In the news this morning the secular press is commenting on the proposed requirements put forth by His Eminence Cardinal Pell of Sydney, Australia which would require Catholic religious educators to make a public oath of fidelity to the Church’s teachings. As it currently stands, all ranks of clergy as well as seminary professors and Rectors take this oath prior to their respective ordinations and assignments. It has traditionally been called, “The Oath against Modernism.”
The oath originated with St.Pope Pius X in September of 1910. Since the Second Vatican Council the term modernism has been dropped from the prescriptions of the oath. Regardless of the terminology the oath seeks to secure from an individual a, “religious submission of intellect and will.” Gaudium et Spes, The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Such an oath tries to ensure that individuals entrusted with teaching the Catholic faith are in conformity to the Church’s moral as well as ethical teachings.
After all, generations of future Catholics and their beliefs are intertwined with the correct applications of Church teachings by today’s religious educators and catechists. Cardinal Pell’s proposed requirement makes strong sense in a shrinking world of ordained Catholic educators. Perhaps in the 20th century the “oath” made quite a bit of sense for just clergy and religious officials to undertake its requirements. However, in the 21st century, the Church is a different place, with different peoples spreading the Church’s teachings.
Religious education today involves more participation by non-clergy when it comes to sacramental preparation, moral instructions and ethical responsibilities. It makes only for a stronger argument to assure Catholic faithful that the message they are being taught is correctly Catholic. One of the largest considerations in our pluralistic society is the correct and consistent transmission of Catholic beliefs and teachings. It appears that Cardinal Pell is seeking to guarantee such teachings remain true to the message. Besides, this approach is nothing really different or new.
The assumption is simply that individuals that profess fidelity to the Church’s moral and ethical teachings publically affirm this belief. Hopefully, if the individual is already in a position that involves the academic and moral formation of the consciences of young Catholics they already adhere to such an obligation. The public display of an “oath” would only reaffirm or strengthen this commitment. Any individuals that are not comfortable with such an affirmation of fidelity to the Church and Her teachings should most likely reconsider their occupational vocations and remove Catholic education from their resumes.
Perhaps part of the confusion surrounding this issue rests with the ever present issue of personal verses Catholic beliefs. The faithful Catholic during the course of their faith experience professes a deep conviction of religious faith in accordance with the teachings of the Church. Such a structure of moral and ethical belief is something that we assume every Catholic attempts to follow and uphold. It is part of who and what we are, and most importantly what we believe. Anyone that publically maintains an opinion that is contrary to the Church’s moral and ethical teachings is outside of the Church community of faith. So for example religious educators that advocate wavering views on issues such as birth control, homosexuality or the dignity of human life are indeed not meant to teach true Catholic theology.
The matter seems no more controversial than a faithful member of Judaism, preaching a religious component foreign to the expression of Judaism, or a Buddhist including a concept of Eucharistic theology in the pursuit of Buddha. Such inclusions would present obvious contradictions to those respective faiths, just like the inclusion of non-Catholic ideals would be an infection to Catholicism. In our society we have examples of oaths that are taken to ensure individuals life up to the standards of their profession. Physicians swear to Hippocrates. Police officers and judges raise their right hands and swear to faithfully observe the laws of their states and nation. The most visible oath we usually experience is every four years when a president’s term is either initiated or renewed, when the new chief executive swears (or affirms) “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.”
Public affirmation therefore to adhere to the proper execution and transmission of Catholic Church teachings is not something then that any educator should take lightly. When teaching an individual is sowing the knowledge for future theological expressions and beliefs on the part of their students. Personally the responsibility is quite a grave and serious matter, not taken lightly. If in fact individuals responsible for the correct formation and development of Catholic beliefs exhibited a deeper sense of gravity of the Catholic vocation and lifestyle, this issue of an “oath” to signify fidelity would be mute. Perhaps in our ever developing appreciation of the Gospel’s moral and ethical teachings there is a movement within the Catholic Church to ensure moral and theological consistency of all its educators. While, Cardinal Pell is, “down-under”, his mandate makes a strong positive argument for such an oath worldwide by non clergy educators.
The matter is not about weeding out unfaithful Catholics. It is not about erroneous doctrinal or moral teachings. The oath’s purpose is by all means intended as a public guideline to clearly proclaim and profess our most important teachings in relationship to moral and ethical matters. It does not appear as if there is any intent of malice or discrimination associated with Cardinal Pell’s requirement. The request to such an oath seems to reinforce policies and guidelines in place for Catholic education. Such a public proclamation should be viewed as an enhancement of the vocational nature of teaching Catholic and as an inspired responsibility on the part of all educators. Discussions that compromise the ethical integrity of Church teachings really do not belong in the classrooms, under the guise of religious opinion or personal feelings. The teaching and transmission of correct Catholic teachings is a responsibility entrusted to all of the baptized faithful. As members of the Catholic Church we all have an obligation to make sure our Catholic educators do not preach lifestyles or activities that are not reflective of Catholic moral norms. An “oath” of fidelity is really a public expression and affirmation to our commitments of Baptism. If Catholics in positions of responsibility are not willing to reaffirm and express this intrinsic beliefâ€¦they should seek other employment.