Inventing Controversy: The Arlington Diocese’s Fidelity Oath

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Typical of the anti-religion tack of most mainstream news outlets these days, the secular press is having a field day with a decision by the Diocese of Arlington to require its Catholics teachers to do the unthinkable – sign a fidelity oath.

Bishop Paul S. Loverde

According to The Washington Post, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde is now requiring all Catholic teachers to sign an oath of fidelity, in the presence of a priest. The oath is essentially a reiteration of the Nicene Creed followed by three paragraphs in which the teacher affirms that they believe everything the Bible, Tradition and the Magisterium sets forth as divinely believed, and to accept and hold all Church teaching on faith and morals.

“Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act,” the Oath concludes.

According to Diocesan spokesman Michael Donohue, a letter about the oath was sent to parishes this spring in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s direction that churches worldwide celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican II in various ways, including those that “profess our faith in the risen Lord.”

Rev. Paul deLadurantaye, Arlington’s head of education and liturgy, reminded the Post that the church is foremost a communion, not a building.

“And the church’s teaching is meant to be a service, not to coerce or oppress. . . . This is just to say the church is a reliable guide, more reliable in these matters than what I read elsewhere. There’s something more transcendent than just my own judgment.”

This explanation apparently went right over the head of Post reporter Michelle Boorstein who went on to define the oath in her article as “an alarming effort to stamp out debate in the church at a time when it’s bleeding members and clergy in the West.” 

And to bolster that position, she trotted out several Sunday school teachers who quit after being asked to sign the pledge. As a perfect example of why the oath is needed, one teacher named Kathleen Riley admitted that she disagrees with Church teaching on women’s ordination and contraception. She told the Post she thinks Bishops are human and often wrong and that the faithful should therefore be allowed to follow their own consciences.

Although the Post certainly did not intend for it to read this way, The article did little more than confirm exactly why the oath is needed – to maintain the integrity of the Faith within our Catholic school system – something the Catholic Church has every right to do. 

Matt Bowman, writing for the popular CatholicVote blog, questions why this oath, which is being administered in a growing numbers of dioceses throughout the country (for obvious reasons) is even a controversy. 

“The faithful are already required to profess a creed at every Sunday Mass,” he says. “I didn’t see a New York Times article about people who are outraged that the Church continues to include the Nicene Creed in the order of Mass.”

He goes on to point out that critics of the oath are attacking the right of Catholics who believe in Catholicism to associate with one another in a Church. It’s also an attack on parental rights, he asserts, because they would force parents to allow their children to be taught beliefs contrary to the Church they have gathered under. 

Peters also pointed out the illogical inclusion of an outrageous comment made by a priest from Notre Dame, Fr. Ronald Nuzzi, in the Post article in which he claims to keep a picture of the bishops saluting Hitler on his desk, “to remind people who say to do everything the church says, that their wisdom has limitations, too.”

” . . . (A)dvocates for dissenters should be careful about calling faithful Catholic bishops Nazis all the while those same advocates would refuse to let the faithful teach faithfully,” Bowman writes.

“If there is any intolerance in this news story, it is akin to external people and internal dissenters telling the Church it cannot teach its own teachings, depriving faithful Catholics of any possibility to form community based on shared beliefs.”

Remember, he points out, “It was the Nazi movement that pressured churches to reject core Christian beliefs.”

The Center for Morality in Public Life, has posted the full text of the oath here.

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