Modern loyalty oaths vs. all those ancient doctrines?

I have reached three basic conclusions after reading the same front-page Washington Post story that Mollie responded to earlier today.

You see, without knowing it we both started pounding out our own separate reactions. As you would expect, there’s quite a bit of overlap. Nevertheless, I have some reactions that add to her take on this.

Let’s start with three basic observations, after mulling over the contents of this story:

(1) It appears that liberal Catholics listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Conservative Catholics prefer, for some reason, to listen to fallible men called “bishops.”

(2) The Post seems to love, love, love believers whose approach to doctrine and church history mirrors that of the modernized Episcopal Church, especially when those people are billed as reformers in the Roman Catholic Church.

(3) Based on years of reading Post coverage of the many doctrinal battles between liberal and conservative Episcopalians, it appears that it absolutely crucial for conservative Episcopalians to obey their liberal bishops (and everyone heads to secular courts if they cannot work things out), but it isn’t terribly important for liberal Catholics to obey their conservative bishops, even when those bishops are acting in obedience to that Bishop of Rome guy.

MZ’s post contains the story’s crucial quotes, but I believe that it is truly crucial for GetReligion readers to read the whole Post report — just to be fair. Pay special attention to the references to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

For me, the key to the whole Post story is that the bishops, and their acolytes, appear to be charged with defending the opinions — political in nature, of course — of elite church officials who exist in the here and now. For example, centuries of church teachings on abortion represent a political statement in this day and age, not an affirmation of, let’s say, the doctrines stated in the First Century document called the Didache. What we have here is the current pope ordering the current bishops to enforce orthodoxy on modern opinions about modern political controversies. Ancient doctrines? Creeds? What?

As it should, the Post story includes lots of quotes from Catholics who are critical of the pope and the bishops. However, these quotes clearly establish their anger with the church hierarchy, but never offer firm details on the unorthodox beliefs of these liberal Catholics.

Let me underline, once again, one of the story’s crucial quotes, from protestor Kathleen Riley:

“I’m just shocked, I can’t believe they’re asking me to sign this,” said Riley, who said she may keep her own children out of the parish education program in the fall. “The bishops are human, and sometimes their judgment is not God’s judgment. We always have to be vigilant about that. The Holy Spirit gives us the responsibility to look into our own consciences.”

So Riley disagrees with the bishops. We got that. But, just as a statement of essential facts, did she say which church teachings she has chosen to reject? That would have been good to know. I mean, what is at stake here? The implication is that these disputes are about abortion, contraception and gay marriage — but readers never find out the specifics, in terms of the beliefs of the Catholics who are refusing to sign on the bottom line.

One final point: The Post story contains one or two snippets of these doctrinal statements, but never an actual body of quoted material from an oath being used in an Diocese of Arlington parish. That’s a major hole, for me.

Thus, with a few clicks of a mouse, I found the following (.pdf document), posted on the website of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Warrenton, Va. This text would shock Episcopalians, I am sure, but not many pro-Vatican Catholics. This oath for teachers begins like this:

Being a practicing Catholic means that one follows the precepts of the Church and is loyal to the teachings of the pope (Vicar of Christ), in regards to issues of faith and morals (i.e. abortion, contraception, etc.). I realize that the Catholic Church is guided by the Holy Spirit until the end of time and is therefore infallible in regards to issues of faith and morals. I obey the Magisterium (bishops and the pope) of the Catholic Church realizing that it was Christ Himself who gave our first bishops authority when He said:

“As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” John 20:21

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven.” Matthew 18:18

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and teach all nations ….. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” Matthew 28:20

“He, who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me.” Luke 10:16

And all the people said, “Amen.” Or not. That’s kind of the point.

IMAGE: A bunch of those bishop-type guys, gathered in Nicea.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Randy

    The framing is simple. The Holy Spirit is guiding the guys you agree with. The real story here is the wedge this can put between liberals and orthodox. The church has quietly allowed many dissenters to serve in many ways. That includes positions of power in the church. That is slowly changing. this is one instance of that. That change is huge for the Catholic church. Liberals predict disaster. Orthodox predict utopia. Probably neither is going to be completely right but it will be interesting. If the press could stop cheer leading long enough to pay attention then maybe more readers would become interested.

  • Bill

    As a member of the Diocese of Arlington which has been targeted by M. Boorstein in the past, as a member of a parish that M. Boorstein has targeted in the past and as the husband of a woman that M. Boorstein has quoted out of context while targeting all of the aforementioned groups, I’m not surprised either. I am surprised that she’s still employed – given the biased and inflammatory nature of her previous work.

    What I can’t understand, however, is that several months ago a bishop looked at methods used by the Nazi party to marginalize and vilify the Catholic Church and (right or wrong) compared those tactics to recent activities of the government. He was attacked and lambasted for being a horrible, insensitive, partisan brute. Yet, this article makes the same association with “people who say to do everything the church says.” Conservatives lose their jobs over less.

  • Bill


    Apparently there are two Bills posting. (I m not the one above.) As Julia put it when there were two Julias, I’ve been here for a while and wouldn’t want to hang the albatross of my scribblings on anyone else. Is there a way to avoid this?



