain free to be themselves."

"This is going to be a nasty fight, given that 'tolerance' has become the all-purpose bludgeon with which the sexual revolution, in all its manifestations, beats its adversaries into submission or drives them into catacombs," Weigel wrote. *

Cordileone's initiative places him "squarely in the cross-hairs of the increasingly intolerant Tolerance Police. More power to him for understanding that, like it or not, the culture war is interested in you -- and responding is an evangelical imperative," Weigel concluded.

Coverage by Catholic News Agency, National Catholic Register and traditionalist bloggers have repeatedly mentioned the advent of the Singer Associates, Inc. into the fray, indicating Cordileone opponents have turned to the high-profile and controversial media adviser for muscular help in molding public opinion.

Sam Singer has said his firm was retained by alumni, supporters and parents of Star of the Sea Catholic School. Controversy continues there over the pastor's actions, which have included elimination of altar girls, no longer providing a blessing to non-Catholic students who present themselves at Mass, and announcing hopes to bring in an order of women religious to make the school more Catholic. Fr. Joseph Illo has made some concessions, parishioners said; for example, allowing current altar girls to continue at school-related liturgies but not training any in the future.

Singer has used the Star of Sea platform to project into the larger conflict over teacher contracts and the faculty handbook statement. He told NCR he is keeping his "patrons" anonymous to respect their concerns about "backlash" from the archdiocese.

National Catholic Register has carried several reports on the San Francisco situation, including a March 2 opinion piece by Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, strongly endorsing Cordileone's efforts.

The Register and CNA are owned by Eternal Word Television Network.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which describes its mission as defending "faithful Catholic education," has posted on its website various items supportive of the archbishop.

A commentary by Cardinal Newman Society vice president for program development Bob Laird, "Archbishop Cordileone is a true shepherd of Catholic schools," was carried in the op-ed section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Other groups and individuals who have lined up behind Cordileone include:

  • The San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good, which describes itself as "a lay apostolate for the evangelization of culture based on the social teachings of the Catholic Church with insights from the method of St. John Paul";
  • CNS News, also known as Cybercast News Service, a conservative American news website owned by Media Research;
  • Crisis Magazine, an online outlet featuring posts on a wide variety of religious topics and which calls itself "a voice for faithful Catholic Laity";
  • Blogger Father Z;
  • Mark Paredes, a Mormon bishop and author of a blog titled "Jews and Mormons," who calls Cordileone "courageous" and says the archbishop is being "pilloried by the morally confused for having the effrontery to require that Catholic educators actually teach Catholic teachings in the four Catholic high schools sponsored by his archdiocese."

There are 14 Catholic high schools in the San Francisco archdiocese, four of which come under direct archdiocesan administration: Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Archbishop Riordan in San Francisco, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, and Marin Catholic in Kentfield.

[Dan Morris Young is NCR West Coast correspondent. His email address is]

*An earlier version of this article mentioned that Weigel's piece was a column in Catholic San Francisco. The column was a syndicated piece.

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