The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese is requiring its 200 schoolteachers to sign an agreement affirming that "modern errors" such as contraception, abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia are "matters that gravely offend human dignity."
The move is an effort by Bishop Robert Vasa to delineate specifically what it means for a Catholic-school teacher -- whether Catholic or not -- to be a "model of Catholic living" and to adhere to Catholic teaching.
That means abiding by the Ten Commandments, going to church every Sunday and heeding God's words in thought, deed and intentions, according to a private church document that is an "addendum" to language in the current teachers' contract.
In his two years as Santa Rosa's bishop, Vasa has attempted to bring his strict interpretation of church doctrine to a diocese that historically has had a more tolerant approach.
But some teachers fear the addendum is an invasion of their private lives and a move toward imposing more rigid Catholic doctrine.
"Personally, it's probably something that I can't sign," said a teacher at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa.
John Collins, the diocese superintendent, said the contract language is not an effort to drive certain teachers away or "provoke" them. He said about 25 percent of the teachers are non-Catholic.
"People are being invited to grow in an understanding and appreciation and embrace of the Catholic faith," he said.
He said he did not expect that many teachers would reject the document, which they must sign if they are to return for the 2013-2014 school year.
The teacher, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said he has not made a final decision whether or not to sign the document.
"On my high moral days, I feel I absolutely won't sign," the teacher said. "And on my days that I think about my job, I think who will it affect if I don't sign it."
The teacher said he objects to the "whole idea that they want me to live their morals when it's my personal life what I do outside of work."
But Vasa said that very response is why he felt compelled to write the addendum. He questioned whether someone "can teach what the Catholic Church teaches with zeal and enthusiasm while holding, as they say, 'in the privacy of their heart' " views that are contrary to Catholic doctrine.
He strongly rejected the notion that the letter was a move toward greater religious dogma. "That's fear mongering, which does not in my view have a foundation in fact," Vasa said.
"I'm not presuming that the campus is liberal or conservative. I am simply fulfilling my duty and responsibility to make sure that the Catholic faith, as it is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is clearly and consistently taught in the Catholic institutions of the Diocese."
The issue is similar to one that arose in 2004 while Vasa was the bishop of eastern Oregon. At that time, he asked lay ministers to sign an "affirmation of faith" that called on them to accept the church's prohibition against contraception, premarital sex, masturbation, fornication, pornography and homosexuality as "gravely evil."
The contract addendum has been distributed to the 200 educators at 11 Catholic schools who are formally employed by the bishop. These schools, which include Cardinal Newman and St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma, have about 3,100 students. And additional four Catholic schools in the diocese are not under the direct authority of the bishop.