Catholic students speak out against archbishop’s morality clauses

Originally published here: http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=70457.

Sacred Heart freshman Kristin Faith Avenis spoke at a forum about teaching acceptance. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Written by Chris Huqueriza

About 500 people gathered Monday at the University of San Francisco to discuss recent proposals that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has unveiled that many say would alter education of students and make teachers adhere to Catholic teachings even in their private lives.

Concerned parents, teachers, and students attended the forum.

Drafted by Cordileone, the revised handbook contains a morality clause that would require all staff to follow Catholic doctrine and to “conduct their lives so as to not visibly contradict, undermine or deny these truths.”

The new language would affect staff at Marin Catholic, Riordan, Junipero Serra, and Sacred Heart Cathedral high schools, which are overseen by the archdiocese. The clause specifically condemns homosexuality, marriage equality, contraception, ordination of female priests, and assisted reproductive technology such as in-vitro fertilization. Any faculty member could be fired if found in violation.

Cordileone has also upset teachers at the four Catholic high schools with proposed changes to their contract.

At the March 16 forum, students spoke out.

“The church’s teaching means to show love and compassion. We should not judge each other based on their sexuality or ethnicity,” said Sacred Heart freshman Kristin Faith Avenis, who identifies as a lesbian and said that she was teased about being gay in middle school but didn’t believe being gay was a bad thing. “We should reserve the right to judge people for God. And that’s how it’s suppose to be.”

Nine students, including Avenis, spoke about how the controversial proposal contradicts their beliefs.

“It’s important, especially for me. These teachers are my role models,” said Sacred Heart senior Gus O’Sullivan, who is gay. “My role models are forced to live contrary to their beliefs. It’s also damaging to the students who are oppressed or who are still questioning. Anything the archbishop is putting out there is not respected by [the four Catholic schools].”

While several students spoke against Cordileone’s proposals, many LGBT allies, including parents and teachers, also made remarks.

“This is not the church of San Francisco that I know or grew up with,” said Serra High School history and English teacher Paul Hance, 53, who is straight. “It goes completely against Serra High School’s mission statement. We are a brotherhood who advocate for love and acceptance.”

“We are here as parents and students to express our opposition to the proposed contract and handbook changes,” said Peggy O’Grady, a proud mother of a gay student at Sacred Heart, in a news release that she gave to the Bay Area Reporter. “We believe these changes will hurt our children, our teachers, and our school communities. To remove thoughtful reflection, dialogue, and even dissent, to silence and restrict staff, is to make our schools unsafe.”

When asked if the Catholic schools had a large LGBT representation, many students and teachers agreed that it’s “moving in the right direction.” Over a dozen teachers who identify as LGBT stood up during the forum. LGBT role models in the media; conversations of major LGBT issues like Proposition 8, California’s overturned same-sex marriage ban; and out LGBT faculty members have all factored in a movement of acceptance and love, speakers said.

“I think love is an important value in this Catholic community,” said Sacred Heart senior Kalya Stanten, who joked that she’s straight but also questioning. “Changing the language of the handbook doesn’t convey the same love that I found so meaningful. You can’t teach something negative.”

Titled “Hear Our Voices: Teach Acceptance,” the forum included speakers from several entities, including University of Las Vegas Professor of constitutional law Leslie C. Griffin; retired religious studies teacher Jim McGarry; and former Catholic Charities of San Francisco Executive Director Brian Cahill.

“Don’t let Cordileone drive you away from the church,” said Cahill, father to a gay son. “It is not consistent with the church. Cordileone is driving Catholics away.”

Representatives of the archdiocese did not return an email seeking comment.

Concerned parents and students have organized support on social media at https://facebook.com/SupportSFteachers and https://twitter.com/4ourteachers. Also showing their pride, many student have worn black T-shirts with the hashtag #teachacceptance.

Called Concerned Parents and Students: Teach Acceptance, the group said its main objective is to oppose the proposed changes and promote the Catholic values of love, acceptance, and justice.

The group has also asked its members and allies to participate in peaceful actions. The main objectives are to pray, walk in solidarity, and sign a petition. The next planned event will be a procession and vigil Monday, March 30 where students, teachers, and parents will meet at 6 p.m. at Mission Dolores Church, 16th and Mission streets and head to St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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