Usual Suspects Protest Archbishop Cordileone’s School Reforms

After years of decline from media darlings to relative obscurity, why has Call to Action USA (CTA) reemerged in San Francisco? Because Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s recent efforts to strengthen the Catholic identity of his schools tackles the central claim of Call to Action—that the Church discriminates unjustly against Catholics who are unwilling to accept or abide by Catholic moral teaching.

If San Francisco follows the lead of several other dioceses and unapologetically requires Catholic schools to employ only those who are faithful to the Church, it may be a harbinger of things to come. And the fringe dissidents don’t like it.

Archbishop Cordileone touched off a firestorm with his “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church.” He lays out the dos and don’ts of being an employee of a Catholic school, defining an array of practices that are not tolerated.

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In a companion letter to the Archdiocesan high school teachers, the archbishop reminds them that “All teachers are expected to contribute to an atmosphere of holiness, virtue, and familiarity with the Gospel,” and then he explains how to do it. This has drawn the wrath of CTA, whose cohorts include Catholics for Choice, Dignity USA, and Women’s Ordination Conference, to name just a few. The archbishop is very clear, “Dissenting from Catholic teaching or the natural moral law in a Catholic high school does not promote holiness, virtue, and evangelization.”

Fanning the flames of dissent, CTA has launched a petition to “ask the Archbishop to remove this language immediately … to cease his efforts to institute outdated and discriminatory ‘morality clauses.’” Why all this outrage? Because San Francisco is known as “friendly turf,” and CTA does not shy away from attacks against the Catholic Church, especially with regard to moral teachings that limit human behavior.

For years, CTA has been one of the leading fringe organizations dissenting on Catholic moral teachings that run counter to the Sexual Revolution and feminist ideology. Its 1993 conference was focused on five issues: women priests, married priests, bishops elected by laity, divorce and remarriage, and the use of contraception. But those controversies were just the beginning of the blatant attacks against the natural moral order that we face in today’s culture, and groups like CTA and others are further emboldened by a supportive government.

Last year, Call to Action joined Catholics for Choice, DignityUSA, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) and more than three dozen “progressive Catholic organizations and their affiliates in a letter to Congress decrying the bishops’ misrepresentation” regarding “what most Catholics in the US believe.” The letter accompanied a report of a public opinion survey that undermines Catholic teachings on religious liberty, abortion, and marriage.

A mere glance at CTA’s leadership is enough to reveal its agenda. The executive director is Jim Fitzgerald, a previous vice president for education at Planned Parenthood; the board of directors includes: Delfin Bautista, director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University, and Alta Jacko and Barbara Zeman, self-proclaimed “Roman Catholic Womanpriests.” The 2015 CTA national conference features Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, a well-known dissident Benedictine nun from Erie, Pa., and long-time active participant in the women’s ordination movement.

Those signing the CTA petition identify themselves as “people of faith who value education, equality and freedom of conscience.” But their “faith” and their belief in “equality” does not appear to be centered in the teachings of Christ and the dignity of the human person; thus, they reject having their consciences informed and acknowledging sin for what it is. In the words of Christ, “[they] put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions” (Mark 7: 8).

Archbishop Cordileone rejects such falsehood in his Catholic school statement:

Those of us who consider themselves to be Catholics but who are not in a state of full assent to the teachings of the Church, moreover, must refrain from participation in organizations that call themselves “Catholic” but support or advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the Church.

This directive alone disqualifies school employees from participating in CTA activities. But that’s just the beginning. Before the statement reaches the last paragraph, the archbishop condemns almost everything that CTA advocates as part of its attempts at “structural change” within the Church.

For example, he instructs employees “to conform their hearts, minds and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior … more closely to the truths taught by the Catholic Church” and to accept that “…the Church teaches with God-given authority, that … lies in the Magisterium of the Church.” But for dissidents, the Church is merely a cafeteria in which they can choose what they want, when they want it, without interference by Catholic clergy, and their consciences are formed according to their own desires.

The archbishop clarifies Church teachings on the sacredness of human life, the necessity for abstinence from all sexual intimacy outside of marriage, “the sinfulness of contraception,” the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and “the grave evil of artificial reproductive technology.” Furthermore, he proclaims that “all extra-marital sexual relationships are gravely evil and that these include adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations.” In stark contrast, dissidents like CTA expend great energy perverting the dignity of the human person by promoting sinful behaviors that treat the body—and thus, the human person—as a thing to be used rather than as a person to be loved.

The Church clearly places a unique responsibility on the bishop to guide the faithful and the teachers to be witnesses of the faith. The Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education document, Lay Catholics in Schools, squarely addresses the role of the teacher:

[T]he first indispensable necessity in one who is going to live the identity of a lay Catholic educator is to sincerely share in, and make one’s own, the statements that the Church, illuminated by Divine Revelation, has made about the identity of an educator. The strength needed to do this should be found through a personal identification with Christ (#26).

One must teach as one lives. One must live as one believes. As ministers of the faith—regardless of the name of the course—teachers must believe what the Church believes. The examples that teachers set create the environment for the truth, beauty and goodness of our faith to be revealed.

All elements must be in place for education to work—a guiding bishop, a committed high school leadership, and a faculty who not only believe what they teach, but also live it by their example in the classroom.

Catholicism is not based on opinions and polls. Call to Action and its cohorts deny that the Catholic Church as established by Christ is a hierarchy, and not a democracy. Petitioning Archbishop Cordileone to accept anything other than the truths established by Christ himself is foolish. He has firmly and clearly defended the Faith, without nuances or verbal engineering. This shepherd knows his sheep, but he also knows the wolves and is not afraid to confront them.

Editor’s note: In the image above, students and parents stage a protest on February 18, 2015 at St. Mary’s Cathedral over proposed morality clauses for Archdiocese of San Francisco teachers. (Photo credit: CBS)


  • Gerri Downing Laird

    Gerri Downing Laird is Assistant Director for Higher Education Programs at The Cardinal Newman Society. Her previous work for the Diocese of Arlington, VA involved maintaining a database of dissenting groups who frequently sought access to parish audiences.

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