Lawmakers urge S.F. archbishop to withdraw teacher morality clauses

Salvatore Cordileone, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, walks through a gate to Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School on Feb. 6.
Salvatore Cordileone, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, walks through a gate to Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School on Feb. 6.
(Jeff Chiu / AP)

Eight state lawmakers on Tuesday urged San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone to withdraw the “morality clauses” he unveiled this month in a handbook for high school teachers, and to reverse his intention to redefine teachers as “ministers” in their employment contracts.

The letter to Cordileone from five members of the Assembly and three state senators said the new conditions for employment at four high schools run by the archdiocese “conflict with settled areas of law and foment a discriminatory environment in the communities we serve.”

Cordileone has spurred protests with his addition to the handbook -- which guides the nearly 500 school employees -- because it focuses almost exclusively on sexual morality in language many consider harsh.


It asks 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.”

Cordileone also is seeking to define teachers as ministers in the collective bargaining agreement now under negotiation with the teachers’ union -- a move that would probably strip them of recourse under anti-discrimination law in the event of dismissal.

The lawmakers’ letter takes particular exception to that designation, saying it would effectively “remove civil rights protections guaranteed to all Californians. Among these rights are the freedom to choose who to love and marry, how to plan a family, and what causes or beliefs to support through freedom of speech and association.

“The narrow exception for ‘ministers’ in federal anti-discrimination law was never intended to be a tool for discrimination,” the letter continues. “This sends an alarming message of intolerance to youth educated at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Archbishop Riordan in San Francisco, Junipero Serra in San Mateo and Marin Catholic in Kentfield.”

Cordileone unveiled the initiatives Feb. 3 and was the focus of protests by students and parents three days later. A second candlelight prayer vigil is scheduled for Wednesday evening at St. Mary’s Cathedral.


Organizers, who scheduled the event to correspond to the start of the Christian season of Lent, have called Cordileone’s morality clauses “divisive” and say sexual morality is being overemphasized at the expense of other Catholic teachings.

A spokesman for the archdiocese on Tuesday said Cordileone was unavailable for comment on the letter. But in earlier letters and presentations to teachers, Cordileone stressed that the language in the handbook and contract proposal merely reaffirm existing church teachings.

He focused on sexual morality, he said, because it is in that arena that “confusion about the church’s stance is prevalent.”

Though the letter from lawmakers acknowledges that the archdiocese “wields discretion over working conditions” at the schools, it says his proposal strikes “a divisive tone, which stands in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and its history.”

In an email, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), a signatory to the letter, said: “Injustice must be confronted, no matter the source. Our society is based on the principle that we are all created equally. Any novel legal maneuvers to impose injustice must be stopped.”

The other signatories are Assemblymen Richard Gordon, David Chiu, Marc Levine and Kevin Mullin; and Sens. Mark Leno and Jerry Hill.