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Faith profession implemented for all in catechesis
New policy ‘a public way of witnessing to the faith’
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald

In a move that will go into effect Sept. 16, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde has directed that a “profession of faith” declaring assent to all church teachings be made by all teachers of the faith, including catechists, youth ministers and religion teachers in the diocese.

The policy, announced in a letter to pastors and parochial administrators from Bishop Loverde dated May 10, stressed “the pressing need to hand on our Faith in an integral, comprehensive and clear way” and “the need to assure sound teaching in our catechetical programs” in order that Catholic youths “truly be formed as authentic disciples of the Lord Jesus.”

The profession contains the Symbol of Faith (the Nicene Creed); a declaration of belief in “everything contained in the Word of God,” whether written or handed down in church tradition; an affirmation to “accept and hold” what the church definitively teaches on faith and morals; and an affirmation to “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect” to the authoritative teachings of the pope and the bishops.

The last phrase, especially, sparked a response by a handful of local catechists in a story for The Washington Post Thursday — as well as a commentary by Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter — who took umbrage with what they called the “fidelity oath.”

But Father Paul deLadurantaye, diocesan secretary for religious education and sacred liturgy, said the profession wasn’t an oath at all, but “simply the profession of our faith, which all Catholics are called to do in different circumstances in life.

“The hope is that all teachers of the faith see church teaching as true and try to shape their lives to it,” Father deLadurantaye said.

The church isn’t looking for perfect people to teach catechesis, but rather for all teachers to have the desire to strive for complete understanding of the Church’s teaching, he said. And this includes the more controversial issues in the church such as contraception, reserving priestly ordination to men alone and traditional marriage. He sees the profession of faith as an opportunity for each teacher of the faith to evangelize not only outwardly, but inwardly.

“If I’m going to go out and proclaim the faith to others then I have to look within to say, ‘Do I hold it? Do I believe it? Do I know what I believe? Am I ready to do this?” he said. “And if somebody does have a question, a concern, a difficulty, (the goal is) that they make a sincere and honest and sustained effort to try to overcome it.”

The idea for implementing a diocesan-wide profession of faith came in part from the pope’s proclamation of the upcoming Year of Faith, beginning Oct. 11, and in part from a “grassroots proposal” from a group of directors of religious education who already had implemented professions of faith at the parish level, Father deLadurantaye said.

This is “a public way of not only witnessing to the faith, but also providing an opportunity for other parishioners to see men and women who generously step forward and give their time and energy, and who are saying this is what I believe and I’m going to teach it,” he said.

Pastors will take the lead in guiding their catechists to make their professions and the forms will kept at the parishes. The Office of Catechetics will send out in the near future further explanation and resources to help pastors, principals, directors of religious education and catechists with the affirmation.

Susan Doyle, director of religious education at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alexandria, said that while she “is prepared” for some level of difficulty from catechists, the profession is not all that different from an agreement she asks catechists to sign at the parish level when they are first interviewed.

“It’s not exceptional, really, to have the idea that we promise to adhere” to church teaching, Doyle said. “There is an element, especially as catechists, of protecting and defending (the faith). We’re talking about formation of souls, and we don’t get to come up with our own gospels or agenda.”

She asks her catechists to tell her if they “prayerfully” feel that they can’t teach a lesson so that she can step in and teach it instead.

“We have to be faithful,” she said. “For all of us, believing is a continuum. It’s something we struggle with.”

But the key is that catechists “assent to accept the teachings and struggle to the best of (their) ability and to believe this with my will and intellect,” she said. “But that has to be a sincere and genuine struggle.”

Doyle said she has concerns that the requirement will lessen the already light numbers of catechists.

“We’re already spread a little thin,” she said, adding that she’s already wondering if she’ll have to pair-up grades for next fall’s classes.

If any teacher of the faith does have difficulty signing or proclaiming the profession, Father deLadurantaye said he would encourage the catechist to “dialogue” with his or her pastor and “go from there.” If there’s a particular teaching that the catechist or youth minister finds it difficult to accept, he encourages dialogue to get to the bottom of the issue.

“But in the end, it comes down to, ‘this is what our faith is,’” he said. “If I’m going to be asked to be a witness to the Gospel, then I have to turn the spotlight on myself first and foremost and say, ‘Am I the witness Jesus wants me to be?’ That means not only in action and conduct and example but also in understanding the Gospel and being able to convey to others the content.

“The real context I think is simply in conjunction with the Year of Faith,” he said. “This is … just a public proclamation of faith in word and a visible gesture. And that we are proud of what we believe.”

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