Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
In an escalation of the teacher-contract dispute in the San Francisco Archdiocese, a spokesman affiliated with the group opposing Archbishop Cordileone published a manifesto that dismissed his "interpretation" of Catholic teaching as a flawed approach that required "fraternal" correction.
"Archbishop Cordileone’s authority is not in his assertions but in his arguments," read the rambling "open letter" addressed to school administrators." Published in the National Catholic Reporter, the May 20 statement was written by Jim McGarry, a former Catholic high school teacher, who once taught religious studies at the Jesuit-run St. Ignatius College Prepatory and at Mercy High School.
Supporters of Archbishop Cordileone's have questioned whether the hard core group opposing the contract language was solely concerned with job security for teachers. Now, McGarry argues that high school religion classess are a good place to tinker with doctrine, and he's furious that Archbishop Cordileone won't endorse this lesson plan.
In February, Archbishop Cordileone proposed new language for the teacher contracts that directed teachers at the four high schools under his direct jurisdiction to avoid any public statements or actions that contradicted Catholic teaching on issues like abortion, in vitro fertilization, same-sex marriage and contraception.
The teachers' union, which represents the faculty at the four schools, opposed the language, arguing that it threatened the teachers' job security and fomented discrimination. Critics also targeted new faculty handbooks, which spelled out Catholic teaching on sensitive issues like homosexual relations and featured passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Cordileone has since agreed to modified language that has been endorsed by the' superintendent of schools.
With the open letter, McGarry appeared to broaden the confrontation well beyond a straightforward contract dispute. It was time to move from the collective bargaining agreement to theology and the "development" of doctrine.
"We have a resource that is seldom explicitly recognized. It is what John Henry Cardinal Newman called 'the development of doctrine.' Church teaching does not occur by fiat, but by argument. This is true for Archbishops as well," read the letter, which cited Blessed John Henry Newman's work on the subject.
McGarry presented the past three months of protests and debate, in and out of the schools, as a "teachable moment" for students, and for Catholics at large.
"To hear a gay student, or a child of in vitro fertilization, stand on the Cathedral plaza and say: ‘This language is wrong’ echoes that young man who stood up in Nazareth quoting that same prophet Isaiah and then pronouncing to the dismay of the learned elders: 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in the hearing.' Today, a great reversal in Church teaching is underway as we witness."
He callied for "fraternal dialogue" with the archbishop that would set him straight.
"We must not simply and automatically cede to the Archbishop moral authority, we must rather engage in fraternal dialogue--with a seriousness of what is at stake—and discover the truer doctrine that is in development in our midst and through our conversations, reflections and prayer."
Raising the tempature, he injected a dose of inflammatory language, warning teachers not to accept contract provisions that posed a grave threat.
"Instead, what is needed is an 'apocalyptic' tone: 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."
Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, the founder of Ignatius Press, which is based in San Francisco, challenged McGarry's assertions.
"The language of the open letter is rather strong: 'apocalyptic', 'lethally damage', .. and thus begs two questions: On which side are reason and willingness to dialogue in this controversy? Why would it be a disaster if teachers in Catholic schools are required to teach what the Catholic Church officially teaches?" asked Father Fessio in a statement provided to the Register.
He also found it perplexing that a Catholic school teacher would frame an effort to strengthen the religious identity of Catholic schools as a threat to his professional integrity.
"Why does it violate a teacher’s conscience to teach the Catholic faith?" asked Father Fessio. "If it does, why is this teacher working in a Catholic school? Unless he feels in conscience obliged to teach against the faith."
As for McGarry's reference to Newman's "development of doctrine," this Catholic publisher questioned whether the former religion teacher had actually read the work.
"Newman clearly said that 'development' and 'change' are opposed to each other. High schools are not where development of doctrine takes place. The doctrines that are being objected to, with respect to sexual morality, are not going to develop or change. No moral teaching of the Church has ever been 'reversed'”.