Saturday, July 14, 2012

Affirmation of Faith in Arlington: Déjà Vu

Bishop Paul Loverde
A couple of recent articles have caught my attention. They both concern a situation in the Diocese of Arlington, where Bishop Paul Loverde has asked catechists to sign (gasp!) a Profession of Faith.

The author of the first article offers commentary on the second article from the Washington Post, which describes the reactions of one woman who strongly objects to signing a Profession of Faith. Both articles are worth reading – the first because it offers some intelligent commentary; the second, because it will make you laugh with its absurdity.

Reading the second article was a déjà vu experience for me, since the Diocese of Baker went through the same thing when Bishop Vasa introduced the Affirmation of Faith here in 2004 (I wrote more about that here).

The Post article opens with this:

Kathleen Riley knows her beliefs on the male-only priesthood and contraception put her at odds with leaders of her church. But as a fifth-generation Catholic who went to a Catholic school and grew up to teach in one, Riley feels the faith deeply woven through her. So when her Arlington parish asked for volunteers last summer to teach Sunday school, she felt called by the Holy Spirit to say yes.
Well, for starters, her beliefs are not properly characterized as being “at odds with leaders of her church”. They are, in fact, at odds with the magisterial teachings of the Church. There’s a difference.

And give me a break: why is it that dissenters always have to tell us how their faith is “deeply woven through” them? It may be deeply woven, but there are some off-color threads there, I’m sorry to say.

“I’m just shocked, I can’t believe they’re asking me to sign this,” said Riley, who said she may keep her own children out of the parish education program in the fall.

Ms. Riley is on the left
Ha! Well, guess what, Ms. Riley: some folks are probably already keeping their children out of the parish education program because they know dissenting members of the parish are teaching it! My husband and I removed our daughter from our parish’s Religious Education program because we knew that the director of the program did not adhere to all of the teachings of the Church on contraception, and we also knew that the high school RE teachers had erroneous views on both contraception and homosexuality. No one ever asked us why we took our daughter out of the program; I suspect they knew and didn’t want to hear it from us directly.

Ms. Riley goes on to opine:

“The bishops are human, and sometimes their judgment is not God’s judgment. We always have to be vigilant about that. The Holy Spirit gives us the responsibility to look into our own consciences.”

Well, she’s right about the bishops; sure, they can make errors. But it’s not “the bishops” who created Church teaching – it’s the Church. It’s our Lord Jesus Christ, handing his teachings down through the hands of the apostles. The bishops follow in that line, and when they speak up in support of Church teaching, they are doing their job and saving our souls. When they remain silent and allow the faithful to continue in error, they sin.

Ms. Riley is also right about our responsibility to look into our own consciences. Unfortunately, I think she missed the memo that said she also needs to make sure her conscience is properly formed in accord with Church teaching. In fact, most “liberal Catholics” seem to have missed that point. They get the “gotta follow my conscience” part, but they do not want to allow anyone to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong.

The Post article continues:

Riley and others said St. Ann’s is considered a community that deliberately doesn’t focus on such hot-button issues as abortion and same-sex relationships on which Catholics, like Americans generally, are divided.

Well, there ya go. If no one is talking about the reality and the truth of Church teaching on “hot-button issues”, then someone’s not doing their job! If the faithful are not educated on the hot-button issues, “…the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The more the issues are NOT discussed or explained, and the more the doctrinal approach is NOT taught, the more division there is – because those who are in error are not corrected. They are allowed to think they have a valid opinion, when in fact they do not.

Attached to the Post article, there is also a letter to Bishop Loverde from Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri, another parish member who is both a college history professor and a 5th-grade catechist in her parish; here comments are telling.

First, Dr. Zagarri tells the bishop that she “fully supports” his efforts to help the faithful rediscover “the power and beauty of our Catholic Faith”; and she says she understands “why you expect those who are teaching young people to be able to assent to the basic doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the importance of the Roman Catholic Church in preserving and passing down the faith”.  But…and you knew there would be a big “but”…Dr. Zagarri finds it “troubling” that

… the new requirement that catechists swear an oath to “accept and hold each and every thing definitively proposed by the Church regarding reaching on faith and morals”…

Ummm…just what does Dr. Zagarri think she is saying every Sunday when she recites the Creed?! What does she think new converts being received into the Church each Easter are saying when they promise to “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God”?

