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Opposing the Archbishop

By Donna Mallard | Jul. 2, 2015

Law Office Management

Jul. 2, 2015

Opposing the Archbishop

Catholic leader pushes legal change.

Father Salvatore Cordileone, the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties since 2012, has drawn broad secular attention for several high-profile legal and political stances, starting with his leadership of the effort to get a same-sex marriage ban onto the statewide ballot in 2008. Then bishop of San Diego, Cordileone also raised thousands of dollars to support Proposition 8 after it qualified, and he forged alliances with evangelical Christians that analysts said were crucial to its passage.

As he was being installed as archbishop up north, he was praised for working with the poor, speaking Spanish fluently, and building a strong relationship with San Diego's Latino community. It was changes he made at the parish level in 2014 that triggered the high-profile complaints.

First, a priest Cordileone had appointed gave elementary students a pamphlet with explicit questions about sexual mores and began to phase out girls from altar service. Then, Cordileone proposed designating all teachers in the archdiocese's Catholic high schools as "ministers," even though about 90 percent are laypeople. That could have put the teachers outside the purview of federal nondiscrimination laws and other employment rules. (See Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 132 S.Ct. 694 (2012).) Jeffrey Burns, the archdiocese's former archivist, said Cordileone wanted to redefine the role of teachers in the face of division among parishioners over "what it means to be a good and faithful Catholic."

Courts probably would have looked beyond job titles in considering whether to exempt teachers from employment laws, attorneys said. In any case, Cordileone withdrew the plan in February this year, and reassigned the priest who had distributed the pamphlet. But Cordileone continued to demand that teachers sign a statement affirming as "gravely evil" concepts including same-sex marriage and some reproductive technology.

Many parents were still upset. And in April about 100 parishioners and alumni of San Francisco Catholic schools - including several well-known businesspeople and 13 lawyers - published an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle calling on Pope Francis to remove the archbishop. They wrote that his hard-line stances contradict the pope's calls for openness and compassion.

"Pope Francis has his and the Church's priorities straight," Richard H. Schoenberger, partner at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger and a signatory of a letter in the ad, said by email. "Archbishop Cordileone has them backward, and we as a community don't like going in reverse." Said James P. Nevin Sr., another lawyer and letter signer: "I have two grandchildren conceived through in vitro fertilization, and they are not 'gravely evil.' "

In late May, Cordileone reportedly agreed to drop some of the most controversial aspects of the statement he wanted teachers to sign. And spokesperson Larry Kamer said the prelate disputed the ad's assertions. "The archbishop has been very attentive to the concerns teachers have raised and has gone on record to make it clear that this will not compromise their employment or legal rights," he said. "The ad can't be ignored, but it does not represent the feeling of all rank and file of San Francisco's Catholics. ... [T]here are lots of Catholics in San Francisco who agree with the Archbishop and take issue with the letter's tone."

San Francisco's Catholic community has had a major voice in local life and politics since the 19th century, when the city's population was 76 percent Catholic. It remained predominantly so through the 1960s. Bill Issel, professor emeritus at San Francisco State University and a historian of 20th-century San Francisco Catholicism, says many local business and political leaders, including mayors Joseph Alioto and John Shelley, sought to bring Catholic sensibilities into civic life. Mission District priest Peter Yorke helped found local labor unions at the start of the 20th century, and Archbishop Edward Hanna served as an arbiter in the 1934 Longshoremen's strike.

The issue with Cordileone, Issel says, is that his "confrontational style in defining and carrying out his duties clashes with the city's hyper-individualistic" culture.


Donna Mallard

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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