Fidelity Oaths Revisited – part 1

Last week I wrote briefly about the rise in so-called “fidelity oaths” in which Church workers are being asked by local bishops to pledge their belief in and support of positions put forth
by Church office-holders.

As I concluded my comments I wrote this: “Anyone who fully understands and values the breadth and depth of Catholic Christianity must be appalled by this trend, especially when such oaths appear to be written in ways that clearly are contrary to Catholic teaching.”

I realize that this broad declaration needs further clarification, not only for those who may be less familiar with the “breadth and depth of Catholic Christianity,” but also for those who may be wondering why, precisely, might such oaths be “contrary to Catholic teaching.”

Here are three reasons:

  1. First, they offend the principle which respects the primacy of the well-formed conscience in moral decision-making.
  2. Second, they can exemplify a type of creeping infallibility that seems to be a growing trend in some quarters of the Church.
  3. Third, and most important, they seem to usurp the fidelity oath that we already have as Catholic Christians, i.e. the Creed or Profession of Faith we profess at every Sunday liturgy.

I’ll write about each of these over the next week or so. But in order to understand the first point in particular, as well as to set this in a specific context, it would be helpful to look specifically at an example of what one such “fidelity oath” states and demands. As referenced in the Washington Post article, the former bishop of the Diocese of Baker (Washington) included the following in that diocese’s 201-page Pastoral Guidelines from 2006 (full text here). (These Guidelines, by the way, go so far as to include the Archdiocese’s of Los Angeles’ list the vintages and vineyards of wines – California produced, of course – that are “approved to sacramental use.”).

Lest I be accused of taking something out of context, here are three relevant sections:

25. The Affirmation of Personal Faith asks candidates for ministry to state unequivocally: “I believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” This carries with it the affirmation of specific teachings of the Catholic Church. 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 extra-marital 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.

26. It is hoped that no one who presently serves will be excluded from future ministry as a result of this insistence on a clearer Affirmation of Personal Faith but 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. In the event that someone indicates that they cannot make the required Affirmation no public announcement will be made about the reasons for their end of service. An inability to make this Affirmation does not necessarily exclude someone from the possibility of receiving Holy Communion but it would indicate a need to look at his or her own life more carefully and consider, before God, the acceptability of his or her moral status.

27. While there is a possibility that someone may object that such a policy is an unjust infringement on an individual’s right and duty to follow their own conscience such an objection is invalid. Conscience is not something which exists in a vacuum. No one can claim a legitimate right to follow a conscience which is clearly not formed in a fashion consistent with the very clear teachings of the Catholic Church. The following of one’s own conscience is a strict moral obligation but that obligation is preceded by the obligation to assure that the conscience one is following is properly formed. When that conscience leads to judgments which are diametrically opposed to the clear and consistent teachings of the Catholic Church then the conscience has established itself as a new and individual, infallible personal magisterium which far exceeds the definition of conscience. Furthermore, it is one thing to claim a right to follow one’s conscience, even if it is erroneously formed, it is quite another to insist that one be afforded certain privileges, to which one has no right, while following that manifestly ill-formed conscience.

to be continued…

One thought on “Fidelity Oaths Revisited – part 1

  1. I have been wondering – since I heard about this “Oath of Fidelity” – how much of the brain-washing endured as a child by Josef Ratzinger continues in his current role of Pope. Months ago I researched the “Oath” taken by Hitler Youth, adult soldiers, civil servants and civilians on August 2, 1934 and the days that followed. This new “Fidelity Oath” taken/to be taken by Church workers certainly, in my mind sounds very similar. Be aware, my friends, be very aware!

    The term Hitler oath refers to the oaths of allegiance sworn by German Wehrmacht officers and soldiers as well as civil servants during the Third Reich between the years 1934 and 1945. The oath pledged personal loyalty to the person of Adolf Hitler in place of loyalty to the constitution.

