Attacks Against Archbishop Cordileone Fall Flat

Despite a ruthless public relations war against San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for attempting to ensure that Catholic schools remain faithful to the Church, the majority of respondents to a San Francisco Chronicle poll remain supportive of their episcopal leader.  On Sunday, the Chronicle provided a weeklong poll for readers entitled “Time for Archbishop Cordileone to Go?” The results (as of April 21 at 3pm) revealed that those who have been lobbying Pope Francis to remove the archbishop remain a small minority. When asked: “Should Pope Francis Remove Archbishop Cordileone from the San Francisco Archdiocese?” 78 percent of all respondents said “No, the archbishop is upholding the values of the Catholic Church;” and 10 percent said the archbishop is right to oppose same sex marriage. In contrast, only 11 percent indicated that the archbishop is fostering a climate of intolerance; and a tiny fraction (1 percent) said that “Yes, his morality clause for teachers in parochial schools defies the law.”

Should Pope Francis remove Archbishop Cordileone from the San Francisco archdiocese?

  • 78%  No, the archbishop is upholding the values of the Catholic Church
  • 11%  Yes, the archbishop is fostering a climate of intolerance
  • 10%  No, the archbishop is right to oppose same-sex marriage
  • 1%   Yes, his morality clause for teachers in parochial schools defies the law

This has to be disappointing for those who hired Sam Singer, the infamous public relations guru, who has created a cynical marketing campaign to convince Catholics that the archbishop does not understand or appreciate the unique cultural needs of the San Francisco community. From candlelight vigils at the cathedral—replete with protestors dressed in black to vilify the archbishop at Church services on Ash Wednesday—to an extensive campaign to try to convince Catholics that the archbishop hates the homeless and is using sprinklers to remove them from sleeping on Church property, Singer has tried several unsuccessful strategies to convince Catholics to remove their leader.

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Most recently, Singer helped to stage an elaborate press conference to announce a “grassroots” group of 100 so-called “committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II” who purchased a full page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle asking Pope Francis to remove the archbishop—and provide a new leader for them who is “committed to our values and your teachings.”

Leading the charge against the archbishop was Brian Cahill, retired executive director of Catholic Charities/Catholic Youth Organization in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Angry about Catholic teachings on homosexuality, Cahill has been protesting these teachings for more than a decade—long before Archbishop Cordileone ever arrived in San Francisco. A long-time advocate of same-sex “marriage” and adoption of children by gay parents—even during the time he headed San Francisco’s Catholic Charities, Cahill publicly denounced Catholic teachings on homosexuality. On March 13, 2011, Cahill published an op-ed in The San Francisco Chronicle entitled: “My Gay Son: The Face of Church’s Lack of Respect,” which began with: “I am a Catholic who voted against Proposition 8 in 2008 and contributed $1,000 to the No on 8 Campaign.” Archbishop Cordileone was a leader of the Proposition 8 campaign that sought to ensure that marriage remain a union between a man and a woman.

Cahill was joined by several Bay Area leaders—many of them big donors to Democratic political causes. First Things writer Matthew Schmitz pointed out that among the 100 signers included several business leaders like Charles Geschke, the co-chairman of Adobe System, who has given more than $200,000 to the Democratic National Committee; and Clint Reilly who worked on political campaigns for Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and later, headed the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities under Cahill.

Joining Cahill in his campaign against the Church in San Francisco, Jim McGarry and his wife, Kathy Curran appear to have made a commitment to changing Catholic teachings on marriage and homosexuality. And, like Cahill, Curran and McGarry made that commitment more than a decade ago—long before Archbishop Cordileone arrived in the Bay area. In December, 2008, the couple coordinated a demonstration along with Dignity USA, New Ways Ministry and Call to Action in a candlelight vigil to protest Vatican opposition to a United Nations resolution on homosexuality.

Curran coordinated a March 17, 2015 forum held at the University of San Francisco which was described in National Catholic Reporter as an opportunity to “galvanize opposition to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s changes to a handbook for teachers at four high schools.” In his opening speech at the March 17 forum, Cahill helped set the tone for the evening when he charged that “Cordileone, who with his imported crew of orthodox, smugly ideological and intentionally provocative zealots, is trying to shove his sex-obsessed version of Catholic identity down the throats of Catholic high school students and teachers.”

Jim McGarry appears to share his wife’s zeal for changing Catholic teachings on marriage and homosexuality—and has chosen to join her in the attack on the archbishop. But, McGarry goes even further by criticizing the Church’s teachings on reproductive rights including in vitro fertilization. In an open letter to San Francisco Catholic students McGarry suggested that the archbishop is “not in compliance with Catholic teaching.” Claiming that the archbishop is “very selectively choosing a small number of doctrines and putting them forward in a selective way,” McGarry concludes that the archbishop is “distorting the tradition in a way that first of all endangers the health and well being of our children.”

As the campaign against the Church in San Francisco has begun to lose ground, Singer’s rhetoric has escalated—and he has personally extended his attacks on those who have publicly supported Archbishop Cordileone. Following the publication of a National Review article  last week, Singer sent three tweets to his followers on April 18 and 19 advising them to denounce the author for her hateful speech. Calling the article “mean-spirited and hateful,” Singer called on the archbishop (of all people) to “reject” the author. Making sure that the author saw his angry tweets—and would be fearful of retribution by Singer-supporters—Singer forwarded them to her personally so she would receive them in her email inbox. Unfortunately for Singer, the strategy seems to have failed as only a handful of his followers even bothered to re-tweet any of his offensive tweets.

Realizing that he is losing the public opinion battles, it is likely that Singer will escalate his attacks on those of us who support the courageous work Archbishop Cordileone is doing. On April 18, Singer tweeted that he “won’t give up until Cordileone is gone.” Maybe. But, it is more likely that as Singer continues to lose ground in his ongoing war on the Church, and his supporters begin to retreat, his sponsors may start to consider whether they are engaged in a losing campaign.


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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