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SAN FRANCISCO, August 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — After months of negotiation and controversy the Archdiocese of San Francisco reached a deal with the labor union bargaining for faculty at its four San Francisco-area high schools.

The contract agreement ratified by AFT Local 2240 on August 19 in a 90-80 vote mirrored the continuing differences between many teachers at the archdiocesan high schools and their archbishop, who has been under fire for months for taking steps to strengthen Catholic identity in the schools.

The contract gave a win to those opposed to the archdiocese having full discretion in hiring and retaining teachers in accord with Catholic principles through the ministerial exemption allowed by federal law, as the union got Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to remove the term “minister” from the contract language. Use of the word “minister” or “ministry” when referring to the Catholic school teachers had drawn objection on the grounds it violated their civil rights.

But it was replaced with language outlining the “purposes of Catholic education and the responsibilities of teaching in Catholic schools” in a contract preamble that appears to define the various aspects of teachers who serve in the ministry of a Catholic school.

The preamble says the contract parties acknowledge “the purpose of Catholic schools is to affirm Catholic values through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to help students learn and develop their critical and moral faculties.”

It also states that “teachers are expected to support the purpose of our Catholic schools in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools,” and “disputes about teacher conduct on and off the job are subject to the grievance procedure to determine whether such conduct has adversely impacted the teacher’s ability to teach in our Catholic High Schools.”

The language also confirms that the union and its members acknowledge “the unique nature of the Archdiocesan high school system in that it is Roman Catholic, committed to provide education within the framework of Catholic principles; that Catholic teachings and precepts shall remain paramount throughout the term” of the agreement.

“The Union and its members recognize that all lay teachers covered by this Agreement shall perform all their duties as set forth in this Agreement in accordance with the doctrines and precepts of the Roman Catholic Church,” it further states, “and shall conduct themselves at all times during the performance of those duties in a manner in keeping with the standards of the Church.”

Archbishop Cordileone thanked the union and administrative negotiating teams for the work that went into the agreement and for negotiating fair wages and benefits for the teachers, “who are among the finest teachers in northern California.”

“I also very much appreciate that the negotiations included a 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 in his statement. “I’m pleased that these discussions reinforced and clarified purposes and roles which have been referenced in previous contracts. And I pass on my special thanks to all our teachers who ratified this agreement.”

Archbishop Cordileone is coming off of months of persecution for his bid to augment Catholic identity in the four archdiocesan high schools; Archbishop Riordan and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, both in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield, and Junipero Serra in San Mateo.

A significant percentage of the teachers and some members of the local community have continually challenged his efforts, which began with updating teacher handbooks and the contract language in February to more clearly state the expectation that faculty members exemplify Catholic principles in their lives, most specifically by not publicly contradicting Church teaching.

The much-maligned morality clauses concerned Church teaching on sexual morality and abortion and upset many in the San Francisco area with liberal sensitivities, with them deeming the Church’s teaching as insensitive, divisive and discriminatory.

In June Archbishop Cordileone amended the handbook language, which had come from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to have a more “pastoral” tone, taking responsibility for what some said was a problem with his approach.

The archdiocese was clear about the fact the rewrite was not a diluted version of Catholic principles.

“None of the doctrines were watered down in the new version of the Addendum,” Archdiocese of San Francisco Vicar for Administration Father John Piderit told LifeSiteNews at the time. “It is still the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

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The archbishop also invited teachers to be part of an ongoing process to review the handbook text.

He has explained the reason behind the need to reinforce Catholic identity for the sake of the students throughout the controversy.

The goal, the archbishop said, was to counter pressures put upon San Francisco Catholic high school students by today’s culture.

“This project is all the more pressing in the culture in which we are now living which, as we know, is marked by rapid changes in all areas of human life,” Archbishop Cordileone stated. “Our young people are particularly vulnerable to the challenges and stresses these changes have created. It was for this reason that I proposed adding language to the faculty handbook to proclaim clearly areas of Catholic identity in light of the culture in which we now live.”  

Contract negotiations for the coming three-year period began last November and continued into July, with many still opposed to the language affirming Catholic identity expectations for faculty.

“The close vote, 90-80, reflected divisions among faculty and the broader community after the Archdiocese administration proposed new language that would have declared teachers to be ‘ministers,’ language that, if implemented, would have placed the teachers outside the protections of the National Labor Relations Act,” according to a statement from union leadership, which also said the negotiations had been “an arduous process, testing the resolve of our executive board and membership.”

The union statement said the new contract language safeguarded “employee rights related to personal conduct,” and “makes clear that questions regarding teacher conduct on and off the job are subject to the collective bargaining grievance procedure, and are not the sole province of administrative fiat.”

Archbishop Cordileone and the Archdiocese of San Francisco have been at the forefront of dioceses nationwide taking steps to ensure their teachers adhere to Catholic moral standards.