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Monday, April 27, 2015

"I want education, not indoctrination": Catholic Teachers and Students Protest Archdiocese

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 8:09 PM

click to enlarge Protesters rally outside the Archdiocese Chancery - JULIA CARRIE WONG
  • Julia Carrie Wong
  • Protesters rally outside the Archdiocese Chancery

Over 100 Catholic teachers, students, and labor activists rallied outside the San Francisco Archdiocese Chancery this afternoon, in protest of what teachers at Bay Area Catholic schools are calling attacks on their rights as workers. 

The San Francisco Catholic community has been in turmoil since February, when Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone proposed changes to the employee handbook for faculty and staff at four area Catholic high schools, including Archbishop Riordan High School and Sacred Heart Catholic Preparatory in San Francisco. The language condemns homosexuality, same-sex marriage, contraception, and assisted reproductive technology, and calls on staff to affirm that homosexuality, masturbation, and pornography are "gravely evil."  

Students and teachers at the schools have protested the new morality clause, and in April, more than 100 prominent Bay Area Catholics signed a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle calling on Pope Francis to replace Cordileone. The ad cited the "atmosphere of division and intolerance" created by the Archbishop's conservative social views, especially in regard to the proposed language for the school employee handbook, which it criticized for "absolute mean-spiritedness." 

Now organized labor is throwing its support behind the Catholic school teachers, who are represented by AFT Local 2240. Members and leaders of many San Francisco unions, including the public school teachers (UESF), nurses, janitors, Walmart workers, fast food workers, and others rallied to support the Catholic school teachers, who are also embroiled in a contract dispute.

"My grandmother is Catholic, so I was raised in a Catholic home," said Dominic West, 28, a former Walmart worker who is an activist with the OUR Walmart campaign and attended the rally. "Just to hear that the church is not standing behind workers, trying to take away their rights, it's a new low to me." 

The collective bargaining agreement for the approximately 300 unionized teachers at the four Catholic high schools expires July 31st, and the teachers say that the Archbishop is attempting to reclassify all employees of the school—including teachers—as part of the "ministry" of the church. 

"The ministerial exception busts our union," says Sal Curcio, 44, a teacher at Sacred Heart for seven years. Curcio says that if teachers are considered ministers, they will not be protected by labor law, because the government cannot interfere with the workings of a religious institution. He fears that teachers would then lose both the protections of labor law—such as anti-discrimination legislation—and the protections of the union contract, which requires, for example, that the employer show "just cause" to fire an employee. 

The distinction between being a teacher and being a minister was a major point of contention for teachers who spoke at the rally. "When you change the job title, you devalue what we study and what we do," said Nell Jeffrey, a teacher at Sacred Heart who has worked for the Archdiocese for 35 years. 

The employee handbook language and the "ministry" language in the contract negotiations are separate issues, but at the rally, students, teachers and parents decried both as attacks on the teachers that will be harmful to their students. 

Gino Gresh, 18, a senior at Sacred Heart, held a banner reading "#TeachAcceptance" at the rally. "I think this is hate speech," Gresh said of the handbook language. "If the archbishop continues what he's doing, he's allowing private schools to be breeding grounds for discrimination." Gresh is graduating this year, but says he wants to make sure future students have a positive experience like he did. "I want education, not indoctrination."

The Archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, the Archdiocese said that the idea that "the contract negotiations are being used only to provide an excuse to fire teachers... could not be further from the truth": 

Today Archbishop Cordileone met again with some administrators from the Archdiocesan high schools and reiterated his determination to keep teachers, not fire them. There will be no “witch hunts,” no prying into people’s personal lives, no shaming, no hidden agendas. This is something the Archdiocese has sought to make clear from the beginning. 

The Archdiocese reiterates its commitment to do what we can to listen to teachers’ ongoing concerns, to restore respectful discussion, and to heal any rifts that may remain. He understands that the teachers want to make sure that the final language in the contract both promotes Catholic identity and protects the rights of the teachers. He too wants language that protects the rights of the teachers, and he is willing to make adjustments to firmly secure those rights.
Curcio was less optimistic about a speedy resolution of the dispute. "If the employer doesn't change this position, it's going to get very contentious," he said. "We're willing to negotiate on salary. We're not willing to negotiate on our rights." 

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About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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