Pushback against the “Morality Clause” in SF

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco inserted a “morality clause” in teacher contracts that is quite similar to what Archbishop Schnurr did in Cincinnati.  The teachers and their supporters in San Francisco, however, were much more pro-active in confronting Archbishop Cordileone.  Students in Catholic schools also engaged in nonviolent protests against having their teachers muzzled by their Archbishop. They had candle-light vigils in defense of their teachers and in favor of allowing students to be authentic (see pic above) about their sexual orientation (see #TeachAcceptance).  At the Mass opening the school year, students lined the side-walk and entrance way to the Cathedral with expressions of support for their teachers against the heavy-handed morality clause.  Nearly 80% of the teachers wore black as a sign and symbol of their mourning.

Jim McGarry, a retired educator who taught Catholic theology for twenty years at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory, a Jesuit Catholic high school that his own children now attend, supported the student protestors by publishing an “open letter” supporting their efforts and by saying openly what many were afraid to say:

“[The archbishop] is not in compliance with Catholic teaching,” McGarry said.  “He is very selectively choosing a small number of doctrines and putting them forward in a selective way and, I think, distorting the tradition … in a way that first of all endangers the health and well being of our children.”  McGarry argued that Cordileone’s hard-line stance on homosexuality, which would permit the firing of teachers who wed same-sex partners, directly contradicts a line in the Catholic Catechism that reads, “Every sign of unjust discrimination [against gays and lesbians] should be avoided.”  He also noted that Catholic teaching is well-known for guaranteeing freedom of conscience, allowing Catholics to disobey their government — or even Church authorities — when they judged that their morality was been violated.[i]

These are excellent points that challenge Archbishop Cordileone’s presumption of orthodoxy when he distorts the Catholic tradition by placing undue emphasis upon the wholesale acceptance of the Ratzinger Doctrine of homosexuality.  In addressing the concerns of  roughly 80% of his teachers, “Archbishop Cordileone defends his imposition of his “morality clause” into faculty contracts by saying that this is no more and no less the “making more explicit what our schools are called to uphold, even in the face of social pressure.”  In so doing, however, the Archbishop is not self-aware; he is not playing with a full deck of cards:

  • The Archbishop defends his right to fire any teacher who openly supports same-sex marriages.  His morality clause clearly has some good features, these however are overshadowed by his unbalanced and one-sided bias against homosexual rights.  He says nothing, for example, of his intent to fire any faculty member who, in word or in deed, “unjustly discriminates against gays or lesbians.”  Both the Universal Catholic Catechism and the doctrinal directives of Cardinal Ratzinger clearly affirm that homosexuals are to be protected from unjust discrimination.   Why does the Archbishop not take notice of this?  Does this protection of sexual minorities not constitute an essential Catholic doctrine that is an integral part of practicing the faith?
  • Dozens of high-ranking bishops and cardinals have already gone on record of advocating the civil protection of “same-sex unions.”  Pope Francis himself has favored for a long time the legalization of “same-sex unions” while reserving the term “marriage” in its traditional meaning.   If this is the case, how can  Archbishop Cordileone threaten to fire any teacher who enters into a civil “same-sex union”?  To be consistent, does the Archbishop need to expose and to punish those bishops and cardinals who have publicly endorsed same-sex unions as a legitimate way for homosexuals to protect their rights?  If he attempted this, he would be rebuffed?  So, is this merely an issue of a power inbalance?  Individual teachers are fired because they can’t protect themselves against the abusive treatment by their Archbishop.
  • Archbishop Cordileone inserts into the contract that teachers are officially acting as “ministers.”  In so doing, he follows the example of Archbishop Snurr of Cincinnati who was cautioned by his lawyers to take this step so that teachers cannot defend themselves in court by saying that the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2015 guarantees their right to enter into same-sex marriages.  If those teaching in the classroom are legally defined as “ministers of religion,” then the American legal system gives the Archbishop a free hand in firing teachers who are gay or lesbian.  Priests, for example, have a legal right to marry according to federal and state laws; yet, since they are classified as “ministers,” the Catholic Church has the right to dismiss any priest who elects to enact a civil marriage.  The U.S. courts cannot regulate the conduct of religious bodies when it comes time to determine the conditions of employment for ministers of religion.  But, in reality, teachers are not “ministers”–they are not ordained!  Hence, classifying them as “ministers” has to be seen for what it is, namely, a legal trick to prevent fired teachers from seeking justice in the civil courts.

Jim McGarry’s Open Letter to the students in SF

Every protest needs someone to define its direction and it limitations.  Jim McGarry produced such a letter, and, within a short period, it was popularly accepted as an authorization to protest, but that the protest must be kept within the bounds of nonviolent principles.  Jim’s Open Letter is a masterpiece of rhetoric.  He begins with his own sad experience. But then he firmly and decisively validates the students’ experience by demonstrating that they have the moral high ground.  This is key!  In the end, he invites the irate protestors to remain nonviolent peacemakers as they embrace those who urgently need their support to stand tall in a world that has the habit of recklessly using hate-language.  Here is the Open Letter:

Decades before you were born, we, your parents, grew up in Catholic and other schools where no one was “out.”  We heard the term “fag” thrown around classrooms and hallways with casual cruelty.  There was overt bullying and brazen gossip based on perceived sexual orientation.  There was occasional violence.  There was loneliness and even despair among our peers who knew they were “different.”  There were suicides as well as descent into slower forms of self-destruction.  There was anger smoldering beneath the surface among those who knew they would never be accepted.  Our teachers and school leaders?  Silent or worse [complicit?].

