Back in 2004, the Bishop of Baker (USA), The Most Reverend Robert Vasa, D.D., J.C.L., wrote a pastoral letter to his diocesan Lay Ministers in which he spoke of his need as Bishop to be assured that those who undertake a lay ministry in the diocese are, well...., to coin a phrase,
'fit for mission.'
Here is the letter and below some of the points he made:
'I also have a responsibility before God to be
a Shepherd and a Teacher.
A shepherd who does not check to see who is minding the flock is not
imitating Christ, the Good Shepherd.
You would be very angry at me if I permitted someone to teach your child who had been fired
from a teaching job for inappropriate actions with children. Your anger would be justified. You
would likewise have cause to be angry with me if I permitted a person lacking all faith in the Eucharistic Presence to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or to serve as a
Catechist for First Communion. A failure on my part to verify a person’s suitability for ministry
would be judged as seriously negligent. While I may want to ‘presume’ a person’s appropriateness for ministry such presumptions are not sufficient
As chief shepherd of the Church of Eastern Oregon I also need an assurance that those
who serve in official capacities hold interior dispositions consistent with Church teachings. Unfortunately,
in our present day, a presumption that this is so is not always valid. The only way I
can verify this is to ask, and so I am asking.'
So, what is the good Bishop asking?
He is asking, nay, requiring, that Lay Ministers:
' state unequivocally: “I believe
and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed
by God.” '
And just to be clear, he spells out what that means:
'A non-exhaustive list of these is provided in the form of individual affirmations. They include
statements on the inviolability of human life, the sinfulness of contraception, the evil of extramarital sexual relationships, the unacceptability of homosexual relationships, the wrongness of cohabitation before marriage, the significance of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the legitimacy of Marian devotions, the existence of hell and purgatory, the uniqueness of the Catholic Church, the legitimacy of the Holy Father’s claim to infallibility and the moral teaching authority of the Catholic Church.'
Bishop Vasa continues:
'if anyone is unable in good faith to make the Affirmation then this indicates a need to study and understand the Faith more thoroughly before seeking approval for public ministry.'
Bishop Vasa's requirements seem to me to be a necessary pre-requisite for anyone wishing to assist the work of the Church, after all, who can give what he does not have?
Perhaps there are Dioceses in the UK that might profit from Bishop Vasa's approach to lay ministry, and reap the benefits.
From a parent's point of view, it would be wonderful to be assured that those who are involved in any such ministry to children, are themselves fully in communion with the Teaching and Magisterium of the Church, completely free of other agenda.
I wonder if Bishop Vasa has met Bishop O'Donoghue of Lancaster, UK? Somehow, I think they might have much in common!
And speaking of the latter, I am led to believe that a further instalment in the 'Fit for Mission' series may be out soon. I'll be looking forward to that.