I was on my way to work this morning when Michael Krasny’s Forum started airing on the radio. Today, the topic was the recent move by the San Francisco Archbishop to revise the teachers’ handbook for four local parochial high schools to include what is really, a sexual morality clause. The argument is that these doctrines have always been there so this is nothing new. However, the changes are demanding more specifics on how teachers are to conduct themselves in their professional (public) and private lives.
There are many specifics on what they can and cannot talk about privately and publicly with regards the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, artificial reproductive technology, contraception, abortion, masturbation, to name a few, pronouncing these as “gravely evil.” On top of this, the Archbishop wants to categorize all faculty members as ministers of the Church, even if they are lay people. All these have been added to their contracts that they would have to sign as a prerequisite to continued employment.
A report from SFGate states:
“The document notes that while not all staff at the schools are Catholic, they are “required to stand as effective and visible professional participants and proponents of truly Catholic education.” Those who are not Catholic “must refrain” from participating in organizations that “advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the church.”
The talk show had representations from the Archdiocese, from the students, as well as parents of students from these high schools. The audience, as always was allowed to call in or email their comments.
Through the course of the discussion, Fr. John Piderit, who represented the Archdiocese, would explain some of the statements and provide rationale for the Archbishop’s requirements. He assured the public that the Archbishop has been in discussions with various groups about all the issues he wants to further define and require.
In spite of Fr. John’s reassurances on how there is no intention to infringe on people’s rights to their private lives, there were too many other requirements that would, in order that the specific requirements be met. While he says one thing about the rules, another rule just contradicts it. More importantly, there are serious impacts to truly providing what anyone would consider a well-rounded education in this day, and one that would provide a student with a comprehensive world-view.
One case in point was the discussion that centered around restricting teachers from discussing anything that contravenes the church’s stand on such issues as mentioned above, while at school or to the students, or outside of school publicly, as in newspapers, blogs, or social media. To me, this is like putting blinkers (used on horses to limit their range of vision) on our children.
Why can’t there be free discussion of pros and cons of anything? Why can’t a teacher reveal where they stand on the matter instead of being required to deny it? It seems the church is discouraging dissent by suppressing its faculty’s diversity. This in a world where most top educational institutions are actively seeking to diversify its faculty and student population in order to provide the right preparation for a student’s future in the global stage.
I also have a problem with the explanation that infractions as defined by the church, would be treated on a case to case basis. So nebulous. And it can become arbitrary. It’s a slippery slope.
It seems that the church as represented by the leadership of this archdiocese thinks very little of how students would hear from various aspects of an issue and make decisions for themselves on what they want to believe. One parent, Vincent Campasano, expressed that he lives by his conscience. And his conscience is guided by core values of the church. However, Mr. Campasano admits he’s gay, he has lived with the same person in a monogamous relationship for 32 years. They have a daughter who attends Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory.
To this, Fr. John proceeded to explain that “a well-formed conscience” is to be obeyed. He emphasized that it is important to ensure that one’s conscience is properly formed. It can only be properly formed (and therefore acceptable to the church) if a student follows the doctrine of the Catholic faith. It cannot be formed well if a person “is persuaded more by the spirit of the time.” In so many words, he’s saying Mr. Campasano’s conscience is NOT well-formed!
Another parent, Kinsley B, wrote in the comments section:
“…These words are like a kick in the stomach. I personally fall in the evil, divorced, mom category and hold dear to my heart many who are called gravely evil by the archbishop’s words. My oldest has had three great years at the school, but this dissolves the atmosphere of charity and good will, loses sight of ‘do unto others’, and lets all of us who don’t see the world as quite so black and white know that we are not actually welcome. In fact the response of one parent who was in support of this was, ‘well if you don’t like it, you can leave.’ So beautifully christian, don’t you think? It appears intolerance rather than charity, is going to be the school’s new guiding tenet. I read the words, they are filled with intolerance. They are the fertile seeds that blossom into hate. There is no love, no charity in them. Children should not be indoctrinated to see others in their community as gravely evil. Why choose to add these clauses rather than to tell the teachers to do good works, protect the earth, help those in need, or spread love through charity?”