  • MJBubba

    (2) The Post seems to love, love, love believers whose approach to doctrine and church history mirrors that of the modernized Episcopal Church, especially when those people are billed as reformers in the Roman Catholic Church.

    Succinctly put. The Washington Post cannot report the news without spin. They seem less and less interested in “the American model of journalism.”

  • Jon in the Nati

    For me, the key to the whole Post story is that the bishops, and their acolytes, appear to be charged with defending the opinions — political in nature, of course — of elite church officials who exist in the here and now. For example, centuries of church teachings on abortion represent a political statement in this day and age …

    That is because, when many secular people (and especially those who are very interested in politics) think about religion in general and Christianity in particular, the bottom line always comes back to which political tribe is being supported. It is the politics that matter; one reason for voting Democrat or Republican is just as good as the next. This is far and away the approach one finds in the MSM; one needn’t think long on the matter to understand why.

  • David Paggi

    This episode reminds me of the coverage following Pope Benedict XVI’s election. Typical articles followed what essentially was either a political or marketing perpsective, first citing those dissenting or departing from the Church, then offering various accomdations that could be implemented to broaden the Church’s appeal. Of course in the miracle of modern journalism, these would just happen to coincide with what would make the Church more palatable to the author, who fairly universally betrayed they had no clue that they had no clue about their subj

  • David Paggi

    Surprisingly, the exception to this was Business Week, which pointed out that for the Vatican, time is measured in centuries, not quarters. This remarkable article gave an entirely different view that treated the Church with the respect due the world’s oldest continually functioning institution, which contrasted sharply with those whose reporting was imbued with their distaste for the aliens they were obliged to cover (or Neanderthals, depending more on the author than the outlet). The writer for BW (whom I don’t remembe, as I caught this at the dentists’) went to some pains to explain that a new Pope was not the occasion for wholesale change, without at all appearing to be an apologist or spokesman for tbe faith.

    I suppose the fact that I recall it so vividly says something about the dismal quality of most reporting on the Church in the popular press; Ms. Boorstein’s article is all too typical.

  • David Paggi

    BTW, I certainly wouldn’t want Ms. Boorstein to teach my kids Catechism. More importantly, I wouldn’t want her teaching them Journalism, and that is the real point here. Because of my personal interest and study, I happen to know how egregiously she got it wrong. How then could I trust her reporting on another subject that I was not well informed about?

    Even that doesn’t really get to the problem, because as a reader, my judgement really doesn’t go farther than the water-cooler, or readers of this comment. This writer is reaching millions of people on the strength of one of the most respected and influential papers in the country and the world. Any other professional person who was this ignorant of his or her subject matter would by liable for malpractice.

    However since we ARE discussing the journalistic practices of the journal of record for our Nation’s Capital, with world-class writers and editors, the excuse of ignorance really doesn’t apply. …

  • Fr. Martin Farrell, op

    As I read the Post article yesterday, and then this review today, all I could think of was a quote I heard years ago from a priest-friend of mine who has had some broad experience dealing with people like Kathleen Riley, M. Boorstein, and those who set the standard at the Post for reporting on things Catholic: “We all know that the Pope can’t be infallible, because he disagrees with YOU.”

    Your point about the issues with which Riley disagrees is right on target. Who knows what they are? Did anyone think to ask? Why does she object to these doctrines, whatever they are? Are those objections based on sound philosophical and theological principles based on orthodox Christian teaching, or merely the uncomfortable feeling she gets as she considers the difficulty of having to challenge her own long held notions or preferences? What’s the Church’s rationale for insisting on the importance of these doctrines, especially in the face of the fact that so many other Christian bodies have given the up?

    THIS is the kind of thing I’d like to see reported. But, then again, people in Hell would like icewater.

  • Cassandra

    Here’s link to the bishop’s letter:

    I couldn’t sign it actually. It uses the old translation of the Nicene Creed “…of one Being with the Father…”. Sloppy language which leads to sloppy theology. I’d make them amend the doc first.

  • Meg

    “Pro-Vatican Catholics” strikes me as just as vague as the generalizations made in Boorstein’s article.

    Also, I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that the teacher’s oath you have posted here is not the one that is described in the article.

  • tmatt


    When I use that pro-Vatican label, it is always in the context of debates about doctrine. I mean people who, literally, support the Vatican on doctrinal matters, as opposed to those who do not. I have not, however, chosen to speak of anyone as anti-Vatican.

    On the teacher’s oath, yes, I saw that. Clearly what I put up was one that WAS ALREADY BEING USED at a parish in the diocese.

  • Hieronymus

    ““This is not in the spirit of what people go to a Catholic church for, which is community and a loving, welcoming environment…” Zagarri said in an interview for this article.
    This is the heart of the problem – confusing the Church with a golf club…

  • Contra

    I think the heart of the issue is that the media has largely sold out to the efforts of those Catholics who feel that they have discovered the truth or the lack thereof and have set out to establish an anti-magisterium. People naturally side with and argue for those they agree with and the media for the most part does side with the false parallel authorities and their anti-magisterium.