You young students, our sons, and daughters, in Catholic Schools in the last decade have grown up with a new reality.  You have peers “out of the closet,” and you see that their human dignity is not diminished by their sexual orientation, and you indeed celebrate your unity undergirding the differences.  You also have peers whose families are led by gay or lesbian parents; you visit them, they welcome you into their homes, you see their full humanity flowering in their families.  Some of you live in such families, newly protected by laws recognizing civil same sex marriage.  You may know a classmate who was conceived by in vitro fertilization.  You do not see the circumstances of his or her conception as changing in any way the inheritance as a child of God.  You include them in your circles without question.  This is new, this is a blessed change.

There is no going back.

However, the language currently proposed by the Archbishop for your faculty’s handbook, in which active homosexuals, including those in marriages no matter how loving, are labeled “gravely evil”—that language is what is now repulsive to you.  What a reversal!  Stay faithful to your new perception—and thank the current generation of teachers who have helped inform your consciences and boldly inspired you to believe that human dignity is indivisible.  Stand with them, and start by learning more about human beings from all the disciplines you study, and most especially from your study of the Gospel of love, from the God who liberates slaves and all those oppressed, from the Spirit that stands with the truth of Church teaching based on the saving presence of God’s grace and mercy in our lives.

Archbishop Cordileone had trouble hearing this message. He was trained in the seminary that there was an intrinsic order in nature that must be heeded and obeyed.  Marriage is a divine institution directed toward reproduction.  Nature decrees this and so does the God of Nature.  Every marriage must bind a fertile man and a fertile woman.  It was completely illogical and immoral to imagine “marriage” as a union between two men or two women.  On this, the Catholic Church could never compromise.

Yet, at an earlier point in time, Catholic moral theology decreed that the Church could not condone or tolerate marriages between a free man and his female slave.  “Slavery” meant involuntary servitude that obliterated the possibility of arriving at a free choice.  For parallel reasons, marriages between a nobleman and a commoner were likewise proscribed.  Noble blood gave a man a natural birthright to rule over others.  Under no circumstances could this birthright be diluted.  Bishops, during this era, were entirely drawn from the nobility.  It was not until the Napolianic Era that Europeans witnessed commoners as being capable to rule as a bishop.

At a later point in time, Catholic moral theology took a dim view of interracial marriages.  In the deep South, more especially, such mixing of the races was condemned by both civil and ecclesiastical laws.  In the North, interracial marriages were allowed but severely discouraged.  An interracial couple found little support in a world that thought and socialized along racial lines.

Then, in more recent times, interfaith marriages were seen as morally objectionable.  How could a child born into such a union ever learn to distinguish between the “truth” of the Catholic parent and the “half-truths” of the Protestant or Jewish parent?  For a long time, exceptional cases were tolerated if and only if the Protestant or Jewish partner agreed to allow any and all children born into such an unnatural union to be raised entirely as Catholics.  Such marriages had to be discretely validated outside of the Eucharist.  It took an ecumenical council (Vatican II) and lots of interfaith dialogue before interfaith households were seen as models of interfaith harmony in a world sadly divided along religious lines.  Now even the rites for marriage were rewritten and room was made for the Protestant minister or Jewish rabbi to be actively present within the Catholic rites.

All in all, Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to draw a clear line of demarcation is laudable.  If everyone must be permitted to follow their informed conscience; however, then even Archbishop Cordileone must be allowed to follow his convictions in this case.

  1. It is a Catholic principle that no one ought to be coerced to act against his/her conscience.  As such, since many members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church have already espoused the view[iv] that the civil rights of minorities could be better protected if they were permitted to have their unions sanctioned by civil authorities, it follows that those teachers who uphold this same view must not shunned or penalized for their convictions in this matter.  Above all, they must not be coerced.  To do so, would be to commit a serious crime and prehaps, even the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit.
  2. Unlike the case of Archbishop of Cincinnati who blankly refused to meet with teachers regarding the content of the morality clause,  Archbishop Cordileone had an open listening session with the teachers.  In these sessions, Archbishop Cordileone learned, for the first time, that the teachers took great offense at the fact that he created the morality clause and imposed it upon them without any consultation or discussion.  They insisted that “we already have a powerful Catholic identity, and we see the importance of promoting a Catholic identity among our students.”  But this can’t be achieved by defining it and imposing it upon us “as though we were unruly children.”  Even in the classroom, an authoritarian attitude on the part of a teacher is a sure formula for creating resentment and even defiance.  Archbishop Cordileone heard their complaint for the first time.  He moved toward a posture of recognition and collaboration.
  3. Archbishop Cordileone thus came to see that he acted rashly and unjustly.  Instead of honoring the competence and religious rights of his teachers, he had effectively trampled over them by imposing a “gag order” designed to create fear and distrust.  Catholic students, no matter what color of the rainbow they will ultimately embrace, must have the freedom to explore and to test their life choices.  In so doing, they must have the unconditional love and support of parents and teachers who will listen deeply and “allow them to be what their Father in heaven has created them to be.” Discernment of a vocation can only be secured in this way.  Faith and hope casts out fear and detrust.  Archbishop Cordileone demonstrated that he could listen and trust his faculty to do what is necessary without being micro-managed or being prodded like stubborn children.  The fear and detrust generated by the morality clause was thus dispelled.