Here’s where the author of the first article mentioned above makes a very good point. That author, a Lutheran, notes that in the Lutheran confirmation rite, the catechumens are asked:

Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?
Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

Even to death. This Lutheran author notes, quite rightly, that these rites “are so much more intense than what the Arlington Diocese is taking heat for in the story” about the fidelity oath.

One wonders if those objecting so vehemently to signing a statement of fidelity are aware that Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae  put forth a requirement that Catholic college professors of theology are required to take an oath of fidelity to Catholic teaching. The words of the mandatum are:

I hereby declare my role and responsibility as a teacher of a theological discipline within the full communion of the Church. As a teacher of a theological discipline, therefore, I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.

It’s true that a 5th-grade catechist isn’t teaching college-level theology to her students, but it’s also true that anyone teaching the faith should really be…well…teaching the faith, and not just their own interpretation of it, or their own favorite parts. Why shouldn’t those teaching the faith to young students also be required to pledge their fidelity to the Church?

“This is not in the spirit of what people go to a Catholic church for, which is community and a loving, welcoming environment. It’s exclusionary, a suppression of dissent, let’s all line up and be the army of God,” Zagarri said in an interview for this article.

This, to me, is the epitome of the liberal modernist feel-good mentality that seems to permeate the parishes with which I’m familiar. It’s all about “community” and a “loving, welcoming environment”. Well, certainly it’s about communion, and a certain type of community. But first and foremost, aren’t we about the worship of God? Spreading the Gospel? (I mean the real Gospel, not the Gospel of Tolerance). A truly loving and welcoming community doesn’t simply avoid addressing the sinful behaviors of its members! Besides, many times those who want “unity” and “tolerance” want it for their views…but not for the truth the Church teaches.

I’m with this parishioner quoted by the Post:

“The bishops have been appointed by the pope to let us know: This is the path you should be following,” said Kerri Polce, 31, who teaches at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and says she has no problems signing the oath. “If you’re struggling with something, fine, don’t teach.”

And really, isn’t that the point of having an oath of fidelity? If you feel, for whatever reason, that you can’t sign it, then don’t teach. That’s the honest approach. Teaching in a parish religious education program is not a right; it is a privilege, and it is one that comes with the responsibility to be faithful to the teachings of the Church.


  1. Oh my goodness! I was just talking with a friend earlier about this general subject, and what pops into my in box? This is excellent. Thank you.

  2. "But it’s not “the bishops” who created Church teaching – it’s the Church. It’s our Lord Jesus Christ, handing his teachings down through the hands of the apostles." Thank you for this. It cannot be repeated often enough that obedience to the Magisterium and obedience to Christ are the same thing.

    Peter Kreeft said it well: "For the Head is not related to His Body as a CEO to a business, but as that funny pink ball between your shoulders to the four-limbed flesh beneath it. To say 'Yes' to Christ but 'No' to His Church is to will a spiritual decapitation."

  3. Great quote from Peter Kreeft!

  4. Now I'm embarrassed that we don't have an "even unto death" in our oath. I'd hate to be outdone by the Lutherans.

  5. Brother Juniper - I know what you mean! I felt the same way when I read that. But you know, I think that for Catholics - at least in the beginning - the "even unto death" part was understood; it didn't need to be said, because it is really inherent in our belief in Jesus. But yeah...I wouldn't mind having the "to death" part actually spoken.

  6. One wonders if Bishop Cary will allow Vasa's directive to stand?
    What really makes me a card carrying Catholic is my baptism and nothing else.

    I would not want my children taught by those who were forced to sign the pledge. This will certainly stunt their growth and make them fearful to ask questions. After all, that is what the right wing bishops want anyway---no challenges or questions!

  7. Well, this "one" hopes that Bishop Cary does a better job of implementing the affirmation of faith than Bishop Vasa did. No one will "force" the teachers to sign; they should be honest enough to refuse to do so if they can't say they are faithful to the Church's teachings. But I agree with you: I wouldn't want my children taught by those "forced" to sign the pledge, either; if those teachers felt "forced", I think it is reasonable to assume they are dissidents.

  8. I do not think the Lutheran formulation is in any way 'more intense', because they do not have to submit their belief to any exterior body (the magisterium). It pretty much says 'I will be true to how I have chosen to understand the Word of God, etc., even to death.' It's very easy to be a subjectivist even 'to death'.

  9. Good point, Daniel. And we have the example of the martyrs all through the ages to tell us exactly what is at stake and what our response should be.


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