Faith, Morals and the Archdiocese of San Francisco

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco speaks to crowd gathered for the fourth annual rosary rally, Oct. 11, 2014.

As you may have heard, in recent weeks the Archdiocese of San Francisco has found itself embroiled in a conflict over new language being inserted into its schools’ employee handbook. (The full text of that new language can be found here.)

Among a number of significant issues in play, a main flashpoint has been the archdiocese’s expectations regarding the personal lives of its employees. The new text includes this paragraph:

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“...Administrators, 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. 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, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law. Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves ‘Catholic’ but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

What constitutes a life that “visibly contradicts, undermines or denies” the truths of the church? If a faculty or staff member were to be living with someone outside the context of marriage, would that constitute a fire-able offense? How about if someone signed a petition calling for a change in the Church’s moral teaching, such as regarding artificial means of reproduction?

In an 11-minute audio statement released in response to concerns (which can be found within this Los Angeles Times article on the changes), Archbishop Salvatore Cordelione has tried to reassure, saying “These are statements of the institution, that the school as an institution is committed to fostering these teachings. It is not a personal statement of the teachers as individuals. The teachers are entitled as we are to live their personal lives. Certainly there’s going to be no prying into teachers’ personal lives.” [emphasis added]  He also notes employees are not being asked to sign a statement of faith (unlike other dioceses implementing similar policies).

Unfortunately ambiguity persists, in no small part because the new language enumerates specific doctrines that must be must be “affirmed and believed.” Affirmation could speak to one’s public position; but belief relates to one’s private convictions, the stances borne of one’s conscience. Certainly the church can ask its employees to have their consciences be informed by the teaching of the church, just as it asks every member of the faithful, and it can ask that in their classrooms faculty and staff represent that teaching to the fullest (though of course part of that teaching is also the importance of one’s own conscience). But to require belief in a given position is beyond the church’s purview.

Employees have reacted strongly on this point. A remarkable 80 percent of the 470 employees of the San Francisco Catholic school system have signed petitions demanding that the insert be removed. And the city of San Francisco has taken the extraordinary step of publicly requesting the same, saying the church must “recognize the informed conscience of each individual educator to make their own moral decisions and choices outside the workplace.”

Other choices in the inserted text are also puzzling. The list of items that school employees are expected to assent to includes the existence of Hell and Purgatory, and the infallibility of the papacy. But it makes no mention of the Creed. It does ask that all things in the Catechism be affirmed and believed. But one might things like the three persons of the Trinity or the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, for example, would merit mention.

Likewise, the new text includes moral issues like contraception, homosexuality, the value of life, even cloning; but nowhere does it talk about virtues like faith, hope and mercy, or the demands of justice. In his recent statement Archbishop Cordelione made a point of saying more than once that he feels that the archdiocese’s schools do a great job of “teaching compassion” and “accepting people.” But again, in a document meant to indicate expectations, one might expect such things to be included.

For me, though, the biggest question of the inserted language speaks to our faith in God. The entire emphasis of the new text is the faculty and staff’s responsibility as formators of our young people. That’s not a surprise; in fact I suspect most of them already embrace a similar point of view. Though undoubtedly the archdiocese did not intend this, many likely feel that this new text is implying that they don’t already take their schools’ mission very seriously. (As someone who has spent his whole life watching his aunt work in the Chicago Catholic school system, I feel confident in saying, you don’t do that work for very long if you’re not committed to the mission. Among other things, we don’t pay anywhere near enough for it to be worthwhile!)

But what about the role that God has to play in our educational system and in the formation of our young people? The archdiocese’s new text mentions God only in the sense of things that must be believed (and even then, not really). Yet we know that our work as Catholics occurs only within the broader context of the action of God. He is the source of our inspiration and wisdom.

And more than that, we believe that God is the one who enables all our effort to work for the good. You can’t be a teacher for very long without knowing just how flawed and in need of help you are, any more than you can a parent or a priest or anything else. And of course God asks us to pick ourselves back up and try again. But he never expects us to ever be perfect.

No, instead he calls upon us to have faith in Him, to believe that he can not only fix our mistakes at times, but that somehow he can build the Kingdom even in the midst of them. Scripture tells us that “all things work for the good for those who love God”; not “all things work for the good for those who love God perfectly.”

