The return of loyalty oaths

One of the reasons I declined to enter the diaconate is the loyalty oath I would have had to sign. The oath would require me to state my belief in all Catholic teachings. Since I don't buy the church's arguments on a male-only, celibate priesthood, on its blanket condemnation of contraception and abortion, and on the objective immorality of homosexuality, I had the choice of lying to achieve a life-long dream or enduring moral exile and a life of integrity.

I chose integrity.

Now, one California church leader, Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa, wants to extend the moral conundrum beyond clerical candidates. This from the March 11 NCR:
The Ides of March has taken on new meaning in the Santa Rosa, Calif., diocese, where teachers and administrators have until March 15 to sign a letter of intent to renew their contracts for the 2013-2014 school year. The contracts now include an addendum requiring they agree they are "a ministerial agent of the bishop" and that they reject "modern errors" that "gravely offend human dignity," including "but not limited to" contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
The roughly 400-word addendum requires all teachers and administrators -- Catholic and non-Catholic -- to "agree that it is my duty, to the best of my ability, to believe, teach/administer and live in accord with what the Catholic Church holds and professes."
In one sense, I understand where the bishop is coming from. If you are providing children with a Catholic education, you might hire only teachers who either model the Catholic faith or at least are not antagonistic to it. Faith is not just a matter of beliefs, after all, but a lifestyle.

Interestingly, Vasa doesn't zero in on matters of dogma. He doesn't worry whether his school's teachers believe in heaven, the Resurrection or the earthly existence of Jesus. His target is the list of 21st century controversies that have divided Catholics for years -- abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage, among others. To conservatives, these issues are contentious because many in the Church are insufficiently obedient to the magesterium, the teaching office of the Church. It's time to weed the garden, they believe, of dangerous species that will blight our pure crop. But aside from a few chronic malcontents, which you will find everywhere, the trouble is not that Catholics are perversely attached to evil, but that they find the Church's views unconvincing or out of step with current understanding. For an uninformed Catholic to support abortion is one thing. But for a Catholic who has read the relevant Church documents, followed the news and perhaps even known of cases where abortion was considered, and has thus has come to a more nuanced view of the issue than the Church, well that's something else entirely. For such person, loyalty oaths like Vasa's demean their conscientious search for truth, reducing their participation in the mystery of Christian life to being mere cogs in a diocesan morality machine.

It is time for church leaders to stop administering loyalty oaths and to start engaging in fruitful dialog with the people of God. God works through our lives and voices as well as those of the bishops.