Catholic Teachers Refuse Profession of Faith

Some volunteer Sunday school teachers in a parish in Arlington, Virginia are having a hissy fit, such a hissy fit that they resigned. What angered these folks so much? It seems the Diocese of Arlington, following the lead of the pope, asked Sunday school teachers to declare their agreement with the teachings of the Church. Some refused.  

A month ago, Bishop Paul Loverde sent a letter to all diocesan teachers explaining that the upcoming Year of Faith “will involve renewed efforts at catechizing the whole Body of Christ. You, who work in collaboration with the pastors of the Church, know the pressing need to hand on our Faith in an integral, comprehensive and clear way, in order that all who are present in our parish religious education programs and Catholic schools may have the opportunity to enter into a living communion with Christ Jesus…”

Loverde then asks them to sign a Profession of Faith, which is quite unremarkable. It begins with the Profession of Faith all Catholics say at Sunday Mass. And then this:

With firm faith, I also believe in everything contained in the Word of God, whether written down or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.
I also firmly accept and hold each and every thing definitively proposed by the Church regarding 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.

To faithful Catholics, these are stirring sentences; to dissenters, well, not so much.  Diocesan spokesman Michael Donohue said, “I can’t imagine there are many teachers who have issues with the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.” And he would be right.

As a CCD teacher told me, “I’ve always assumed that parents are trusting me to help them teach their children the Catholic faith, and not some other ‘Gospel according to me.’  I take that trust very seriously.”

But there are a few dissenters, four anyway, and the Washington Post found them, or rather they found the Washington Post. Nothing quite like stamping your little feet and otherwise taking after Holy Mother Church on the front page of the local fish-wrapper.

The Post reported yesterday that the Holy Spirit has told Kathleen Riley not to sign the Profession and to resign from Sunday school at St. Ann Parish in Arlington: “as a fifth-generation Catholic who went to Catholic school and grew up to teach in one, Riley feels [emphasis added] the faith deeply woven through her.” However, “Riley knows her beliefs on the male-only priesthood and contraception put her at odds with the leaders of her Church.”

             The real St. Ann (Virgin and Child with Saint Ann by Albrecht Dürer, 1519)

Of course, this is simply a case of those nasty old “leaders” and nothing to do with the deposit of faith.  

Riley attends St. Ann Parish, known locally as an island of dissent in a sea of faithfulness. According the Post, “St. Ann’s is considered a community that deliberately doesn’t focus on such hot-button issues as abortion and same-sex relationships.”

From this, you would think one could hardly attend Mass in an Arlington-are Catholic church without being assaulted by the constant, even daily sermons on abortion and homosexuality. In fact, most Arlingtonians have likely never heard a sermon on homosexuality, only occasionally about abortion, and never ever even a single time about contraception.

Rosemarie Zagarri, a history professor at George Mason University, goes one further and calls St. Ann an “oasis of humanity.” The implications of this statement are simply breathtaking: Catholicism, inhumane; dissenters, humane.

Outside the parish school at St. Agnes Church in Arlington is a car with a Human Rights Campaign bumper sticker, that yellow arithmetic equal sign that shows among other things that the occupant does not agree with the teachings of the Church on human sexuality. The car belongs to a teacher at the school.

The Profession of Faith puts him in a bind. Maybe, though, just maybe it offers him a chance to reflect on the faith. It is at least remotely possible he has never looked deeply and prayerfully into the reasons for Magisterial teachings on homosexuality.

The bishops aren’t only looking for sound teaching in their schools. They are also looking to draw back those who have fallen away from the Church, even those Catholic teachers who may have fallen away from Catholic belief. The Profession is an invitation for the dissenters to reflect and also a promise to parents that their children will learn the faith and not something else.

But doesn’t this make the bishops like Nazis? The Post’s Michelle Boorstein, who seems to occupy the anti-Catholic desk, discovered that the Reverend Ronald Nuzzi, who heads the leadership program for Catholic educators at the University of Notre Dame, keeps a photo on his desk that purports to show German bishops giving the Nazi salute. Nuzzi says, “I keep it there to remind people who say to do everything the church says, that their wisdom has limitations, too.”

I am pretty sure that Bishop Loverde and other bishops asking for Professions of Faith are not Nazis (and that most German bishops knew the Nazis were very bad news).

I am reasonably certain what they are asking teachers to do is nothing similar to saluting Adolf Hitler. They are not asking anyone to leave the Church. They are not asking anyone to stop teaching. They are simply asking Catholic teachers to be Catholic.

For some Catholics, that seems to be too much to ask.


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.