It’s very well to call the staff or our schools to their best selves. We all need that reminder from time to time (though as the saying goes, you often catch more flies with honey). But in not placing that conversation and set of expectations within the broader context of the movement (and love) of God, the archdiocese would seem to be forgetting not just an important piece of the equation, but the very foundation upon which everything else rests.

The archdiocese did not answer requests for comment. 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
I think its fair to say that when you see new 'flash points' over new teacher personal rules, Latin Mass, no altar girls even people in Peoria would expect it to generate fierce pushback in San Francisco .... By High Schools , 80% of the teachers and unaminous political opposition Since the new Archbishop was born in and knows San Francisco very well this signals a new campaign despite the expected pushback; To launch the campaign,he recently hired a top offical to the new Office Of Catholic Identity.. Mission? To start to name who is and who is not Catholic.What is and what is not Catholic.The old "here comes everbody' but into a small tent. . Also when you create uproar its not adult to whine about the pushback. . ..
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
Except the “flash points” are not new. The notion that one can teach in a Catholic school and publicly reject Catholic teaching, or even the Catholic Church, is new. The attempt to suppress the Latin Mass is new. Altar girls are new. It is interesting to observe the “heads I win, tails you lose” game of those who wish to change the Catholic Identity. Certainly determining what is and what is not Catholic is a function of a Catholic bishop.
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
I'm guessing but I would think that you do not believe the function of 'Certainly determining what is and what is not American [patriotic] is a function of an American president'.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
The relevance of the function of the elected executive in a tripartite republic founded by men based on a written constitution to the function of an appointed successor to the apostles in a hierarchical teaching Church founded by the Son of God Himself isn't clear to me. Could you hum a few bars?
Robert Koch
3 years 5 months ago
No one is forcing the 80% of teachers to stay teaching in Catholic schools. If they do not like the Archbishop's mandate they are free to leave and find work elsewhere. They would fit right in the public school system.
Cody Serra
3 years 5 months ago
What really amazes me is that all the points emphasized in the employee handbook seem to be signaling a different church than the one Francis is heading. Love of God and neighbor as the first and guiding principle of our faith. Where is the respect for the primacy of conscience? Can a Bishop deny its existence? Is he doubting about the Catholic identity of the school staff and faculty that has been forming Christian minds and hearts before he became the Bishop? Does a Bishop has rights over the thoughts and minds of the employees,or of the faithful? I imagine he can argue about the concept of "informed conscience". Does he think that this moral rules will inform better the consciences of these persons? Oh, Lord, may your merciful love protect all the employees and the community of SF.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
"Primacy of Conscience" means that ultimately you must follow your conscience. It does not mean that you can't be fired for following it, executed for following it against the State, or must be allowed to speak it in a Catholic setting in contradiction of the Church's teachings. The stuff about "thoughts and minds" is simply propaganda - no one but you and God know your thoughts. This document deals with public manifestations.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
This article constitutes a tempest in a teapot. The employees are expected to affirm and believe the contents of the Catechism. The contents include the existence of Hell and Purgatory, the infallibility of the Church, including the special papal infallibility restricted to certain things under certain circumstances (there is no "infallibility of the papacy" per se). It also includes the Creed and the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. Of course I cheated and actually read the Catechism. Nor is there any mystery as to what could get someone in trouble. Making a public statement in favor of same sex marriage in print or other media, publicly denouncing a truth of the Catholic Faith, showing up at school function with same sex partner and kissing. The word used in the Catechism is the same one as used in Canon Law: scandal. The fact that 80 percent of the 470 employees of the San Francisco Catholic school system have signed petitions demanding that the insert be removed is a pretty good indication it was needed. I can understand, having read the article, why the Archdiocese did not wish to comment. Why bother?
Ryan DiBernardo
3 years 5 months ago
I am sorry, I am overwhelmed by the glare created by golden vestments to have opinion on matters of morality.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
I haven't seen gold vestments in years. Gold is not one of the usual liturgical colors but can be used to substitute for white. Any you see in a parish are only gold-colored, not gold, which are typically found only in cathedrals and ancient churches and treasures kept for use only on very special occasions.
alan macdonald
3 years 5 months ago
