Catholic supporters rally around archbishop

Phillip Carrion, an alumnus of Bishop Riordan High School in San Francisco who currently works as a residential adviser in the school’s boarding program, does not believe that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is sowing division by insisting that archdiocesan high schools abide by Catholic moral teaching.

“I think he simply wants to strengthen the Church and strengthen his schools — which he’s entitled to do — and make them even better, to ensure their Catholicity is there for the students, which is most important,” Carrion told Our Sunday Visitor.

Carrion is among a growing number of supporters who are rallying around their embattled archbishop, who has come under fire from teachers, students, secular media outlets and a group of self-described “committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II” who are upset with Archbishop Cordileone’s intention to include so-called morality clauses in faculty and staff handbooks at four archdiocesan high schools.

Archbishop Cordileone, an outspoken defender of the Church’s moral teachings who also chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, has defended his actions as necessary to clarify obligations that teachers in Catholic high schools have to conform their public and professional lives to Catholic teaching.

Larry Kamer, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said negotiations with the teachers' union have been productive and without rancor “once you take away the political noise that’s been whipped up on the outside.”

Organizing efforts

On April 27, hundreds of Catholic school teachers and their supporters gathered for a rally outside archdiocesan headquarters. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that some waved rainbow banners and emphasized accepting gays and lesbians. The Chronicle reported that one teacher, Nell Jeffrey of Sacred Heart Cathedral, took to the microphone and mentioned a student who had been conceived through in vitro fertilization, a method of conception at odds with Catholic teaching.

“Is she the product of evil? The answer is absolutely not! She is a product of God!” Jeffrey said to applause, the Chronicle reported.

“Basically what this comes down to is a group of people, ‘Catholics,’ who are protesting the archbishop for trying to teach and uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. It’s basically as simple as that,” said Eva Muntean, a San Francisco resident who is helping to organize the archbishop’s supporters.

Muntean, the marketing manager for Ignatius Press, is a member of a new group called San Francisco Catholics (, an independent grassroots organization of Bay Area Catholics who support Archbishop Cordileone.

San Francisco Catholics is planning an “Archbishop Cordileone Support Day Family Picnic” on May 16. The group has also launched a GoFundMe campaign to pay for newspaper advertisements and other events to publicize their support through various media outlets.

“We’re not just a one-event group. We’re going to be here, we’re going to stay formed, and we’re going to be here to show the archbishop that we support him, that we have his back. We’re there for him, and we’re not alone,” Muntean told OSV.

Statement from Archdiocese
Following an April 27 meeting, the Archdiocese of San Francisco released a statement on the negotiations regarding proposed language for the faculty handbook at the archdiocese’s four high schools. The following is an excerpt:

Outspoken critics

The perception, cultivated by secular media coverage, is that the majority of Catholics in San Francisco oppose Archbishop Cordileone and hope he is removed, but the reality among the faithful is another matter, said William B. May, the founder and president of the California-based Catholics for the Common Good.

“Obviously, there is this effort being led by a professional organizer, likely hired with money from outside the archdiocese, trying to foment conflict. It’s just not working, except for a few people who are trying to make a lot of noise,” said May, who referred to Sam Singer, the head of a San Francisco public relations firm that has been hired by a group of “concerned Catholic parents” to get their message out.

More than 100 Bay Area Catholics, many of them with political backgrounds, signed an open letter, published April 16 in the San Francisco Chronicle, that called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone. The letter claimed that the archbishop “has fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance,” and read in part, “Holy Father, please provide us with a leader true to our values and your namesake.”

The letter also referenced Archbishop Cordileone’s installation of Father Joseph Illo at Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco. Father Illo angered some parents for his decision to only have boy altar servers at parish Masses. The open letter says the archbishop “recruited” Father Illo “in spite of a troubled history of questionable judgment,” which is an apparent reference to a decade-old civil case where a jury found Father Illo liable for “emotional distress” for having an 11-year-old girl speak with an associate pastor whom she had accused of sexual misconduct.

A criminal investigation did not result in any charges against the associate pastor. Jurors dismissed several other charges against Father Illo in the March 2005 civil trial, according to Catholic World Report.


Despite the apparent attempt at generating more controversy, the open letter has not had much of an impact, May said.

“It was a publicity stunt. The people who signed it are known partisans, dissenters from Church teaching, and they represent the 1 percent,” said May, who added that the archbishop’s opponents have been successful in shutting down debate and “stifling” supporters.

“They’re being stifled by a campaign of intimidation that includes rumor-spreading. Even some teachers don’t know what to believe because of the rumors that are circulating around, and this is a very common tactic that those advocating radical ideologies commonly use,” May said.

Muntean noted a San Francisco Chronicle poll in mid-April that asked whether the pope should remove Archbishop Cordileone. The poll found 79 percent of respondents answered, “No, the archbishop is upholding the values of the Catholic Church.”

“I think this is all backfiring on them,” Muntean said. “Taking out that ad has done nothing but bring people out of the woodwork in support of the archbishop. People are standing up for him. The whole country is watching. We have to make sure intimidation like this does not rule the Church.”

Kamer said he has heard from many local Catholics who do not approve of the strident tone set by the archbishop’s opponents.

“It has unified a lot of the people who aren’t rich and famous but make up the majority of the 400,000 Catholics in the San Francisco archdiocese,” Kamer said.

Strengthening identity

Carrion, 22, the boarding program residential adviser at Bishop Riordan High School, said many of the students, faculty and staff have been discussing the controversy, which he does not consider to be a bad thing.

“I think it’s good to get everyone talking about the role of a Catholic school, to ask themselves what roles do employees and staff play in the schools, and to think through the question of whether someone can work at an institution without necessarily subscribing to all of those institution’s beliefs,” said Carrion, who believes it is a “great thing” that Archbishop Cordileone wants to strengthen Catholic identity in his school.

Said Carrion: “As Catholic schools, we have a tremendous responsibility to make sure students are temporally successful, but ultimately, we have a responsibility that goes even beyond that to make sure they succeed supernaturally. All the success in this world means nothing if we aren’t getting to heaven.”

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.