High-Profile S.F. Catholics Ask Pope to Remove Archbishop Cordileone

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San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, pictured at a 2013 press conference during which he discussed the election of Pope Francis I. A group of 100 prominent San Francisco Catholics has issued a public letter calling on the pope to remove Cordileone for promoting "an atmosphere of division and intolerance." (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Editor's note: This post includes a correction.

A group of 100 Catholics has issued a public appeal to Pope Francis I to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for promoting "an atmosphere of divisiveness and intolerance" in the archdiocese.

The unusual appeal, made on behalf of "the Catholic community of San Francisco" in a full-page ad in Thursday's editions of the San Francisco Chronicle, comes amid a controversy over Cordileone's attempt to impose what critics have termed a rigid morality code on high school teachers and staff in the diocese.

In a statement, the archdiocese said the ad's message misrepresented both Cordileone's positions and church teachings. The statement also challenged the notion that the ad's content is truly representative of San Francisco Catholics.

Signers include business and other community figures active in church-related charities, including Brian Cahill, former head of Catholic Charities; Charles Geschke, chairman of Adobe Systems and former head of the University of San Francisco Board of Trustees; construction executive Larry Nibbi; and attorney Frank Pitre (see full text of the ad, below, or a larger-format PDF copy, including all signers' names).

At a press conference Thursday morning, another signer, attorney Michael Kelly, acknowledged the ad was "a drastic step" taken as "a last resort."

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"But know first that before we came to this place, there were messages sent quietly and confidentially through parish priests and through other contacts in Rome," Kelly said. "There were letters and phone calls. There was a letter sent to the Apostolic Nuncio, who is the ambassador to the U.S. from the Vatican in Rome. There was a follow-up phone call in the hopes that this could be resolved quietly. …The archbishop has consistently delayed and made excuses."

Kelly also disputed the notion the signers don't represent the diocese's Catholic community.

"Archbishop Cordileone does not know who the bedrock of the San Francisco Catholic community is," Kelly said. "It would not surprise me if the archbishop were to meet any of the hundred signers of this document who have built and nurtured his diocese and supported his schools, and not recognize any of them.”

(See larger-format PDF copy including all signers' names).
(See larger-format PDF copy including all signers' names).

The Cordileone document outlining a code of belief for teachers and staff, made public in early February, calls on educators to "affirm and believe" a litany of church teachings. Those include that homosexuality and premarital sex are "gravely evil" and any form of contraception is "intrinsically evil."

The code, to be included in a handbook for high school employees in the diocese, prompted a series of protests, including a march to St. Mary's Cathedral last month. The letter published Thursday cites that document as one of the chief reasons Cordileone should be replaced.

"The absolute mean-spiritedness of his required language for the Archdiocese high school faculty handbook sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization," the letter says. "Students, families and teachers have been deeply wounded by this language, yet the Archbishop refuses to withdraw his demands."

The letter also criticizes Cordileone for appointing a pastor to Star of the Sea Catholic Church who banned girls from altar service. More recently the priest, the Rev. Joseph Illo, presided over distribution of an educational pamphlet to grade-schoolers that some parents criticized for containing inappropriate sex-related questions.

Those who signed the letter also charged that Cordileone has isolated himself by rejecting advice and disregarding "deep reservations" about his policies from other clergy in the diocese.

"The Archdiocese of San Francisco is threatened by Archbishop Cordileone's single-issue agenda and cannot survive, let alone thrive and grow, under his supervision," the letter says.

The mention of a "single-issue agenda" is a reference to Cordileone's long-running activism against same-sex marriage. During his tenure as bishop in San Diego, Cordileone was one of the architects of Proposition 8, the voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that sought to bar gays and lesbians from marrying. Prop. 8 has since been struck down as unconstitutional.

In a statement, the archdiocese said:

The advertisement is a misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, a misrepresentation of the nature of the teacher contract, and a misrepresentation of the spirit of the Archbishop. The greatest misrepresentation of all is that the signers presume to speak for “the Catholic Community of San Francisco.” They do not.

The Archdiocese has met with a broad range of stakeholders. Together, we have engaged in a constructive dialogue on all of the issues raised in this ad. We welcome the chance to continue that discussion.

It's rare but not unheard of for popes to remove prelates from office over doctrinal disputes or allegations of misconduct. Last year, Pope Francis removed a bishop in Paraguay over "serious pastoral concerns" -- he had reportedly protected a priest suspected of abusing children.

In November, the pope removed Cardinal Raymond Burke from his position as chief of the Vatican's highest court. Catholic News Service provided this context for the move:

A prominent devotee of the traditional liturgy and outspoken defender of traditional doctrine on controversial moral issues, Cardinal Burke had appeared increasingly out of step with the current pontificate. ...

Cardinal Burke expressed frustration, in a February 2014 article in the Vatican newspaper, that many Americans thought Pope Francis intended to change Catholic teaching on certain "critical moral issues of our time," including abortion and same-sex marriage, because of the pope's stated belief that "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

Insisting that the pope had "clearly affirmed the church's moral teaching, in accord with her unbroken tradition," Cardinal Burke blamed perceptions to the contrary on "false praise" of Pope Francis by "persons whose hearts are hardened against the truth."


The full text of the ad running in the Chronicle:

Holy Father, please provide us with a leader true to our values and your namesake.

Please replace Archbishop Cordileone.

We are committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II. We believe in the tradition of conscience, respect and inclusion upon which our Catholic faith was founded From Archbishops Alemany, Hanna, Mitty and McGucken, to Quinn, Levada and Niederauer, our Archdiocese has been "an immigrant Church" built on a rich tradition of diversity. The Archdiocese as created a remarkable system of churches, schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly and support services for those in need.

That is why we now respectfully ask you to replace Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

Archbishop Cordileone has fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance.

Upon threat of losing their jobs, he coerces educators and staff in our Catholic high schools to accept a morality code which violates individual consciences as well as California labor laws. Teachers, students and parents are overwhelmingly opposed to his divisive proposal. The absolute mean-spiritedness of his required language for the Archdiocese high school faculty handbook sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization. Students, families and teachers have been deeply wounded by this language, yet the Archbishop refuses to withdraw his demands.

Instead of your famous words "Who am I to Judge," Archbishop Cordileone repeatedly labels the behavior of our fellow brothers and sisters (and their children) as "gravely evil." He has selected and installed a pastor for Star of the Sea parish who marginalizes women's participation in the church by banning girls from altar service and who has inexplicably distributed to elementary school children an age-inappropriate and potentially abusive, sexually-oriented pamphlet. The priest was recruited by Archbishop Cordileone in spite of a troubled history of questionable judgment as a pastor outside our diocese.

The Archbishop has isolated himself from our community. He disregards advice from his priests and has brushed aside the deep reservations expressed by our retired priests regarding his actions. He relies instead on a tiny group of advisors recruited from outside our diocese and estranged from their own religious orders.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is threatened by Archbishop Cordileone's single-issue agenda and cannot survive, let alone thrive and grow, under his supervision. The City of Saint Francis deserves an Archbishop true to our values and to your teachings.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. to add quotes from one of the ad's signers.

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Correction: This post originally misstated the first name of Cardinal Raymond Burke.