By Brian Cahill
Note: This op-ed was first published April 21, 2015 by The San Francisco Chronicle.
The controversy surrounding the failed leadership of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and the resulting outcry for his dismissal is not about questioning the teaching role of the archbishop. It’s not about resistance to Catholic doctrine being taught in Catholic high schools. And it’s not about unchangeable doctrine. We’re not talking about the Trinity or the Resurrection or other unchangeable teachings. We’re talking about church teaching regarding sexuality, a set of teachings in serious need of updating — just as church teaching was updated when church leaders figured out the Earth wasn’t flat, and slavery was evil, and women were not inferior to men (although some bishops are still struggling with that one).
This controversy is about the pastoral insensitivity of a spiritual leader who is creating fear and uncertainty among parents, teachers and students, including those students who are out or who are questioning their sexuality. This is about an archbishop who does not know how to effectively promulgate Catholic identity in the real world in which our church exists.
It’s good for the spiritual leader of our local church to emphasize Catholic teaching in our schools, especially in the secular society in which our children are coming of age. But how a bishop promotes Catholic identity is what is crucial, and that is the issue here. The question is: How does a Catholic organization — a school that does not limit its hiring or its services to Catholics — manage the tension between what our church teaches about sexuality and how it is expected to carry out its mission in the pluralistic society in which it lives and operates? The answer: very carefully.
Cordileone is a far cry from our new pope, who is not changing church doctrine but who has moved the entire world with his compassion and his inclusiveness. There’s a man who knows how to teach. There’s a man with moral authority.
Instead, we have Cordileone, who is trying to force his sex-obsessed version of Catholic identity in Catholic schools.
Instead of a Pope Francis teaching moment, we have a lost teaching opportunity — to not only teach about the real message of the Gospel of Jesus, the message of love and justice, but also to assist parents and teachers to inculcate a solid sense of morality and personal responsibility, to point out the destructiveness of casual sex, of relationships not based on maturity, commitment and caring, and to highlight the power and grace of both the non-physical and physical intimacy of marriage.
Cordileone’s approach is driving away young Catholics, is an abuse of employment rights and is substantially decreasing the influence of the Catholic Church as a voice for a values-driven approach to sexuality, let alone a voice for social and economic justice. That’s why people are upset.
That’s why 80 percent of the teachers in these schools publicly oppose the archbishop’s approach; that’s why thousands have signed the petitions taped to the cathedral doors by the parent leaders of Teach Acceptance. That’s why the signers of the paid ad in The Chronicle are calling for the archbishop’s removal.
The archbishop’s advisers say the signers do not represent the Catholic community here. But how would his advisers know that? They’ve barely unpacked their suitcases. The signers of the paid ad, the parents, teachers and students, and a growing number of concerned Catholics are not going away. What is going away rapidly is the moral authority and credibility of the archbishop of San Francisco.
Brian Cahill is the retired executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities.
Image: Michael Macor/The Chronicle.