The U.S. city most identified with the homosexual movement, San Francisco, saw fierce criticism in 2015 of its Catholic archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, by many of its citizens, both within and outside of the Catholic Church.
The subject at hand was a teacher contract and handbook proposed for teachers in San Francisco’s four diocesan high schools. But the larger context was the teaching of the Catholic Church about marriage, family and sexuality.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, 59, who has headed the Archdiocese of San Francisco since 2012, said the backlash from changes he had proposed for teacher contracts — insisting that teachers uphold, both in the classroom and in their private lives, the moral norms of the Church — exceeded anything he expected.
Yet the archbishop, who describes himself as “kind of shy,” did not shy away from the controversy.
He acknowledged that he had “selected controversial issues” in his handbook, saying in an address on the subject, “These (issues) are the ones on which we especially need to make clear that the institutional commitment of the archdiocesan high schools has not changed. In one sense, the message is simply that the teachings of the Catholic Church be accurately represented in the archdiocesan high schools.”
Explaining why such clarity is needed, the archbishop said because students “live in a secular society and are not yet sufficiently mature to critique it in important areas, they suffer from confusion on practical issues in life and society and don’t understand how humility and chastity help them appreciate the teachings of the Church on these practical issues that greatly affect their wellbeing.”
He added: “By word and example, teachers have to do their best to bring about great clarity.”
Disagreeing, some 80% of teachers reportedly signed a petition taking the archbishop to task for language that “labels members of our community as ‘gravely evil’” and “sows fear, division and discrimination.”
The language in the archbishop’s document — retraction of which the petition demanded — actually calls certain sins “gravely evil,” but not people.
The protest statement continues, “The exposure to different perspectives has been an invaluable part of the learning process, allowing our children to discover their own authentic beliefs and values, while respecting the diversity in our schools, our city and our world.”
The mobilization of the teachers actually proved to be only one part of a much larger campaign against Archbishop Cordileone. A concerted PR drive materialized within days, which included regular publicized statements, Facebook and Twitter posts, prayer vigils, student rallies and public forums facilitated by a movement calling itself “Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance.”
San Francisco public relations giant Sam Singer, CEO of Singer Associates, Inc., had been hired by unnamed “concerned parents” to orchestrate the campaign to discredit Archbishop Cordileone and even ask for his removal: a petition was circulated in the community and a full-page ad placed in the San Francisco Chronicle asking the Pope to replace the archbishop.
Through it all, Archbishop Cordileone remained resolute, but committed to charity. In August, the efforts to promote Catholic values in diocesan schools while reaching agreement on a contract acceptable to the archdiocesan teachers came to fruition.
“I want to thank the union and administration negotiating teams for their hard work,” Archbishop Cordileone said August 19, and said he “appreciated very much” the negotiations’ “rich discussion about the mission and purpose of Catholic education.”
The contract says that teachers are expected to support the school’s purpose “in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic high schools.”
Archbishop Cordileone has also served on the U.S. bishops’ committee for the defense of marriage, as well as on a governing body for Courage, a ministry for people with same-sex attraction who want to live a life consistent with Catholic morals.
At a conference in June he spoke of the LGBT movement criticized by Pope Francis as “gender ideology,” saying it poses not only a threat to society, but also to Christianity.
“This is because God has used marriage as the primary sacred sign of our relationship with him,” Cordileone said. “God’s marriage covenant with Israel is fulfilled in the blood of Christ on the cross, establishing the new and eternal covenant between him, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church.”
But this is only intelligible in terms of the biological reality of “complementarity” inscribed by God in the male-female relationship, he said. “When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths,” the archbishop continued, “then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.”