S.F. Catholic teachers can't oppose church teachings

A Roman Catholic archbishop in San Francisco has changed an employee manual for high school teachers in the four high schools he controls, making it against policy for teachers to speak freely about their personal beliefs whenever those beliefs contradict church teachings, the New York Times reports.

(George Martell / Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston via Flickr)

For example, once the new guidelines take effect in September, teachers won’t be able to tweet that same-sex marriage or artificial contraception is acceptable.

Reported infractions would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, the article noted, but one example given was a teacher who posted a picture of her gay son’s wedding on Facebook. “If someone was upset and reported it,” the Times quoted Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone as saying, then “the person with the Facebook page would have to be talked to.”

Bishops have a great deal of authority in their jurisdictions, or dioceses, and many parents send their children to private schools in order to learn the moral teachings espoused by those schools. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church held certain scientific myths to be doctrine and has, for many years, maintained a stance opposing homosexuality, contraception, and the use of embryonic stem cells in medicine or medical research.

But the real-world authority of any church official to teach morality has been compromised somewhat by the decades-long pedophilia scandal and subsequent cover-up.

Furthermore, what’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander. We don’t wish to continue bringing up the church pedophilia scandal, but we have in San Francisco an example of yet another church leader, an archbishop in this case, who seems to have learned nothing from that episode in church history. In a 2012 editorial referencing a Baltimore Sun exposé, the National Catholic Reporter writes:

Church leaders still do not understand the damage that has been done to their position as an authentic teaching authority. A little bit of humility might be in order. A willingness to listen and learn from others would be good. A step back from an imperial approach to governance is essential. Just as church leaders would like us to be a little more understanding in our critique of their handling of the sex abuse situation, so also might they do well to be a little less judgmental in their dealings with their flock.

An analogy with a few holes

I liken this decision by Archbishop Cordileone to public schools telling their geography teachers they can’t teach their students that the Earth is no more than 10,000 years old.

But even though issues of morality, such as the use of artificial birth control or stem cells in a lab, should logically require less control than required by scientific fact, such as the age of the Earth, the archbishop’s restrictions on free speech by teachers are more restrictive.

If a public school geography teacher posted on Facebook, outside school hours and using a personal computer, that the Earth was between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, it would lead to some discussion but not dismissal—probably. The outcome would be very different if he had made such a pronouncement in his classroom, though.

The best compromise here may be something along those lines: what happens in the school is the school’s, or church’s, business. What teachers do on their own time is between them and God. We recognize the authority of the bishops to regulate what happens in their schools, but we do not recognize their authority to tell others, including their teachers, what to believe outside the school’s domain.

Our opinion is based in part on the mishandling of the sex abuse scandal.

President Franklin D Roosevelt, in his “Four Freedoms” speech, listed free speech as the first freedom the US should uphold. He said a world in which this and other freedoms were protected was “the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.” See Common Core English literacy standard RI.9-10.9 for more information.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.