In the latest in a series of recent conflicts, on Thursday 100 prominent San Franciscans placed a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle asking Pope Francis to remove San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone.
Their letter of petition comes after two months of controversy over the archdiocese’s February announcement of a new “morality clause” in Catholic schools’ employee handbook (found here), and the further suggestion that teachers might be reclassified ministers, which would end their right to collective bargaining under California law.
A month ago the archdiocese was also faced with trying to explain why St. Mary’s Cathedral had installed a system to dump water on homeless people trying to sleep in its doorways during the night. And it faces continued questions about the goings on at Star of the Sea Parish, where the pastor has announced an end to female altar servers, and grade school students were given a Lenten examination of conscience questionnaire that included questions about masturbation, abortion and adultery.
In their letter, the one hundred Catholic signatories—who include attorneys, doctors, engineers, educators, business executives, financial advisors, the former head of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, a former member of the Archdiocesan Board of Education and a former battalion chief in the fire department—listed four concerns: the “mean-spirited” language in the employee handbooks, which they say “coerces educators and staff in our Catholic high schools to accept a morality code which violates individual consciences as well as California labor laws”; the issues at Star of the Sea; the Archbishop’s purported isolation from the San Francisco Catholic community; and his “single issue agenda,” which they find threatens the archdiocese to such an extent that it “cannot survive, let alone thrive and grow under his supervision.”
Addressing Pope Francis directly, they write that “Archbishop Cordileone has fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance” and ask the pope to “provide us with a leader true to our values and your namesake.”
Much of this should come as a surprise to no one. The Vatican’s 2012 decision to appoint a strong critic of gay marriage to lead the Church in a city with rich history and commitment to L.G.B.T. Americans was fraught with the possibility of serious long-term conflict under the best of circumstances.
At the same time, Thursday’s public scourging doesn’t seem likely to produce positive results, either. Few respond well to being backed into a corner.
And while Catholics in San Francisco may feel that it is they who have been pushed into making such a strong statement, in fact some progress seems to be occurring without it. The archdiocese has already said they will drop the idea of designating teachers as ministers. Based on the feedback they’ve received they’ve indicated that they’re also rewriting the handbook insert. It’s also worth noting, the move to have such a clause is by no means unique to San Francisco, nor as problematic as in other dioceses, which have taken to requiring an oral or signed oath.
Similarly, within a day of the report on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s appalling and irresponsible treatment of the homeless, the archdiocese announced that the system would be stopped immediately. Would we prefer that such measures had never been deployed in the first place? (And also that whoever came up with such a plan might themselves some day know the joy of having buckets of ice water dumped on them while they slept?) God yes. But change was made, and made fast.
None of this is to say there’s no reason for Catholics to be frustrated (or their archbishop either). But that frustration calls for scrutiny and self-reflection. On all sides, this seems less the time for digging in and building bunkers than for imagination, persistence and mercy.
And few have those strengths like the people of San Francisco.
[Note: I’ve reached out repeatedly to the archdiocese for comment on these issues without response. (One of the other challenges the archdiocese has faced in recent months is its lack of a permament Director of Communications. They're currently in the process of filling the position.)
I’ve also reached out to a number of those who signed the survey. Tomorrow I will be posting an interview with one such person. If I get an official comment from the archbishop or his staff I will post that as well.]