Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Spiritual testosterone

March 26th, 2011, Promulgated by Mike

Bishop Robert Vasa was recently installed as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Santa Clara after serving for over a decade as ordinary of the Diocese of Baker.  According to a recent NCR article many in eastern Oregon lamented His Excellency’s exit while others expressed “delight or relief at his departure.”

Citing an 18% drop in the number of Catholics in the first 10 years of Bishop Vasa’s tenure despite a simultaneous 16% increase in overall population, NCR claimed that he had “in effect implemented” Pope Benedict XVI’s “notion of a smaller, more orthodox Roman Catholic church.”

Many attribute the decline to Vasa’s hard-line policies, rigid theological interpretations and what they describe as a markedly top-down leadership style short on compassion.

At the same time, supporters laud his “upholding of the magisterium” and “never compromising the faith,” in the words of one.

For his part Bishop Vasa seemed unapologetic …

“I would say the polarity here maybe has been emphasized a bit because I am standing in a position and in a way which has not been stood in as strongly before,” Vasa told NCR.

“I suspect Jesus was not all that popular, push come to shove,” he said. “There is always the possibility that someone is going to reject the truth, but that does not excuse me from teaching it.”

“Routinely and regularly I receive messages from across the U.S., both positive and negative, which would indicate that there are folks who feel polarized in their own diocese,” he said. “Some are praying that I never show up in their diocese, and some pray that I come there.”

“I think when someone stands up a little more strongly, a body of people are going to be very agreeable to that, while a body of people are going to find that very disagreeable. The more mellow an individual is, the less he does, the less he speaks, the fewer people he offends on either side,” he said.

“So it seems to me the more clearly we teach there is going to be an initial polarizing effect, but ultimately if we teach the truth” and “we teach that truth with compassion,” he continued, “people have to make a decision about that teaching. They can accept it, or they can reject it, but their acceptance or rejection is not the criterion for its truthfulness.”

And what did His Excellency do that ruffled so many feathers?  Judging by the space allotted to it, NCR seems to think his most egregious error was expecting Catholics to be … well … Catholic.

Vasa galvanized a traditionalist support base as well as outspoken opposition in 2004 when he promulgated a diocesan requirement that persons involved in parish ministries — notably in catechetics and service at Mass — provide full assent to a dozen doctrinal statements in what was called the Affirmation of Personal Faith

[Bishop Vasa introduced the Affirmation of Personal Faith in a 2004 Pastoral Letter entitled Giving Testimony to the Truth. Complete copies of both are available here.]

The required “affirmations” included teaching on homosexuality, contraception, chastity, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Mary, hell, purgatory and the authority of the church.

Objectors charged that the requirement was a thinly disguised loyalty oath devoid of room for individual conscience. Others questioned the choice of the stipulated teachings. Some pointed to what they said was a focus on “pelvic issues.”

Supporters praised the move, calling it timely and undiluted doctrinal teaching.

Vasa wrote at that time, “It may happen that some Catholics claim a right to ‘religious dissent,’ from even the serious moral teachings of the church” but this “does not carry with it a corresponding ‘right’ to hold positions of esteem as a catechist or liturgical minister.”

Parishioner Leigh Casler was among those who objected to the Affirmation of Personal Faith.

Casler said she wrote Vasa “numerous times” about the Affirmation of Personal Faith and met with him twice …

“During one of the audiences,” she added, “when I asked him about the importance of an individual’s conscience in terms of decision making, I remember very clearly that he said I had been improperly catechized. He said that if a person was properly catechized, his or her conscience would be formed by the Catechism and would naturally follow all the church teaching and that an individual’s conscience was only valid if it was in line with church teachings. It chilled me. Why did God give each of us a brain, a heart and the power to reason if he didn’t intend for us to use them?”

Not too surprisingly, NCR allowed Casler’s question to just hang there, unanswered. A more balanced account might have noted that His Excellency had already addressed her concerns in Giving Testimony to the Truth

While there is a possibility that someone may object that such a policy is an unjust infringement on an individual’s right and duty to follow their own conscience such an objection is invalid. Conscience is not something which exists in a vacuum. No one can claim a legitimate right to follow a conscience which is clearly not formed in a fashion consistent with the very clear teachings of the Catholic Church. The following of one’s own conscience is a strict moral obligation but that obligation is preceded by the obligation to assure that the conscience one is following is properly formed. When that conscience leads to judgments which are diametrically opposed to the clear and consistent teachings of the Catholic Church then the conscience has established itself as a new and individual, infallible personal magisterium which far exceeds the definition of conscience. Furthermore, it is one thing to claim a right to follow one’s conscience, even if it is erroneously formed, it is quite another to insist that one be afforded certain privileges, to which one has no right, while following that manifestly ill-formed conscience.

As one of Bishop Vasa’s supporters has said,

He stands his ground … It’s hard to continue saying there are absolutes in a world that is taught there’s no such thing as absolutes. I wish more bishops had the spiritual testosterone that he has displayed.

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2 Responses to “Spiritual testosterone”

  1. avatar Scott W. says:

    I’ll bet if one looks in any diocesan employee guideline or code of conduct (even the DOR I’ll wager) you will find language about agreeing not to teach anything contrary to the Church. Bishop Vasa’s Affirmation of Personal Faith just hones in on the sticky points like a laser. Would that all bishops did this.

    Also, he is dead on about improperly formed conscience. The funny thing is, if my conscience could not accept Church teachings, I’d leave for the sake of truthfulness and honesty; I wouldn’t hang around trying to undermine teachings because it’s sleazy.

  2. avatar militia says:

    Thank you, God, for good, faithful men like Bishop Vasa. When someone says they are “just following my conscience” about birth control, abortion, gay unions…..ask: “What is the difference between your conscience and your opinion?” Unfortunately, the facebook of the world is full of opinion without the foggiest idea of how to form conscience.


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