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Bishop says teachers must sign affirmation of Catholic faith

Diocese tells teachers they must affirm their agreement and commitment to all aspects of Catholicism, even though not all the teachers are Catholic.

  • Dan Morris-Young
  • United States
  • March 12, 2013
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The Ides of March has taken on new meaning in the Santa Rosa, Calif., diocese, where teachers and administrators have until March 15 to sign a letter of intent to renew their contracts for the 2013-2014 school year. The contracts now include an addendum requiring 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."

Written by Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa and added at his direction, the addendum is titled "Bearing Witness." In press reports, Vasa and Catholic school superintendent John Collins have described it as expansion and clarification of the standard faith and morals clause of the teacher contract.

"Bearing Witness" states teachers must live their lives "in conformity with the 10 Commandments" and Catholic teachers must "acknowledge" that attending Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation is "an especially important form of my duty to give witness to my faith."

The statement says Catholic school educators must see they are "called by God to a life of holiness" and that "this call orients me to heed God in my thoughts, words and deeds and even in my intentions."

About 25 percent of the 200 teachers in 11 schools under diocesan administration are not Catholic. Those schools enroll about 3,100 students. There are also four Catholic schools independent of diocesan corporate control. Teachers in the latter reportedly have not been asked or required to sign a statement affirming assent to specific church teachings.

Reaction to the addendum has been mixed. Letters to the editor in Santa Rosa's newspaper, The Press Democrat, have been running about 3-to-1 in opposition to the document. Critics say the bishop has overstepped his authority, encroached on freedom of conscience, and forced some educators into a position of signing a fiat they find troubling or else lose their jobs.

Supporters say they appreciate what they describe as Vasa's effort to make church teaching clear and uncompromising.

Collins told the National Catholic Register and The Press Democrat that the document is simply an effort by Vasa to clarify expectations of educators and that it was not corrective in nature.

Vasa has told media outlets he has received significant support and affirmation from across the country for his effort.

Vasa did not respond to NCR interview requests by Sunday. Collins declined to be interviewed.

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 criticized Vasa for no mention of Catechism of the Catholic Church exhortations on the supremacy of conscience, and added:

No nuances here, which in the past meant you should have condemned Galileo, tolerated slavery, approved the use of torture, accepted the damnation of non-Catholics and protested most of the freedoms we take for granted, including freedom of religion, the press and the separation of church and state.

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 from 2000 until being appointed Santa Rosa coadjutor bishop in January 2011.

Vasa's 2004 "Affirmation of Personal Faith" required full assent to a dozen doctrinal statements on topics including homosexuality, contraception, chastity, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary, hell, purgatory, and the authority of the church.

Full Story: California bishop adds belief requirements to teacher contracts 

Source: National Catholic Reporter

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