February 24, 2015
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone
Archbishop Cordileone wrote the following letter to teachers at the four archdiocesan high schools.
“The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.” Pope Francis pronounced these now famous words, with the provocative image of the Church as a “field hospital,” in the interview published in America magazine in September of 2013.
Our schools, though not field hospitals, provide a different but no less essential role in the mission of the Church. They are more like a service academy, equipping our young people to be spiritually and morally fit for life, serve faithfully in their parishes, and so carry on the Church’s legacy of service to the poor, sick, marginalized, vulnerable and destitute in any way, as well as to respond to and faithfully persevere in the calling God gives them in their life. You are to be commended for what you do to help our young people attain these goals. In particular, I am grateful for your encouragement to our students to serve in the various “field hospitals” in our Archdiocese and beyond. These are invaluable formational experiences for our young people in their process of becoming ever more ardent and joyful disciples of Jesus Christ.
It was with this vision in mind that I drafted the “Affirm and Believe” statements as declarations of our schools as an institution. In these areas, too, our young people need good, solid formation. As I mentioned to you in the convocation on February 6, I chose these particular points not because the others are not so important (far from it), but because, besides the fact that they are foundational, they are also the areas of Church doctrine where there is the most confusion and resistance in the culture today.
Pondering over what has transpired over the last two-and-a-half weeks, I wish to offer you the following reflections and clarifications.
1. The form of the “Affirm and Believe” statements you received was the result of dialogues with your union negotiators. I presented an original text, and through our discussions different revisions were made and the language adjusted, even though it is true that, as part of the faculty handbook, this addendum is under the sole purview of the Archbishop of San Francisco and not part of the negotiations for the contract. Since these are doctrinal statements, I anticipated the teachers would interpret them as such. In fact, what occurred was an interpretation of the statements as if they were designed to be spoken primarily to students and parents.
2. These statements are, admittedly, not nuanced for students or even for parents, nor are they placed in the proper context within which they need to be interpreted. For example, one must understand the difference between person and act: an act can be gravely evil, but that does not make the person who does it an evil person. Good people do bad things. When that happens, those people don’t cease being good, but the bad that they do hinders them in their growth toward human perfection and in living up fully to the goodness that they are capable of and to which God calls them. God, though, certainly gives them the grace to overcome this if they seek it. There is also the distinction between objective evil and subjective culpability. When one does something wrong, even seriously wrong, there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that diminish one’s culpability, such as lack of knowledge, lack of full consent of the will, and immaturity. These distinctions have been part of Catholic teaching for centuries.
3. As I explained in my comments at the Convocation, including material on social justice and Catholic social teaching can make good sense. Since a number of teachers encouraged me subsequently to do precisely this, I am happy to allow my comments to be expanded to include teaching on some components of social justice. The teachers wanted all the statements related to sexual intimacy as well as religious practice to be heard in a broader context that corresponds better to the way in which students positively evaluate various components of the Catholic faith
4. As I also explained at the Convocation, my goal in adding material to the faculty handbook was to clarify. In order to attain further clarity, it makes sense to me that the material to be included in the faculty handbook will benefit from additional explanatory comments as well as statements on important issues in the area of Catholic social teaching.
Therefore, after speaking with your union negotiators, I have decided to form a committee consisting of theology teachers from the four Archdiocesan high schools to recommend to me a draft which, while retaining what is already there, expands on these statements and adjusts the language to make the statements more readily understandable to a wider readership. I will also leave to their discretion how to include the proper wider context within which to understand these points of doctrine, as I indicated above (n. 3). Each of you may approach them with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions which they can then take under consideration as they prepare their draft. It is my hope that this can all be completed prior to the beginning of the next academic year.
After my address to you on February 6, a number of you spoke to me seeking advice on how to effectively present the Church’s teaching in a compassionate and compelling way to your students who may be struggling in these areas and perhaps even feeling rejected or unwelcomed by the Church because of them. I was moved by your sincerity and commitment. Please know that I have already begun to look into resources that we can make available to you to assist you in this most important work.
This has been a very trying time for all of us. I implore your patience, good will, and especially prayers as we continue to work toward a consensus. And as we have just begun this holy season of Lent, I would ask one specific favor from our Catholic teachers: please join me in offering your Lenten fasting for the intention of a happy resolution and calming of tensions. We need God’s help, and all we have to do is ask God for it, for, “The Lord withholds no good thing from those who walk without reproach” (Ps 84:12).
Sincerely yours in our Lord,
Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco