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A Bishop Acting Like a Bishop?

“For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless… he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. For there are many insubordiante men, empty talkers and deceivers…they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach.”

– Titus 1:7-11

It looks like Bishop Robert Vasa is at it again. I just learned about the recent dustup in the Diocese of Santa Rosa regarding the good Bishop’s “controversial” decision. According to the article:

The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese is requiring its 200 schoolteachers to sign an agreement affirming that “modern errors” such as contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia are “matters that gravely offend human dignity.”

The move is an effort by Bishop Robert Vasa to delineate specifically what it means for a Catholic-school teacher — whether Catholic or not — to be a “model of Catholic living” and to adhere to Catholic teaching.

That means abiding by the Ten Commandments, going to church every Sunday and heeding God’s words in thought, deed and intentions, according to a private church document that is an “addendum” to language in the current teachers’ contract.

In his two years as Santa Rosa’s bishop, Vasa has attempted to bring his strict interpretation of church doctrine to a diocese that historically has had a more tolerant approach.

But some teachers fear the addendum is an invasion of their private lives and a move toward imposing more rigid Catholic doctrine.

Really? I guess it’s simply unthinkable that a Catholic Bishop, who has received the threefold charge – to teach, sanctify and govern – would actually teach, sanctify, and govern? What nerve! It’s just inconceivable (tongue planted firmly in cheek) that a Bishop (who happens to be the chief teacher of the faith in his Diocese) would require the teachers in his Catholic Schools to actually teach and uphold the faith and doctrine of the Catholic Church!

The article speaks of Bishop Vasa’s perceived attempts to bring “his strict interpretation of church doctrine” to the Diocese. The Bishop makes it clear that he is simply doing his job.

“I am simply fulfilling my duty and responsibility to make sure that the Catholic faith, as it is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is clearly and consistently taught in the Catholic institutions of the Diocese.”

Bravo, Bishop Vasa. It’s a matter of principle.

These teachers are not working in public schools, but private ones. They are working at Catholic institutions that are concerned with teaching more than just the three R’s, but rather four (with Religion being chief among them).

The Catholic school is charged with more than just education of young minds, but with the salvation of young souls. The Catholic school exists to evangelize, to introduce our children to the person of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. If this were not the central mission of Catholic Schools, then they would cease to be Catholic. To put it simply, Catholic schools exist to make Christ known. If a Catholic schoolteacher or administrator cannot accept and support the Mission of the Catholic School, then he or she shouldn’t seek to work there or be allowed to work there, plain and simple.

As someone who has worked in the institutional Church for the better part of twenty years, I can tell you that not everyone who works for the Church “believes and professes all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

I don’t mean to scandalize anyone, but there are more than a few Diocesan employees (in Catholic Schools, Parishes, as well as Curial Offices) who blatantly reject many of the teachings of the Church, especially when it comes to the moral law. In fact, I have known of many who have actively sought to undermine the Church’s mission and yet have no qualms about picking up their paychecks at the end of the day. It is quite deplorable to say the least.

This is why we need strong and courageous Bishops like Robert Vasa, who aren’t afraid to lead. We need Bishops who aren’t afraid to hold their subordinates accountable for what they say and do in his name and in the name of Holy Mother Church. I have long admired Bishop Vasa for his leadership and courage under fire. After all, some of you may remember that this isn’t his first rodeo.

I remember reading awhile back about a similar controversy involving Bishop Vasa. Back in 2004, while serving in the Diocese of Baker, Bishop Vasa issued a pastoral letter entitled “Giving Testimony to the Truth.” It was written to the lay ministers of his diocese concerning their adherence to the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church. Following this pastoral, he attached an oath of fidelity, which he titled “Affirmation of Personal Faith.” 

This “Affirmation of Faith” or “oath of fidelity” was to be signed by those laypersons who exercised the ecclesial duties of Catechist, Teacher, Liturgical Reader, Cantor, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Directors of Youth Activities and other Church positions, which entail a presumption of orthodoxy. (If you haven’t read the document, I would highly recommend you do so. It is excellent.)

In it he writes:

25. The Affirmation of Personal Faith asks candidates for ministry to state unequivocally: “I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” This carries with it the affirmation of specific teachings of the Catholic Church. A non-exhaustive list of these is provided in the form of individual affirmations. They include statements on the inviolability of human life, the sinfulness of contraception, the evil of extra-marital sexual relationships, the unacceptability of homosexual relationships, the wrongness of cohabitation before marriage, the significance of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the legitimacy of Marian devotions, the existence of hell and purgatory, the uniqueness of the Catholic Church, the legitimacy of the Holy Father’s claim to infallibility and the moral teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

30. Every Catholic is held to standards of appropriate behavior by God Himself and those who are called and chosen for more distinguished and visible service are held to a higher standard for they do act and teach ‘in the name of the Church.’ In the Diocesan Church, they also act and teach ‘in the name of the Bishop.’ I am thus entrusted with the responsibility of assuring to the best of my ability that those who teach and minister in my name likewise give authentic witness in the whole of their lives to the true teachings of the Catholic Church. This Affirmation of Personal Faith represents one way in which I can begin to fulfill that responsibility. 

Needless to say, Bishop Vasa received a lot of flack for that decision. But in my opinion, his request was quite reasonable and pastorally necessary. In fact, I’d take it a step further. I think that this is the kind of “common sense policy” that should be adopted by every Diocese in the United States and should be applied to all levels of leadership and ministry within the Church. I believe it would go a long way towards helping the Church regain its credibility and strengthen it’s identity and mission.

Join me in praying for the ever-intrepid Bishop Vasa and for all our Bishops. May the Good Lord strenthen their resolve to teach, govern and sanctify with grace and holy boldness.



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