California is always a great state to watch, as things that happen there tend to be harbingers for the other 49. In San Francisco, we have the spectacle of an archbishop under attack from several state senators. His offense? Trying to ensure that high-school students in Catholic schools get the Catholic education their parents have freely chosen to give them.
Archbishop Cordileone has had the good sense to ask high-school faculty to affirm that they will impart the Church’s social teachings. He’s trying to guarantee that students will receive the formation that their parents have scrimped and saved to provide for them. He understands what his opponents don’t: that the moral formation of the child is entrusted to the school, which can satisfy the parents’ expectations only by teaching Catholic values wholeheartedly. These values include courage, charity, selflessness, responsibility, and faithfulness. Not least do they include the values that apply to the most intimate and momentous parts of life: the way we pair up in love and form our families.
Successfully transmitting these values in the midst of a culture that is becoming more and more materialistic and utilitarian is no simple task, as I know from my own experience. As a practicing physician, I have been serving my parish for years as the sexual-education teacher. You can imagine how tricky those talks can be, especially in later middle school. The question-and-answer sessions are especially stressful. When I teach, I give them the science and the basic facts, and I also adhere strictly to Catholic social teachings as laid out clearly in the Catechism. You may think it’s possible to teach the science without going into the morality, but it’s not. The question always arises, “When is a person ready to have sex?” The correct answer, for us, is “When he is grown up and married to the woman he will cherish and hold dear for the rest of his life.”
The parents who entrusted their children to the school’s care, and by extension to my care, are expecting me to answer exactly that way. That answer is also what they believe. They are hoping that in a culture that promotes sexual liberation at any cost and hardly understands permanence and true commitment, their own children will be taught values that will enable them to form happy and stable families that, in turn, will be a benefit to the greater society.
Our pastor knows me personally and knows that I trust that what the Church teaches is true. But Archbishop Cordileone cannot know all of the high-school faculty in San Francisco personally. That is why he has asked them to affirm beliefs congruent with the Church’s values and mores.
And so he has become a victim of the New Intolerance — accused of “divisiveness” and “discrimination” by those in power who demand complete subservience to their politics and ideology. He responded in a letter to the lawmakers: “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?” He went on to say: “I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.”
The mission of any religious school, whether Christian, Jewish, or other, is to form the whole child. It is not only to teach geography and mathematics but to form the student morally and spiritually. A particular worldview is being imparted by each teacher, each school-sponsored club, and each learning activity. It only makes sense that all the participants promote the same goals. No one, after all, is required to either teach at or attend a religious school.
It may be that the social teachings of the Church, until recently perfectly mainstream, are becoming incomprehensible to a large swath of the population. It does not follow that the freedom of parents to educate their child according to their own lights should be denied. The liberty of religious schools to maintain a robust identity and transmit their distinctive creeds guarantees a diverse and vibrant American society.