Imagine, a Roman Catholic Bishop in the US actually doing his job! Makes the rest of the US bishops look like a bunch of politically correct weaklings.
Tim Martin
3 years 5 months ago
I find this to be very disturbing. As a Catholic, I feel I am on a journey of faith. Part of that journey is to struggle with things that I find difficult about my faith. The ultimate struggle is to be as Christ like as humanly possible. None of this strikes me as Christ like. Is their some line that defines you as Catholic? Some minimum set of beliefs that, if you don't completely agree to, you are considered outside the club? Do you want to stand in front of Jesus on your judgement day and explain to him why you decided to exclude his brothers and sisters. To have no doubt is to deny your humanity. Ultimately, God made us human. Doubt leads to a deeper acceptance than to just accept because you were told to. I would want teachers who can have compassion with students as they learn what their faith means, not someone who blindly adhers to a rulebook handed to them by others.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
We are all on a journey of faith. There is in fact some line that defines you as Catholic if you are going to represent the Church in some official capacity. Excluding our brothers and sisters is an apostolic admonition if they will not amend their lives. Individuals who are having problems with the Catholic faith have many options open in their lives. One of those options should not be teaching children or otherwise acting as a minister of the Church.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
The notion that ones private religious beliefs are not somehow also part of and worked out in the visible community is a myth that Catholicism has fought against. So whether one agrees or disagrees with the Archbishop, his assurances concerning the individual private views and lives of the teachers makes little or no sense. There have been cases where a pregnant teacher who was not married was asked to leave her teaching position. It is difficult for a gay person who is with another gay person to keep that fact out of public view. There was also a case in Colorado where two gay women were told their child could not enter kindergarten in a Catholic School. The pastor who made the decision was supported by Bishop Chaput. Either the Archbishop is being disingenuous or he does not understand the Aristo/Thomistic principle of non contradiction.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
No one has suggested that private religious beliefs are not part of the visible community. What the Archbishop has said is that this won't be England under Queen Elizabeth, that they are not going to be probing private lives. The word that's relevant is "scandal", and it is used in both the Catechism and Canon Law. And example would be an unmarried pregnant teacher - it is pretty hard to hide that from the children. A homosexual openly in a union with another same sex individual falls under that rubric, as did the two lesbians denied entrance into a Catholic School. There is no disingenuity or contradiction, at least on the part of the Archbishop.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
If 80% of teachers affected by this policy protested then that is evidence that something is not right about what the Archbishop has promulgated. Sometimes the church is too concerned about the "scandal of the weak" and ignores the "scandal of the strong." The Archbishop either intended something very seriously threatening by his open ended letter or he just felt like writing something with his name attached. The devil, as they say, is in the details which, in this case, remain open for the devil in the future to interpret. When was the last time the Queen of England concerned herself with the beliefs the English ?
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
If 80% of teachers affected by this policy protested then that is evidence that this policy was long overdue and quite needed. There really is nothing for the devil to interpret in the future - the issue is "scandal" which is well defined in both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Canon Law. The Queen of England is irrelevant, but in the UK as in the USA standing up and preaching treason will have an adverse effect on employment in the government, as standing up and preaching heresy should have for those involved in official Catholic ministry such as teaching.
Tom Helwick
3 years 5 months ago
I am ashamed of this bishop, take a look!!! http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/san-francisco-cathedral-homeless-water
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
I wouldn't get too upset about "A staff member at the cathedral reportedly told the radio station ....". When the radio station actually can name someone and/or talks to the Archbishop, then we'll have something to discuss.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
http://www.sfarchdiocese.org/docs/default-source/media-items-2015/media-advisory-archdiocese-of-san-francisco-3-18-15.pdf?sfvrsn=2
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
The Cathedral learned of the water dousing of the homeless system from the Financial District that used it. Yikes !
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
