Efforts to promote Catholic culture in the San Francisco archdiocese’s high schools and to agree on a contract acceptable for the schools’ teachers concluded on Wednesday with a new contract. The months-long dispute months drew protests, interference from activist groups, and the attention of wealthy critics of Catholic teaching. “I want to thank the union and administration negotiating teams for their hard work over the past few months in coming to this agreement. They have negotiated just wages and benefits for our high school teachers, who are among the finest teachers in northern California,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said Aug. 19. The archbishop said he appreciated “very much” the negotiations’ “rich discussion about the mission and purpose of Catholic education and the vital role that our high school teachers play in carrying out that mission.” He said the discussions “reinforced and clarified” the purposes and roles that were referenced in previous contracts. “I pass on my special thanks to all our teachers who ratified this agreement,” Archbishop Cordileone said. The teachers ratified the three-year contract by a vote of 90 to 80. The contract covers teachers at the Archdiocese of San Francisco's four Catholic high schools. It provides a two percent pay raise in each of the three years. Disputes over teacher conduct both in the workplace and outside of the workplace would be governed by grievance procedures, SFGate.com reports. The contract says the purpose of Catholic schools is “to affirm Catholic values through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It says that teachers are expected to support the school’s purpose “in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic high schools.” The contract did not include specific morality clauses, the news site SFGate.com reports. The archdiocese’s first proposed of the teacher contracts identified teachers as having a “ministerial role.” The language echoed a 2012 Supreme Court decision which recognized that teachers at religious schools can be held to standards of behavior without putting religious schools at risk of employment lawsuits. The initial version of the San Francisco archdiocese faculty handbooks also explained Catholic teaching on controversial issues such as Catholic religious doctrine, sexual morality, and the ethics of assisted reproductive technologies, such as IVF. These passages were particularly criticized and the archdiocese later modified the handbooks. The emphasis on Catholic teaching caused strong reaction among some in San Francisco, a city known for its dedication to LGBT advocacy and for its strong taboos against traditional Christianity and sexual morality. The agreement on the contract closes a period of protests and critical media coverage. Ted deSaulnier, an executive member of the teachers’ union and a religion teacher at Archbishop Riordan High School, supported the contract. “I believe in the end the archbishop compromised and that we negotiated in good faith and he did as well,” he told SFGate. “I want the most protection for any Catholic school teacher to have the fullest and most complete private life they can have,” adding that “Our contract is not going to solve the conflict between a 2,000-year-old religious institution and the changing landscape of civil rights in the United States.” Nina Russo, the archdiocese’s interim superintendent of schools, said the archdiocese looks forward “to our students returning to a year of learning and rich, meaningful experiences in both academics and school life.” “We appreciate the concerted efforts of teachers and school leadership to prepare for this new school opening with the highest degree of commitment and professionalism,” she said. In the initial controversy, some local politicians threatened legal action against the archdiocese, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution critical of the handbook changes. More than 350 employees, about 80 percent of the staff and faculty at the archdiocese’s four high schools, signed a petition against the handbook additions. Some students, teachers, and parents also engaged in several protests. Archbishop Cordileone also drew support from many Catholics, including hundreds of supporters who attended a May picnic. Some of the archbishop’s supporters did not speak out for fear social and career pressure. Sam Singer, founder of the influential San Francisco-based communications firm Singer Associates, told the SF Weekly in February that “concerned parents” were paying for his services in their dispute with the archbishop. Singer’s social media accounts publicized negative interpretations of the archbishop and the archdiocese while promoting stories siding with the protesters. At one point, dozens of prominent San Franciscans, including several Catholics, took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle. The ad, an open letter, asked Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone. Long before the schools controversy, some critics have faulted the archbishop for his support of marriage as a union of one man and one woman in state law. Archbishop Cordileone has headed the San Francisco archdiocese since 2012, and has served on the U.S. bishops’ committee for the defense of marriage, as well as on a governing body for Courage, a ministry for people with same-sex attraction who want to live a life consistent with Catholic faith and morals. The archbishop is one of the U.S. bishops’ alternate delegates to the 2015 Synod on the Family.
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