At face value, it seems to be a legitimate employer's request ("Diocese requires teachers to follow church doctrine," Thursday). That is until you remember that these directives are imposed on teachers who may or may not be Catholics.

The "Addendum: Bearing Witness" attached to the teacher's contract requires all educators to pledge allegiance "to what the church holds and professes" or lose their jobs. The principal of Cardinal Newman brushes this off as just a minor blip in a process that some of us believe to be a serious moral error.

How can you breach the conscience of anyone, but more specifically the non-Catholic teacher who was hired to teach math, not to be "the ministerial agent of the Bishop"? Shall he be fired for speaking the truth? Will we substitute with a mediocre math teacher just because he will sign the document?

Some Catholics are not surprised by these recent developments. In fact, we are waiting for the next shoe to drop. I spent an afternoon reading through Bishop Robert Vasa's letters to the Diocese of Baker, Ore. The next document to test the orthodoxy of the Catholics in Santa Rosa, and to determine who has the right to serve the Catholic Church, will be the "Affirmation of Personal Faith."

If you want to teach catechism, serve as a Eucharistic minister, sing in the choir or be a lector, you must prove your worthiness by signing the "affirmation," which is no affirmation of faith in the gospel sense of that word. It is not about loving God and loving your neighbor, nor is it about exercising the virtues of the beatitudes, and it is definitely not the faith that can move mountains. In actuality, it is a loyalty oath, not to God but to the reigning teaching authorities in the Roman Catholic Church. "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God."

What follows in the document are paragraphs dedicated to practices and doctrines which have come under scrutiny since the Enlightenment: 1) abortion and euthanasia; 2) contraception; 3) gay marriage; 4) homosexual sex; 5) Eucharist; 6) Mary; 7) hell; 8) purgatory; 9) church authority; 10) church authority; 11) church authority. This document reads like a litany of the Catholic Church's progressive loss of authority.

No nuances here, which in the past meant you should have: condemned Galileo, tolerated slavery, approved the use of torture, accepted the damnation of non-Catholics and protested most of the freedoms we take for granted, including freedom of religion, the press and the separation of church and state.

Noticeably omitted, however, are references from the Roman Catholic Catechism (1782) that outline the role of personal conscience: "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters."

But there is no room for personal conscience in this "affirmation."

I would not sign this faux creed that equates masturbation to fornication and assumes that church authorities can do no wrong, and certainly stands on the premise that church teachings are not subject to change. We know better.

My suggestion to those who are asked to assent to these statements skip the, "I do believe" and cut to the deferential, "Yes, Sir." It seems that the injunction of Jesus to his disciples has not been heeded. "You know that among the pagans, the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant" (Matthew 20:25-26).

Advice to the teachers facing a very real moral dilemma: Follow your conscience.

Cynthia M. Vrooman, a resident of Sonoma, worked for the Catholic church for 47 years including as director of adult education for the Santa Rosa Diocese on the Mendocino Coast.