Of course the Cathedral learned of nothing - it is an inanimate object. Implied is that whoever was seeking a solution to feces, needles, and other dangerous objects littering the area found that his or her counterparts in the Financial District were using sprinklers to deter such vandalism for the safety of churchgoers. Food and shelter is provided at the Cathedral for homeless people in safer locations at the Cathedral. So, what we learn is that the original report spun sprinklers into " an attempt to soak homeless people", which commenters than spun into "dousing", an example of shoddy reporting, of gullibility if its sounds like it reinforces our prejudices, and of the incredible anti-Catholic bias of SF media in general. One assumes that the SF media will not be reporting on the efforts of the Archdiocese to house, feed, and care for homeless people in the near future.
Tom Helwick
3 years 5 months ago
While the homeless scramble for shelter his imminence resides in luxurious fashion, what happened to 'Go sell all you have and give it to the poor'? I don't think Pope Francis would darken the doors of that rectory. http://www.nbcbayarea.com/blogs/open-house/Inside-the-Archbishops-SF-Abode--132949223.html#132949223
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
The homeless don't scramble for shelter, the Archdiocese provides food and shelter for them at multiple locations. The "rectory" you identify is called the "Archbishop’s Mansion". However, it is NOT the Archbishop's residence. The Archbishop’s Mansion was built in 1904 and was the Archbishop’s residence until the mid 1960’s. It was extensively and expensively restored during the conversion to a boutique hotel in 1983-84, and possesses one of the most striking interior designs and décor to be found in late Victorian architecture. The exterior is understated elegance in the French Second Empire Victorian style. The current archbishop lives in the "Pastoral Center" which is a converted convent: http://www.cahill-sf.com/experience/project/pastoral-center-archbishop-san-francisco which includes meeting rooms, a conference hall, and guest rooms for visitors.
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
Martin; As a San Franciscan this is just another disgrace we have to endure.Your 'Converted convent' was remodeled [on the inside only] at 2 million by Cardinal Levada. The ancient title you seem to want is Defender of the Faith . There is no title .. Defender of the Hierarchy. See http://thegubbioproject.org/video this is how my Franciscan parish treats the homeless.
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
You pastor link is a Chancery office building.... NOT the Archdiocesan Rectory
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
That's not what it says. The chancery offices includes "the Archbishop’s suite". And so it does.
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
Wrong again
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
http://www.cahill-sf.com/experience/project/pastoral-center-archbishop-san-francisco http://www.superpages.com/bp/San-Francisco-CA/Archbishop-Of-San-Francisco-L0088894971.htm
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
your link is wrong. your grandma would know that the picture of a five story office building is not a residence; My last word but I expect a rebuttal. .
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
Noticeably absent from your vociferous posts is the "correct" address for the archbishop's residence. I just checked my P. J. Kenedy Official Catholic Directory and find: One Peter Yorke Way, San Francisco, California 94109. That appears to be the address I presented. Post the correct address for the residence and I will forward it to Archbishop Cordileone so he can finally find his way home.
ed gleason
3 years 5 months ago
The Archbishop gets his mail in his office. Isn't that an Orthodox thing to do?. There are two rectories on the Cathedral . grounds [been in both[ The building you're obsessed with is the Chancery across the street from the cathedral grounds on Peter York . . [been there too]. But go with the wrong info on the builders website and The Kenedy Directory,,[I would say the directory is a bit expensive for a Commonweal poster]
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
So much for my having the last word. Let's discuss the archbishop's shoes. Do they upset you?
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
Other than the fact you apparently detested Cardinal Levada and now this particular archbishop, you aren't making a great deal of progress in throwing muck at them. Levada left San Francisco ten years ago. The remodeled convent provides needed office space, guest rooms, and meeting rooms for vital archdiocesan business and activities. Anyone familiar with that area knows what it costs to build or remodel there. Your url to apparently a video doesn't work, but with the "/video" removed it does present some nice information about the Gubbio Project of St Boniface Church. The Archdiocese of San Francisco has a worthy record of caring for the homeless, also. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2015/03/criticizing-cordileone I'd disassociate myself from the raging heathens grinding their axes and their teeth at Archbishop Cordileone, to the extent of fabricating issues like "drowning", "drenching", "soaking", or otherwise abusing homeless people, and mistaking a boutique hotel for the archbishop's residence, and devote time and energy into doing something worthwhile during Lent. The anti-Catholics seem to be able to throw muck without any help at all.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
"The Cathedral learned of nothing. It is an inanimate object." Inanimate object indeed, that has to be protected from the homeless, who are not inanimate,sleeping on its inanimate steps. Of course. At the risk of insulting your intelligence, we refer to the White House all the time and everyone knows that we are speaking of the President and his administration. Well maybe not everyone. Good grief !!!
