Loyalty Oaths Are Sprouting Up Across the U.S. Catholic Church

July 14, 2012

Loyalty oaths seem to be coming into fashion in Catholic churches, as more and more bishops are using this instrument to require that Catholics working in the church, even on a volunteer basis, pledge total fidelity to the magisterium, including official directives about LGBT people.

The issue was sparked this week by a Washington Post article on Bishop Paul LoVerde, of Arlington, Virginia, who has instituted such an oath for religious education teachers there. Four teachers have already resigned because of the requirement.  The Post report states:

“The Arlington Diocese, which includes nearly a half-million Catholics across northern and eastern Virginia, is one of a small but growing number that are starting to demand fidelity oaths. The oaths reflect a churchwide push in recent years to revive orthodoxy that has sharply divided Catholics.

“Such oaths are not new for priests or nuns but extend now in some places to people like volunteer Sunday school teachers as well as workers at Catholic hospitals and parish offices.

“One in Baker, Ore., reiterates the sinfulness of abortion and says, “I do not recognize the legitimacy of anyone’s claim to a moral right to form their own conscience in this matter.” One in Oakland, Calif., requires leaders of a group doing outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics to say they “affirm and believe” official church teaching on marriage, hell and chastity. [For the Bondings 2.0 report on the Oakland oath, click here.]

“The Arlington ‘profession of faith’ asks teachers to commit to “believe everything” the bishops characterize as divinely revealed, and Arlington’s top doctrine official said it would include things like the bishops’ recent campaign against a White House mandate that most employers offer contraception coverage. Critics consider the mandate a violation of religious freedom.”

The article quotes Rose Zagarri, one of the resigned teachers:

“Zagarri said the oath was a “slap in the face” to Catholics who have remained active and close to the church despite controversies.

“ ‘Although I fully understand the authoritative role of the Catholic hierarchy in defining the teachings of the faith, in my view only a person who is willing to abandon her own reason and judgment, or who is willing to go against the dictates of her own conscience, can agree to sign such a document,’ she wrote to Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde.

“ ‘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.”

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog reports that the loyalty oath in the Baker, Oregon, diocese (mentioned above) states that some of the teachings that the oath includes are:

“the sinfulness of contraception, the evil of extra-marital sexual relationships, the unacceptability of homosexual relationships, the wrongness of co-habitation before marriage.”

According to the Post-Intelligencer, the Baker diocese oath goes even further on the issue of abortion, with the statement:

“I do not recognize the legitimacy of anyone’s claim to a moral right to form their own conscience on this matter.”

A wise warning against such loyalty oaths was raised by Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, director of the leadership program for Catholic educators,University of Notre Dame.  The Washington Post article concludes with:

“Nuzzi said he keeps a photo on his desk from the 1940s that shows all the German bishops in their garb, doing the Nazi salute.

“ ‘I keep it there to remind people who say to do everything the church says, that their wisdom has limitations, too.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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