The ‘morality clause’ controversy calls for fortitude.

While I read several news stories out of San Francisco last week, I felt sick. The general public, they said, led by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had picked a fight with the Catholic Church.

A clause had caused a controversy. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, had announced the plan to add it to the faculty handbooks at archdiocesan high schools. In multiple paragraphs, the clause says that adults who work for the schools — which, to be clear, are Catholic schools — are supposed to uphold Catholic teaching.

In an op-ed he wrote last week, Dennis Herrera, San Francisco’s city attorney, called the clause “a chilling directive.” It requires teachers, he said, “to ‘conform their hearts, minds and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior’ to tenets of church teaching that include ‘chastity’ and ‘abstinence from all sexual intimacy outside of marriage.'”

To which Herrera, and the Board of Supervisors, and hundreds of Catholic school teachers in San Francisco essentially said, “How dare you?”

How dare a Catholic archbishop require people to correctly rep the Catholic Church, who — by virtue of working for the Catholic Church — already represent it. How dare he imply that what the Church teaches is good when what the Church teaches offends a lot of people. How dare he suggest that the people who work for Catholic schools probably should be Catholic.

“Chilling.”

Or, also in Herrera’s words, “high-handed.”

As if the archbishop’s apparent effort to keep Catholic schools Catholic is dictatorial, or tyrannical, even. As if it is unfair for people who profess Catholicism — which doesn’t support relativism — to treat Catholicism as if it is absolute truth. Surely, the archbishop’s clause is an abuse of authority, or so its detractors imply with their hashtags and their petitions.

But for the relativistic culture that surrounds us, authority is abuse.

Some of what the Church teaches is “discriminatory,” Herrera wrote — it means teachers can’t have sex outside of wedlock, or get married if they’re gay, or have abortions. But what Herrera doesn’t acknowledge is that Catholics are supposed to discriminate — that is, to differentiate what’s absolutely true from what’s absolutely false, what’s absolutely good from what’s absolutely bad, and what we absolutely need from what we absolutely don’t.

The clause requires faculty members to do that — to live like they believe that what their employer teaches is true. And the “firestorm of opposition (to it) from teachers, parents, students” is the rejection of a solution to a problem I imagine a lot of the same teachers, parents, and students swiftly would point out: hypocrisy.

The teachers who’ve signed the petition oppose the archbishop’s authority. They want to work for him without having to meet his expectations. His expectations are rooted in Catholicism, a church a lot of people avoid “because hypocrisy” — because of the stories of priests or nuns or laity who don’t practice what they preach.

Which, without the clause, is exactly what the teachers who oppose it can be: people who don’t practice what they — by working for the Church — imply that they preach.

Maybe that’s the part of this that makes me feel sick. The opposition to the clause puts Catholicism in an impossible position. The Church is derided because of people who represent the Church but don’t live out what it teaches, and it is derided for asking people who represent the Church to live out what it teaches. So we are vilified because of people who poorly rep the Church and we are vilified for telling people who rep the Church not to rep it poorly.

Which actually is chilling.

But it’s also an opportunity — a chance to be delivered from the desire of being approved and from the fear of being despised. It’s a chance to practice the virtue that reminds us that while the culture that surrounds us never lets us win, Christ already has won: fortitude.

“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions.” (CCC 1808)

It enables us to stand with San Francisco’s archbishop. To believe what we believe without approval. To pray for the people who call us crazy. To remember the words of Jesus when this stuff makes us feel sick:

“In the world you have tribulation. But be of good cheer,” he said. “I have overcome the world.”

Click here to read Herrera’s op-ed in full. Click here to read the clause.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I believe this is the series of acknowledgments and affirmations that are the source of the controversy, in case you’d like to read the entire thing: Archdiocese releases statement on church teachings, practice in high schools.

    • Arleen Spenceley

      Thank you!

  • I agree with you completely. I used to teach in a Catholic high school. My contract had a morality clause, although it did specify that only the Catholic teachers would be held to it. In all my ed training, it was impressed upon me that, because I chose to work as a Catholic educator, I was expected not to contradict Catholic teaching. No dating married men, no shacking up with my boyfriend, nothing public. If I did, I could be fired. I signed it, and I’m glad it was there.