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An Open Letter to Administrators at the Catholic High Schools in the San Francisco

We opponents of Archbishop Cordileones governance decisions announced this past semester
are at a particular crisis point as the academic year draws to a close. Soon the students will
disperse, hopefully taking with them a year still brimming with reflection on many things,
including the challenges faced by their teachers, their schools, and themselves in this struggle
over the labor contract and faculty handbook language. It has been the proverbial teachable
moment, and the opportunities for learning continue, though they are laced with the anxiety as
the end of the teachers contract term looms along with the recognition that the Archbishop will
probably neither postpone nor remove the imposition of contested teachings, however modified
the language may be.
Each school administration wrote a letter to their constituents as this controversy hit the
classrooms and the streets of our city this past February. These letters included descriptions of
the charisms of the religious orders associated with schools, they cited long traditions of dynamic
Catholic education, they emphasized openness to students of all backgrounds, proudly describing
a lineage of decades of civic engagement. And they reassured their constituencies. This
reassurance is the problem.
These letters, particularly aimed at parents, implied that all things will work out in time and
nothing that you love about your school will change. The suggestion is that we will weather this
storm by being who we are. Could this be a false hope? Instead, what is needed is an
apocalyptic tone: If our teachers integrity is compromised in labor agreements and if this
faculty handbook language is instituted, it will lethally damage our students, our teachers, our
schools and our mission. Even muted, the Archbishops rhetoric of judgment and selectivity
about and atomization of the moral life of our students and their families is not simply a storm to
be weathered. It is the precipice of a disaster.
The parents of schools in the Oakland Diocese were reassured at this time last year. They were
misled. The contract language forced on the school communities was a mortal wound. Not only
were good and faithful teachers let go, but scores of educators felt compelled to violate their
consciences to hold onto their jobs and take care of their families. This scandal and these
outrageous losses are still with us, festering under the bandages applied over the wounds: the
modified language in this years contracts, the passage of time, the eclipse of memory and
Like Ignatius of Loyola and so many before and since, we can recover from these mortal wounds
through conversion, a turning of heart, a redirection of loyalty. We must pursue truth. Our
schools are well-positioned to lead this pursuitit is our unique mission as educators! We have
a resource that is seldom explicitly recognized. It is what John Henry Cardinal Newman called
the development of doctrine.
Church teaching does not occur by fiat, but by argument. This is true for Archbishops as well. It
is painful to hear students say things like, Well the Archbishop is using Catholic teaching,
but and then propose inclusion, conscience and anti-discrimination as if they came from
another source. A Catholic university professor from a local university was similarly quoted that
the Archbishop was accurately representing Catholic teaching. This is incorrect. Our opposition
to the Archbishops language comes from inside, indeed from the very core of the Catholic
This oft-neglected perspective is the tradition of doctrinal development. Doctrinal matters
develop and doctrinal development matters. This is another one of our best kept secrets, and

our schools are particularly equipped to bring this dimension to the dialogue with the
Archbishop. We must not simply and automatically cede to the Archbishop moral authority, we
must rather engage in fraternal dialogue--with a seriousness of what is at stakeand discover the
truer doctrine that is in development in our midst and through our conversations, reflections and
The Archbishop is putting forth conclusions to an argument that is contested even within the
documents he cites as sources. The chief source which Archbishop Cordileone cites in his
proposed handbook language is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That documents passages
on homosexual relations show an emerging internal contradiction that is now at a crisis point,
precipitating development. Paragraph 2357 is the standard condemnation of homosexual
relations, using the language of intrinsic disorder. However, the next paragraph, 2358, warns:
Every sign of unjust discrimination in their [homosexuals] regard should be avoided. The true
teaching of the church must emerge from the tension inherent in these two paragraphs and that is
what is happening now. Our students perceive this contradiction, have opened it up and are
walking it over to the Cathedral plaza. They are among the pioneers of doctrinal change
The development of Church teaching on slavery is a revelatory example. For the better part of
two thousand years, the Catholic Church did not fully condemn slavery and in fact made
significant doctrinal room for it. Even the leading theorist of doctrinal development, John Henry
Cardinal Newman, had trouble with outright abolition and backed away from a full
condemnation in the midst of the raging debates over slavery in the mid-19th Century. All this
and more is cited in conservative Catholic jurist John Noonans thorough analysis of slavery and
other doctrines in A Church That Can and Cannot Change: the Development of Catholic Moral
Teaching (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005.) Here is a passage from Noonans book that
has chilling parallels into our present dilemma. In 1822, a Vatican Congregation of Bishops
advising Pope Pius VII who was challenged by British abolitionists, submitted a report. Their
advice to the Pope was, as summarized by Noonan:
True, there was suffering caused by the trade [chattel slavery] but abolition was a notion
of the anti-religious philosophers of the eighteenth century. The most competent
theologians and canonists held slavery to be not contrary to natural law and to be
approved in principle by the Old Testament. A papal prohibition would please the British,
who oppressed Catholics, and it would compromise the colonial interests of France,
Portugal and Spain. (Noonan 104)
The author concludes: Pius VII did nothing. Talk about fighting the wrong battles! Or maybe
Jesus said it best: You are experts at seeing the splinter in your brothers eyes, and ignoring the
plank in your own. Archbishop Cordileone is clearly fighting other battles, from his position on
the national stage in opposition to gay marriage, his notion that secular culture is diametrically
opposed to Church teaching, his importing of Catholic identity assessment activities and
personnel. We have to help him see our schools without this filter, to see clearly and plainly the
profound faithful, evangelical work done by our institutions, and we must invite him to see the
necessary change in doctrine that is happening in the theological battle against all discrimination.
We are in need of a new abolitionism, one that roots out this discrimination. From San Diego in
2008, then-Bishop Cordileone was a leader in the support for Proposition 8, which was to
establish a legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Prop 8 proponents were
fond of saying: It is about a definition, not about discrimination. However, both the basic
morality class and the composition classes we offer our students, warn them that saying it is so,

does not make it so. You must demonstrate conclusions through reasoning. Again, Archbishop
Cordileones authority is not in his assertions but in his arguments.
Sometimes our Church leaders have led us astray, but very often we are our own worst enemy.
We must engage the Archbishop not from a holier-than-thou place, but as Paul challenged Peter,
fraternally and urgently. Bishops do not have corners on truth, nor do any of us just by virtue of
our years of study or experience as professionals. In fact, Isaiah predicted that a child shall lead
them and that great reversal keeps happening in our midst. To hear a gay student, or a child of in
vitro fertilization, stand on the Cathedral plaza and say: This language is wrong echoes that
young man who stood up in Nazareth quoting that same prophet Isaiah and then pronouncing to
the dismay of the learned elders: Today this scripture is fulfilled in the hearing. Today, a great
reversal in Church teaching is underway as we witness. Discrimination in all its forms is on the
way out. Civil rights protection must be particularly extended to groups like gays, lesbians and
transgendered people that are hated and threatened with violence in our own society and in most
countries of the world. The Gospel stands for this human dignity and the civil protections needed
to announce it--and to insure it.
Today the authentic legacy of the Gospel, proclaimed by Jesus in front of the Torah at the
synagogue in Nazareth, is on the line. Our students sense it and need our help to know it better
and to act on it. We cannot equivocate or vacillate. We must remember what happened across the
Bay to our brothers and sisters in Oakland, and not let it happen hereas a step towards helping
it heal over there. Our educational traditions in this Archdiocese--long, deep and trueare at a
time of testing. Our students and teachers threatened by this condemnation are the lost sheep
and we must leave the ninety-nine, trusting in their safety, while we pursue and bring home the
one who is in peril.