Pope Francis used his weekly Angelus address to discuss conscience and freedom as aspects of the Catholic faith, emphasizing what many LGBT Catholics and their allies already know about these central Catholic teachings. The Pope speaks about Jesus’ determined journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, where he will meet death, and how faith is always accepted and never imposed even for Jesus. He continues:
“All this makes us think. It tells us, for example, the importance, even for Jesus, of conscience: listening in his heart to the Father’s voice, and following it…Jesus wants us free, and this freedom – where is it found? It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience. If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free – he is not free.
“So we also must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.”
Advocates for more inclusive Catholic communities that welcome all, including those bound by conscience to challenge existing unjust structures, can take hope that Pope Francis may respect conscience more than his predecessors.
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 Reporterreports 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.
“Members of Catholics for Equality and Dignity USA sang hymns and held a large banner that read ‘Bishops: We Need Pastors, Not Politicians, Your Antics are Hurting the Church’ outside the Charles E. Smith Center on 22nd Street, N.W. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington was among those who spoke to the estimated 4,000 people who attended the gathering.”
A spokesperson for the protesters explained the reason for the demonstration:
“ ‘We’re here to provide an opposite viewpoint to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom campaign,” said Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation. He noted to the Blade that 67 percent — or $4 billion — of Catholic Charities’ annual funding comes from state and federal government sources. ‘They claim that they are being victims of religious liberty, when in fact the Catholic Church has probably more liberties than any organization in our country.’ . . .
” ‘This is all about election year politicking,’ argued Palacios. ‘This is a cover for the Catholic Church’s issues on gay rights, on women’s reproductive issues, on so-called religious infringement.’ ”
One of the protesters explained that the demonstration showed that not all Catholics support the bishops’ campaign:
” ‘Catholics are very divided in terms of their support for this conservative political agenda,’ said Arlington resident Bob Miailovich as he stood outside the GWU rally. ‘We have already met here though today some people who are into the more conservative agenda and they take offense at any public program that does not comport foursquare with what the bishops are teaching. As Catholics, it’s a big church and it has a lot of divided opinion. We’re not monolithic on these social issues.’ ”