With the addition of a “morality clause” to its high school teacher’s handbook this winter, the Archdiocese of San Francisco became the latest in a string of Catholic dioceses and archdioceses to wade into the next phase of the culture wars concerning Catholic teachings on sexual morality and religious practice.
In its “Statement of the High Schools of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Regarding the Teachings and Practice of the Catholic Church,” the archdiocese outlines that “administrators, faculty and staff of any faith or of no faith, are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny” the truths of the Catholic Church. “To that end, further, we all must 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, both those truths known from revelation and those from the natural law.”
Listed specifically in the document are, among others, the Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage, abortion, in vitro fertilization and contraception. The clause’s explicit detail has evoked criticism from some members of the faculty and student body, among others. When asked by eight local legislators to remove the clause from the handbook, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone wrote a to-the-point rebuttal, ending with the simple request: “I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.”
Public opinion varies from state to state, but the Church is clearly swimming against the tide. A recent Pew Research Poll puts the 2014 yearly average level of support for same-sex marriage at 52 percent, a number that has skyrocketed nearly 20 percentage points in the last five years. As that number increases, so does the pressure on Catholics and on the Catholic Church to mute their opposition.
This is why, as Church institutions around the country combat an increasing number of lawsuits, they are inserting detailed contract protections such as is the case in San Francisco. It is also why Church leaders are insisting upon institutional and individual conscience protection from our government on the basis of religious liberty.
As Pope Francis stated clearly during his recent pastoral visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines: “Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion.”
It’s important to keep in mind that even though there are constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, the legislative fight over freedom of conscience protections is going to be fierce. Unfortunately, at a time when the Church needs the support of all its people, too many of its people have a poor understanding of what the Church’s position is and why on a host of controversial issues.
As we have said so many times before, adult education and faith formation is the most critical and most neglected element of catechesis today. Explicit language in contracts is a stopgap meant to make up for this growing lack. What is needed most of all is a strategy to educate, evangelize and engage the Catholics in the pew so that Catholics themselves appreciate the necessity to protect freedom of conscience.
—OSVNewsweekly Editorial Board, March 8, 2015