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John A. ColemanJune 29, 2012

I am doing something of a spin-off on Michael O' Loughlin's blog about tough questions in Oakland. My concern is less the debate between Bishop Cordilione and the Board of the Catholic Association for Gay and Lesbian ministry but rather the disturbing and growing recourse to ecclesiastical loyalty oaths.

I am not, generally, much of a fan of loyalty oaths of any kind. I remember still, with a shudder, the awful McCarthy period and the House Un-American Activities Committee and the harm they did to innocent people and the way they sowed as much suspicion and fear of outsiders as any real patriotism. In the end, the loyalty oaths of the 1950's probably did more harm than good. Most of them got knocked down by The Supreme Court or other federal courts in the 1960's. The courts ruled that if the state suspected a citizen of breaking the law, the burden of proof lay with the state to prove that, not with the citizen to have to proclaim his or her loyalty by an oath. The courts also shot down many of the loyalty oaths because of the vagueness or undue breadth of the language written into the oaths.

I have only once been confronted with a loyalty oath in the church. When I was preparing to be ordained in 1967, I was expected to sign the infamous "Oath Against Modernism" initiated by Pius X in 1910. Until late 1967 (after my ordination) it was mandated that every professor in a seminary and every priest take the oath against modernism. I and another Jesuit seminarian had serious objections against taking that loyalty oath. We had read enough history about the grave evils which fell on innocent people and on the church because of its overwrought anti-modernism crusade. Spies listened in on professors's lectures and denounced them to the authorities. People were afraid to write any pastorally bold and innovative works of theology. A cloud of suspicion hung over the church. I have always been a fan of Benedict XV who succeeded Pius X because he opposed the anti-modernist crusades ( or better said, vindictive witch hunts!). The anti-modernists had insisted on an adjective, integral, to accompany the noun, Catholicism. Benedict retorted that Catholicism in its universality did not need any accompanied adjectives. I refused, therefore, to sign the oath against modernism since it violated my conscience.

I live in a diocese where on two sides other dioceses have resorted to a kind of loyalty oath in the church. Bishop Vasa of Santa Rosa devised, when he was still Bishop of Baker, Oregon, a loyalty oath called "Affirmation of Personal Faith." All lay Catholics who worked in the diocese in parishes, diocesan offices or Catholic agencies (such as hospitals and Catholic Charities) had to take the loyalty oath--to the consternation and resentment of many. Now a version of it is being promulgated in Santa Rosa and I have had people ask what is going on in such an extensive invasion of consciences in the diocese.

Vasa's oath affirms the church's teaching on the sinfulness of abortion and says: " I do not recognize the legitimacy of anyone's [presumably including non-Catholics] claim to a moral right to form their own conscience on this matter. I am not pro-choice. I further attest that I am not affiliated with, nor supportive of any organization which supports, encourages, provides or otherwise endorses abortion or euthanasia." The last phrase is striking in its breadth and vagueness. Does this mean I cannot support United Way if it also gives money to Planned Parenthood for its cancer work among women but not for abortions? Is there guilt by association in any support of Planned Parenthood? Does this mean I am promising never to vote for a pro-choice candidate who, on all other scores, is morally superior to his or her opponent?

The oath continues: "I affirm and believe the Church's teaching about the sinfulness of contraception." It asks the oath taker to assert that contraception is always intrinsically evil. The oath goes on: "I accept the church's teaching that any extra-marital sexual relationships are gravely evil and that these include pre-marital relations, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations." A further paragraph insists that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." Other sections of the oath affirm the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the virginity of Mary, a belief in hell and purgatory and that the oath taker acknowledges that church teachings "pronounced in a definitive manner, even though not as an infallible definition, are binding on the conscience of the faithful and are to be adhered to with religious assent. "Note the ambiguity in the term," binding on the conscience." Does this mean I must first take seriously the teaching and enter as best I can into it before my conscience may dictate a different path from it? Does it allow ever any conscientious objection to fallible church teaching? Theologians also dispute what the meaning of "adhering with religious assent' really entails. In a masterful book, A Church that Can and Cannot Change (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005) John Noonan documents a series of changes (even radical ones) on Catholic moral issues: the morality of slavery, usury, church discipline on divorce. Noonan, of course, earlier argued that he thought elements of the church's teaching on contraception as always and everywhere and in every form it takes intrinsically evil could change.

