A week ago today 100 Catholics in San Francisco placed a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle, criticizing the leadership of Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and asking Pope Francis to remove him as local ordinary.
As one might expect, reactions to this move have been all over the map. “S.F. Archbishop Cordileone wanted a fight, and now he has lost,” trumpeted a headline that same day in the Chronicle. The ad, writes columnist C.W. Nevius, “highlights the question: How can the pope continue to promote a vision of inclusion and acceptance while his representative in San Francisco pursues an agenda of discrimination?”
Meanwhile LifeSiteNews.com announced yesterday that it has raised $30,000 from online donors to purchase its own newspaper ad thanking Pope Francis for the archbishop. “Like you, Archbishop Cordileone understands that the church is in the business of saving souls, and that we cannot afford to compromise on the truth,” they write in their letter, “or be complacent when the actions of our brothers and sisters put their souls in peril.” Archbishop Cordileone, they find, “is exactly the shepherd we need.”
Among those watching these events unfold is Vivian Dudro, a book editor with Ignatius Press who has lived in San Francisco with her family for over twenty years. “As someone who has been in San Francisco all these years and raised kids here, nothing surprises me,” says Dudro. Even so, she criticizes the Chronicle ad, noting “in every single paragraph there were misstatements.”
For example, she highlights the ad’s attack on her parish, Star of the Sea, which has been the focus of much attention in the archdiocese since its pastor announced he was stopping the practice of female altar servers. A few weeks after that story broke, further news reports revealed that grade school students in the parish had been given an examination of conscience pamphlet that included questions about whether those reading had among other things performed an abortion, committed adultery or masturbated.
Dudro points out, the thing the press and the ad did not report was that this “was an honest mistake” – of another priest, not the pastor – “and as soon as it was brought to the attention of the pastor, he retrieved them, he took responsibility and apologized.”
Dudro acknowledges that a major issue of contention in the archdiocese is the Archbishop’s proposed changes to the Archdiocesan teachers’ contracts, which include a list of moral teachings faculty staff must “affirm and believe” and the possibility of reclassifying teachers as ministers, which could greatly diminish their civil rights protections and ability to collectively bargain. But she surmises, “Let’s be honest, the reason why this is such an issue is San Francisco is the mecca for the homosexual rights movement. And the Church here has had issues with trying to proclaim its message in a city with a lot of people who reject that message.”
She sees the advertisement as the work of “the one percenters”, and a “veiled threat—do what we want or we’ll take our money."
On the other side of the issue, Tom Brady Sr., an insurance executive who was one of the hundred signees to the advertisement (and also the father of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady), points out that those hundred people have each offered decades of service to the church. And many of them are not wealthy at all. “There are a lot of people on that list who are simply people in the diocese who work very hard for the various programs in the diocese, in the church, in the schools.”
He sees comments like Dudro’s as an attempt to minimize their very reasonable concerns. “The Catholic Church means a ton to me,” he explains. “I’ve been involved in it my whole life. And what I see going on here is virtually every constituency being disenfranchised. Whether it’s girls and women or gays and lesbians or high schools or the parishes.... The teachers are all shook up. The parents are all shook up. The priests are depressed.”
Asked about whether he and his fellow signees had considered smaller or less public steps, Brady indicates, “We’ve written letters to the papal nuncio. We get no response. And the archbishop continues to disrupt and stir up Catholics. If you keep getting ignored, what are you going to do?”
Brady also resists being labeled some kind of presumptuous rabblerouser. “I’m not a troublemaker. I’m just an old dad, an old husband and an old Catholic who wants to live and let live, and to be able to practice my faith in a way that has worked for me for the 70 years of my life. I don’t want somebody to say they’re holier than me or to make me feel put down in my pursuit of my salvation.”
In response to the advertisement, Dudro and some of her friends created a new group, San Francisco Catholics, which will be holding a family picnic in support Archbishop Cordileone on Saturday, May 16.
Says Dudro, “As the Archbishop is saying, he’s not creating a division. A division already exists. There are people both inside the church and outside the church that do not agree with the church’s moral teaching. So what’s the church supposed to do?”
In some ways, the conflict between these two points of view might be summarized in the ways they imagine a church of mercy. Brady says the role of an archbishop is like “in the prayer of St. Francis, it’s to be a channel for your peace. To be a nurturer, to foster the spiritual health of all the flock that you have been entrusted with. The Pope says that we’re supposed to get down and smell like the sheep."
Dudro offers a different idea. “I love the pope’s metaphor of the field hospital. But I have a metaphor of my own: we’re the salvaging operation in a junkyard. Our purpose is the reclamation of human beings.
“We do things that are not good. And God in his mercy has given his Son to die on the cross for our sins. This is what the church is for, to save human beings, and the church does it by offering us mercy for our sins. The church is actually doing me a favor by loving me enough to tell me the truth about myself so that I can be saved.
“It’s not an act of charity to deny the truth of the human person.”
Reminded that previous archbishops had not seen the need to proceed in quite the same way on some of these moral issues, Dudro responds, “With all due respect for previous bishops who have been here, trying to come up with compromises has only over time put the church in a weaker and weaker position. The compromises they tried to make never made the other side happy and only emboldened them to push harder. Because ultimately what they want is for the church to say homosexual acts are good and there can be such a thing as a homosexual marriage. And the church is never going to say those things.”
“The church’s teachings aren’t easy. But what I also like to say to people is that a lot of things Jesus asks us to do aren’t easy. Try forgiving your enemies. Try turning the other cheek. Try saying you’re sorry. Try being humble. Try being generous. Being a disciple of Jesus is going to challenge you at every molecule of your being. He asks us to do hard things, but nothing is impossible for God. I’ve let myself down, but God has never let me down.”
For his own part, Brady says “We are not going away. It’s not conducive to our Catholic faith in San Francisco if this archbishop is going to continue along this continuum. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t."
He finds reason for hope, as well. “I believe that the Holy Spirit is going to move in some way. And we trust that if we go about this in a humble and honest direction that the issues will take care of themselves. I don’t know if it’s going to be sooner or later but ultimately things are going to work out, because this is a bigger issue than any of us or this archbishop.”
“There’s that old story about if you see something bad happen and you do nothing about it then you’re complicit in it. Well that’s how we feel. We don’t want to be complicit.”
[The Archdiocese of San Francisco was contacted for this story, and directed attention to its press statement following the publication of the ad, which is printed in full below:
"The advertisement is a misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, a misrepresentation of the nature of the teacher contract, and a misrepresentation of the spirit of the Archbishop. The greatest misrepresentation of all is that the signers presume to speak for 'the Catholic Community of San Francisco.' They do not.
"The Archdiocese has met with a broad range of stakeholders. Together, we have engaged in a constructive dialogue on all of the issues raised in this ad. We welcome the chance to continue that discussion."]