San Francisco — Hundreds of Catholics gathered Saturday in San Francisco to show their support for Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, whose conservative policies have angered many in this liberal city.
The supporters, most of them dressed in blue as a sign of allegiance, met at Sue Bierman Park at the foot of Market Street near the bay. Some spread out blankets or set up chairs so they could sit on the lawn and lunch in the wind and fog.
As a mariachi band played, supporters lined up to stand before a video camera and speak their praises of the archbishop. And when Cordileone made an appearance, they gathered around him, receiving blessings and taking selfies with the archbishop. Many chanted "A-B-C" (for "Archbishop Cordileone").
Asked why he came to the picnic, Cordileone said, "I'm here to thank these good people."
Eva Muntean, marketing manager at Ignatius Press and a co-chair of the annual Walk for Life in San Francisco, organized the picnic in response to the criticism the archbishop has faced since early this year.
"I think it's wonderful, having everyone come together," Muntean said at the picnic. "People came from all over. One guy drove down from Reno," Nev.
For the four high schools under the archbishop's jurisdiction -- Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, and Marin Catholic in Kentfield -- Cordileone inserted a passage into the teachers' handbook that uses terms such as "grave evil" and condemns abortion, homosexual relations, artificial birth control, reproductive technology, women's ordination, pornography and masturbation. Cordileone also proposed to re-classify the teachers as ministers, which affords them fewer employment protections.
In addition, the archbishop has been under fire for appointing Fr. Joseph Illo as administrator of Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco. Parents at the parish school asked the archbishop to remove Illo because of changes he and his associate pastor, Fr. Patrick Driscoll, have made, including prohibiting girls from serving at the altar. Driscoll also distributed a pamphlet about sexuality to young children, an act for which the priests later apologized.
The archbishop's critics -- including parents and students in the affected schools, gay rights advocates, and labor leaders -- have held rallies, vigils and press conferences to voice their opposition to Cordileone's policies. In April, more than 100 prominent Catholics took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle asking Pope Francis to remove the archbishop.
Attendees at the picnic, which was promoted in a quarter-page ad in the Chronicle last week, said they appreciated Cordileone's attempts to ensure the schools are teaching Catholic values and to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
"I very much like the fact that he's unafraid to stand up for the church's teaching," said Carolyn Lemon of San Francisco, whose daughters attended Catholic schools. "I think he's trying to bring these values back so teachers will model the Catholic outlook on life."
Melanie Capretta of Dublin, which lies across the bay from the archdiocese, said teachers "have to abide by what the church teaches."
"You cannot tell the kids, 'Yes, it's OK to cohabitate,' " she added. "I'm not sending my kids to school to learn gay marriage is OK."
Gerardo Vazquez, a student at St. Patrick's Seminary & University in Menlo Park, said the archbishop wasn't taking the archdiocese in a new direction with his insertion into the handbook. Cordileone was only "making the policies more clear. Now people are upset because it's out in the open."
About 10 people holding rainbow flags and signs saying "Gay is OK" and "You can't pray away the gay" stood together at the edge of the park. Some of the picnickers approached them, offering them food. One told them, "I love my gay brother."
Frank Morris, a protestor who was raised Catholic in San Francisco, said, "Obviously, the Catholic church isn't going to change its stance on gay marriage. But this guy is really being judgmental."
Cordileone has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage: The archbishop helped draft and raise funds for 2008's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman in California, and was a speaker at the 2014 March for Marriage in Washington, D.C.
Picnickers said they don't believe the archbishop is homophobic.
"Gays and lesbians are always welcome at the church," said picnicker Virgil Capetti of Pacifica, a coastal town south of San Francisco. "What the church says is that you can't practice it."
[Mandy Erickson is a freelance writer in the Bay Area.]