Archbishop Cordileone, Willy Wonka, and the Hullabaloo in San Fran
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, bishop of San Francisco and all around stand-up guy, has a target on his back thanks to a dispute over revisions to the faculty and staff handbooks at the archdiocese’s four Catholic high schools.
The revisions mainly include morals clauses clarifying the asking of teachers and staff to uphold Catholic teaching in their public –not necessarily private– lives, as well as classifying teachers in a “ministerial” role when it comes to that very subject.
First of all, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that: a) an authentically Catholic archbishop is asking Catholic schools to be more authentically Catholic, and b) that protesters at those schools are (more or less) saying “I don’t wanna!” a la Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
In fact, the scene in the original Willy Wonka film bears a striking resemblance to these “me-right-Church-wrong” situations, right down to a barely-audible, hilariously coincidental quote by Veruca’s father, the spineless ninny who only lives to please. Here’s how the scene plays out:
VERUCA: “Daddy, I want a golden goose!”
CHARLIE BUCKET: “Here we go again…”
MR. SALT: “Wonka, how much d’you want for the golden goose?”
WONKA: “They’re not for sale.”
MR. SALT: “Name your price!”
WONKA: “She can’t have one.”
VERUCA: “Who says I can’t?!?!”
MR. SALT: “The man with the funny hat…”
Veruca proceeds to sing about all her deepest (albeit selfish) desires — the world, roomfuls of laughter, ice cream, bars of chocolate — all of which are good things in themselves, but more importantly all which that can be imprudently used to very bad ends.
To close the scene, right before her trip down the garbage chute, Veruca sings, “If I don’t get the things I am after, I’m going to scream,” then tears up the room. Perhaps the even stranger thing is that Wonka calmly lets her do it.
We know how the rest goes: They leave the golden goose room, each remaining kid removes his or herself from the tour by getting too taken by a particular room in the factory (Charlie included), Charlie apologizes to Wonka, Wonka rejoices and takes Charlie and Grandpa Joe flying in the glass elevator, then Charlie becomes the heir to the chocolate factory, and they live happily ever after.
Through this current murky situation, Archbishop Cordileone, in the same way as Willy Wonka, will say what he can to clarify the Church’s position to the world, calmly witnessing to the fullness of the truth, and courageously standing firm in his role as shepherd of San Francisco. At the same time, however, he’ll also let people keep their free will to protest, whatever that ultimately entails. You can lead people to the Church, but you can’t make them believe it.
Sure, parts of the “chocolate factory” may get destroyed by the brokenness of its occupants, but I’m sure that’s happened lots since the factory was built.
Just as the Chocolate Factory was around long before Veruca got there and would be standing and operating long after she left, so too has the Church been standing “reeling but erect” (to quote Chesterton) long before this dispute in California arose, and so too will She stand long after the dust has settled.
It’s no fluke that the Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years without changing Her teachings to fit the culture. In fact, not changing teaching to fit the culture is precisely why the Church is still here today, and it’s naive of Her detractors to think that changing now will prove beneficial for the future.
In the end, the only person who ends up getting burned is Veruca herself. Her selfishness, after all is said and done, leaves a stain only on herself and leads her down an ugly (and broad; Mt. 7:13-14) road. Likewise, her father’s unwillingness to do anything other than please those around him will only hurt him in the long run (Gal. 1:10). Wonka, on the other hand, continues as he was, welcoming anyone who, like Charlie, marvelously wonders in thanks at the gift they’ve been given instead of trying to take and change what’s not theirs to take and change.
Archbishop Cordileone, along with any faithful Catholic, is merely obeying the God for whom he gave his life in service. In the thick of the vitriol from his oppressors and those who disagree with him, the good archbishop may at times not be able to make sense of it, but, as Fr. Robert Barron so aptly put it:
We cannot, even in principle, fully understand what God is up to, what his purposes are. His commands – which will always be for our good – are nevertheless often opaque to us. And this is precisely why we have to obey, listen, and abide – even when that obedience seems the height of folly.
The wildcard in this whole situation is how this sort of blowback and protest will increase in our country in the months and years to come. There may come a time where, despite our best efforts as Catholics and as Christians, good sound reason and charity will stop having an effect on people of the world who want what they want no matter the cost. I hope that we’re a long, LONG time from having to live through such a period in this country, but I believe it’s naive to think it unlikely that someday, even in America, Catholics and Christians will be physically cut down for what they believe in.
However, it’s possible for us, as a nation and a culture, to ensure that never happens, and the way to it is to respect that in some things there are boundaries, limits to what can and cannot be done.
When a person works for the Church, in particular for Catholic schools–places “that exist to affirm and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as held and taught by his Catholic Church” as Abp. Cordileone’s revisions state–there are rules that ought to be followed, and it is safe to trust that they exist to bring us to our fullest possible happiness, even if we’re unable to see it at present.
Pray for Archbishop Cordileone. He needs them. But also pray for those who denounce him, and pray that we all can be humbled before God’s call for our lives and for the Church.