SAN FRANCISCO – About 100 people attended a vigil outside the Roman Catholic cathedral in San Francisco on Friday to protest the local archbishop's move to require teachers at four Catholic high schools to lead their public lives inside the classroom and out in accordance with church teachings on homosexuality, birth control and other hot-button issues.
The protest, which also included songs and prayers, came as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was holding mass for teachers from parochial schools throughout the three-county Archdiocese of San Francisco and then meeting with high school teachers to answer questions about changes he wants to make to their faculty handbook and employment contract.
"I chose to send my children to Catholic schools because I wanted their education to be grounded in love, compassion, and a strong sense of social justice," said Peggy O'Grady, a parent at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. "This effort by the archbishop will do the opposite, and would run counter to all I believe and value in a Catholic education."
Cordileone this week presented teachers at the four high schools owned by the archdiocese with a detailed statement of faith affirming that Catholic school employees "are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny" church doctrine on matters related to sexuality, marriage and human reproduction.
The statement, which the archbishop said would be added to the faculty handbooks, 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 archbishop originally had planned to hold a news conference after meeting with teachers on Friday. The event was canceled, and his media office released a podcast in which Cordileone said the document was designed to bolster the schools' primary mission of educating faithful Catholics and that "no teacher will be required to sign any kind of statement or oath."
"This is a document for an institution where clarity is very important. It is not anti-anyone or anti-anything," he said.
More troubling for leaders of the union that represents the four high schools is that the archbishop also has proposed adding language to their next contract that would identify all school staff as ministers of the church who "are bound to conduct all of their activities" without contradicting the church, "regardless of individual job description, subject matter taught or personal doubt or assent."
The U.S. Supreme Court has exempted churches and religious schools from having to abide by federal anti-discrimination laws for employees in "ministerial roles."
"Our teachers only just recently received a large amount of information to process in a short period of time," Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers President Lisa Dole, a social studies teacher at Marin Catholic, said. "To say that they are concerned would be an understatement. They are understandably worried about the legal ramifications of the term 'minister,' and they are hoping to have their questions answered by the archbishop."
The four schools — Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield, and Junipero Serra in San Mateo County — enroll about 3,600 students and are among a handful of Catholic schools nationwide with teachers represented by a labor union.