Proposed Review of San Francisco Teachers' Handbook Brings Confusion

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has announced that its revisions to the high school teachers’ handbook will be reviewed and refined by a committee of theology teachers from the schools, but how far their recommendations will be allowed to reach is not well understood.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone proposed a long list of loyalty oaths, primarily focusing on areas of church teaching regarding sexuality (including LGBT issues), be added to the publication.  A number of protests by teachers, parents, and students have erupted.

A certain amount of confusion about what Archbishop Cordileone wants this committee to do exists, based on a conflict between what some press outlets reported and what archdiocesan statements have said. reported:

“Under pressure from parents, students and staffers at the San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese’s schools, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said Tuesday that he is re-examining strict guidelines he proposed for teachers that would require them to reject homosexuality, use of contraception and other ‘evil’ behavior.”

Yet a statement from Fr. John Piderit, Archdiocesan Vicar for Administration and Moderator of the Curia, indicated that the committee would be doing much less than re-examining:

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything.  He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.  The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material.  Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

Crux reported that Cordileone is asking the committee to “recommend to me an expanded draft” and “adjust the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider leadership.”

One critical area that does seem to indicate some change from Cordileone is in regard to his proposal that teachers be classified as “ministers.”   Such a classification would exempt them from labor law protection.   The statement from Fr. Piderit indicates that there will be a revision in this language:

“With respect to the use of the word ‘ministers,’ the Archbishop only said that ‘ministers’ is no longer being considered. That is all the Archbishop said.  The word currently being used is ‘ministry.’ Nonetheless, the Archbishop did say that he would work hard to find language that satisfies two needs.  One is the need to protect the rights of the teachers in the Catholic high schools to have complaints fairly treated.  The other is the right of the Archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to their mission.  Language must be identified that meets both needs.  Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found, the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions.”

A letter Cordileone sent to teachers explaining the formation of the committee was published in Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.  In one section he encourages their participation in the process and thanks them for their concern:

“. . . [A]fter speaking with your union negotiators, I have decided to form a committee consisting of theology teachers from the four Archdiocesan high schools to recommend to me a draft which, while retaining what is already there, expands on these statements and adjusts the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider readership. I will also leave to their discretion how to include the proper wider context within which to understand these points of doctrine. . . . Each of you may approach them with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions which they can then take under consideration as they prepare their draft. It is my hope that this can all be completed prior to the beginning of the next academic year.

“After my address to you on February 6, a number of you spoke to me seeking advice on how to effectively present the Church’s teaching in a compassionate and compelling way to your students who may be struggling in these areas and perhaps even feeling rejected or unwelcomed by the Church because of them. I was moved by your sincerity and commitment. Please know that I have already begun to look into resources that we can make available to you to assist you in this most important work.”

While Cordileone’s statement to the teachers is reconciliatory, his charge to the committee seems very narrow.  Based on what they are being asked to do, the committee may or may not be able to make recommendations to substantially change the material in the handbook which many find damaging.  Moreover, the language that the archdiocese develops to describe a teacher’s “ministry” will need to be parsed theologically and legally to see what the ramifications in both areas are.

How the committee responds to its charge will be critical in determining the next step of this controversy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “Controversial San Francisco handbook to be reviewed, expanded by theology teacher committee”


9 replies
  1. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    I doubt much will change – but how they are conveyed by teachers will definitely change. Still, I would not be openly gay in that diocese!

  2. Chris Nunez
    Chris Nunez says:

    Just sent a copy of the document to USF professor that should be dusted off and used by all Catholic institutions: “The Prejudice Against Homosexuals and the Ministry of the Church” (1983) that has yet to be utilized by some of our bishops. Time for all of us to dust it off and use it as a blueprint for the coming years that offer an opportunity to be more productive as we press forward. This ‘statement’ was issued by the bishops of the Washington State Catholic Conference.

    But additionally, there are guidelines all throughout our public education system that discuss ‘age appropriateness’ of materials utilized with students. Every teacher educated in the state of California should be familiar with these guidelines. It’s unfortunate that the archbishop and his clerical staff are not familiar with this material. And maybe it’s a sign of why ‘teaching the law’ in such a rigid fashion ignores the consequences of failing to understand ‘how’ and ‘when’ to apply the ‘law’!

  3. barbara
    barbara says:

    And some bishops blame laity that think beyond the box for “confusing the faithful”. Nothing more confusing than someone trying to cover their butt when they are wrong. Did the AB ever consider meeting with people instead of setting up a “committee” he chose to try to make cow dung appear to be pearls? And they blame “secularism” for the empty pews! Wake up fellas!

  4. Fr. Anthony Borka
    Fr. Anthony Borka says:

    Keep up the fight. As for me I copastor a non Roman Catholic Church. Who needs Rome. ? Francis talks a good game but he is fighting an uphill battle. Catholicism is bigger than Rome and God has all the time God needs. What to us is a long time is nothing to God. God is love and those who live in love, live in God.

  5. Friends
    Friends says:

    Cordileone takes a baby step backward from his inflammatory and controversial dictates — but his step doesn’t amount to much, since his fierce hard-right-wing imperial rhetoric hasn’t changed:

    Sadly, I don’t think anything will resolve this issue — short of Papal intervention (improbable), or a massive boycott of finaicial support for the Diocese by the teachers and parents of aggrieved GLBT students.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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