What Does Mercy Demand? – Two Views from the Church in San Francisco

Large crowd processes through streets of San Francisco during annual rosary rally, Oct. 11, 2014.

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."]

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Kathryn Hamaker
3 years 11 months ago
I back the parents at Star of the Sea School although I'm not involved in that school.The parents of that school actually testified to SF's auxiliary bishop and the SF vicar of clergy in a public meeting on the actions and impact of the actions of a Catholic priest,Joseph Illo have had on their children. They requested Joseph Illo be removed as parish administrator. Twelve of the speeches given at that meeting are published on the Star parents web site www.welovestarsf.com. The speeches can only be described as painful to read.Much of the testimony involves the separating out of the non Catholic children while all children are required to be in Star of the Sea Church for student masses. More than one non-white parent ,Catholic or non, said the actions of Fr. Illo prompted discussions in their families homes about the childhood experiences of the parents themselves of racial discrimination. Some of the Catholic parents now attend other SF parishes for Mass but have remained in the school itself.Joseph Illo in a recent National Catholic Register interview (I think April 20) says that the problem with Star of the Sea School is that it is 40% Catholic enrollment.Basically reading those speeches was so disturbing to me I began forwarding printed copies of the speeches to people I know including a close personal friend who is a Roman Catholic woman religious.People can go on the web site of welovestarsf and decide for themselves if that is what religious witness by Roman Catholic priests is now going to be the norm.My undergraduate is from SCU but today I'm more connected to the women religious (and yes I mean those wild women of LCWR sponsoring congregations) than I am to the Jesuits .My own children are now young adults.Both of my kids , a boy and a girl , were baptized as I say by "guest Jesuits". At the time my children were baptized , infant Baptisms were not allowed at St. Ignatius,SF. Quite frankly I think both of those now deceased Jesuits must be weeping with Jesus over the treatment of those children at Star of the Sea School.
Martin Eble
3 years 11 months ago
I took the time to go through the website you cite, and also to follow the link to the examination of conscience. The first thing that struck me was how anonymous it was. There are no owners, no contact points, nothing. The second thing was that it was a lot of innuendo and upset, but not much substance. Certainly one gets the impression that whoever put it together is upset, but apparently upset because the pastor, the associate, and the archbishop are calling the shots, not they. It is impossible to tell if it is 1% or 30% of the parishioners. The examination of conscience was clearly aimed at adults, but it certainly was not a scandal or occasion of sin for grade schoolers - "inappropriate materials". The San Francisco Chronicle is a bigger source of scandal to Catholic children than anything in the examination of conscience. Unfortunately I think the lesson that is about to be learned is that demanding the removal of the pastor, then the archbishop, reduced rather than increased the probability of getting accommodations. Of course, only Catholic children should enter a confessional. It is not the sacrament of getting advice or receiving a blessing, it is a sacrament of reconciliation with God and his Church. Similarly the issue of altar girls. It is the choice of a pastor whether or not females may serve at an altar. No bishop may order a priest to do so. What I am afraid is happening is that the children of the protestors, which by all accounts are not the majority of parents nor all Catholic parents, are teaching their children that legitimate authority is to be defied.
Susan Peterson
3 years 11 months ago
By " separating out" non Catholic children, don't you mean that only the Catholic children can receive communion? Which is a universal Catholic practice with only very rare and specific exceptions allowed. If non-Catholic children were receiving before, that was the scandal! And what is wrong with saying that it is a problem that only 40% of the children are Catholic? The main purpose of Catholic school is to teach Catholicism and make sure children are taught in a Catholic environment and protected from secular influences. It is not that the nonCatholic children are bad, but it is more difficult to have a truly Catholic school when more than half the children are not Catholic. That seems so obvious as to not need to be said, but obviously not. As far as I am concerned, hurray for Cordileone and hurray for the Oratorian Fathers, whom I know from their excellent summer school adult education program at the Oratory in Toronto. You have a leader now who is trying to do his job as a bishop and make sure what is taught in his diocese is genuine Catholicism. I doubt you can find anything in Scripture, the Fathers of the a Church or more recent Doctors of the Church, in magisterial documents or the catechism, to support your position over Archbishop Cordileone's. And that should make you stop and think.
Kathryn Hamaker
3 years 11 months ago
Reference National Catholic Reporter article "Old court cases further raise San Francisco parent's dissatisfaction with pastor" Dan Morris-Young 4/23 /2015 My inability to think straight quite possibly arises by being too much impressed with two of my Jesuit profs at SCU circa 1967, Ted Mackin and Eugene Bianci. No doubt from the beginning I was listening to the wrong Jesuits.
Martin Eble
3 years 11 months ago
The article http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/old-court-cases-further-raise-san-francisco-parents-dissatisfaction-pastor appears to be a pastiche of "he said - she said", anonymous sources, and innuendo. There is a canonical process for complaining about pastors. What appears to be happening here is that a loud minority with a proven track record of disruption and public demonstrations have bypassed that process and taken to the internet and the news media in an effort to force their will on the competent authority. I believe Ted Mackin and Gene Bianci are deceased, but what they have to do with it is really not clear. If you were listening to anyone, in or out of the Society, who led you to believe that you should go public every time you have a grievance, you were listening to the wrong folks.
