Friday, February 6, 2015

Trouble at Riordan High

Riordan High School, San Francisco
Dan Noyes is a well-known figure in the Bay Area.  He is Channel 7 (ABC)’s chief  investigative reporter with fifteen Emmys to his name.  He has gone to Germany in search of a Nazi war criminal, to Africa to investigate the slaughter of the nearly extinct black rhino.  And locally he once exposed a priest later found guilty of child molestation.

He’s back again poking around in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, this time at Riordan High school – yes, that same high school that was one of the four Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone shook his finger at a few days ago to remind them of their duty not to do anything in public or in private that would suggest they were at odds with official catholic doctrine. This time he is reporting the claim by four Riordan teachers that the high school principal, Vittorio Anastasio, has a penchant for sharing his favorite pictures of naked ladies.    That’s a minor issue, actually.  The major issue, if the teachers’ claims are true, is Anastasio's alleged retaliation against them when they complained this was not appropriate behavior for a catholic high school principal.  And while many might argue there is nothing unusual about boys of any age getting all fired up over naked ladies, and catholic high school teachers and principals are, after all, only human, there is the additional charge that the principal also shared a video of one of his students, a shirtless seventeen-year-old boy at a party slapping girls’ bare bottoms.  Tee-hee-hee-friggin-hee.

It’s important to state up front that these are allegations, and not proven facts.  The church is keeping a very tight lid on the story, with all people who might have information refusing to meet with Noyes (or other journalists, I believe).  What is fact, however, is that the teachers have made allegations that the church believed warranted investigation.  Problem is, the investigator they hired for the job is Rita Gleason, an insider loyalist, a former catholic high school principal herself, a self-described “admirer of Archbishop Riordan High School,” who turned in a report declaring she found “nothing illegal, immoral, or unfair.”  All well and good, until you learn that she reached this conclusion without contacting a single one of the teachers leveling the charges.  

Coming on the heels of the story of Cordileone’s threats that anyone found to be advocating by word or deed any criticism of Catholic doctrine, this story has a strong pair of legs.  The archbishop stoutly maintains he’s not after teachers’ jobs, but the insincerity of that claim is right on the surface for all to see.  He is also advocating making teachers and staff “ministers” of the church.  You know he didn’t pull that idea out of thin air.  Far more likely, he paid close attention to the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and Schools v. EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  John Roberts and company decided that while an employee of a public institution may have certain job protections, those job protections do not apply to “ministers” of a church, and the church may hire and fire at will.  Clarence Thomas put the icing on the cake.  We have to leave it to the religious institution itself to decide who is and who is not a “minister,” he said.   Elena Kagan joined in to make sure the word “minister” was used broadly enough to include rabbis and imams.     The question is, if Cordileone is not after anybody’s job, why is he so conspicuously dotting his i’s here and crossing all his t’s?  And how much of an accident was it that he hit upon the word "minister," and meant it to imply even to non-Catholics on the faculty?

What connects the two cases, in my mind, is the way in which the church’s first instinct seems to be to circle the wagons and save the institution.  Never mind that in their incompetence they end up doing just the opposite; we're talking about intention here.  For some curious reason, probably that PR is easier than serious problem-solving, they seem to think the best way to do that is to create positive appearances.  In the case of the child abuse scandals that still rock the church, I had an exchange with a bishop in California some years ago over the fact he was complaining that all this hullabaloo in the papers about child abuse was somehow “smearing all priests.”  I just couldn’t get over how badly he was missing the point.  Bad as the trauma of sex abuse can be on some individual children, the greater wrong, in my eyes, was the lockstep decision to “protect” the church, even if some of those children got thrown under the bus.  It was the clericalism that bothered me (and I think most people), far more than the fact that now and again a guy with a sexual hangup slips through into the priesthood.  Clericalism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy.” 

Clericalism was demonstrated beyond a doubt by the tacks thrown in the road to slow down those trying to get to the bottom of the child abuse scandals.  It is demonstrated by the lack of respect shown for employees of catholic high schools when “reminders” (i.e., “nothing new or different”) are sent out to teachers that their duty (have they no moral agency of their own?) is to act in accordance with church doctrine.  Not by fellow seekers and spiritual counselors, but by those with exclusive authority to establish party line.  That party line having to do with personal sexual matters, by the way, without a single reference to priestly sex abuse.  No urging of more compassionate treatment of street people, no suggestion of joining anti-war or anti-capital punishment movements.  Nothing but sex.

And yet, when it comes to investigating the alleged sexual peccadillos (or, in the case of playing with a seventeen-year-old boy’s sexuality, crime), what does the good archbishop do?  Hire a friend to work from home in Louisiana – and no need to stir up trouble by interviewing known trouble-makers.

This may yet turn out, of course, to be a tempest in a teapot.  Dan Noyes may have been taken in by a couple (OK, it’s four, and not just a couple) teachers who might be making things up when they say their jobs have been threatened not by going against church doctrine but by following it.

Stay tuned on this one.

And at the risk of being patronizing - this should not need saying, but I'm going to say it anyway - have a look at the school website.  It's a great school, with lots of bright and shining faces. Whatever comes of this story, whether Noyes got it wrong or the principal is a jackass, and whether or not it comes down to yet another bungling of a sex scandal within the church, the faculty and staff and the boys of Riordan High should not be blamed in any way for the winds blowing about them over there on Phelan Avenue in the City College neighborhood.

And, as my friend Jason likes to say, I am unanimous in that.

picture credit: Riordan High School photo taken from their Facebook page

P.S.  An interesting footnote - Principal Anastasio has hired Harmeet Dhillon as his lawyer and she is threatening to sue the teachers making the charges against him.  Two of the teachers have asked for sick leave because of the tension involved in coming out against their employer.  Dhillon is a high profile figure in San Francisco, as the head of the local Republican Party and fundraiser for George W. Bush.  She ran for office in a district of the city with no more than 8% registered Republicans and won 17% if the vote.  High-power lady.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

Get daily ideas and methods for making THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS per day ONLINE totally FREE.