It’s a sign of the times that the idea of the Catholic archbishop of the nation’s most gay-friendly city standing his ground on sexual practice is front-page news. There’s been quite the media war going on this past month ever since Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone lowered the boom, making it clear how he expects teachers in Catholic high schools to behave.
First, some back story: The San Francisco Chronicle laid out his new requirements in a straightforward piece on Feb. 3:
The conservative Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco has developed a new document for Catholic high school faculty and staff clarifying that sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are “gravely evil.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s document applies to faculty and staff at four Catholic high schools: Riordan and Sacred Heart in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra High School in San Mateo. It states that administrators, faculty and staff “affirm and believe” the controversial statements, which will be part of the faculty handbook.
The document goes on to say that marriage is between “one man and one woman,” despite California law allowing same-sex marriages. It also notes that sperm donation, the use of a surrogate and other forms of “artificial reproductive technology” are also gravely evil.
The document notes that while not all staff at the schools are Catholic, they are “required to stand as effective and visible professional participants and proponents of truly Catholic education.” Those who are not Catholic “must refrain” from participating in organizations that “advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the church.”
Apparently this is news to some of the 317 teachers affected by this rule although you must wonder what planet they’ve been on to not know where the Catholic Church stands on these issues. But some Catholic schools have doctrinal covenants of this kind and some do not. Apparently, this document is new.
Next, Cordileone held a closed meeting on Feb. 6 with teachers to explain his side of the story.
A teacher could face punishment or dismissal for “escorting a woman into an abortion clinic, handing out contraception to students or for being a member of a white supremacist group,” Cordileone said, according to a recording made by someone present during the question-and-answer session that followed a morning Mass for school staff. Media were barred from attending.
The team that produced this article got a bunch of quotes from students and parents standing outside of the closed meeting -- all of them opposing the archbishop -- but only found one person (out of the archdiocese’s 444,000 Catholics), and that an 86-year-old woman, who supported Cordileone.
Now think about that. It can’t be that hard to find orthodox Catholics in the city. Ignatius Press is based there and Joseph Fessio, its very conservative founder, is usually happy to talk with the media.
By the time the Chronicle revisited the situation on Feb. 22, there was an online petition signed by more than 6,000 people opposing the updated handbook, a move by the teachers union to negotiate over its language and an open letter from eight California legislators decrying Cardileone’s “message of intolerance.”
Despite the fact that the use of “strict moral code” in the headline is problematic, the piece does give equal weight to Cordileone’s viewpoint in the words of fellow Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa who said:
“The shock and surprise that the church has standards and that it will actually enforce them should not be happening,” Vasa said. “Of course you need a code of ethics. Look at UPS. They have strict dress codes, hair codes, business conduct codes. Why should the church be different?"
Cordileone then appeared before the Chronicle’s editorial board on Feb. 24 to explain that he’s not going to be spying into peoples’ bedrooms and suggested he was backing down on his earlier stand.
Cordileone said he has no intention of invading private lives. The purpose of his guidelines, he said, is to make sure his teachers’ behavior, and the examples they set in public, don’t contradict bedrock Catholic principles -- which condemn same-sex marriage, abortion and birth control.
In other words, this a battle about defending doctrine. Journalists, of course, don't have to support the doctrines (GetReligion people keep saying that), but they do need to accurately cover both sides of these debates.
The diocese took issue with that piece and issued its own statement disagreeing with the Chronicle’s take on it. The archbishop hasn’t repealed or changed anything, it said.
Now, I covered all of those articles in order to note that The Chronicle’s coverage is a model of propriety compared to certain outside media in other elite zip codes. The piece The Los Angeles Times ran on A1 was indignant.
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.
Note the editorial language: “ignored pleas,” “promoted fresh outrage,” “imposing morality clauses,” etc. Yes, definitely, this is a return to the Dark Ages.
Then The New York Times weighed in to declare the issue is “stirring San Francisco.” The newspaper of record offered a perfect blast of Kellerism and failed to quote even one local supporter of the archbishop.
Some Catholics have fought back, and there is an interesting story there. Catholic News Agency wrote that some parents have hired a top San Francisco PR firm -- one with a colorful and complex history -- to go after Cordileone. A piece at National Review noted the same thing, saying opponents are “calling in the big guns to fire at San Francisco Archdiocese.”
What no one has reported is that no one forced any of these teachers to work at a Catholic school. In other words, this is another battle over the rights of voluntary, doctrinally defined associations. This is big issue nationwide and getting bigger all the time.
Meanwhile, parochial schools often pay far less than public schools, so it’s often a labor of love for those who work there. Surely employees knew that whatever their sexual practices, they were expected to at least publicly adhere to Catholic teaching in their classrooms or at least not trash these doctrines? If that is not the case, then why didn't they know that?