New faculty handbooks in San Francisco to include statement developed by archbishop

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

by Dan Morris-Young

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Faculty handbooks of the four high schools owned and operated by the San Francisco archdiocese will carry a new, free-standing section for the 2015-16 school year that puts teachers and faculty on notice about heightened demands regarding adherence to Catholic teaching, particularly on sexual issues, and warns against taking public positions that are contrary to church teaching.

The section:

  • Delineates areas of church teaching on "sexual morality and religious practice" it says needs more clarity and emphasis;
  • Underscores that "administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or no faith are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny" church doctrine and practice;
  • Calls on "administrators, faculty and staff who are Catholics" to "not only avoid public contradiction of their status as professional agents in the mission of Catholic education," but to also "conform their hearts, minds and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior, ever more closely to the truths taught by the Catholic Church";
  • Warns educators to "refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves 'Catholic' but support or advocate issues or causes contrary" to church teaching.

Developed by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and titled "Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church," the new 2,000-word faculty handbook section was made public Tuesday afternoon during meetings between administrators of the four schools and their faculties and staffs.

Copies of the document as well as a cover letter by Cordileone were also emailed to administrators of the other 10 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese by Melanie Morey, director of the Office of Catholic Identity Assessment, which began operation in January.

The archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic San Francisco, produced a four-page section made available online Tuesday that reports on the faculty handbook statement, Cordileone's letter, and teacher union contract negotiations. The coverage includes a question-and-answer feature on issues involved.

The newspaper's coverage, Cordileone's letter, a video statement by Cordileone posted on YouTube, and comments by Superintendent of Schools Maureen Huntington all said the faculty handbook's new section does not signal that archdiocesan officials will be prying into educators' private lives.

Controversy erupted in the neighboring Oakland, Calif., diocese last year when Bishop Michael Barber introduced teacher contract language that many felt crossed the line of invading people's private lives. That approach has been modified, and teachers in the diocese on Monday were shown language that declares they should "demonstrate a public life consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and refrain from taking a public position contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Oakland teachers "will be officially offered contracts on April 15 and have until May 15 to sign them," The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday.

In his letter to teachers, Cordileone wrote: "At the outset ... I wish to state clearly and emphatically that the intention underlying this document is not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers, singly or collectively, nor does it introduce anything essentially new into the contract or the faculty handbook."

Cordileone and Huntington both said the handbook statement is aimed at countering societal forces on students and faculty "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.

"The pressure is exerted relentlessly in the media, in entertainment, in politics, in academia, in corporations -- in short, in all of the influences of popular culture," Cordileone wrote.

The archdiocese simultaneously released the language of three clauses it is asking be included in the contracts of teachers in its four high schools. Those contracts are currently being negotiated with the union representing those schools.

The four high schools under archdiocesan jurisdiction are Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield, and Junipero Serra in San Mateo. The other 10 are private and/or sponsored by religious communities.

The contract language sought by the archdiocese includes a section stating "the Union and its members acknowledge that all faculty and staff are ministers engaged in this religious mission regardless of individual job description or subject matter, and that they teach and educate, and thus serve their ministry of Catholic Education, not only by the performance of their job duties but also by their word and example, inside and outside the classroom, on and off campus."

While the handbook section and the contract clauses are separate issues, labor contract negotiations and content of the faculty handbook have long been intertwined, Huntington told NCR.

While Catholic San Francisco reported that "the handbook additions will take effect in the 2015-16 school year and are not part of the [teachers'] contract," a legal expert consulted by NCR said faculty handbooks do have legal bearing.

"The only document the union has control over is the contract," union official Susan Woodall, a teacher at Marin Catholic, told NCR. "The handbooks come under the authority of the [school] presidents in concert with the archbishop."

Union leader Lisa Dole, also a Marin Catholic teacher, provided Catholic San Francisco with a statement "on behalf of her executive board" late Tuesday night that stated in part: "The amount of attention being paid to this proposed language shouldn't diminish how proud we are of the day in, day out efforts of our teachers. We are pleased that the document acknowledges that the teachers in our high schools are not all the same -- like many Catholics around the world who struggle with their adherence to some of the teachings of the church. However, there are still concerns with the proposed language and some key issues that the union and archbishop are hopeful that we will be able to work out."