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
The notion it "has to be protected from the homeless ... sleeping on its inanimate steps" is another one of those illogical appeals to emotion that fly in the face of facts. Facts: - the reason for the sprinkling system was to protect churchgoers and others using the cathedral from feces, used hypodermic needles, and other dangerous objects - anyone sleeping on its inanimate steps is doing so in lieu of actual shelter provided at the cathedral and other locations in the archdiocese, along with meals and other services Reading these comments, and the twisted "reporting" in San Francisco, makes me feel like I am in Moscow reading Putin's version of events in Crimea. I would think a Catholic would at least try to get some straight information before forming a lynch mob and looking for the archbishop.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
Maybe the animate sleeping on the inanimate steps of the inanimate Cathedral gets them closer to Jesus in the tabernacle, or to people visiting Jesus in the tabernacle... for even the homeless cannot live on bread alone....or is that being too emotional ? No wait ! Jesus is not only in the tabernacle. There He is homeless, lying on the inanimate steps of the inanimate Cathedral. There are a lot of insults, and name calling in your responses. Maybe you should get a grip on your emotions.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
The animate aren't sleeping on the inanimate steps of the inanimate Cathedral .... based on what they're leaving behind, they're shooting drugs and relieving their bowels. I don't think a rational case can be made that either should be permitted, or that either gets them closer to Jesus in the tabernacle, or to people visiting Jesus in the tabernacle. If Jesus is lying on the inanimate steps of the inanimate cathedral shooting up or taking a dump, we're going to have to go back and rewrite the Gospels. Pointing out that someone is making things up with irrational appeals to bizarre imagery shouldn't be considered an insult or name calling . Rather it's a suggestion that someone should get a real grip on the reality of the situation and recognize the guardians of the cathedral are doing reasonable things for good rational reasons.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
I thought March Madness referred to the NCAA basketball tournament. Now I am not so sure. Thank you Father Jim McDermmot for another fine ariticle to make us think and examine our collective Catholic Consciences. Now I would rather watch basketball, both men and women. Go Notre Dame ! Go Irish ! Goodbye !
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
Not necessary to rewrite the Gospels. Review Jesus teaching on the Last Judgement...."when did we see you sleeping on the Cathedral steps"....answer, "what you did to the least of mine, you did it to Me."
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
To make the point you're trying to make, the passage would have to read "when did you see someone injecting heroin in an exterior alcove of the Cathedral?" Not to denigrate your overheated rhetoric and obvious upset, but the steps of the Cathedral were not being watered, it was the areas where needles, excrement, and other dangerous objects were being left. Denizens of the dark rarely shoot up in daylight in full view of the public, or drop their trousers and do their business while folks pass by. There is a disconnect with reality to suggest that it is a Christian duty to not take ordinary safety and health precautions, or that the Archdiocese which provides food and shelter to the homeless is morally obliged to provide outdoor restrooms on the exterior of the Cathedral.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
"There is a disconnect with reality to suggest that it is a Christian duty to not take ordinary safety and health precautions, or that the Archdiocese which provides food and shelter to the homeless is morally obliged to provide outdoor restrooms on the exterior of the Cathedral." Not sure that answer will fly at the Last Judgement. Put the damn portable potties outside if necessary...a good idea that has been stumbled upon which comports with Pope Francis notion of the Church as a field hospital where the servants get dirty, even smelly.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
If you think at the Last Judgment Jesus Christ will condemn the individual who protected children from infected hypodermic needles littering the exterior of the cathedral, or elderly from stepping in excrement and urine, you need to take a look at Mark 11:15–19, 11:27–33, Matthew 21:12–17, 21:23–27, Luke 19:45–48, 20:1–8, and John 2:13–16. There is no need to put portable potties outside - the archdiocese has shelters for these same people with beds, warm bedding, toilets, and food. Unable to distinguish between criminal activity and being homeless, you will have little success in arguing with people who can.
Paul Ferris
3 years 5 months ago
Thank you Tom for this link. It is shocking. While Pope Francis is installing showers for the homeless outside his church so they feel clean enough to have dinner with him, the Archbishop is compounding the indignity of the homeless by dousing them with water to remove them from the area. Hopefully Pope Francis, if he hears about it, will get so upset that he will soon find another place for the San Francisco Archbishop far away from people, especially the poor.

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