SAN FRANCISCO — Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has approved language for a new high-school teachers’ contract and handbook that calls on faculty to avoid publicly challenging the Church’s position on issues like same-sex “marriage” and abortion.

The existing teachers’ contract expires on July 31. The new one has not been finalized and is under negotiation with the local Catholic teachers’ union, the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers, Local 2240.

In contrast, the faculty handbook is not subject to negotiation and is developed by the archdiocese.

Now, those handbooks will be updated for the 2015-16 school year with descriptions of key points of Catholic doctrine. The new language that will be incorporated into the handbook was presented in a “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church.”

Archdiocesan officials said the statement represents the religious beliefs formally affirmed by the schools, but individual teachers will not be required to sign documents that attest to their own beliefs in these doctrinal teachings.

That said, the statement calls on teachers “to avoid fostering confusion among the faithful and any dilution of the schools’ primary Catholic mission.”

“[A]dministrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths,” reads the language of the schools’ statement.

“To that end, further, we all must refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true.”

The “Statement of the High Schools” features a list of central teachings, accompanied by citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The document states that the archdiocesan high schools “affirm and believe” in such teachings as “the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist” and the teaching authority of the magisterium of the Church.

The statement also affirms Catholic doctrine on contraception, chastity and same-sex “marriage.”

“We accept the Church’s teaching that all extramarital sexual relationships are gravely evil and that these include adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations.”


Archbishop’s Letter

In a February 2015 letter that was released to teachers working at the four Catholic high schools under his direct supervision, Archbishop Cordileone underscored “a need to provide more clarity for our teachers” to help them understand key points of Catholic doctrine dealing with matters like the Real Presence, but also sexual ethics.

“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,” stated Archbishop Cordileone in his letter to the teachers.

The archbishop’s letter, along with the formal statement of belief, was released as the leadership of the teachers’ union prepared for meetings with the full membership. At present, 315 teachers belong to the union.

Subsequently, Archbishop Cordileone met with teachers from the four schools and answered their questions, while about 100 protesters gathered outside St. Mary’s Cathedral to express their opposition to the new language.

During an interview with the Register, Jesuit Father John Piderit, moderator of the Curia and vicar for administration for the archdiocese, emphasized that teachers should have no reason for concern and that the focus is simply on clarifying the high schools’ Catholic mission and identity.

“There is no intent to drive anyone out of the school,” said Father Piderit.

“The most that teachers are asked to do is to sign a statement that they read the faculty handbook and agree to abide by it. It is a professional-standards agreement.”


Diverse Beliefs Acknowledged

In striking ways, the documents released by the archdiocese acknowledge the diverse beliefs and values of lay teachers.

“We, the archdiocesan high schools, acknowledge that some of our administrators, faculty or staff may not be Catholics, and some may be Catholics who are struggling to achieve fidelity to some of the teachings of the Church,” reads one portion of the “Statement of the High Schools.”

However, the attempt to provide clarity also reveals a desire to draw a bright line between private beliefs and public actions that may create scandal, especially in an age where Internet searches and social media offer unparalleled access to teachers’ personal lives, affiliations and opinions.

Further, in the wake of recent disputes over teacher contracts and related problems in the neighboring Dioceses of Oakland and Santa Rosa, Archbishop Cordileone’s efforts to clarify the obligations of Catholic teachers is likely to stir controversy.

The new contract and handbook language also mark a shifting legislative and legal landscape shaped by the advance of “marriage equality” and related anti-discrimination statutes across the nation. Religious institutions that oppose same-sex “marriage” have already begun to face lawsuits filed by employees who were terminated for marrying same-sex partners.

“Where does ‘public life’ end for Catholic teachers?” read a Feb. 3 headline in the San Francisco Chronicle for an article that examined the aftermath of a teacher-contract dispute in the Diocese of Oakland.

Maureen Huntington, the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s superintendent of schools, issued a statement, which expressed confidence that the archbishop’s “clarifications” would be accepted by the high-school teachers “in light of God’s call to all of us to remain faithful to God’s teachings, as articulated by the Catholic Church.”

Tim Navone, president of Marin Catholic, one of the four high schools directly supervised by the archdiocese, said the school’s faculty play “an integral role” in its educational and religious mission.

“Whether they are Catholic or not, we expect them to understand and support the teachings and beliefs of our Church every day on our campus, as well as in their public and professional lives.”


‘Absolutely Nothing New’

Negotiations with the teachers’ union will continue, and some teachers still worry that the new language in the contracts could threaten their jobs.

But Father Piderit emphasized that the new language does not reflect a sea change in archdiocesan policy. Rather, it marks the need for such clarification in changing times.

“There is absolutely nothing new in the contract. We are saying the same thing as before; we are just being clearer about it,” he said.

“The only thing that is different is that secular society has changed.”

The teachers’ contracts that are already in use, he noted, feature two clauses that affirm the Catholic identity and mission of the school.

“The additional clauses simply affirm that the main purpose of the school is to proclaim Christ and his mission through the Church. That is the reason it exists,” he said regarding the new contracts.

Further, he explained that another new clause uses the word “minister” in a reference to faculty members.

“As designated by the U.S. Supreme Court, everyone who teaches at a religious school and helps the Church share its message is a ‘minister,’” Father Piderit said.

In its 2012 landmark ruling on free-exercise rights, EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, the high court found that the “ministerial exemption,” which allows religious schools to control employment matters without interference from the courts, applied to all teachers at church-based schools, including those who taught nonreligious subjects.

“No one is implying that these are ordained ministers in the way the Church usually understands it,” said Father Piderit.

“They are ministers in the sense that they are responsible for integrating the message of Christ and the Church with their own academic discipline and by the model of their lives.”


Additional Context

In his letter to teachers at the four Catholic high schools, Archbishop Cordileone sought to provide additional context for the new language.

He took note of the widening gulf between Catholic moral teaching and mainstream values, reinforced by mass entertainment and other forces. Many Catholics, he admitted, also oppose tenets of the faith that reflect a “Christian understanding of the human person and God’s purpose in creation.”

The shifting mores, he said, have produced a “toxic confusion” that permeates American society and also threatens the transmission of faith in the classroom.

“Confusion about the Church’s stance is prevalent in areas of sexual morality and religious discipline. For this reason, the statements for inclusion in the faculty handbook focus on these two areas,” he said, while noting that Church teaching on social-justice issues is “widely accepted and well interpreted in Catholic educational institutions.”

Clear teaching about “hot-button issues,” Archbishop Cordileone said, protects teachers who may be confused about the Church’s position and also helps them “provide good perspectives to their students who often struggle in these areas.”



Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.