An alleged draft of a revised faculty handbook statement for San Francisco archdiocesan high schools and a cover letter by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone show a less strident approach to church teaching and practice than the much-debated original version and a conciliatory tone from the archbishop.
Yet even before the archdiocese released the recast language, some people privy to leaked drafts of the purported texts expressed concern over what they describe as a change in tone but not substance as well as phrasing that would diminish labor law protections for teachers and staff.
"The language is softer, but the message is still hurtful and wrong," said graduating senior Jessica Hyman of Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, one of the schools affected by the handbook, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance, a group that formed in opposition to the proposed handbook changes, held the press conference on the steps of the chancery to "reject Archbishop Cordileone's revised Faculty Handbook" and "keep the current contract and handbook that have served the schools well," according to its press release.
About 100 people attended the press conference at which parents, students and a union representative spoke. Many lamented the archbishop's attempt to classify teachers as ministers, a move that would eliminate labor protections. Paul Hance, a history teacher at Junipero Serra High School and a member of the executive board of the teachers union, said lawyers for the group have reviewed the document and said it makes a stronger case than the previous draft for the minister classification.
"What would happen if the archbishop gets his way? We would have termination without legal recourse," he said. "Our rights are not negotiable; our profession is teaching, not ministry."
Speakers added that the revised draft would cast a pall on teaching. Teachers who fear they'll lose their jobs if they suggest a viewpoint that differs from the archbishop's cannot help their students understand different points of view or ask thoughtful questions, they said.
The archbishop "threatens what has been the cornerstone of my education, which is inquiry," said Gino Gresh, a senior set to graduate from Sacred Heart.
Request for comment sent to archdiocesan officials early Wednesday were not acknowledged.
In a copy of what is said to be a working draft of a cover letter by Cordileone to accompany the rewritten handbook statement, the archbishop apologized for "lack of foresight on my part" for the "several unintended consequences" generated by his original document that "created tensions we have been experiencing."
Titled "Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church," the free-standing, nearly 2,000-word instruction made public Feb. 3 has generated international headlines and deep divisions within the Bay Area Catholic community.
The statement underscored teaching on Mass attendance, confession, teaching authority of the church, sex outside marriage, traditional marriage, homosexual acts, hell, purgatory, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, birth control, "artificial reproductive technology," and human cloning.
It also put "administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith" on notice to "arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny" church teaching and to "refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves 'Catholic' but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church."
Supporters of the statement praised Cordileone for laying out clear expectations for Catholic school employees and endorsed his stated motivation for developing the narrative: that the hot-button issues addressed are among the most sidelined by modern culture and that young people are under constant pressure "to conform to a certain agenda at variance with, and often aggressively so, our Christian understanding of the human person and God's purpose in creation," in the archbishop's words.
Critics said the document ignores the role of conscience, invades individuals' private lives, focuses too heavily on sexual issues, and employs divisive, hurtful language.
The harshest criticism focused on the Feb. 3 text's usage of language such as "gravely evil," "intrinsically evil," "gravely immoral" and "grave moral disorder" in regard to primarily sexual and reproductive teachings. The phrasing can effectively marginalize and diminish gay people and others, it was argued.
Well more than 4,000 words, the revised draft seen by NCR does not employ those descriptions and underscores: "The Gospel cannot be reduced to a list of truths no matter how comprehensive because the Gospel is a person, the anointed one, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Lord."
After reading the draft, Jesuit Fr. John Coleman, who wrote a blog in February critical of the rationale and approach of the initial text, said in an email that the tone of the new draft "is worlds apart from the earlier handbook."
"I could easily sign off on this one without any problem. Even the sexual stuff is more nuanced and less terrifying," wrote Coleman, a Bay Area sociologist who was a professor of religion and society at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (1974-97) and held the Charles Casassa Chair in Social Values at Loyola Marymount University (1997-2009).
Written by a group of five high school theology teachers recruited by the archdiocese, the new document says in its preamble that the contents follow "the general structure of the Catechism" and "offer a short compendium of some important teachings."
Superintendent of Schools Maureen Huntington lauded the committee's work.
"From my perspective," she wrote in an email to NCR, "the Context Committee ... did an excellent job of articulating the Church's teachings in a variety of areas within the Four Pillars of the CCC. They were able to bring the Church's teachings into our daily life and assist us in understanding not only what the Church teaches but why."
Huntington confirmed indications in the archbishop's leaked cover letter that the new document will be open for review and refinement and is not scheduled for immediate inclusion in the 2015-16 faculty handbooks. The four high schools affected by the faculty handbook are Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Archbishop Riordan in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield, and Junipero Serra in San Mateo. There are also 10 other independent Catholic high schools in the archdiocese.
Jim Jordan, a Sacred Heart teacher, called development of the new faculty handbook proposal "a small victory for us in that there will be no handbook change this year, which means we've stemmed the tide for the moment."
"We're well aware that other dioceses across the country are following closely, so we feel our resistance has given pause to bishops thinking of imposing similar employment policies," said Jordan, who was among teachers who organized a petition effort among the four schools' faculty and staff in March asking Cordileone to forego the handbook statement and retain the existing document. Eighty percent of the schools' faculty and staff signed.
The archbishop, added Jordan, "is not backing down at all, merely slowing down. As for the revised handbook language, the committee who drafted it was never authorized to act on behalf of the schools."
In its press statement Wednesday, Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance wrote:
"The Archbishop is attempting to reclassify all employees of four schools within the Archdiocese as part of the 'ministry' and 'mission' of the church in order to eliminate anti-discrimination and other workplace protections for those staff members. He has also proposed that teachers and staff at the schools accept handbook language that, among other things, condemns homosexuality, same-sex marriage, contraception, and use of assisted reproductive technology. These proposals, originally made public in February, were met with an overwhelming outcry from teachers, parents, students and allies of the four schools."
Kathleen Purcell, a constitutional attorney and former Catholic high school teacher, was quoted by the group, saying, "Under the revised handbook language, teachers would not be able to dissent or discuss ideas that conflict with the Archbishop's understanding of Catholicism without risking their jobs. This fundamentally alters the character of our schools. Teachers whose jobs are under threat if they step outside the line cannot provide a safe environment for students to learn."
The protest organization also wrote: "The Archbishop has many platforms from which to educate faculty, students, parents and other members of the school community regarding his interpretations of Church theology, other than an employee handbook."
Jim McGarry, a lead organizer of Concerned Parents and Students, sent an open letter to administrators of the four schools and others based on the circulating revised handbook text. He warned against communications "particularly aimed at parents" that "implied that all things will work out in time and nothing that you love about your school will change."
"The suggestion is that we will weather this storm by being who we are. Could this be a false hope? Instead, what is needed is an 'apocalyptic' tone," he added. "If our teachers' integrity is compromised in labor agreements and if this faculty handbook language is instituted, it will lethally damage our students, our teachers, our schools and our mission. Even muted, the Archbishop's rhetoric of judgment and selectivity about and atomization of the moral life of our students and their families is not simply a storm to be weathered. It is the precipice of a disaster."
[Dan Morris-Young is NCR West Coast correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Mandy Erickson is a freelance writer in the Bay Area.]