One of those issues could be declaring Catholic educators "ministers," which, say some legal experts, reduces legal protections against discriminatory firing.

One of the questions in Catholic San Francisco's question-and-answer page is: "Will teachers be required to sign an 'oath' or 'affirmation' of religious belief as part of this collective bargaining agreement?"

"No," says the response:

The Archdiocese has no intention of 'rooting out' those who are not Catholic or those who do not assent completely to Catholic teaching. The Archdiocese and the schools stand for the teachings of the Catholic Church in their entirety, and the handbook for each of our high schools will contain a statement affirming certain key facets of these teachings. But these statements are of the school as an institution, not of the individual teachers. On the contrary, the statement specifically acknowledges that not all of our teachers will agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches.

Similarly, the point of the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] is not to require assent to any of the teachings of the Catholic Church. But it will, as it has for years, ask teachers as a matter of professional obligation to honor the Catholic identity and mission of our schools, which is now more clearly stated in the teacher handbooks. If they cannot do so in their beliefs, then they should at least avoid publicly undermining the lessons taught at the school of their employment.

Developed by Cordileone, the faculty handbook statement includes 15 "affirm and believe" declarations on church teaching on what he terms "hot button issues," including women's ordination, Sunday Mass obligation, homosexuality and human reproduction. Among the segments:

  • Four deal with human reproductive issues -- the church's prohibitions of abortion, artificial birth control, human cloning and "artificial reproductive technology."
  • Three focus on marriage -- church teaching that marriage is "a partnership of the whole life between a man and a woman of permanent and exclusive fidelity ordered to the procreation and education of offspring and the mutual good of both spouses"; that homosexual unions and homosexual acts are contrary to church law and natural law; and that "every person is called to chastity in accord to their present state of life" with "the intimacy of sexual union" reserved for married couples.
  • One underscores "the obligation to participate in Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation," the "Real Presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist," and the requirement to seek "absolution in the sacrament of penance" before receiving communion if a person is "aware of having sinned mortally."

Cordileone calls attention to the handbook's new structure, which places the schools themselves as the affirming party of the teachings outlined, not individuals.

"This is a statement made on behalf of the institution, not all individuals in the institutions," he wrote. "Our Catholic high schools try to hire people who do believe what the Church teaches, but in our schools we have good teachers who belong to other Christian faiths or to no faith at all. They are members of the school community. The language 'affirm and believe' acknowledges the good activity of the entire corps of faculty and staff by making this claim on behalf of the institution. That is, in the first instance, 'affirm and believe' refers to the Catholic high school itself, and, secondly, to many faculty who identify with the Catholic teachings behind which the high school as a whole stands."

A Catholic educator in the Bay area with extensive administrative experience called the institution vs. individual affirmations "game playing."

"The 'institution' as a collective says, 'I affirm all these propositions' but the individual teachers don't have to sign?" the person wrote in an email, adding: "But they are still vulnerable because the institution made the affirmation. What this sets up is the conditions for a teacher to be fired for on-campus or off-campus behavior. Clearly, they can't be seen marching in San Francisco's Gay Pride parade, or attending any events at which the GLBT is present, nor attending a gay wedding. Even a family event photo can't be posted on a teacher's Facebook page. The worst part of this -- any deviation or perceived deviation could be grounds for being fired even though the archbishop denies this is his purpose."

Cordileone will be the keynote speaker at a convocation of high school faculty and staff Friday at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep. Huntington said the archbishop has said he will respond to written questions following his address. About 350 had registered to attend as of Tuesday, she said.

The gathering will follow a 9:30 a.m. Mass at adjacent St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral. Cordileone is also scheduled to appear at a 2 p.m. press conference Friday at the Cathedral.

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

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 13-26, 2015 print issue under the headline: Handbook heightens demands on teachers.

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