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Catholic Loyalty Oath?

The Washington Post brings news of an interesting story from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. Why, it sounds like Tailgunner Joe McCarthy is the bishop! Read:

Last month, Riley joined at least four other Sunday school teachers and resigned from her post at St. Ann’s parish after a letterarrived at her home requiring her — and all teachers in the Arlington Catholic Diocese — to submit “of will and intellect” to all of the teachings of church leaders.

Although the St. Ann’s teachers represent a tiny fraction of the diocese’s 5,000 Sunday and parochial school teachers, the letter went out to parishes just as classes were finishing for the summer and diocese officials says they do not know how many teachers have received it.

The Arlington Diocese, which includes nearly a half-million Catholics across northern and eastern Virginia, is one of a small but growing number that are starting to demand fidelity oaths. The oaths reflect a churchwide push in recent years to revive orthodoxy that has sharply divided Catholics.

What on earth is wrong with asking people who wish to teach Sunday School classes to affirm that they believe what the Catholic Church teaches? Isn’t that the minimum that Catholic parents should be able to expect for those who carry out the religious education of their children? If you can’t affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church, then don’t teach Sunday School in the Catholic Church. It sounds completely reasonable to me. The bishop’s letter and instruction has to do with the people in his diocese who are directly responsible for teaching catechism — that is, the principles of the Catholic faith — to children. I’d say that’s a responsible bishop.

Of course this being the Washington Post, the story is written with a liberal bias that distorts the story. Note that “to all the teachings of church leaders” above. That is simply not a factual statement of how the Roman Catholic Church understands itself, or has ever understood itself. For Catholics, the Church has the right to teach authoritatively on faith and morals — an authority that is exercised through its leadership. This is what the Protestant Reformation was about! It is beyond embarrassing that this has to be explained to a reporter for The Washington Post. Then again, it has to be explained to liberal Catholics that they can’t pick and choose what to believe, and remain as Catholics in good standing. This is something I will never understand about modern Catholics. They want to have their church, but only on their own terms. Which is not Catholic. If Father Frootloop and Sister Stretchpants and Bishop Bumblefart deny a principle of Catholic doctrine, it doesn’t matter that they are leaders in the Church — they are wrong, and the Catholic layman can stand with confidence on the Church’s teaching, against his own leaders. If the Catholic bishops are standing there and doing the Nazi salute, as is mentioned down in the story regarding a photo of Nazi-era German bishops, well, the Catholic has recourse to the Church’s authoritative teachings to judge what cretins his leaders are.

(And by the way, the fact that the article ends by drawing an implicit comparison between Arlington’s bishop and Nazi bishops tells you pretty much everything you need to know about where the Post is coming from on this one.)

I’m not even Catholic, and it ticks me off when the media repeat liberal Catholic talking points as if they were, well, Gospel. There is a way of conveying the belief these dissenters hold — that they have a right to believe as they do and remain loyal Catholics, even Sunday School teachers — without accepting it within the story as true. For readers outside the Catholic faith — presumably most of the Post’s readers — and for poorly catechized Catholic readers, the Post has a basic journalistic responsibility to explain the facts here, not editorialize in the news copy.

I was going to write to Get Religion about this and point out what lousy religion reporting this is, but of course they’ve already been all over it. Mollie Hemingway was first out the gate, then TMatt added his bit. Excerpt:

Let’s start with three basic observations, after mulling over the contents of this story:

(1) It appears that liberal Catholics listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Conservative Catholics prefer, for some reason, to listen to fallible men called “bishops.”

(2) The Post seems to love, love, love believers whose approach to doctrine and church history mirrors that of the modernized Episcopal Church, especially when those people are billed as reformers in the Roman Catholic Church.

(3) Based on years of reading Post coverage of the many doctrinal battles between liberal and conservative Episcopalians, it appears that it absolutely crucial for conservative Episcopalians to obey their liberal bishops (and everyone heads to secular courts if they cannot work things out), but it isn’t terribly important for liberal Catholics to obey their conservative bishops, even when those bishops are acting in obedience to that Bishop of Rome guy.

Very well said.

I got off on the media tangent, but let me reiterate that if a bishop is not permitted to expect the people who teach catechism to affirm Church teaching without standing accused of being a McCarthyite, then we are truly in the crazy house.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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