Now I have sympathy, as an associate pastor, for a bishop wanting to make sure that Catholics who work for the church and in church institutions do not use that format to contradict church teaching or mislead the faithful. But I wonder if such loyalty oaths are the best way to do so. A young Jesuit from the East Coast with whom I shared my concerns here told me that such loyalty oaths imposed by bishops are proliferating also in the East coast. Resort to loyalty oaths often enough breeds suspicion, precludes frank and open dialogue and stifles honest discourse between the imposer of the oath and the one who, however unwillingly and resentfully, may or must take the oath. This does not foster a spirit of charity and mutual trust.

Michael O' Loughlin's blog also raises the way Bishop Salvadore Cordileone has resorted to his own composed oath to impose it on the board of the Catholic Association for Gay and Lesbian Ministry whose headquarters lie in his diocese (although the organization, as such, is national and usually the bishop of the diocese where its national conference meets celebrates an opening mass for the group). Cordileone's oath includes " I affirm and believe" statements regarding the definitions of marriage, purgatory and hell [I am a bit puzzled that both Bishop Vasa and Bishop Cordileone's loyalty oaths included sections on hell and purgatory but not on the true divinity and humanity of Jesus!], the belief that communion is available only under a state of grace and church positions on chastity and cloning [Why a group with pastoral outreach to gays and lesbians would be involved in issues of cloning or purgatory eludes me!]

This growing resort to loyalty oaths in the church by bishops is quite disturbing. Often the loyalty oath seems to represent an unprecedented and extensive demand for a manifestation of conscience. It is not always clear who has written them and on the basis of ones that I have seen they seem to fall under the same censure of being at times vague and too broad in language to be truly fair and just. All I can imagine is a TV hearing of the bishops one of these days, beginning with those famous words of Joe McCarthy barking at us: Are you now or have you ever? We do need more serious discussion about these proliferating episcopal imposed loyalty oaths in the church.

John A. Coleman, S.J.


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12 years ago
I believe such oaths say much about the persons who require them - good willed people who are terribly insecure about thier own leadership skills. These men who are unable to earn respect in healthy ways see no alternative but to create a climate of fear, intimidation and threats. 
Michael Appleton
12 years ago
Many reasons are proffered for the imposition of loyalty oaths, but I have yet to hear one that was justified on the basis of anything other than fear.  As a Catholic, I firmly believe that the Church hierarchy is experiencing such an extraordinarily fearful period that many of its members are reacting by demanding recognition of their authority through means which are at once demeaning and childish.  As a lawyer, I find all such oaths to be loathsome violations of the rights of conscience and privacy.
Brendan McGrath
12 years ago
"Until late 1997 ( after my ordination) it was mandated that every professor in a seminary and every priest take the oath against modernism." - Judging from the earlier sentence in which the year 1967 was given as the year of ordination, this should read "until late 1967," right?  Not 1997?  I'd be very surprised if the oath against modernism lasted that long! (Editor's note: Corrected in copy)

While this spread of loyalty oaths is upsetting, I have to admit that I don't necessarily see anything wrong with them in principle - it's the content of the oaths that's more upsetting, though it wouldn't be to someone who agreed with everything in them.  I mean, suppose the loyalty oath said something more like this: "I affirm and believe the Church's teaching that God is Love and loves all people unconditionally, and affirm that any lines in Scripture and Tradition which seem contrary to this teaching must be interpreted according to the mind of the Church."  I mean, a loyalty oath like that would seem delightful.

I think it'd be fun to impose loyalty oaths on issues that people have long since forgotten about.  For example,  how about a loyalty oath against Baianism?  We could have a loyaty oath in which people reject the errors condemned in Pope Pius V's "Ex omnibus afflictionibus," such as #10, "The remission of temporal punishment, which often remains after the forgiveness of sin, and the resurrection of the body must properly be ascribed only to the merits of Christ."  Apparently that's an error, though I'm not quite sure why.  Here's one that's clearly an error, #20:  "No sin is venial by its own nature, but every sin deserves eternal punishment."  Or #25: "All works of infidels are sins, and the virtues of philosophers are vices."  Why are our bishops distracted by the Fortnight for Freedom and leaving us uncatechized on these errors?  ;)  Let's start a Society of St. Pius V.
12 years ago
We stand up every Sunday and recite the Nicene (or Apostles') Creed. That is the only loyalty oath a Catholic should ever have to take, and any bishop who demands more is overstepping his limits. (Unless he is infused with more wisdom that the combined fathers of the Church. That could happen, I guess, but probably won't happen in California if it does.)
Joe Kash
12 years ago
Don't forget this line at the end of the Creed:

believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Kang Dole
12 years ago
Maybe the next step will be to institute some sort of expanded version of the ordeal of the bitter waters. Surely that would let people know where things stood.
12 years ago

