Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bishop Vasa's Affirmation of Faith: NOT Old News

I’m going to discuss some old news: Bishop Robert F. Vasa’s “Affirmation of Faith” which was introduced in the Diocese of Baker in 2004. Yeah, it’s “old news”…but then again it’s not. It was mentioned again just the other day in the Bend Bulletin, and just a year ago in the National catholic Reporter. And the basic issue - whether or not people are required to hold fast to the teachings of the Church - is still a basic issue today.

The article in the Bend Bulletin is about Fr. Liam Cary’s appointment as the new bishop of the Diocese of Baker, but a little side trip down memory lane shows that the same old issues are still in play. The article notes that Fr. James Radloff  (who, by the way, describes himself on his Face Book page as “an orthodox progressive Eucharistic community preacher”) “wonders if Cary is traditional or more progressive”, and then goes off on a tangent to re-visit Bishop Vasa’s “conservatism”:

Vasa, who served the diocese for more than a decade, was known as a strict conservative. He broke ties with St. Charles Bend in part because the hospital performed procedures such as tubal ligations that did not follow church teachings.

Bishop Vasa was certainly more “conservative” – I prefer the term “orthodox” – than his predecessor, and he made changes accordingly; some of the more “liberal” (uh…wait…they prefer to be called “progressive”) priests and parishioners had a problem with that.

St. Charles Hospital in Bend
And yes, Bishop Vasa “broke ties” with St. Charles. Good for him! He did the right thing, and there are likely other “Catholic” hospitals in this diocese that should suffer the same fate. Catholic hospitals are sadly non-Catholic on core issues these days, as I have said before here, here, and here. The writer of the Bulletin article – like many non-Catholic administrators of Catholic hospitals – clearly doesn’t understand the importance of Church teaching. To insist on a hospital NOT performing direct sterilizations does not require the bishop to be a “strict conservative”…or at least, it shouldn’t.

The Bulletin article goes on to say:

Vasa also required that all Catholics wishing to participate in positions of leadership within the church had to sign documents stating they agreed with the church's positions on many topics, including opposition to gay relationships, contraceptives and abortions. Such requirements are not common.

This takes us back to 2004, when Bishop Vasa published his pastoral letter, “Giving Testimony to the Truth”. Bishop Vasa was and is of orthodox thinking on the issues of the day, and one of those issues, especially in Bend, was the fact that people openly embracing a homosexual lifestyle were taking active “ministry” roles at Mass, and were receiving Holy Communion unworthily. The issues of adhering to Church teaching on abortion, contraception, and marriage as a union of one man and one woman were also emphasized in the Affirmation of Faith, but not to the exclusion of other core teachings like belief concerning the Real Presence, Mary, etc. – which, really, we profess every Sunday in the Credo! (Go here and find the Affirmation of Faith on page 156.)

I’ll take exception, too, to the notion that parishioners “had to sign” the document. Not true – though this was widely reported, especially in the “liberal” press. Though many of us wished that Bishop Vasa would require signatures of the extraordinary ministers on the Affirmation of Faith, this was not required by the bishop. He stopped short of that, but did require pastors to sign a statement that the lay minsters in their parishes were in agreement with the statement of faith. I know this to be a fact because I was a parish secretary at the time, and was involved in preparing an information session for the lay ministers concerning this issue, as well as preparing the document for the pastor to send to the bishop.

Another point: it is true that a requirement that lay ministers sign (or at least verbally agree to) an Affirmation of Faith, is not “common”. The fact is, it shouldn’t even be necessary!  One would naturally assume that those seeking to administer Holy Communion or serve in other “leadership” positions in the Church would be true to the teachings of the Church. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. Bishop Vasa recognized this and took steps to correct it in his diocese. For proof of this in recent news, we need only point to the fact that a self-professed lesbian Buddhist thought she was entitled to receive Holy Communion.

That the Bend Bulletin brought up this issue again tells me a couple of things. First of all, despite Bishop Vasa’s efforts, people seem still not to understand that the teachings of the Church are not subject to a popularity vote or the whims of the current cultural milieu.
Certainly, it’s still an issue in Bend: consider an article in the National Catholic Reporter dated March 21, 2011, which profiled Bishop Vasa as he made the transition from Bishop of the Diocese of Baker to Coadjutor (and later) Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Rosa. That article – not surprisingly, due to NCR’s liberal…er, “progressive”… stance – quotes a couple of liberal “progressive” priests, and then revisits the old Affirmation of Faith issue.

