Stop Calling the SF Handbook Additions a Morality Clause

Every week seems to bring a new chapter in the debate over Archbishop Cordileone’s additions to the San Francisco teachers’ handbook. Opponents of the additions argue that the Church should be more inclusive, while supporters affirm that a Catholic archbishop should not be forced to change Church teaching based on prevailing public opinion. This ongoing debate clouds a more important issue–namely, that instead of affirming Catholic teaching, the archbishop’s new clause distorts the faith.

In defending himself against the criticism of a handful of Democratic Catholic legislators, Archbishop Cordileone asked the lawmakers a valid question: “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?”

Of course they would not. And that is why the discussion on this issue needs to change. Calling the handbook additions an “orthodoxy clause” or a “morality clause” implies that they sum up Catholic orthodoxy or morality, which they do not. Instead, the handbook asks teachers to affirm and believe Church teaching on a handful of issues, including abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and artificial reproductive technology, ignoring Catholic social teaching on dozens and dozens of other issues.

The archbishop, in fact, acknowledged this in his February letter to teachers when he wrote:

Confusion about the Church’s stance is prevalent in areas of sexual morality and religious discipline. For this reason, the statements for inclusion in the faculty handbook focus on these two areas. This focus does not imply lesser importance to Catholic teachings on social justice, which in fact are widely accepted and well interpreted in Catholic educational institutions. The areas requiring clarification are in Catholic teachings on sexual morality and religious practice.

If the archbishop actually believes that sexual morality and religious practice require clarification, then perhaps he has not spent enough time with his flock. Ask anyone, in Catholic schools or out, where the bishops stand on abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage, and I would bet that a vast majority of them can tell you that the bishops oppose all three. Ask them where the bishops stand on comprehensive immigration reform, a minimum wage increase, climate change, and the right of workers to unionize, and I doubt a majority could tell you.

That’s where confusion lies, and that is where the bishops have a duty to teach, clearly and forcefully.

Archbishop Cordileone has every right, indeed every responsibility, to ensure that Catholic school teachers are communicating the Catholic faith. If that is his goal, then he should add even more to the handbook. He should remind all teachers where the Church has stood for centuries on immigration, labor, and the environment. He should instruct them that it is not only evil to directly and intentionally end a human life before it is born, but also to let a child go hungry or be denied the essential healthcare that is his or her right as a person. He should teach all of them, whether Catholic or not, that these are essential to Church teaching, spelled out clearly not only by our current pontiff, but by Paul XI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and countless other popes.

This is Church morality. This is Church orthodoxy. Without these issues, we have a distorted Catholic faith.

Part of what makes the Catholic faith so radical, beautiful, and often difficult to follow is that it does not fit into any of the categories of our modern American political discourse. That important point is lost in the handbook additions, and that does a disservice to teachers, children, and all of the people of God in San Francisco.

Earlier this spring, an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco was named to head Archbishop Cordileone’s home diocese of San Diego. In his installation Mass last month, concelebrated by Cordileone, Bishop Robert McElroy said that we are all called to “foster an ecclesial culture which sees with the clarity of Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day that all forms of marginalization which deny the dignity of the human person are antithetical to the Gospel and repugnant to God.”

In one sentence, San Francisco’s former auxiliary summed up Catholic orthodoxy and morality far better than any handbook clause. Catholic school students and parents would be much better served if the archbishop required them to post that one sentence in every classroom.

Vincent Gragnani is former staff writer for The Southern Cross in San Diego. He has also written for America, One, St. Anthony Messenger, and U.S. Catholic, as well as various non-Catholic newspapers and websites. He is currently a communications professional in New York City.