Another teacher is leaving San Francisco’s Catholic school system due to proposed contract changes targeting LGBT and ally employees, a resignation coming at the same time California’s legislature holds hearings on the controversy.
Abi Basch is leaving Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School (SHC), announcing her departure, as well as coming out, in a Facebook announcement posted Friday. Basch, who teaches social studies, explained that she was seeking nondiscrimination protections unavailable at the Catholic school. She wrote:
“Now that I do not work for Archbishop Cordileone, I can say to my students, their families, my colleagues – without fear of losing my job: I am not only your ally. I understand your magic queer powers and the dangers you face when others fear their might – because I have them too.”
Basch also commended those involved with the #TeachAcceptance movement (comprised of those who oppose the new restrictive contract clause proposals), and she noted the high school’s defense of its LGBT community against the Archdiocese, saying she learned “integrity and strength, and made me a better, fiercer, more compassionate human.”
Hugh McNeill, a gay senior at SHC, expressed his gratitude for Basch in a note which was posted on Facebook. He highlighted the teacher’s support for #TeachAcceptance, including proofreading student speeches and painting rally posters. McNeill concluded:
“I hope that you spread all the joy, empowerment, and hope at your new school that you have shared with mine. You have given our school and our community so much. You have given ME so much.”
Indeed, Basch was a celebrated educator such that the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s diocesan newspaper profiled her in February after four years at SHC and more than a dozen in teaching. In the article, Basch says the school’s focus on social justice had been meaningful for her and added:
“In a city like San Francisco, the church’s teaching on tolerance and acceptance of the marginalized has been especially powerful in creating a safe space for a diverse student body.”
The contract clauses introduced by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone threaten such safe spaces by banning teachers from publicly expressing certain forms of support for LGBT equality, and attempting to reclassify employees as ministers, which would significantly widen religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. Jesuit Father Jim McDermott offered a well-articulated explanation of these exemptions in America, who noted:
“. . . [T]o Catholic teachers in San Francisco the archdiocese’s decision to use the term ‘minister’ in their contract looks like a move meant to enable the archdiocese to fire any teacher for any reason without threat of legal recourse. The teachers’ union (also the city’s Board of Supervisors and a number of state lawmakers) immediately contested the change in language, and the archbishop quickly agreed to remove the word ‘minister.’ But every subsequent revision has continued to push that way of thinking. ‘The terms are gone, but the concepts still remain,’ says [union rep Gina] Jaeger. ‘The issue of ministerial exception still exists in the current proposal, and that’s what we’re struggling with. There’s no way we can agree to that.’
This threat has triggered Bay Area protests for more than six months now. Catholics have organized against Archbishop Cordileone’s approach to LGBT issues, even calling for his resignation in a full-page newspaper ad signed by more than 100 of San Francisco’s most influential Catholics.
The controversy finally caught the attention of the California State Assembly, which held a hearing last Thursday on the proposed contract changes. Phil Ting, an assembly member from San Francisco, called the hearing, reported the National Catholic Reporter. The discussion featured four lawyers from multiple perspectives, including:
“[Kathleen] Purcell, a former teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and a constitutional lawyer, said the schools ‘have to decide who they are.’ Are they religious institutions that cater to students of a particular faith and teach according to that faith, or are they private schools that adhere to state standards and welcome students of all religions?”
Purcell then pointed out that Catholic schools, including those under review frequently welcome students of many religious traditions with no expectation of conversion. University of Nevada law professor Leslie Griffin called the ministerial exemption a “silver bullet” for employers, adding that “Contracts that ask people to give up their constitutional rights are problematic.” Two dozen audience members added their own concerns at the hearing’s end.
Aside from the legal battles, Abi Basch’s resignation reveals the most profound loss from these proposed teaching contracts: the expulsion of committed, talented LGBT and ally educators from Catholic schools. The note from Basch’s student,Hugh McNeil, echoes the cries of protestors nationwide who turn out by the thousands in defense of their beloved teachers. These church workers have given so much to their communities, to the world, and to the church.
It will be sad if state intervention is required to preserve employees’ rights, particularly given the church’s longstanding solidarity with workers, but if that is what it takes to stop wounding Catholic education, then so be it. The losses in our schools are simply too great to continue, and it is past time to change the conversation on church workers.
For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry