The Corner

That Scandalous Archbishop

San Francisco is scandalized that the archbishop administering the Catholic Church locally intends to act like an archbishop administering the Catholic Church locally.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone—King Richard was not the only lion-hearted Catholic—is a San Diego native whose penitential task in this vale of tears is serving as the chief executive officer of the Catholic Church in the American city whose values are most hostile to it, at least in gonadal matters. The archbishop serves, among other things, as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Defense of Marriage, and is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage.

The archdiocese intends to enforce rules that would require, among others, teachers in its schools to affirm Catholic doctrine on matters such as homosexuality and pornography. There is in reality rather less to this than the controversy suggests: The administrators of Catholic schools and institutions have shown no indication that they intend to police, for example, whether a science teacher quietly takes birth-control pills. What the Catholic Church is working to prevent is the propagation of moral positions at odds with its teachings in its own institutions by its own employees, the subversion of its mission from within. It is entirely within its rights to do so, up to and including dismissing teachers for public statements or public actions at odds with its doctrine. No one has a right to a job teaching at a Catholic school; if Debbie Wasserman Schultz should wake up tomorrow and decide that she believes very strongly that Rick Santorum should be the next president of the United States—and she is daft enough that anything is possible—then the Democratic National Committee would be well within its rights to fire her. (Conservatives pray it never does.) If a magus of the Church of Satan should suddenly adopt a worldview identical to that of Kathryn Jean Lopez, there would be rejoicing in heaven—but the Church of Satan would be within its rights to fire him.

Catholic sexual teaching, and Archbishop Cordileone’s insistence upon it, annoys a great many people in San Francisco. Among the annoyed is Mark Farrell of the board of supervisors, which is what San Francisco calls its city council. Farrell protests that the sexual conservatism of Archbishop Cordileone and his subordinates—one of whom recently returned to the tradition of having all-male altar servers—is at odds with the local culture, “an affront to the values most of the residents of this city, in good conscience, hold dear.” The Los Angeles Times reports that many San Franciscans find the policy “divisive.” Farrell and the Times are without any question absolutely correct: The city may be named after St. Francis, but all indicators are that most residents of the city hold the moral teachings of St. Francis’s to be an affront to their values.

Which is why we have a First Amendment.

The First Amendment is, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, a blessedly anti-democratic feature of our republic that says, in short: “You idiots don’t get a vote on this.” Protections for the free practice of religion, like protections for free speech, are unnecessary when what’s coming from the lectern or the printing press is received as unobjectionable. It is precisely at the moment when there is “an affront to the values most of the residents of this city”—or this country— hold that such protections are necessary.

Mark Farrell has his concerns, and if Archbishop Cordileone would only show a smidgen of flexibility in the matter at hand, he might suggest to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors where they can put those concerns.

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