I looked at some of the language as made available online. I can’t help but wonder what legal counsel put in the Archbishop’s head to categorize faculty members as ministers. Sneaky! Sneaky! This is fraught with many legal and labor problems, to say nothing of the maneuver to make them now accountable to the church for their personal and private thoughts, beliefs, and activities. It totally changes their job description. And it now makes them punishable for their private beliefs and lifestyles. I guess it boils down to the church owning you as a prerequisite to teaching in a Catholic school now.
I laughed out loud when Fr. John likened the opposition to the contract to a Coca cola employee who brings a can of Pepsi to work and drinks it. The employee can’t be doing this forever at the Coke workplace without getting into trouble. At some point, it would affect his job. (Really? Really?) This analogy would only work if we talk apples to apples:
What is the product of the Catholic Church? To love thy neighbor? To do unto others…? Compassion? Therefore, a faculty member should definitely get into trouble if he/she goes to work and preaches hatred and bigotry. If that same teacher preached tolerance and charity, is that not in keeping with the teaching of the Church? Tolerance towards people who are not like us? The LBGT, for one?
What about women? Do women have to be protected from being able to make their own decisions on contraception and their reproductive rights? Do they need the church to do it for them? (This Archbishop must love Hobby Lobby, huh!) Does the church still go by the premise that women can’t make their own sound decisions about their lives that they need a bunch of old men to do it for them?
The numbers won’t lie. The mass exodus of Christians, especially Catholics from the church in the recent decades all over the world is enough proof that the church needs to rethink its principles. Or, it will go the way of the dinosaurs, the fax machine, movie rental stores, and dial-up connections.
This obstinacy to change is very disturbing. It all stems from the belief that the church’s doctrines are eternal. (I keep wracking my head to understand what that means at all! Maybe my brain is not well equipped to understand this construct). We all cannot deny the validity of some rules as they came about in view of the environment of the time. One example is the prohibition of shellfish centuries ago. This was explained historically that in those days, with no means to preserve or store them properly, they would spoil easily. When consumed, they were known to cause food poisoning or upset stomach. But times have changed. Science has afforded us the ability to preserve such perishable foods, with refrigeration and food preservation. So, why is it still mandated to avoid these in some religious groups when it is no longer relevant?
I would argue the same for many of the teachings of the church. It’s time to reassess their relevance and how these beliefs they desperately cling to are not the expression of the love and wisdom that they ascribe to God.
I cannot forget one of my teachers when I was doing my Pediatric residency. I did my first year in Ottawa, at the Children’s Hospital. One the neonatologists there was Dr. G. Everyone loved him — nurses, respiratory techs, residents, even parents. In one of our rounds, as we walked through the bridge to the general hospital, he told us about the five basic human functions, and how we would understand this more when we were his age. He said that all people need these five basic human needs: eat, sleep, poop, pee, and have sex. Granted, they have all been somehow modified to conform to society. We can’t poop or pee just anywhere. We have to use the toilet. We eat and sleep at specific times through our day, unlike in the wild, it’s when we are able to hunt and gather. And sex, he said. He can’t understand what all the fuss is about with sex. It’s a basic human need (expression of affection, intimacy) and function (procreation, release). He still could not understand how and why it could be used for many things other than what it is for or why it has to be subject to any religion’s doctrines. (We don’t hear about pooping, peeing, eating and sleeping being subjected to detailed religious scrutiny or regulation!) To some, sex is a commodity, a means of exercising control, manipulation, dominance, to sully a race or ethnic group.
Looking back, I found his ideas amusing. I also concluded that the church is hung up on sex just the same way that the radicalized Muslims are too. Both also seem to have another thing in common: this self-righteous claim to have a monopoly on God and what God wants. But, that’s another post.