In Boston, meanwhile, this very issue was being discussed by Cardinal O’Malley:

At the end of the event [a panel discussion on Pope Francis held in Boston on 14 Sept 2014], after the crowd had dissipated, I [Francis DeBernardo] had the opportunity to thank Cardinal O’Malley one-on-one for his compassionate remarks earlier in the evening about the LGBTQ community.

As we spoke, the cardinal told me that we must first convince people we love them before talking about the Ten Commandments. I pointed out that it has been hard to convince LGBTQ Catholics and their allies of this love when so many church workers have had LGBT-related employment disputes with Catholic schools and parishes. Responding to my comment, Cardinal O’Malley said this trend was a situation that “needs to be rectified.”[v]

Meanwhile, in far-flung Australia, another voice sounds that upholds the “deviance” of the SF teachers and pushes against the forces of oppression in the Church represented by the Archbishop:

Australian Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen has said that it is not good enough for the Church to treat gay people with compassion and then define their lifestyle as “intrinsically disordered,” “We cannot talk about the ­integrity of creation, the universal and inclusive love of God, while at the same time colluding with the forces of oppression in the ill-treatment of racial minorities, women and homosexual persons,” said Bishop Long of Parramatta diocese in western Sydney.

It won’t wash with young people, especially when we purport to treat gay people with love and compassion and yet define their sexuality as ‘intrinsically disordered.’ This is particularly true when the church has not been a shining beacon and a trailblazer in the fight against inequality and ­intolerance.[vi]

Here is the petition that students and parents signed as part of the teach-in on #TeachAcceptance.

The necessary next step would be to allow Cardinal Ratzinger’s condemnation of same-sex unions be competently investigated to see whether it does contain shoddy logic, dubious misinformation, and defective biblical exegesis (as shown in Chapter 2).  The world-wide Catholic bishops have never been consulted on this issue.  Nor has the Pontifical Biblical Commission or the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.  In this Jubilee Year that Pope Francis proclaimed, “to rediscover God’s mercy and experience the mystery of his love,” would it not be to the interest of all persons concerned . . .

. . . to encourage and to officially sponsor[ii] open and free discussions of all aspects of homosexuality,

. . . to permit oral histories [iii]to be gathered whereby Catholics in same-sex unions would have an opportunity to share their stories publicly, and

. . . to have all bishops and priests and self-appointed “watchdogs” cease and desist from all forms of coercive action and to have all censures lifted against those persons who did not agree with or comply with the Ratzinger Doctrine.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] See Appendix 4: Catholic Church Leaders Who Made Positive Statements about Civil Unions and Same-Gender Marriages

[ii] Francis DeBernardo, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley: LGBTQ Church Worker Firings “Need to be Rectified,” New Ways Ministry 15 Sept 2014 (https://www.newwaysministry.org/2014/09/15/bostons-cardinal-omalley-lgbt-church-worker-firings-need-to-be-rectified/)

[iii] Global Pulse staff, “Australian bishop challenges Church on homosexuality,” 16 Sept 2016 (https://international.la-croix.com/news/

[iv] Jack Jenkins, “How San Francisco Catholics Are Pushing Pope Francis’ LimitsThinkProgress, 10 March 2015 (http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/03/10/3631727/

[v] Remember, in Chapter Three, Pope Francis brought the bishops at the two Synods back to the place where they could freely speak their minds to each other and the necessary means to recover the collegiality required to discover pastoral solutions to address the suffering of Catholic families.

[vi] In the “Further Resources,” you will find some mind-bending and heart-rending oral narratives.  This will allow everyone to recognize that there can be no abstract code of ethics like the Ratzinger Doctrine that will resolve the issues associated with homosexuality.  This is the reason that I have not been tempted to supply a code of ethics to replace the sorely defective work of Cardinal Ratzinger.  If you are a life-long expert in IBM computers, you cannot hope to provide a solid set of rules for maintaining and using Apple computers.  So, too, someone who is a heterosexual cannot hope to provide, in isolation, a solid code of ethics for homosexuals.  It remains, therefore, for homosexuals to dialogue with each other to address their ethical questions on their own behalf.  Heterosexuals can be invited to listen and to learn and to advise—but surely not to imagine that they are experts in a realm that they can only know second-hand.  The intellectual arrogance of men like Cardinal Ratzinger is staggering. 

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