February 18, 2020

Archbishop Cordileone, a Catholic mensch

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. – Jonathan Swift

If I could have lunch with any religious leader in California, it would be Salvatore Cordileone, the courageous Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco. His last name means “heart of a lion” in Italian, and that attribute is on public display right now as he is pilloried by the morally confused for having the effrontery to require that Catholic educators actually teach Catholic teachings in the four Catholic high schools sponsored by his archdiocese.

Archbishop Cordileone recently added a clause to the handbook for nearly 500 employees of diocesan schools. It requires school employees to “affirm and believe” that adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography and homosexual relations are “gravely evil.” Artificial reproductive technology, birth control and abortion are also condemned. Unsurprisingly, the clause’s language also affirms the definition of marriage “as the union of one man and one woman.” Finally, the good archbishop wishes to define teachers as ministers for collective bargaining purposes, which will make it easier to fire them if they don’t abide by the new rules. Given that this is taking place in San Francisco, an immediate backlash was inevitable.

I had to laugh when I read the text of a letter written by eight California state lawmakers in opposition to the proposed handbook changes. They criticized Cordileone’s “divisive tone,” “alarming message of intolerance” to students, and promotion of a “discriminatory environment.”

Well, if I sent my child to a Catholic school, I would certainly hope and expect that it would teach him how to discriminate between the moral and the immoral. It seems to me that all the archbishop is doing is reaffirming Catholic moral teachings, which by definition include intolerance of morally deviant behavior as defined by the church. His actions are only “divisive” because some students and parents not only don’t support Catholic moral stances, but inexplicably don’t want anyone else at the school to be exposed to them either. This to me is the essence of intolerance.

I know several Mormons who send their children to Catholic schools. I have never heard one of them complain that their child was being taught Catholic doctrines during religion class. Our beliefs are not quite in sync with Archbishop Cordileone’s – Mormons accept birth control and would not likely consider masturbation to be “gravely evil,” for example – but these are conversations for the dinner table and the Mormon Sunday School classroom. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking Catholic teachers to publicly support Catholic moral teachings if they teach at Catholic schools. If they choose not to do so, they can certainly seek employment elsewhere, where their salaries will not be paid by serious Catholics. To the extent that the designation of teachers as ministers facilitates this transition, it is something to be applauded.

I applaud Archbishop Cordileone for refusing to back down in the face of intolerance and moral confusion. Whatever one thinks of Catholic beliefs, there shouldn’t be any question that an archbishop has the moral authority to establish standards for the teaching of Catholic doctrines in his schools. Far from being divisive, the archbishop’s actions should have a unifying effect on Catholics who take their religion seriously. Deus vobiscum, Archbishop Cordileone.