would you, could you sign an oath of personal integrity?

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, CA has demanded that board members of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, or CALGM, sign an “oath of personal integrity” to Catholic teaching.

“In good faith, we have done most everything required of us to maintain a legitimate space within the boundaries of the institutional Church,” president Sheila Nelson wrote to members April 5. “Yet, this has not seemed to be adequate or satisfactory to the office of the bishop. We have repeatedly, abundantly and humbly submitted that our work is pastoral in nature and not political or primarily doctrinal.”

In a March 29 letter, Nelson wrote to the bishop, “That you would require such an unprecedented and extensive manifestation of our consciences suggests to us that, irrespective of our pastoral effectiveness, you wish to force an end to these, admittedly difficult, conversations.” The full NCR article and ensuing discussion board can be found here.

Perhaps it’s my baby-boomer sensibilities. After all, my generation is infamous for challenging authority. But, my blood pressure rises at the thought of having to sign such an oath because a bishop demands it. Perhaps it would depend on the oath, and the bishop? Maybe. But the actual demand bothers me.

I agree with Nelson’s interpretation of the action by the bishop. Demanding me to sign an oath of “personal integrity” not only shouts your distrust of my faith and my beliefs, but it closes the door to dialogue on those issues that I cannot fully accept in good conscience. It attempts to put Catholics into a small, tightly controlled box of orthodoxy. You are in, or you are out, sometimes based on a one issue doctrine. There is no regard to all your other good actions or beliefs. There is no room for honest questioning.

This action is reminiscent of past inquisitions. While confessions are no longer extracted under threat of torture or death, there is still a threat of negative consequences. There is a threat of being separated from the community – even if only by name.

I profess my faith in front of the praying community each time I meaningfully recite the Creed at mass.  I profess it even more solemnly when we are asked to renew our baptismal vows, at Easter or a baptism. As our church becomes more obsessed with doctrine, the Creed becomes more meaningful to me. The simple and beautiful profession of faith in God as Father/Creator, Son and Holy Spirit reminds us of our foundation. This is the belief that the Christian church is built on. This is our first and primary oath as Christians.

For the board members of CALGM, the issue is centered on church teachings around homosexuality. What if all Catholics had to sign an oath of personal integrity with regards to contraception? How many could?

Would you, or could you, sign an oath of personal integrity or obedience if it was presented to you by your bishop? Have you had to sign such an oath? I’d love to hear both your thoughts and your experiences.

the acquiescence of silence

During some very dark days in our parish and in our diocese, my head rolled with those of many others. We suffered under an authoritative bishop whose destructive actions reflected a dysfunctional leadership style. Our pastor was one of his minions. When I locked horns with him, life became intolerable for me and my family. We had to leave.

Friends in the parish sympathized with us, and offered many a listening ear. They also shared their own hurts and frustrations, filling us in on the continuing saga of dysfunction after we left. We also had priest friends in the diocese who were struggling with the situation. They were supportive and compassionate to us, but did nothing. The faithful dutifully went about their tasks, while silence hung like a big, stinky elephant in the room. No one stood up for us or anyone else who had been black-listed. We felt deserted by the community, and the dysfunction continued.

The reason behind the silence was fear. The result of the silence was an enabling of the destructive behavior of priest and bishop. It didn’t change until the bishop retired, dying soon after. Yet, many of the hurts remain. Many who left at the time have not returned.

Today, silence has been broken in a public and courageous manner by two groups in the USA. Seven provinces of Franciscan brothers and priests have published a letter of support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in wake of their Vatican rebuke.

We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms. We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

The second show of support came from the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) for Sr. Margaret Farley. Her book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The community of theologians not only supported her and her work, but wanted to clarify the distinction between the role of catechists and theologians. They recognize the importance of taking a stand now to ensure that future theologians will be given the necessary academic freedom to address hard issues without fear of reprisal.

Such an understanding of the nature of theology inappropriately conflates the distinctive tasks of catechesis and theology. With regard to the subject matter of Professor Farley’s book, it is simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed. In raising and exploring such questions with her customary sensitivity and judiciousness, Professor Farley has invited us to engage the Catholic tradition seriously and thoughtfully.

We speak often of courageously standing up to injustice in the world. We need to show the same courage in standing up to injustices in our church. And, yes, it takes courage. But silence is too easily interpreted as acquiescence. And acquiescence enables the injustice to continue.


The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions | National Catholic Reporter

The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions | National Catholic Report

This Canadian woman spends too much time musing on American politics, especially when they intersect with the Catholic Church. This week’s news story on the Obama administration’s refusal to allow a religious exemption for health insurance coverage for contraception has me intrigued. I take universal health care for granted. What is available to one, is available to all – regardless of religious affiliation. Each person has the right to accept or refuse a procedure or treatment.

It’s not that Canadian’s don’t struggle balancing religious rights and civil rights. We have learned the hard way that tolerance needs guide-lines. With the passing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, a Pandora’s box was opened to outrageous claims hiding behind the right to freedom of religion and expression. The courts have tried to uphold the basic belief that individual freedoms cannot endanger or infringe on the freedoms and rights of others. It’s not always easy or clear cut.

Abortion is still a hotly debated topic in Canada, usually during election times.  Abortion deserves serious attention and ongoing dialogue whether it has been legalized or not.  Access to contraception, on the other hand, is a non-issue in the public forum. And, it is a non-issue for most Catholics. I can’t recall ever hearing a pastor preach on Humane Vitae from the pulpit. That’s why I’m so fascinated with this American news story. Is this really a case of anti-Catholic behaviour on the part of the government? Are Catholics’ rights really being impeded? Are the bishops in tune with the majority of folks sitting in the pews?

Earlier this week, I mentioned a well written editorial by David DeCosse. He explains the model of conscience used by the bishops compared to the traditional model of conscience espoused by moral theologians. The former focuses on obedience and authority; no questions asked. The latter on personal freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. Now, Jamie L. Manson has added another valuable voice to the dialogue. It’s a worthy read!