The Diocese of Arlington hopes to strengthen teaching in Catholic schools and churches, by asking religious instructors to promise allegiance to the Church's teachings, even on controversial subjects.
“This is viewed as a positive gesture – one of community and communion, in which our catechists profess their faith in communion with Bishop Loverde, Pope Benedict, and the entire Church,” diocesan communications director Michael Donohue said in a July 12 EWTN News interview.
While a small number of teachers say they cannot make the profession, Donohue said a “far greater number” have told the diocese they see the profession of faith as “a positive gesture.”
The profession has been sent to religious instructors to sign by September 2012. It contains the articles of the Nicene Creed, and an affirmation of faith in all teachings “whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church … sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”
It asks signatories to “firmly accept and hold each and every thing definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals,” giving “submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate.”
Its requirements are based on teachings found in the Second Vatican Council document “Lumen Gentium,” which reaffirms the status of bishops as successors to the apostles and states that the faithful “are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent” in matters of faith and morals.
Nearly half a million Catholics, including almost 5,000 religious instructors, live and worship in the Arlington diocese. On July 11, the Washington Post published a lengthy story about five Sunday school teachers who left their positions after refusing to sign the oath of fidelity to Church teaching.
Objectors were quoted describing the faith requirement as a “shock” and “a slap in the face.” A former teacher acknowledged the bishops' “authoritative role,” but told Arlington's Bishop Paul S. Loverde that only someone “willing to abandon her own reason and judgment” could sign the statement.
But Donohue explained that the pledge was not instituted to punish dissent from Church teaching. Rather, its purpose is to build and strengthen the faith within Catholic institutions, ensuring that they pass on the truth of the Gospel in its entirety.
“This all occurs in the context of the Year of Faith, as well as the context of marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council,” Donohue noted.
In his announcement of the Year of Faith, the Pope described various ways in which dioceses and parishes could join in professing the Church's beliefs. Based on this suggestion, the Arlington diocese extended the profession of faith – already expected of others in Church offices – to its religion teachers.
While some Catholics may struggle with particular doctrines, Donohue suggested it would be wrong for religion teachers to withhold anything that the Church accepts as revealed by God.
“All Catholics, at some point or another, might have had difficulty understanding or accepting the truth of a particular teaching,” he acknowledged.
That sort of personal struggle, he said, is “not an uncommon experience. That's not what this is about.”
Donohue also said the oath should not be seen primarily in terms of the errors it forbids, but in terms of the faith it promotes. Since every aspect of Church teaching relates to God's grace, and Christ's offer of eternal life, the faithful deserve to hear the Gospel message without omissions.
“The Church wants what's best for its flock, and for everyone,” he said.
For this reason, “it provides the tools, and the teaching, to help every individual Catholic – and anyone who would come to the Church – to understand and accept the teaching of Christ's Church.”