The Archdiocese of San Francisco is strengthening language in its faculty contract and handbook that requires high school educators to uphold Catholic teachings in their professional and public lives.
The announcement by the archdiocese on Tuesday has angered some human-rights activists who argue that the new handbook and contract promote anti-LGBT language. However, local Catholic leaders emphasized that the contract and handbook do not contain new requirements and simply clarify existing expectations that Catholic educators maintain Catholic teaching publicly and in the classroom.
In a letter dated this month to high school teachers, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said he has drawn up a document for teachers to explain Catholic issues in Catholic schools.
Additions to the faculty handbook specifically touch on “hot-button issues,” including same-sex marriage and abortion, Catholic officials said. Cordileone’s letter states that the purpose of highlighting controversial issues is to define Catholic teachings for those in school communities, including those who do not agree with the religious doctrine.
“The way to assist teachers who distance themselves or privately oppose some Catholic teachings is to alert them to sensitive issues,” Cordileone wrote in the letter.
The handbook applies to faculty and staff at The City’s four archdiocesan high schools: Archbishop Riordan, Marin Catholic and Junipero Serra high schools, and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory.
Handbook revisions will be implemented beginning in the 2015-16 school year and are not part of the contract, which applies only to full-time faculty and is set to take effect Aug. 1. About 315 teachers at the four schools belong to the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers union, Local 2240, and nearly 500 people are employed at the four high schools.
Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Superintendent Maureen Huntington emphasized that the handbook and contract changes do not introduce new expectations, but rather seek to reiterate and clarify that teachers and staff do not contradict Catholic teaching in school and their public lives.
“In order to remain faithful to God’s revelations and the church’s teachings, additions and clarifying statements have been developed for our teachers and staff members articulating specific fundamental truths, which are not understood or accepted within our secular society,” Huntington said.
But on Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation appealed to the archdiocese to remove what it called “discriminatory clauses” from the contract. “In imposing what amounts to an anti-LGBT purity test, the archbishop is closing the door on dedicated professionals, many of them faithful Catholics, gay and straight, whose moral codes do not embrace discrimination,” stated Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, director of Latina/o and Catholic Initiatives for HRC Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program.
However, Huntington and Cordileone noted that the intent is not to drive any teacher out of a job.
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland were also informed of their new teacher contract this week.
Last year, the East Bay diocese made headlines when Bishop Michael Barber added language to the contract that also called for teachers to align with the Catholic teaching both in the classroom and publicly, which Barber said was intended to underscore what is already expected of Catholic educators.
Instead, that prompted an outcry from teachers at Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, who claimed the contract was an intrusion in their private lives.
In a letter to teachers Monday, Barber said he will continue to consult with school representatives following last year’s concerns.
Cordileone’s call for handbook and contract changes is not the first time this year that he has sought to reaffirm the Catholic faith in local schools. On Jan. 1, the archbishop introduced an Office of Catholic Identity that seeks to strengthen the presence of Catholicism in schools.
Melanie Morey, who directs the initiative, said one focus will be to help develop programs for faculty and administrators “so they feel more adept and comfortable integrating the Catholic tradition across all disciplines.”
For decades, Catholic schools throughout the world have grappled with an evolving culture that has made religion a more private affair. Morey said her office will essentially seek to reverse that trend in Catholic schools in The City.
“In order to have a Catholic culture you have to really engage Catholic knowledge,” Morey said.