Thursday, February 28, 2013
Bishop Vasa Fights the Good Fight
Bishop Robert F. Vasa (Diocese of Santa Rosa) is in the news again, getting the “progressives” all riled up with another “Affirmation of Faith” type of document similar to the one he introduced in the Diocese of Baker some years ago. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that:
The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese is requiring its 200 schoolteachers to sign an agreement affirming that "modern errors" such as contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia are "matters that gravely offend human dignity.”
The document apparently includes this statement:
"I am especially cognizant of the fact that modern errors – including but not limited to matters that gravely offend human dignity and the common good such as contraception, abortion, homosexual 'marriage' and euthanasia – while broadly accepted in society, are not consistent with the clear teachings of the Catholic Church."
And of course, some teachers are upset about that because they think it infringes on their “rights” – the right to hold “personal beliefs” that are in opposition to Catholic teaching. Well, of course, they have that right! But they do not have the right to teach at a Catholic school if they do not agree with what the Church teaches.
Again, this statement is very similar to the “Affirmation of Faith” Bishop Vasa included in his pastoral letter, Giving Testimony to the Truth: A Diocesan Guide for Pastoral Lay Ministers (April 2004, Diocese of Baker). The statement the Santa Rosa teachers are being asked to sign touches on the same points, it seems. The primary issues addressed by both documents are still the primary issues causing division in the Church right now.
A year after the “Affirmation of Faith” was introduced, Bishop Vasa issued Entrusted with Sacred Duties (Diocese of Baker, May 2005), a pastoral letter on the implementation of the previous letter. Entrusted did not give specific guidelines as to the implementation of the “Affirmation”, though, and contrary to popular opinion and report, the bishop did not require anyone to sign it (the Press Democrat article also makes that same error). Instead, the pastor was required to provide to the chancery office a list of lay ministers, and the pastor was required to sign a statement to the effect that he knew that these people had given their assent to all of the elements of the affirmation. I know this because as parish secretary I was involved in the process, in communications with the chancery, and in the implementation in our parish.
This is not to say that no one was required to sign the “Affirmation of Personal Faith”; in some parishes, they were required to do so by the pastor. Some people signed, some refused to do so, and some actually asked to sign even when it was not required.
But the bottom line is that it hasn’t made any difference in the Diocese of Baker.
I know for a fact that in my local parish, many people who would not have agreed to sign the document if required to do so have continued in their “ministries”, even though they know they are not in compliance with Diocesan law.
Will things be different in the Diocese of Santa Rosa? At least in that diocese, the teachers are being required to actually sign the statement. That’s a more definitive step than Bishop Vasa took in the Diocese of Baker. Perhaps being required to actually sign on the dotted line will encourage teachers to be honest about their beliefs; if they disagree, and especially if they are Catholic and disagree, they will be forced to confront that “disconnect”.
By requiring this statement of fidelity from teachers, Bishop Vasa has perhaps opened another can of worms, too, though. The article quotes one anonymous teacher who had problems with the statements about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior:
"I know this sounds like a cliche, but some of my very best friends are gay married couples. We have kids here whose parents are gay partners," the teacher said.
Whoa! “We have kids here whose parents are gay partners”? That raises another red flag for me! Remember the flap in Boulder, Colorado, where a parish priest denied admission of some young students because the parents were a lesbian “couple”? And that wasn’t the only case, either. Perhaps Bishop Vasa will move on to address the problems such a situation presents for his schools.
But let’s return to the issue at hand: the teachers’ fidelity to the faith. The article notes that:
… [Bishop Vasa] questioned whether someone "can teach what the Catholic Church teaches with zeal and enthusiasm while holding, as they say, 'in the privacy of their heart' " views that are contrary to Catholic doctrine.
I agree whole-heartedly with Bishop Vasa that it is very difficult to teach “with zeal and enthusiasm” when you don’t believe what you are teaching.
Case in point: in one parish, a deacon stated explicitly to me that he did not agree with Church teaching on the sinfulness of homosexuality, nor on the sinfulness of artificial contraception. That was scandalous enough – he was a deacon, after all! Then I also became aware that this deacon was teaching some of the marriage preparation classes in the parish; concerned, I mentioned to the pastor the fact that the deacon dissented from Church teaching on contraception. The pastor’s response was, “That’s why he’s not teaching that part.”
There are a lot of things wrong with that statement! For one thing, why has no one corrected this dissenting deacon? Why is he teaching anything in the Church? And even if he doesn’t teach “that part” about contraception, what if couples ask him about it anyway? What should he say? “Oh, I don’t agree with what the Church teaches about that, so I’m not going to address it”?! No matter what he says, his dissent will be evident to the couple.
Not only that, but this same deacon also taught the high school RE class, along with a young woman who is now leading an openly homosexual lifestyle. Thankfully, that young woman is no longer teaching RE, and was also relieved or her duties as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion – primarily because I’m such a trouble maker and insisted on pointing out the problem. But I still wonder if the pastor or anyone else tried to explain to her why homosexual behavior is wrong.
I’m sure many readers have similar stories – there always seems to be a dissident ex-nun teaching RCIA, for instance. How does that happen?! Why is it allowed to continue? But continue it does.
Pushing dissident Catholics along the path toward assent is a difficult job. It’s not appreciated at all! (Believe me, I speak from experience.) Nevertheless, it is an act of charity to point out to a person that their beliefs and actions are not in line with Church teaching. How else will they get to Heaven? Bishop Vasa is thinking about this question, and that is why he is taking the steps he takes; it’s why he took similar steps – which were similarly “unpopular” – in the Diocese of Baker.
“I want us to help each other get to Heaven,” Bishop Vasa told the faithful of his new diocese when he was transferred to Santa Rosa in 2011. “Nothing else really matters.”
And of course, that is absolutely true.
I hope Bishop Vasa is able to stay the course. If the comment section at the end of that article is any indication, though, he has a long, uphill battle on his hands. Pray for him!