Teachers in San Francisco Catholic schools will be required to follow Catholic principles in their “public lives,” according to an update to teacher handbooks announced last week. That means avoiding publicly supporting homosexual acts, abortion, or other “gravely evil” activities denounced by the church.
The Mercury News reports that according to a letter released by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the handbook will ask teachers to “refrain from public support of any cause or issue that is explicitly or implicitly contrary to that which the Catholic Church holds to be true.” The letter specifies that “all extra-marital sexual relationships are gravely evil and that these include adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography, and homosexual relations.”
The handbook update, which will go into effect during the 2015-16 school year, affects approximately 500 employees in four local high schools, according to the San Francisco Examiner. That number includes about 315 unionized teachers.
Cordileone has stressed that the update is meant to clarify existing language, not place an additional burden on teachers, and that he has no intent to invade teachers’ privacy. “What is private remains private, and no one is privy to that,” Cordileone said in a YouTube video about the announcement.
In a blog post for the National Catholic Reporter, however, Brian Cahill argues that such a requirement inherently seeks to control teachers’ private lives:
Cordileone suggests that he will not be invading the private lives of employees. However, it's safe to assume that on these high school campuses no public masturbation takes place, no abortions, no distribution of condoms, no in vitro fertilization, no same-sex weddings. Therefore the only possible area of focus is in the non-work lives of teachers.
In neighboring Oakland, a similar contract change was also announced this week. Pam Shay, principal of Bishop O’Dowd High School, told SFGate that teachers have nothing to worry about as long as they aren’t representing the school. “If they were wearing their O’Dowd sweatshirt and marching in a (pro-choice) demonstration or posting a picture of them smoking a joint while wearing their school sweatshirt, that might be a different story.”
Cases elsewhere in the country have suggested otherwise. Around the country, openly gay teachers and administrators who were once welcome at their schools lost their jobs once their relationships became public through the announcement of a marriage or pregnancy. Cahill compares such rules to the military’s now-repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Such cases align with official Catholic teachings, which hold that while homosexuality is not inherently wrong, sexual activity between two people of the same sex is unnatural and sinful. Cordileone himself has been an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, and was even involved in the drafting of Proposition 8, California’s (now-overturned) constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.
Image: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone discusses the changes in a video released by the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Image via YouTube.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.