> Kudos to Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, CA, who asked members of the board of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries to sign an oath of ‘personal integrity’ to Catholic teachings—which they refused to do! And kudos to Bishop Vasa of Santa Rosa, CA, who, in his previous diocese of Baker, Oregon, required an “Affirmation of Personal Faith” of all Catholics who worked for the diocese in parishes, diocesan offices and Catholic agencies. It has been reported that a version of that oath is being promulgated in Bishop Vasa’s new diocese.
> Both Bishop Cordileone and Bishop Vasa are onto something here. It has the makings of a sure-fire solution to the problem of all the dissenting cafeteria Catholics in our church. What if all American Catholics were required to take a similar oath in order to receive communion? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops could send copies of the oath to every parish in the U.S. The oath would be copied and given to all parishioners at Sunday masses, who would be given an extended period of time to sign their oaths. Those parishioners who signed them, young people as well as adults, would return them to their pastor together with pictures of themselves. These signed documents and the pictures would be returned to the USCCB. Picture IDs would be produced and mailed back to the parishes. After a specified date parishioners would be required to wear their ID badges when seeking to receive communion at their own parish or any other parish. 
> As any authentic Catholic knows, orthodoxy is the touchstone, the sine qua non of what being a Catholic, being a follower of Jesus means. Someone may object that checking ID badges before giving communion will take up too much time. Not to worry. Churches will be less crowded because all the cafeteria Catholics who refuse to sign the oath will hardly want to attend a mass where they can’t receive communion.
> And in the process let’s get rid of that hymn which has become the anthem of cafeteria Catholics—“All are Welcome.”

Brian Pinter
12 years ago
There are very few things Jesus explicitly forbad, but taking oaths was one of them. 

Matt 5:33-37 "But I say to you, do not swear at all... Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one."

I wonder, if confronted by a bishop with an order to take the oath, could one appeal to the authority and direct teaching of Jesus?
Thomas Doyle
12 years ago
The bishops, at least the ones who are cut from the same tattered bolt of cloth as Vasa, Cordileone, etc., would do well, provided of course that they are capable of doing so, to step back a few paces and try to see the caricature of ''Church'' that they are steadily creating.  It is a pathetic maze populated by a bunch of fear-filled and control-obsessed men.  These goofy loyalty oaths are but another layer of the lunacy that is propelling too many of the bishops.  They cry ''anti-Catholicism'' any time the media or anyone for that matter criticizes their increasingly bizarre actions and words, but they fail to see that they are the reason for the dim view of the institutional church, not the secular culture, materialism or any of the other flimsy reasons they put forth.  The health of the Body of Christ is assessed not by mindless obedience to the bishops' subjective and toxic version of orthodoxy but by the increasing number of women and men, lay, religious and cleric, who are standing up to them, looking them in the eye and telling them they have gone off the rails.
K Sundaram
12 years ago
Being a parishioner residing in the Diocese of San Jose, I find the idea of a loyalty oath put forward by a Bishop for those who will act under his authority a refreshing idea. It informs the members of the diocese
1) what the Bishop feels is necessary to state the the faithful where he feels the emphasis of the teaching and practice of the faith
2) makes it clear that those especially involved in catechesis will be expected to teach with bright lines or have reason to be dismissed.
From a parent's point of view, this is refreshing.  Paying for the tuition especially to a couple of institutions of Catholic higher education from Santa Clara, I have formed the opinion that academic freedom and community organizing are the most highly held values in the Catholic community rather than the faithfuladherence to the teaching of the Church's social and moral doctrines. When we attend Mass we are looking to be formed within the fullness of the Church, so that we can apply it to our day to day life.  We don't need the confusion of a priest telling us that the Church teaches A, but that I am not totally comfortable with that and would suggest that the answer is really more like B. 
As for the life issues, as a nurse, I know that I appreciate knowing what the Church's position is and would hope that the Catholic hospital is clear as well, so that the need's of those expecting a Catholic attitude and approach when they are a patient will receive such care.  I certainly would not want a confused Catholic bioethicist to enter the situation, which would bring confusion to difficult situations regarding end of life care decisions and protection of all innocent life.
Vincent Gaitley
12 years ago
Perhaps the bishops should practice taking this oath:  "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
ed gleason
12 years ago
Taking a cue from Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn is a sad day in the Bay Area Catholic  Church which was the lead community  to strike down this kind of silliness.
And of course it will fail with a quiet splash in the bay. .
Carolyn Disco
12 years ago
Vincent, you have a bullseye there. My favorite reference on what it means to tell the truth is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Communicating truthfully means more than factual accuracy…There is a way of speaking which is…entirely correct and unexceptionable, but which is, nevertheless, a lie…When an apparently correct statement contains some deliberate ambiguity, or deliberately omits the essential part of the truth…it does not express the real as it exists in God.” 

