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Bishop's reversal lauded

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 8:59 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 8:59 a.m.

Many in the St. Vincent school community expressed relief recently when Bishop Robert Vasa relented in his requirement that all Catholic school teachers in the Santa Rosa Diocese sign a controversial 'morals' addendum in order to keep their jobs.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity this week due to the ongoing controversial nature of the issue, one St. Vincent's teacher said that staff was pleased with the tone of Vasa's letter. “It highlighted his dedication to a more collaborative approach, especially with the pastors and principals who are closest to the mission of the school and its Catholic identity,” said the teacher. “I and everyone else I talked to was very moved by his letter.”

The addendum required all teachers — including non-Catholic teachers — to say they believe that issues such as contraception, abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia are “modern errors” that “gravely offend human dignity.”

In the wake of public outcry over the addendum, Vasa met with local pastors and school administrators last week and essentially reversed his edict, delaying the requirement for at least two years.

Many in Petaluma, including some faculty at St. Vincent de Paul High School, viewed the requirement as inconsistent with the beliefs of many Catholics in the community. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, staff and parents of students at local Catholic high schools called the document “discriminatory.”

After local Catholic teachers, former teachers, church members and students voiced objections, Bishop Vasa reevaluated his stance. “I recognized that I had failed to properly consult with and enlist the pastors of our churches who are the spiritual leaders in our schools,” Vasa said Monday. “It was a huge oversight on my part and I realized that.”

Vasa met with pastors of churches under the Santa Rosa Diocese as a group to discuss the teacher's contract addendum last Tuesday. Petaluma's Father Gary Lombardi, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul church in Petaluma, said that the Bishop was extremely attentive to what people had to say at the meeting.

“He was an active listener and very receptive,” said Lombardi. “He was really creatively engaged to find the best way to go forward.”

After meeting with the pastors, Vasa met with Catholic school administrators Thursday. By Friday afternoon, Vasa had sent a letter to all parents, faculty and staff at the schools under his diocese, reversing his order that teachers sign the 'morals' addendum by March 15.

In the letter, Vasa said he overlooked “the devotion and dedication of many in our Catholic schools who have labored and continue to labor with great love for the welfare of the children entrusted to our schools.”

Vasa added that he and local pastors decided that a longer implementation period for such an addendum would be required. Vasa gave a reprieve to all teachers under the Santa Rosa Diocese until the Spring of 2015. In the meantime, Vasa said he would continue to work on the matter with pastors and principals and hopes to have a revised addendum for teachers to sign in approximately two years.

“It was really more a question of how you accomplish the goal, rather than the goal itself,” said Lombardi, referring to the manner in which the addendum was brought forth. “Obviously, everybody's very happy that the Bishop has made this decision.”

Petaluma resident Linda Lipps, a retired Sonoma State University teacher who joined a local advertising campaign supporting Santa Rosa Diocese teachers last week, said that she is relieved that teachers opposing the morals addendum have more time to decide how to approach it now.

“I believe that religious views are very personal,” Lipps said. “I felt for the teachers who had no time to decide what to do and who may have felt like they were forced to sign this document just to keep their jobs. I'm delighted with the outcome and I hope that the bishop will use this time to learn about what truly makes a good teacher — their competency, their tolerance, their critical thinking and their kindness.”

Vasa said that in the future, it will continue to be his goal to make all the Catholic schools under the Santa Rosa Diocese “strong educational and faith-based institutions. It is important to remember that they are both educational and faith-based institutions,” he added emphatically.

The bishop said he plans to spend the next 21 months working with educators to prepare presentations on matters of the Catholic faith and its teachings. “It is now clear to me that there are a number of significant misunderstandings about what the Church teaches, as well as why,” he wrote in the letter. “This presents an opportunity to teach and I commit to take advantage of this opportunity.”

It appears that teachers at St. Vincent's are looking forward to working with the bishop in his efforts to educate those teaching at Catholic schools. “There's no reason why Catholic school teachers shouldn't fully understand the teachings of the Catholic Church, which I think many of us already do,” the anonymous teacher said.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at Janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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