San Francisco ad signers counter 'fringe group' charge

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San Francisco — The signees of an open letter to Pope Francis in Thursday's San Francisco Chronicle are the "bedrock of the archdiocese," one of them said at a press conference Thursday morning.

The full-page ad asking the pope to replace Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone "was intended to speak for itself," said Michael Kelly, president of Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger, a prominent law firm in San Francisco. But when the archdiocese released a statement Wednesday that the 112 Catholics whose names appeared on the ad do not speak for the Catholic community, the signees announced a press conference Thursday morning in the city's financial district.

The signees, Kelly said, "are the hardworking men and women, moms and dads of the archdiocese." Noting that many of them have received awards from the archdiocese, he added: "The notion that the signees of this document are a fringe group ... is complete folly and balderdash." He added that since the ad appeared, dozens more Catholics have contacted him in support.

The ad, which ran in the main section of the paper and reportedly cost tens of thousands of dollars, is titled "A Respectful Appeal to Pope Francis from the Catholic Community of San Francisco."

"Holy Father," it reads. "Please Replace Archbishop Cordileone." It goes on to list complaints with Cordileone, including a morality code required for high school teachers, isolation from the community and use of the words "gravely evil" to describe the behavior of parishioners.

While Kelly was the only one to speak during the press conference, he stressed that he is not the leader of the group, nor does a leader exist. He said the signees and their supporters are "the most classic grassroots organization anyone has ever seen."

"The single issue that has brought us together is the harm we fear has been done to our archdiocese," he added.

As Kelly spoke before television cameras, six other signees stood beside him: Tom Brady Sr., father of the New England Patriots quarterback; Pia Hinkle, publisher of The FruitGuys Almanac; Louis Giraudo, an alumnus of Catholic schools and parishioner; Clint Reilly, former chair of the board of Catholic Charities CYO; Gene Valla, a former member of the archdiocese finance council; and Tom Brandi, an attorney, alumnus and school volunteer.

Noting that "this is a drastic step," Kelly said the signees repeatedly contacted the Vatican "in hopes that this could be resolved quietly."

"Our hope is that the pope recognizes that we are serious," he added.

When a reporter asked what the signees would like to happen as a result of the ad, Kelly said: "We would like to have Pope Francis as our archbishop." Barring that, he said, they would like an archbishop who shares the pope's philosophy of an inclusive church.

After the press conference, Brady, who said he's "just a parishioner," said the teacher morality clause compelled him to sign the letter.

"It's a difficult time for a lot of people in the archdiocese," he said. "A lot of this doesn't make sense given the spirit of the city."

In an email sent before the press conference to chancery employees, Jesuit Fr. John Piderit, who is both archdiocesan vicar for administration and moderator of the curia, wrote: "You probably have all heard about the recent development related to Archbishop Cordileone's leadership of the Archdiocese. A group of 100 Catholics, erroneously presuming to speak for the 'Catholic Community of San Francisco,' took out an error-laden ad in the SF Chronicle. The ad is attached, as is the article that also appears in today's issue of the SF Chronicle. We need strength, prudence, and prayers during these difficult times."

[Mandy Erickson is a freelance writer from the Bay area.]

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