Here's an example of the opposite by Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian, who handled abuse charges in NH for 19 years, and belongs convicted of child endangerment just like Msgr. Lynn: 
Re: Truthful communication
Question: “Have you lied in the conduct of your office?”
Bishop Christian: “I have not.”   
Response given May 26, 2004, St. Mark Church, Londonderry, NH following talk on “Forming a Moral Conscience”
Concord Monitor, May 27, 2004: “No. 2 bishop rebuts state abuse case; Official angered by questions about Catholic priest scandal” http://www.concordmonitor.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040527/REPOSITORY/405270383/1031
 Attorney General:
“As discussed in the fact section of this report (Roger Fortier, convicted of rape), the investigation uncovered instances where Diocesan officials made apparently false statements in the context of civil lawsuits and in the course of a presentencing investigation conducted by the Department of Corrections for the purpose of sentencing a Diocesan priest. This conduct may have constituted perjury, false swearing, or unsworn falsification.”
Attorney General’s Overview of Investigation, 3-3-03, p. 13-14 hard copy.http://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/reports/NewHampshireAGReport.pdfp. 20 of 160
“Following Fortier’s conviction in 1998, a probation and parole officer invited the Diocese to provide background about Father Fortier for purposes of his pre-sentence investigation of Fortier. Despite Bishop Christian’s knowledge of Fortier’s conduct in 1984 (sexual assault of a minor, watching pornography and providing alcohol to minors), Bishop Christian reported in a 1998 letter to the probation and parole officer that Fortier’s “sexual problems with youth were unknown to the Diocese”
Attorney General’s Overview of Investigation, 3-3-03, p. 98 hard copy.http://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/reports/NewHampshireAGReport.pdfp. 104 of 160

Gathering all the distortions, prevarications, mendacity et al of bishops would be a revealing exercise. Oaths, indeed. Cardinals take this oath on assuming office:

 ''I promise and swear...not to reveal to anyone what is confided to me in secret, nor to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to Holy Church...So help me Almighty God.'' Seems that one is more adhered to.
John Barbieri
12 years ago
Brian Pinter (No. 9) is right.
A catholic owes his loyalty to G_D, not man.
These bishops are willing to harm the consciences of others to compensate for their own failures of leadership.
Michael Barberi
12 years ago
Let's not forget the infamous Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX. Could you envision a loyalty oath under these conditions?

This is the same pope who declared himself and all popes infallible. Of course, no one wants to discuss the fact that this pope also kidnapped a young Italian child from his Jewish parents because a mid-wife (some years after delivery) said she baptized the child for fear of his death. The child's Jewish parents did not give the mid-wife permission to do this, and the child did survive the birth delivery. Once this information became known, a Church inquiry was established to investigate the matter, and it was decided that the young child was a Catholic because the mid-wife did baptize the child (even though many facts were inconclusive). The pope said he could not trust his Jewish parents to educate the young boy in the Catholic faith. So, Pius IX had the young boy brought to the Vatican. He stayed there until adulthood, against the protests of his parents, the Jewish hierarchy, and many diplomats from other countries who intervened. The boy became a priest. What a wonder.

I guess such behavior would have been morally permissible under any loyalty oath had one been instituted at that time. One can only imagine what the Italian Courts would have done today had this happened. 
Jim McCrea
12 years ago
Papalolatrists, like The Godfather in Oakland, just don't want to know about this:

"When Pius X died, the conclave of 1914 elected Benedict XV, who immediately issued an encyclical (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_Beatissimi_Apostolorum)calling on Catholics ‘to appease dissension and strife" so that "no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith.’
‘There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism’ he concluded. ‘It is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname’ “
David Gibson, “Who Is a Real Catholic?” The Washington Post, Sunday, May 17, 2009
Thomas Rooney OFS
12 years ago
I am disappointed, but certainly not surpised, to read this. 

I've not had to sign anything in my diocese to volunteer for my ministries, yet.  If such an oath is put before me to sign, I shall refuse.  I profess my faith every week during Mass.  I give my statement of belief in the Real Presence when I say "Amen" in response to the minister's "Body of Christ".  

THAT is my oath.  

P.S. - Although I am often guilty of not doing so, could America PLEASE spell check the articles before posting?  There were a good number of typos in this entry.


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