Politics & Policy

Catholic Schools Should Be Catholic, Even in San Francisco

Archbishop Cordileone is predictably blasted for a commonsense policy.

If you care to learn how thin our conception of religious liberty has become, look to the Bay Area.

In early February, San Francisco archbishop Salvatore Cordileone released a statement “regarding the teachings and practice of the Catholic Church,” to be included as of August 1, 2015, in the faculty handbook for the four high schools run by the archdiocese. “We, the Archdiocesan High Schools,” it reads, “affirm that we are educational institutions of the Catholic Church, and as such strive to present Catholic doctrine in its fullness, and that we hold, believe and practice all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be true, whether from the natural moral law or by way of revelation from God through Scripture and Tradition.” Fifteen “affirm and believe” statements follow, which focus on the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality — its espousal of chastity and the inviolability of human life, for instance, and its rejection of same-sex marriage — but are adequately summarized in the first statement: “We affirm and believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and we embrace the teachings about that Church as enunciated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

Cordileone is also seeking to redefine teachers as “ministers” in their contracts, which would make their employment dependent on their adherence to the “statement.” Taken together, Cordileone’s proposals might be summarized as demonstrating that he thinks Catholic schools should be Catholic.

Unsurprisingly, this has been deemed an outrage. In mid February, eight state lawmakers from the Bay Area wrote Cordileone a letter contending that the “Statement” “sends an alarming message of intolerance to youth.” They objected to contracting teachers as “ministers” because it would curtail “the freedom,” among others, “to choose who to love and marry, [and] how to plan a family.”

The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized to the same effect, concluding, “Cordileone could not be more out of touch with the community he has been assigned to serve.” And an online petition has been set up to oppose the archbishop’s efforts. According to signees, the “outdated and discriminatory” proposal “create[s] a culture of fear that denies staff the right to follow their own individual consciences and harms students.” Nearly 6,700 people have signed.

It would be difficult to find a starker juxtaposition between two conceptions of religious life. Cordileone, for his part, has posed the simple question, What is a Catholic school? and offered an answer: A Catholic school is a school that embodies and promotes the vision of the Catholic Church. He thinks that students at Catholic schools should be educated in the Catholic faith, and he thinks that teachers who adhere to that faith are best suited to that task. (He acknowledges that Catholic schools can have non-Catholic teachers; he simply calls for them not to violate the Church’s teachings, publicly or privately.)

These are not new ideas, and Cordileone is not advancing some reactionary scheme. The Catholic Church believes that God has set forth the cosmic order, a sliver of which is available to natural reason, but much of which has been illuminated by the light of revelation. Educating children in the Catholic faith, then, is not supplemental, something to be tacked onto reading and mathematics and the sciences. No, “understanding is the reward of faith,” as Augustine wrote. “So do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe so that you may understand.”

By contrast, Cordileone’s opponents think that a Catholic school should not be allowed to partake in the mission of the Church of which it is part. It should simply be a privately funded public school.

This is the inevitable consequence of a principle that views religion as a private affair. Recall President Obama’s gloss of the First Amendment as “freedom of worship.” He was rightly criticized, because his reading suggested that freedom to practice one’s religion is restricted to churches and synagogues and the ceremonies that happen therein. Exit the sanctuary, and your religion should be hung up until the following weekend. Much the same is happening in the Bay Area.

But what Cordileone is stressing is that being Catholic is, and should be, all-encompassing. It gives to one’s entire life structure and meaning and direction that is just as urgent Monday through Saturday as on Sunday. Our political activities should, wherever possible, defer to the dictates of religious life.

Yet those who would oppose Catholic schools’ being robustly Catholic are unwilling to engage on this level. Rather, they hew to cries of “equal rights” and “freedom of conscience,” unwilling or unable to recognize that their imposition of secular dogma on the religious liberty of Cordileone and his flock is, in fact, the only intolerance in this situation.


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