Bishop Robert Vasa
Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa temporarily retracted an addendum in the contracts of Catholic educators that required them to affirm obedience to the hierarchy and its teachings. The bishop’s actions resulted from swift and public outcry from affected employees and those in the diocese who strongly objected to this orthodoxy addendum, which included adherence on LGBT issues.
If the measure had passed, educators would have been required to assent to the faith addendum, titled “Bearing Witness,” or risk losing their job regardless of personal religious affiliation. National Catholic Reporter reports on the requirements contained within the addendum:
“…they agree they are ‘a ministerial agent of the bishop’ and that they reject ‘modern errors’ that ‘gravely offend human dignity,’ including ‘but not limited to’ contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
“The roughly 400-word addendum requires all teachers and administrators — Catholic and non-Catholic — to ‘agree that it is my duty, to the best of my ability, to believe, teach/administer and live in accord with what the Catholic Church holds and professes.’”
Bishop Vasa explained his decision to rescind this addendum for further review in a letter to educators released earlier this week. National Catholic Reporter reported that the bishop’s reasons for changing his mind were because of his failure to consult pastors and principals before releasing the addendum and he “erroneously chose a path of informing rather than mutual discernment.” He expects to implement the same goals after a period of review in the spring of 2015.
Conscience protections were one of the main complaints against Bishop Vasa’s proposed addendum, coupled with concerns about firing educators over their positions on controversial sexuality issues, including nearly a quarter of the diocesan school systems’ employees who are not Catholic. Others reacted to theunilateral imposition of this orthodoxy test, instead of a more dialogical approach with the bishop. These objections created enough active opposition from Catholics across the diocese that Bishop Vasa felt compelled to rescind the addendum, if only temporarily.
With good majorities of Catholics supportive of LGBT equality, including marriage rights, the laity must ensure devoted ministers, educators, and other church employees have their consciences respected by the hierarchy. Whether they are LGBT individuals themselves or outspoken allies, no person’s offerings to the Church should be denied. A former diocesan employee presents a an argument for why a loyalty oath is not practical:
“In a March 5 Press Democrat commentary, Cynthia Vrooman said ‘at face value,’ the Vasa addendum ‘seems to be a legitimate employer’s request,’ that teachers in Catholic schools follow church doctrine.
“However, the former diocesan adult education director wrote, ‘these directives are imposed on teachers who may or may not be Catholics,’ and they demand assent to church doctrinal formulations that are open to change…
“Vrooman said ‘the next shoe to drop’ will be an ‘affirmation of faith’ required to be signed by parish ministers, similar to the 2004 pledge required of parish ministers in the Baker, Ore., diocese, where Vasa was bishop…”
In the Catholic Church, successes for the laity against an overreaching bishop are few. Santa Rosa is a prime example of the laity’s ability to join with church workers in promoting positive changes when needed, just as Call to Action concluded a week focused on justice for those employed by the Catholic Church and its affiliated organizations. National Catholic Reporter reported on the actions of one parish who raised $4,000 for a full page sign-on add in the local paper opposing Bishop Vasa’s actions and supporting the educators.
New Ways Ministry applauds the Catholics in Santa Rosa for defending the right of educators to live their consciences while working within the Church structures, and hopes it will inspire laity worldwide to oppose attempts to place strictures on these rights.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry