Loyalty Oaths and Projection

I surely not a psychologist, but maybe having read enough books to be dangerous, I still have a sense of projection when I see it. So what’s with these loyalty oaths popping up all over the place?

If you listen to the Vatican II detractors, the Church started going downhill with sappy music, fabrics like felt and polyester, and such forty years ago. Call a council, and suddenly everything’s up for grabs. So why the fuss now? The hemorrhage is in full bleed-out, the patient is as pale as a vampire victim, and the nuns are out the cloister gate and on the bus.

I was reading about catechists declining to sign oaths in northern Virginia, and for what? Didn’t Jesus make a deal about our yes meaning yes and all? The faith formation directors I know put a lot of work into finding qualified parishioners. Most dioceses require or strongly urge certification. People are walking after being asked to sign loyalty oaths, and many of these same catechists were also required to do child protection training for the sins of priests and bishops.

George Mason University history prof Rosemarie Zagarri resigned as a volunteer catechist, objecting to the “slap in the face” to Catholics who have remained active and close to the church despite controversies. From her letter to Bishop Paul Loverde:

Although I fully understand the authoritative role of the Catholic hierarchy in defining the teachings of the faith, in my view only a person who is willing to abandon her own reason and judgment, or who is willing to go against the dictates of her own conscience, can agree to sign such a document.

I think we know what the reaction would be if bishops were required to sign an oath of morality for the protection of the innocent before they took the cathedra in their dioceses. There would be mewling from the crypt to the top of the steeple. And some canon lawyer would probably tell us it was all meaningless anyway.

While I recognize that the bishops have a legal authority to do this, many Catholics today recognize that they lack the moral authority. And perhaps this is what troubles them so deeply about the Catholic situation in this day and age. They’ve been on any number of hot seats: a pope and curia who seem to be selectively interfering on some important issues, but not all of them; clergy who have their own issues with support from guys who are mostly insulated from ordinary give-and-take with parishioners who live lives in the world; and from the laity who are watching every bishop carefully these days for any chink in the child protection armor.

Most bishops are wholly moral and good men. I have to wonder if the Holy Spirit is seeping out and they’re reacting in a right-angle way. Maybe they themselves really want to be loyal. But like many of us in the world, they have their first profound encounter with the sort of conflicts many of us face in balancing families, employers, citizenship, and our own desire for closeness and loyalty to God.

Meanwhile, I feel for my faith formation colleagues in loyalty zones. For the moment, I don’t have to screen choristers and instrumentalists. On the other hand, if bishops have to get out to the parishes and do their own teaching, at least they’d have less time for jetting to Rome and other places for committee work. At some point in all this, something’s going to give.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Loyalty Oaths and Projection

  1. Seriously… when I read it I felt faint. Then I felt angry.

    What I think of is this… when Jesus met and transformed someone, from lepers, to the Samaritan woman, to Zaccheaus, to Jairus and his daughter, he did not say much more than “you are healed,” and/or “go and sin no more.” He did not even command them to stick around…

    It seems draconian to me, and very pointless. I do not levy this criticism lightly, but it also has a very 1930’s Germany feel to it, or even that of a country behind the Iron Curtain. I shudder to think.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    These bishops who demand loyalty oaths are being disloyal to the magisterium, or does the dyspepsia and autocratic clericalist authoritarianism of contemporary bishops override the wisdom of prior popes? ….

    A century ago, the church was deeply divided over Pope Pius X’s campaign against “Modernism,” which was a catchall for anything Rome deemed suspicious.

    “When Pius X died, the conclave of 1914 elected Benedict XV, who immediately issued an encyclical (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_Beatissimi_Apostolorum) calling on Catholics ‘to appease dissension and strife” so that “no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith.’

    ‘There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of CATHOLICISM,’ he concluded. ‘It is quite enough for each one to proclaim ‘Christian is my name and Catholic my surname’ “
    David Gibson, “Who Is a Real Catholic?” The Washington Post, Sunday, May 17, 2009


    As a closing note ……

    “Vigorous minds will not suffer compulsion. To exercise compulsion is typical of tyrants; to suffer it, typical of asses.” (Erasmus)

  3. Liam says:

    The direct link to the oath, for readers who aren’t delving into the link:


    From the standpoint of language, the last three paragraph are squishier than one might at first imagine. That is, there are terms that beg the question, shall we say.

    And this is necessarily so because an oral or written oath can’t really accomplish what it’s supposed to do here. And, interestingly, that’s fitting, because the use of such a tool betrays a concern for form over substance, and by that very reality begs for mental reservations and question begging.

    Meanwhile, back in the real pasture….

    • Liam says:

      A more practical approach to the ostensible end would be a covenant not to intentionally teach what the bishop and pope tell them not to teach.

  4. Jen says:

    Things have to get worse before they get better, right?

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