Video: Archbishop of San Francisco defends morality codes for Catholic-school teachers

Why do parents send their children to Catholic schools for their education? Certainly part of that decision comes from the better performance that such schools have over their public-school counterparts. For most Catholics, though, the choice of church-run education is to provide substantial catechesis integrated into their primary education. The Catholic Church contracts with its instructors not just to provide Catholic instruction but to abide by Catholic teachings. When Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone communicated those expectations to teachers in the the Archdiocese of San Francisco with a new morality code in teachers’ handbooks, California lawmakers demanded that Cordileone remove the “divisive” language:

California lawmakers on Tuesday urged the archbishop of San Francisco to remove from a teachers’ handbook morality clauses they say are discriminatory and divisive.

The lawmakers said in a letter to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone that the clauses “foment a discriminatory environment” and send “an alarming message of intolerance to youth.”

Cordileone earlier this month presented teachers at the archdiocese’s four high schools with a statement that says Catholic school employees are expected to conduct their public lives in a way that doesn’t undermine or deny the church’s doctrine.

The statement outlines the church’s teaching that using contraception is a sin and that sex outside of marriage, whether it is in the form of adultery, masturbation, pornography or gay sex, is “gravely evil.”

The new handbook language makes clear that teachers are expected to uphold Catholic doctrine, or at the very least not publicly contradict it:

Cordileone stated in his letter to faculty and staff that the purpose of these changes is to clarify that Catholic schools “exist to affirm and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The new handbook language warns that “all extra-marital sexual relationships are gravely evil and that these include adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations.” In addition, it outlines church positions on controversial subjects including the ordination of women and notes that faculty must “refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true.”

Cordileone writes that the new document clarifies Catholic issues in Catholic schools with the intention “not to target for dismissal from our schools any teachers, singly or collectively.” He said the staff will not have to sign anything regarding their adherence to the new additions to the handbook.

Cordileone said that while the “Catholic high schools try to hire people who do believe what the Church teaches,” there are “good teachers who belong to other Christian faiths or to no faith at all,” and that these clarifications are meant to instruct them in their behavior and teachings.

If this kind of handbook went out to teachers in a public school, or even a charter school, the lawmakers would have a point. However, one of the main purposes of Catholic private schools are to provide a Catholic education. Teachers who choose to work at these schools act in service to that mission. Cordileone’s instruction isn’t esoterica — it’s basic Catholic teaching on sexual relations. It carefully points to the acts themselves as mortal sins (“gravely evil”) and treats them equally rather than emphasize one over another. None of those positions are exactly a secret in Catholic doctrine, either, and would form the basis of Catholic teaching on human relations to older students in any context, whether it be in the school or the parish.

However, the controversy heightens in the instruction on behavior outside of the classroom. If the teacher speaks out publicly against these teachings, even while teaching them properly in the classroom, should the school discipline or fire the teacher? Cordileone reversed the challenge to lawmakers in his response, though, asking them whether they’d retain campaign or office staff that publicly advocated against the Democratic Party agenda:

The archbishop of San Francisco sent a letter to California lawmakers on Thursday asking them to respect his right to hire people who uphold Catholic teachings.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone wrote the message in response to a letter sent to him earlier this week by California lawmakers urging him to remove from a teachers’ handbook morality clauses they say are discriminatory and divisive.

“Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those you stand for, and who shows disrespect for you and the Democratic Party in general?” Cordileone asked the lawmakers in the letter.

I’d make the challenge even easier. Do any of those lawmakers have office managers or campaign leadership who are vocally and actively pro-life? Would they keep someone on staff who publicly opposed the HHS contraception mandate? If not, why not? The answer would be that their mission is to establish the policies of the Democratic agenda for their constituencies, and any public activism against it — even during the employees’ own time — acts to the detriment of that mission. One might even ask why those people would work in the organization in the first place. So … why should that be different for Catholic schools?

That gets to the heart of the hypocrisy in this CBS piece, which focuses on another controversy to make their point about the handbook. In December, one parish school in the archdiocese gave students an examination of conscience exercise that was arguably age-inappropriate, and which was promptly withdrawn when parents complained. The complaints are getting media attention now, even though the situation was addressed, in order to foment more outrage over Cordileone’s addition to the handbooks:

A couple of points come to mind. First, the school has no control over examinations of conscience found online by parents. There are many forms of examinations of conscience available to all Catholics in printed and online form, and those parents who want to find an age-appropriate version can look for one, or write one themselves. Second, one activist shouts that they want teachers “with integrity,” who presumably show that by contradicting Catholic doctrine while taking money from a school that exists to teach it. That’s an odd view of integrity, though. Wouldn’t a teacher with “integrity” choose to teach elsewhere, and not where their personal views conflict so fundamentally with the mission that the school is designed to fulfill?

The reason that the ministerial exception exists in employment law is because of the recognition that churches and affiliated schools are exercising religious expression through their organizations and have the right to ensure that their mission is faithfully fulfilled. That’s the kind of free market that gives parents and teachers plenty of choices. If teachers don’t support Catholic doctrine, they should find teaching jobs that don’t require supporting it. If parents want teachers who don’t support Catholic doctrine, they should enroll their children in schools that ignore it.  California legislators should be providing more of that kind of choice to parents and teachers, rather than lecturing Cordileone about ensuring that Catholic schools fulfill their mission of faith.