Archbishop to Politicians: Would You Hire a Campaign Manager Who Works Against What You Stand for?

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone defends Catholic schools' teacher handbook against California politicians' criticism.

SAN FRANCISCO — Politicians have targeted San Francisco Catholic schools’ teacher standards, but Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone says they are a matter of Catholic mission and common sense.

“Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” he wrote in his reply to eight state legislators who had criticized Catholic standards for school employees.

The archbishop suggested a hypothetical situation in which Democratic politicians employ a “brilliant campaign manager,” though a Republican, who is willing to work for them and not speak or act contrary to his employers or his employers’ political party.

“Now, let’s say that this campaign manager you hired, despite promises to the contrary, starts speaking critically of your party and favorably of your running opponent, and so you decide to fire the person,” the archbishop continued in a Feb. 19 letter. He suggested this firing would be done not for hatred of Republicans, but because the employee “violated the trust given to you and acted contrary to your mission.”

The Archdiocese of San Francisco on Feb. 3 announced additions and clarifications to the faculty and staff handbooks for the archdiocese’s four high schools, as well as proposed new morals clauses for teacher contracts that would define teachers as having a ministerial role. The archdiocese said the changes to the handbook and contract do not contain anything new, but are intended to “clarify existing expectations that Catholic teachers in their professional and public lives uphold Catholic teaching.”

The changes focus on sexual morality and religious practice, due to prevalent confusion about the Church’s stance, Archbishop Cordileone said in early February.

But political protests and threats greeted the changes.

“What is happening is a direct challenge to the teaching authority of the Church and its right to teach its doctrine by public authorities in direct conflict with the First Amendment,” Bill May, president of the California-based Catholics for the Common Good, told CNA Feb. 19.

Eight California state legislators, in a Feb. 17 letter to Archbishop Cordileone, called on him to withdraw the morality clauses. Although they acknowledged he has “discretion over working conditions” at the schools, they claimed the standard for high-school staff and faculty “infringes on the personal freedoms of their employees” and “sends an alarming message of intolerance to youth.”

The legislators claimed the standards “conflict with settled areas of law” and “foment a discriminatory environment” in the community. They suggested that religious-freedom exemptions in federal law are being used as “a tool for discrimination.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s response stressed the need for accurate and complete information. He said there was “a lot of misinformation” being circulated about the contract. It was a falsehood to say the morality clauses apply to teachers’ private lives, he added.

He said he would respect politicians who employ or do not employ “whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.”

But political power, not respect, could be on full display soon.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that California Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, one of the legislators who signed the letter, said in an email that “any novel legal maneuvers to impose injustice must be stopped.”

San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell told the Chronicle that city officials are looking into legal options to prevent what he considers to be discriminatory employment practices. Farrell said he plans to introduce a San Francisco Board of Supervisors resolution that will “express the concern and disappointment” of Catholics opposed to the standards.

May rejected the threats of political action against the Church.

“Unlike politicians, the Church does not set it standards based on popular opinion,” he said. “She would be a fraud if she did.”

He contended that the legislators’ letter is “an arrogant attempt by politicians to challenge the authority of the archbishop to set standards on who is authorized to teach Catholic doctrine to children.”

He defended the standards, saying it is reasonable for parents who send their children to Catholic high schools to be sure that their children will learn “authentic Catholic teaching, without conflicting commentary or examples by people in authority.”

The handbook additions state that individual teachers are not required to believe each stated item of Catholic doctrine. Archbishop Cordileone said this recognizes that some Catholic teachers and non-Catholic teachers might not agree with everything the Church teaches.

Objectors have particularly focused on expectations that teachers not undermine sexual morality in their personal behavior or engage in public advocacy of positions contrary to Catholicism, such as support for abortion or same-sex “marriage.”

Opposition to the archdiocese’s actions has some popularity in a city known for left-leaning political activism and permissive, even celebratory, attitudes towards sexual vice.

LGBT activist groups such as the Human Rights Campaign have rallied national opposition and fanned hostile media coverage of the archdiocese.

Locally, several hundred people, including some Catholic high-school teachers, students and students’ parents, gathered outside San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on Feb.18 to protest.

One student protester told CBS affiliate KPIX 5 that the archbishop’s actions are in line with Catholic teaching, but worried that if the standards are applied, “a lot of our teachers might leave.”

“We don’t want our teachers to leave and maybe even leave the faith,” the student said. “We just think that maybe the Catholic Church should become as progressive as the Episcopal Church.”

Some teachers critical of the changes do not object to the morality clauses specifically, but object to being considered as “ministers,” worrying it will undermine their collective-bargaining power as part of the teachers’ union.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has previously opposed Catholic teaching.

In 2006, the board condemned a Vatican instruction telling the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities affiliate to stop placing adoptive children with same-sex couples. The resolution referred to the Vatican as a “foreign country” that interferes in San Francisco affairs and claimed the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is “hateful” and “insulting to all San Franciscans.”

The Archdiocese of San Francisco challenged the resolution as an unconstitutional use of government power against religion, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the challenge in 2011.