S.F. archbishop’s imposition of morality clause at schools outrages many

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in 2013.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in 2013.
(Franco Origlia / Getty Images)

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone sparked a protest last summer when he ignored pleas from public officials to cancel his plans to march in Washington, D.C., against same-sex marriage.

Now Cordileone has prompted fresh outrage in the liberal Bay Area by imposing morality clauses on teachers, staff and administrators at the four high schools under his control in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.

A newly released handbook asks the nearly 500 school employees to “affirm and believe” that “adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations” are “gravely evil.” Artificial-reproductive technology, contraception and abortion are described similarly.


The “fundamental demands of justice,” it continues, “require that the civil law preserve the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

The handbook has triggered protests by students, parents and progressive Catholics who decry the language as divisive. They say Cordileone is out of step with Pope Francis by focusing so strongly on sexual morality at the expense of other church teachings to embrace the poor.

“Saying that someone’s nature is inherently evil, that shocked me,” said Gino Gresh, 18, a senior at San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory who participated with dozens of other students and parents at a rainy vigil Friday as Cordileone met with teachers.

Cordileone stressed in a statement that “the intention underlying this document is not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers.”

But the handbook section calls on employees to “conform their hearts, minds and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior, ever more closely to the truths taught by the Catholic Church.” Those who do not will be dealt with “on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

The loudest outcry has come over Cordileone’s proposal to insert language into contracts now under negotiation with the Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers that would designate them “ministers,” probably stripping them of recourse under state and federal anti-discrimination law if they are terminated.


Archdiocese officials declined to discuss the controversy Tuesday. Instead, they provided a lengthy audio statement in which Cordileone said the handbook and contract changes merely seek to clarify existing expectations that Catholic teachers uphold Catholic teaching.

“It is not anti-anyone. It’s not anti-anything,” Cordileone said, stressing that no one would be forced to sign a handbook oath.

Bishops in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Honolulu and Oakland last year added language to teacher contracts regarding the need to conform public — and in some instances private — lives to church teachings.

But Cordileone stands out for emphasizing sexual teachings in such overt language, said the Rev. James Bretzke, a Jesuit professor of moral theology at Boston College who spent 15 years teaching in the Bay Area.

“I don’t think it speaks to a lot of pastoral sensitivity, but what I think it does show is sincere belief,” Bretzke said. “It is not in fact popular today in the church to be a pronounced culture warrior. Some bishops who would have their fingers more to the wind have backed down from these rather polemical positions.”

Cordileone’s stand has elicited opposition at the high schools, especially from students, who have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #teachacceptance and on Monday wore white in solidarity with teachers.

“My school is extremely welcoming to anybody, anybody in the LGBT community, just anybody,” said Gresh, who is helping to plan a second vigil for Feb. 18. “The administrators and staff, all the students, we want to protect the rights of our teachers. We’re also people who don’t stand down to injustice — and I do see this as an injustice.”

Gresh noted that the school last year rallied behind a female student after her senior photo, which showed her wearing a tuxedo, was omitted from the yearbook. School officials issued a public apology. Gresh said students also know of teachers who are in same-sex relationships and are fearful they could be dismissed.

The controversy shines new light on Cordileone, a canon law expert who as an auxiliary bishop in San Diego played an instrumental role in backing Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage that was later ruled unconstitutional.

He maintained his stance as Oakland bishop before Pope Benedict XVI named him to the San Francisco post three years ago. He now chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Defense of Marriage.

In a letter to the schools, Cordileone said he acted in response to “tremendous pressure the contemporary culture places on everyone to conform to a certain agenda at variance with, and often aggressively so, our Christian understanding of the human person and God’s purpose in creation.”

“When people in Catholic institutions endorse such views, it creates a toxic confusion about our fundamental values among both students and others in society at large,” he added.

The teachers union is “very, very concerned” about the proposed change to the collective bargaining agreement that would deem them “ministers,” said Joe Hession, a representative at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo. Union officials and attorneys are “looking very closely at the legal ramifications of the language,” he said.

Father Mark Doherty, chaplain at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, told the National Catholic Reporter that by clarifying “what exactly the church teaches on neuralgic points of human sexuality and religious practice, the new language ... can help faculty members direct the course of their professional and public conduct in such a way as to not flagrantly contradict the church’s stated mission.”

But opposition has been strong.

An online petitionhad garnered nearly 6,000 signatures by Tuesday. An open letter from Bay Area “people of faith” — to be published as a paid ad in March in the National Catholic Reporter — says Cordileone’s action “creates a repressive environment in which not only dissent, but any critical thought, robust exchange of ideas and genuine dialogue are discouraged and punishable by loss of livelihood.”

Kathleen Purcell, 62, said she refused to sign Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber’s less specific clause in the contract at Bishop O’Dowd High School last year and was terminated. She signed the open letter.

“For these schools that have worked to establish themselves as places of inclusion, of welcome, of tolerance, of the theme of love and social justice, this is pulling the rug out from under them,” she said.

Also signing was the board of directors of Sophia in Trinity, a San Francisco congregation run by ordained female priests, though the church does not acknowledge them. They are indirectly referenced in Cordileone’s new handbook section, which warns educators to “refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves ‘Catholic’ but support or advocate issues or causes contrary” to church teaching.

Board member Judith Liteky was one of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary when in 1967 Los Angeles Archbishop James Francis McIntyre barred the sisters from teaching because they had embraced liberal ideals. She said she lost her job and along with 400 others chose to be dispensed from vows to “stick with what we believed.”

“This memory brings deep concern for the individual teachers at the San Francisco archdiocesan high schools,” Liteky said. “All I can say is I see so many shades of Cardinal McIntyre.”

Twitter: @leeromney