    1 Background
    2 Text of the oaths
    2.1 Wehrmacht oath
    2.2 Civil servant oath
    3 Consequences
    4 See also
    5 References
    6 Notes
    7 External links

    [edit] Background
    The death of 87-year-old Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934 removed the final obstacle to Adolf Hitler obtaining absolute power over Germany. Even before Hindenburg’s death, Hitler’s cabinet had enacted a law combining the offices of Chancellor (the head of government) and President (the head of state); Adolf Hitler would henceforth be known as Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor) and was both head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The day of the President’s death, the cabinet ordered a plebiscite for August 19 for the German people to approve the combination of the two offices.

    The oath was the initiative of the Defence Minister General Werner von Blomberg and that of the Ministeramt chief General Walther von Reichenau, the entire military took an oath of personal loyalty to Hitler, who was most surprised at the offer; the popular view that Hitler imposed the oath on the military is false.[1] The intention of Blomberg and Reichenau in having the military swear an oath to Hitler was to create a personal special bond between Hitler and the military, which was intended to tie Hitler more tightly towards the military and away from the NSDAP (Blomberg later admitted that he did not think through the full implications of the oath at the time).[2]

    Germany’s voters went to the polls and 89.9% voted their approval for Hitler to assume complete power over Germany. The following day, August 20, 1934, the cabinet decreed the “Law On The Allegiance of Civil Servants and Soldiers of the Armed Forces”. (Gesetz über die Vereidigung der Beamten und der Soldaten der Wehrmacht), which superseded the original oaths. Prior to the decree, both members of the armed forces and civil servants had sworn loyalty to “the People and the Fatherland” (Volk und Vaterland); civil servants had additionally sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of Germany.

    The new law decreed that instead, both members of the armed forces and civil servants would swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler.

    [edit] Text of the oaths
    [edit] Wehrmacht oath
    in German ‘Die Vereidigung der Wehrmacht auf Adolf Hitler, 2.8.1934

    “Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid, daß ich dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes Adolf Hitler, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht, unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will, jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen.”

    The Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler, 2 August 1934

    “I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”

    [edit] Civil servant oath
    Diensteid der öffentlichen Beamten

    Ich schwöre: Ich werde dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes Adolf Hitler treu und gehorsam sein, die Gesetze beachten, und meine Amtspflichten gewissenhaft erfüllen, so wahr mir Gott helfe.

    Service oath for public servants

    I swear: I will be faithful and obedient to the leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, to observe the law, and to conscientiously fulfil my official duties, so help me God!

    [edit] Consequences
    By swearing loyalty to the person of Adolf Hitler rather than the nation or the constitution, the officers and men of the armed forces found themselves bound by their honor to the Führer, even after Hitler had set out down the path to war and ordered the Wehrmacht to commit war crimes. Among the infamous crimes were atrocities in Poland and the Commissar Order in the Soviet Union.

    As the dictator’s desire for war became increasingly clear in late 1938 during the Sudetenland crisis, a number of Wehrmacht officers hatched plans for a conspiracy against Hitler that was to be launched as soon as the dictator launched the invasion of Germany’s neighbor; the Munich Agreement put an end to the dispute as well as the plot against Hitler. Though historians cite a number of factors why Hitler’s opponents within the armed forces failed to act when they realized the dictator’s aims, their reluctance to violate their personal oath of loyalty is cited as a prominent factor.

    The oath is prominently featured in the film Valkyrie, about the 1944 military plot against Hitler.


    Each member of the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) swore an oath of personal allegiance to Adolf Hitler — and not to the constitution. This oath went into effect on 2 August 1934, the day that Reich President Paul von Hindenberg died, and Hitler immediately consolidated the offices of president and chancellor.

    As Louis L. Snyder succinctly states in his Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, “The rule of traditional law was now finished (156).” (For more information, please refer to the Works Cited at the end of this document.) The text of this oath, in German and in English, is as follows:

    Die Vereidigung der Wehrmacht auf Adolf Hitler, 2.8.1934

    “Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid, daß ich dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes Adolf Hitler, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht, unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will, jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen.”


    The Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler, 2 August 1934

    “I swear by God this sacred oath that I shall render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich, supreme commander of the armed forces, and that I shall at all times be prepared, as a brave soldier, to give my life for this oath.”


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