John Bosco
3 years 11 months ago
George Weigel said that Sin is the failure to live freedom excellently. Cordileone is failing to live his freedom as bishop excellently. The roof of Catholicism is leaking yet he is fiddling with collateral issues instead of fixing the roof. We have a bigger problem as a Church than trying to keep the lid of sexual morality on the boiling pot of sexuality. This is farm system stuff. We need a bishop who can play in the big leagues. The conversation that takes place within Christianity has become filled with the little aspects of Christianity. The little aspects have displaced the big aspects. The official rules and regulations of the Church, sin, standards that are supposed to govern our behavior here on earth have become the exclusive topics of the conversation. These topics are not about God. They are about us. These topics have elbowed God out of the conversation. God is not dead. Indeed, God is very much alive. However, the conversation about God is dead. Killing the conversation about God is tantamount to killing God. The enemies of the Church understand this. Cordileone does not. As a result of God's omission from the conversation, we no longer know our God. God has become a stranger to us. And, nobody follows a stranger. This point is so important that it bears repeating. God has become a stranger to us and nobody follows a stranger. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer are going to Mass and none are going to Confession? When God is a stranger to us, there is no reason to pay them a visit at the holy places. The first priority of the Church, therefore, is to repair the picture of God that we carry around with us in our heads. All other aspects of Christianity must stand aside until a clear, high fidelity picture of God is resurrected inside our heads. Without a clear, high fidelity picture of God operating inside our heads, we cannot project God to our neighbors in either words or deeds. Cordileone, judging from the brouhaha he created, does not have his priorities right. What can Cordileone tell us about God? I don't know because of the brouhaha he has created. He is fiddling while Rome is burning. What is the picture of God that he possesses in his own head and why has he not projected it to his neighbors in words and in deeds? Has he even developed a clear, high-fidelity picture of God for himself and for his flock? I don't know. The brouhaha he created has sucked all of the other conversation out of the room. To the extent his brouhaha has distracted us from the conversation about God, Cordlileone errs. We tortured Him but He did not stop loving us. We killed Him but He did not stay dead. The house of Christianity is built on a foundation of these facts. We have met the God who loves us. He introduced Himself to us when He paid us a visit for approximately thirty-three years at and about the city of Jerusalem in a region of our planet called the Middle East more than two thousand years ago. If we lost the entire Bible - if we lost the entire Church - but we still had this fragment of history, it would be enough. From this fragment of history, everything else could be deduced. From a drop of water reasonable minds can deduce the existence of an ocean. From this fragment of history we can deduce the existence of a God who dearly loves us. The Son of God is the sweetness of paradise. He is the honey that draws the bees back home to hive. On him, Cordileone needs to focus.. Otherwise, he is just another dangerous distraction. Otherwise, he is a wolf in sheeps clothing
Jerome Kiley
3 years 11 months ago
A light shining in the midst of "children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.'"
3 years 11 months ago
Susan Peterson wrote, "The main purpose of Catholic school is to teach Catholicism and make sure children are taught in a Catholic environment and protected from secular influences." I would have thought that the purpose of a Catholic school is to prepare children to live in a world that is complex, diverse and filled with people and ideas vastly different than their own, and to do so in a way that draws people to Christ. I can't imagine that too many parents, who are stretching themselves to the financial breaking point to pay tuition, would be persuaded that they are paying to "circle the wagons" around their kids for 12 years or so, hoping against hope that when their children emerge from the bubble (to mix metaphors), they won't be drawn to the glitz and sensuality of the modern world. Good luck with that. I find a far more convincing motivation in this sentence extracted from my grandson's Jesuit-operated high school: "(W)e hope to graduate leaders who are committed to serve God and their fellow men and women through a profound sense of justice founded in love, i.e. leaders who are 'men and women for others.' "
John Sabin
3 years 10 months ago
Ms. Dudro poses an interesting view of the The Church as a "a salvaging operation in a junkyard." She seems naively unaware of the implicit arrogance of her characterization. Her positioning of The Church as an entity that needs to "strengthen" and is at odds with others in the world has no basis in Catholic teaching. With due respect, Ms. Dudro; the church exists for you and I to "transform ourselves via the love of Christ;" not for you to try to transform others by "salvaging them from (the spiritual) junkyard." That process of transformation should take a natural lifetime. Once you complete that process; then, and only then, will your views on the spiritual lives of others have relevance. Our faith maintains a preferential option for the poor, the outcast, the disenfranchised, the unwelcome; to serve their needs and share love with those who do not "fit" into our neat, Catholic categories. It does not require you to nor does it need you to create enemies on "the other side" and it needs not to be measured in terms of "weakness" or "strength." Let us see "the plank in our eye" before shun or condemn those created by God who are different.


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