Politics & Policy

Among ‘Catholic Leaders’ against Cordileone, Some Veteran Activists against Catholic Teaching

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
A look at some of the signers of the open letter to Pope Francis.

Escalating the attacks on Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco for continuing to uphold Catholic teachings, 100 self-described “Catholic leaders” have signed an open letter to Pope Francis, calling for the archbishop’s removal. In a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, the petitioners claim that Cordileone has “fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance” by asking K–12 Catholic-school teachers in the Bay area to “violate their individual consciences by accepting a morality code” based on the Church’s teachings.

“Instead of your famous words ‘Who Am I to Judge,’Archbishop Cordileone has repeatedly labeled the behavior of our fellow brothers and sisters (and their children) as ‘gravely evil,’” the open letter to Pope Francis reads. Concluding that the “City of Saint Francis deserves an Archbishop true to our values and to your teachings,” the signers charge that “the Archdiocese is threatened by Archbishop Cordileone’s single-issue agenda.”

The truth is that for many of those who signed the letter to the pontiff, the single issue of promoting same-sex marriage has been the motivating force of their activities for more than a decade. Sam Singer, the infamous public-relations maven who was hired to launch a media blitz to defeat the archbishop’s policy of strengthening the Catholic identity of San Francisco’s Catholic schools, is leading this attack against the archbishop, but he has plenty of help from disgruntled former employees of the archdiocese.

Among the signers of the letter, for example, is Brian Cahill, who has been criticizing the Catholic Church for her teachings on homosexuality since long before Archbishop Cordileone ever arrived. Cahill publicly denounced Catholic teachings even during his tenure as executive director of Catholic Charities/Catholic Youth Organization in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In a 2011 op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, he wrote, “I am a Catholic who voted against Proposition 8 in 2008 and contributed $1,000 to the No on 8 Campaign.” The opinion piece appeared under the headline “My Gay Son: The Face of Church’s Lack of Respect.”

It is understandable that Cahill would be less than welcoming to Archbishop Cordileone, who helped lead ecumenical efforts to pass Proposition 8 and ensure that marriage would continue to be defined as a union between one man and one woman. While still leader of Catholic Charities/CYO, Cahill, repudiating Catholic policies that prevented gay couples from adopting children through his organization, allowed several children to be adopted by gay parents.

In a story in the Bay Area Reporter in 2006, he was quoted as denying that Catholic teaching on marriage and family life prevented gay adoptions, and he “was optimistic his agency could find some way to resolve the issue without shutting down its adoption program.” In 2002, Glen Motola, director of programs and services of San Francisco Catholic Charities, adopted a child with his male partner. Even after the decree came from the Vatican in 2006 to end adoption by same-sex couples, Cahill was adamant that “any story saying his agency had stopped allowing gay parents to adopt was completely inaccurate.”

Cahill had plenty of support for his views. The article in the Bay Area Reporter continued: “Nanette Miller, a lesbian and member of Catholic Charities’ board, said she is also hopeful that the agency can come up with a positive solution, such as when the archdiocese figured out a way to adhere to the city’s requirement under the equal benefits ordination that it extend domestic partner benefits to employees so as not to lose its funding.” It should surprise no one that many of those who signed Thursday’s open letter to Archbishop Cordileone were former employees or board members of Cahill’s Catholic Charities/CYO, including Clint Reilly, former chairman of the organization’s board, and Suzanne Swift and Brian Swift, both former members of the board. In addition to the board members, several of those who signed the open letter worked for Catholic Charities or the CYO as employees or volunteer coaches. 

Archbishop Cordileone is not the first bishop Cahill has gone after. In 2012 in the San Francisco Chronicle, he attacked the U.S. Catholic bishops collectively for opposing the Health and Human Services contraception mandate. Claiming that “the bishops have no credibility with their teachings on contraception,” Cahill maintained that “the issue of conscience only seems to arise over matters of sexuality.” 

Sam Singer knows that Brian Cahill is a “useful idiot” in his plan to destroy Archbishop Cordileone. Still, it is understandable that Cahill would like the Church to change her teachings on homosexuality. He loves his gay son and wants the best for him. Having lost his other son, John Francis Cahill, to a tragic suicide in 2008, he likely has made a commitment to removing any barriers to happiness for his son. But that is the real tragedy. Removing San Francisco’s archbishop would not change the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage. In some ways it would only make things worse for the Cahill family, as they would have to acknowledge the role they have played in this most destructive campaign.

Cahill should know that this war is not over. More than 36,000 Catholics have signed a petition at Catholic Vote to support Archbishop Cordileone and to thank him for “showing us what true leadership looks like and for defending Catholic families, students, and an important principle of religious liberty in America.” The letter concluded with assurances to the archbishop that “Catholics across America are praying with you and for you. . . . Please know you are not alone.”

And to show their support for the archbishop’s efforts to ensure that teachers in Catholic schools remain faithful to Church teachings, a grassroots group of San Francisco Catholics have organized an “Archbishop Cordileone Support Day,” including a family picnic on May 16 at San Francisco’s Little Marina Green. Asked to wear blue to show support for the archbishop, participants are promised a puppet show, “a bouncy house for the little ones,” live entertainment provided by a Mariachi band, and kids’ games organized by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.

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