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..
On April 27, the Archdiocese of San Francisco signaled that it was prepared to make "adjustments" to advance negotiaions with the local Catholic teachers' union. The statement marked an afternoon of protests against the archdiocese.
"Hundreds of Catholic-school teachers and supporters gathered outside the San Francisco Archdiocese on Monday afternoon waving rainbow banners and preaching acceptance of gays and lesbians — all in protest of efforts by the archbishop to require employees to embrace church opposition to 'homosexual relations,' 'fornication' and other 'gravely evil' sexual activities," reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
The union represents faculty at the four Catholic high schools under the direct jurisdiction of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and it has challenged proposed contract language that directs teachers to avoid public statements and actions that oppose Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, Mass attendence, abortion, and the Eucharist, among other issues.
"The Archdiocese reiterates its commitment to do what we can to listen to teachers’ ongoing concerns, to restore respectful discussion, and to heal any rifts that may remain," read today's statement, released at the end of the work day.
Archbishop Cordileone "understands that the teachers want to make sure that the final language in the contract both promotes Catholic identity and protects the rights of the teachers. He too wants language that protects the rights of the teachers, and he is willing to make adjustments to firmly secure those rights," the statement continued.
Was the archdiocese modifying its position on the contract language? If so,what might be taken off the table?
I contacted Larry Kamer, the archdiocese's spokesman, for further clarification.
He responded in an email: "We’ve been engaged in productive dialogue with the teachers’ union but are not going to discuss specific items that are still on the bargaining table."
However, Jesuit Father John Piderit, the moderator of the curia and vicar for administration, offered some helpful clarification.
To begin with, he said the statement highlighted the archbishop's desire to protect the rights of teachers, who are integral to the mission of Catholic education.
"The archbishop has reiterated on a number of occasions that ... he will not go after people or pry into their private life. But he does not want teachers to contradict the faith outside the campus," Father Piderit told me.
Today's statement from the archdiocese celebrated the devotion of Catholic teachers, who "make vital contributions to the formation of minds and of character. They teach our students to think, read, speak, and pursue wisdom and happiness in a place where the gifts of each person are cultivated and valued. This cannot happen without skilled and dedicated teachers who remain inspired and motivated by their calling."
Meanwhile, the new language approved for the faculty handbook has also sparked anger.
The new handbook language spells out Church teachings on a range of sensitive matters, backed up with citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Critics challenge the inclusion of statements that present same-sex relationships and masturbation in a negative light, but the archdiocese has noted that the handbook is for faculty members and they must decide how such teachings should guide their interactions with students.
I asked Father Piderit whether there would be changes to the handbook, as some reports have suggested? He confirmed that the language would be modified.
A committee of teachers of religion, “at the archbishop’s request, were reviewing the original statements for inclusion in the handbook."
The goal, he continued, was to make them “more pastorally approachable, without changing the main point of the statements."
“The archbishop has met with [the committee of teachers of religion] and he likes what they are doing. That effort is underway.”
After a cascade of national news headlines, protests, petition campaigns and a paid "open letter" in the San Francisco Chronicle attacking the archbishop's educational initiative, today's statement framed the allegations flung by some critics as often incorrect, overblown or inflammatory.
"Most disturbing is the suggestion that the contract negotiations are being used only to provide an excuse to fire teachers. That could not be further from the truth.
"Today Archbishop Cordileone met again with some administrators from the Archdiocesan high schools and reiterated his determination to keep teachers, not fire them. There will be no 'witch hunts,' no prying into people’s personal lives, no shaming, no hidden agendas."
So the archbishop is taking steps to address concerns about job security and about language that some fear will threaten the schools' inclusive culture.
Will it be enough for his most vociferous critics? Not likely.
And before long, local Catholic teachers, and others who have expressed concern about his educational policy, must decide where they stand. Do they want to lend credibility to a broader effort to characterize Church teaching as unjust and discriminatory? Do they want Catholic schools to ignore or suppress inconvenient truths that conflict with local values?
The archdiocese provided the following link as an additional resource: http://catholic-sf.org/ns.php?newsid=25&id=63174.