The following came in a Feb. 19 email from one of our readers:

“An ex-priest, who I believe was a longtime Santa Clara University staffer, put out an ugly screed against Archbishop Cordileone on Ash Wednesday.  Instead of wearing ashes, readers of the San Jose Mercury News were treated to the bitterness of an ex-priest who must have slept through his seminary moral theology classes. It was a litany of progressive Catholic bromides about conscience, dissent on sexual issues, and a faux appeal to Pope Francis.  Even by the depraved standards of ‘wafer thin’ Silicon Catholicism it was a particularly sordid piece.”

James M. Purcell
Special to the Mercury News
Posted:   02/17/2015 10:00:00 AM

“I want my bishops to smell like their sheep,” said Pope Francis in the first year of his pontificate. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone seems to interpret the Pope’s statement in an interesting and rather narrow way: choose the sheep who smell like me and drive the rest away!

How else to explain his recent actions to impose such a misguided interpretation of “Catholic Identity” on the teachers and administrators of the four Catholic High Schools directly under his control? It is reminiscent of a medieval lord who surrounds himself with like-minded loyalists and imposes his will on everyone else, whether they like it or not.

The Archbishop has arbitrarily decided to revise the faculty handbook for Marin Catholic High School in Marin County, Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Riordan High Schools in San Francisco and Serra High School in San Mateo. A new section of the handbook puts teachers and staff on notice about heightened demands regarding adherence to Catholic teaching, particularly on sexual issues.

He is also proposing new language in their contract that reclassifies teachers as “ministers”, raising the possibility of attempting to evade workplace discrimination laws.

Make no mistake: this is about power and control and about who is to be trusted and who is not to be trusted. Clearly, the Archbishop does not trust his school administrators to hire (and if necessary to terminate) teachers who embrace a Catholic identity that would include acknowledgement of the primacy of conscience in one’s moral decision-making.

Did the Archbishop consult with any leading Catholic moral theologians who might see things differently on issues like artificial birth control, in vitro fertilization, masturbation, or gay/lesbian couples adopting children who have been abused and neglected? I doubt it.

Before imposing the new contract and handbook language, did the Archbishop consult with his two auxiliary bishops, both of whom have had extensive pastoral experience in parish ministry? I doubt it. He certainly didn’t consult with his priests or his Priests’ Council.

Did the Archbishop sit down with and listen to even one of his teachers who has gone through the painful process of divorce from a first sacramental marriage and then found the love of his or her life in a second marriage, only to be denied access to the Eucharist? Has he ever publicly taught about the Church’s compassionate response to a situation like this through what is known as the “internal forum”?

Does the Archbishop understand the Church’s long-standing theological principle that a “teaching” or “law” that is not “received” by the faithful has little or no authority in helping them form their consciences?

The Archbishop’s actions have created a climate of fear and deepened mistrust in the very place where parents are looking for safety and respect: his Catholic high schools. The students understand this, and so do many of the parents and most of all, the teachers and administrators. Does he understand or care?

It is time for all people of good will who proudly call themselves Catholic and who refuse to allow one man to define that term by himself to stand together. I will be standing with students, parents and teachers in front of the San Francisco Cathedral in prayer and vigil this Ash Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. I invite others who claim a Catholic identity to join us.

James M. Purcell of Los Gatos is a former Catholic priest who served in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He wrote this for this newspaper.

Santa Clara University’s farewell press release to Purcell in 2009:
“We have been blessed by [Purcell’s] inspiring dedication, humanity, and passion for SCU,” said Michael Engh, S.J., president of SCU. “He has been a successful leader, administrator, and spokesperson in advancing the goals of the University in countless ways. My best wishes and congratulations go out to Jim for this next phase of his professional career.”

Purcell’s reflections in a 2010 Santa Clara Magazine:
“A phone call comes from SCU President Paul Locatelli’s office. He wants to meet with me. He wants to know if I would be interested in the position of vice president of university relations at SCU…. Fr. Locatelli talks about his vision of educating men and women of competence, conscience, and compassion. It is a vision that reminds me of my days in Rome and the excitement of the Second Vatican Council and its hopes for the future of the Church.