A Bishop With Testosterone

October 2004

Imagine! A Catholic bishop is requiring that all of the catechists, liturgical readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, cantors, and directors of youth activities in his diocese “believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God” — and “without reservation.” That bishop is Robert F. Vasa of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. The Bishop requires that lay leaders give full assent to an “Affirmation of Personal Faith” containing 10 particulars.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) of July 2 did a story on this, highlighting those who are objecting to Bishop Vasa’s policy. Wilma Hens told NCR she thinks the Affirmation is heavily focused on “pelvic issues,” which NCR says is “an observation echoed by many.” The Affirmation requires lay leaders to assent to 10 Catholic teachings pertaining to abortion, contraception, chastity (fornication, masturbation, extra-marital relations, pornography), homosexual acts, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary, Hell, Purgatory, the Catechism, and the authority of the Church. Only three are clearly sexual issues (contraception, chastity, and homosexual acts), or maybe four (if you count abortion, which is above all a murder issue). Many of those issues can send you to Hell — but, hey, they’re only “pelvic issues.”

Richard Groves, an ex-priest, whines that the Affirmation “does not presume trust.” Well, of course not. Heck, we can’t even trust our priests and bishops. We’ve heard many stories about lay leadership in parishes who are shacked up after a divorce, who have had themselves sterilized, who are active homosexuals, etc. If you read the polls, you know that Catholic approval of abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and pre-marital sex is about the same as other Americans. So of course you can’t trust lay Catholics. Bishop Vasa answers the does-not-presume-trust objection beautifully: “You would be very angry at me if I permitted someone to teach your child who had been fired from a teaching job for inappropriate actions with children. Your anger would be justified…. While I may want to ‘presume’ a person’s appropriateness for ministry, such presumptions are not sufficient…. I need an assurance that those who serve in official capacities hold interior dispositions consistent with Church teachings. Unfortunately, in our present day, a presumption that this is so is not always valid. The only way I can verify this is to ask, and so I am asking.”

Paul Dean says Bishop Vasa’s Affirmation is “divisive.” Well, of course. Dean has forgotten the words of Jesus: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk. 12:51).

But there’s another kind of divisiveness that we don’t need or want in the Church. As Bishop Vasa says: “A choice to act upon or express a view, under the guise of diversity, which falls outside of the defined moral parameters cannot be considered legitimate diversity. Such expressions…become not only illegitimate for the person who holds them but divisive and confusing for those who seek to know the authentic teachings of the Church. Such persons can become a ‘cause of stumbling,’ and if a Pastor or Bishop fails to act to correct the ‘false teaching’ then he too incurs the Lord’s condemnation as a ‘cause of stumbling.’ There is perhaps no stronger condemnation uttered by our Lord than that used in regard to leading His ‘little ones’ astray. He says unequivocally: ‘But if a man is a cause of stumbling to one of these little ones who have faith in me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea’…. These words have often been cited in reference to the scandal that has arisen due to the abuse of children by members of the clergy. The responsibility for that scandal has been placed at the feet of bishops…. The truth seems to be that there was an excess of compassion for erroneous priests…and a lack of resolve to deal with manifest sinfulness…. I have become increasingly convinced that there may be another much more subtle form of episcopal negligence…primarily spiritual…. Some suggest that the widespread legitimization of dissent from Catholic teaching plays a part in this scandal. This is an opinion with which I would agree…. It is necessary to look more deeply at the underlying spiritual causes…. We must also be intent on eliminating the possible sources of spiritual harm: scandal, false teaching, bad example, and the like” (italics added).


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New Oxford Notes: October 2004

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