Objectors charged that the requirement was a thinly disguised loyalty oath devoid of room for individual conscience. Others questioned the choice of the stipulated teachings. Some pointed to what they said was a focus on "pelvic issues."

I’ve always wondered why they had that problem with the “pelvic issues”. After all, those were and still are the issues of the day. We live in what has become a pelvic society.  Besides, there is plenty of room for a well-informed conscience in the Affirmation of Faith, and that is what the liberal “progressive” dissenters did not – and still do not – seem to understand. For instance, one interviewee in the NcR article whines states:

"The bishop was polite to me when I visited his office to discuss matters, and I was polite to him as well. He allowed me to speak of my concerns, but my feeling was that nothing I said made any difference. I spoke to him about the repercussions of his Affirmation of Faith and I tried to discuss the concepts of love, mercy and compassion, but it was as if my words didn't penetrate his consciousness at all. His mind appeared to be totally made up before I even opened my mouth."

Why should her “concerns” make a difference in Church teaching?! And Bishop Vasa might counter that nothing he said to her made any difference!

“During one of the audiences,” she added, “when I asked him about the importance of an individual’s conscience in terms of decision making, I remember very clearly that he said I had been improperly catechized. He said that if a person was properly catechized, his or her conscience would be formed by the Catechism and would naturally follow all the church teaching and that an individual’s conscience was only valid if it was in line with church teachings. It chilled me. Why did God give each of us a brain, a heart and the power to reason if he didn’t intend for us to use them?”

And this, my friends, goes straight to the heart of the problem. Bishop Vasa, of course, is absolutely right. We must follow our consciences, but we must take care that they are properly formed. The liberal progressive crowd does not, will not, understand this, because it means they would have to change their perspective. Her plaintive question at the end is the same old refrain: “Why did God give us the power to reason if he didn’t intend for us to use it?”

God gave us the power to reason so that we could use it to form our consciences correctly! If one disagrees with Church teaching, it’s important to investigate that teaching and try to understand it. It’s our duty to do so. Actively forming one’s conscience is not a matter of blindly submitting to authority; it’s pursuing the truth in an intellectually honest manner, and when all else fails, accepting it on faith – which is not blind, but informed by the mind of Christ, if we are truly Catholic in our outlook. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1783   Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (emphasis added)

How do we form our conscience correctly, then?  The Catechism gives this answer: “The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice.  This is how moral conscience is formed” (CCC, §1802).  Indeed, Scripture itself warns us that it is not easy to form a good and pure conscience that is in accord with the will of God, and that it is easy to go astray.  For instance, 1Timothy 4:16 advises us to “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”  And 1Timothy 1:19 tells us that “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.”

This is where so many Catholics – well-meaning as they may be, and following their own poorly-formed consciences – go astray. And they go astray because they have not been properly catechized about forming their conscience. Apparently, there are also a good many priests suffering from the same malady.

And this is why we have a good holy priest who publicly preaches about the evil of homosexual “marriage” left unsupported and even punished by his bishop – and why the office of that bishop could issue a statement distancing itself from that priest, saying he was voicing “his opinion”!

And this is why we have a self-professed lesbian Buddhist claiming that she in entitled to receive Holy Communion, and why the priest who denied her was “thrown under the bus” by his own diocese out of political correctness.

God bless the priests and bishops who have properly formed their consciences and who are willing to be persecuted by secular society, and even by the very Church whose teachings they defend.

1 comment:

  1. Mrs. Boyd, great blog, big truths. Unfortunately in this day and age, the Catholic church is split in two parts, with the big majority in the middle. Seems to me that we have to choose side, according to the perennial doctrine of the church and discard the liberal-progressivist stands, that sided with the like-minded people of the protestant denominations. The National Catholic Distorter, I mean, Reporter seems a mouth piece of these liberal-progre people, as they erase comments not according to their agenda. They have brought the culture wars home. And we have to pay in kind. God bless.


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