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Voices Online Edition
Volume XVII, No. 2
Mandate to Teach All Truthby Sheila G. Liaugminas
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His final instructions to the Apostles gathered around Him on the mount. He said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt. 28:18-20). He told them to go out to all the nations and teach with that same, ultimate authority, making disciples of all who heard these truths and believed. He instructed them to baptize all new disciples in the name of the Trinity. And He promised: "I am with you always".
This was simple and clear enough to understand -- then and for all times. From then on, the Apostles carried out Christ's command, passing on the full deposit of the faith, laying their hands on their successors and conferring apostolic power and authority on them.
How have those successors done since then? In all ages, the popes and bishops have confronted distortions of the faith and truth as revealed by Christ, pressures of the culture to change what the Church teaches, and challenges to what comprises truth in the first place. In recent decades the confrontation has taken place on a slippery slope.
In his closing messages at the end of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI addressed scholars and scientists thus:
"Why a special greeting for you? Because all of us here, bishops and Fathers of the Council, are on the lookout for truth. What have our efforts amounted to during these four years except a more attentive search for and deepening of the message of truth entrusted to the Church and an effort at more perfect docility to the spirit of truth.... Recall the words of one of your great friends, Saint Augustine: 'Let us seek with the desire to find, and find with the desire to seek still more'. [W]ithout troubling your efforts, without dazzling brilliance, we come to offer you the light of our mysterious lamp which is faith. He who entrusted this lamp to us is the sovereign Master of all thought".
It was a reminder that what was imparted by He Who Is Truth never changes, and stands for all time as a light to guide all thought and effort.
At the very end of the closing messages, Pope Paul VI declared:
We have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, and so that, as it be judged and described, all efforts contrary to these things by whomever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance be invalid and worthless from now on" (emphasis added).
Pause to let that message sink in. Have the efforts to transmit the deposit of the faith through catechetical teaching been true to the decrees of Vatican II? Would that they had been.
"The postconciliar history of how Catholic professional religious educators (the 'religious-education establishment') have failed to teach the Catholic faith properly, and how they have trained others to do the same, is a long, complicated and rather depressing history". That is the analysis and report offered by Monsignor Michael J. Wrenn and Kenneth D. Whitehead in their book Flawed Expectations The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1996, Ignatius Press). The late Cardinal John O'Connor said of this book that it "shows how the high expectations that the Pope and the world's bishops had for the new Catechism as a powerful tool for evangelization have been met with opposition and dissent by those very people who should be using the Catechism in their work of teaching the faith".
Efforts Contrary to Vatican II
So where did things go wrong? The convergence of modern skepticism and relativism, along with the attractions of a secular, decadent and permissive culture, led people to abandon any traditional strictures on person or conscience. That easily led to a crisis of faith, and the consequence was that established Catholic doctrines, teachings and tradition were soon cast off carelessly. The Church tumbled into confusion.
"Examples abound, unfortunately, not only of significant errors, omissions, and distortions in many of today's religious education programs, texts, and teaching materials," write Wrenn and Whitehead, "but also of an apparent determination on the part of many in the religious education establishment to continue promoting a 'new catechesis' developed over the past half century. Some professional religious educators persist in promoting this new catechesis, in spite of its manifest failures, as evidenced by the lack of religious knowledge on the part of those who have been subjected to it".
What's worse, the authors continue, after the Second Vatican Council, this new catechesis "largely came to dominate the Church's official religious-education enterprise". This, they point out, in spite of widespread dissatisfaction and complaints from parents, pastors and teachers, who were then marginalized right out of the whole enterprise of religious education.
Over the years, today's Successors of the Apostles have issued many statements and guidelines in trying to sort out and solve the problems of modern religious education. "However",Wrenn and Whitehead contend, "there was generally little or no concrete follow-up by the hierarchy to determine whether anybody was really being guided by all the guidance that was issued.
"In fact, few ever really grasped what the problem with religious education was, and hence, generally, no fundamental challenge was ever made to the positions and assumptions that lay behind the new catechesisAs one generalization, the new catechesis no longer looks primarily to the Church's Magisterium for its fundamental guidance and inspiration. Rather, it looks to the modern social sciences and to fashionable new secular education theories.
"The new catechesis caught on both quickly and widely. Typically, it consists of generous elements of an ersatz, Neo-modernist nonfaith, when it does not actually contain certain elements of what could only be described as an antifaith.The consequences of the new approach also became evident rather quickly: neither the Catholic children nor the Catholic adults who were subjected to the new catechesis any longer knew or professed their Catholic faith properly. The faith of an entire generation of Catholics -some say two generations - was gravely compromised in this manner within a very few years".
What Is the "New Catechesis"?
This form and method of teaching the Catholic faith (or not) is a stripped-down and rebuilt vehicle for advancing a worldview and spirituality that, first of all, is certainly not Christocentric, which is the fundamental problem with it. It is a system best explained by an Australian Dominican nun who used to be a disciple of this modern teaching and practiced it herself for many years.
Sister Mary Augustine Lane in her article, "Why the 'new' catechetics is flawed", says,
"I admit to having been a devotee of the old 'new catechetics'. I say 'old' because as trends in education go, it has been around a long time and also because it is beginning to wear thin! It is, I believe, doomed to obsolescence. As far as I am concerned, it is obsolete now.
"Some of the fundamental assumptions on which it is based are: that religion is an emotional, imaginative experience; that it should be an emotional and imaginative experience (emphasis added); that God is 'there for us', not vice versa; that God wants above all for us to feel OK about ourselves - all the time; that God is Love and 'love is never having to say you're sorry'; that we are free and 'in charge' of our own lives and destinies; that our feelings are our own inbuilt measure of good and evil - objective laws that impinge on our perception of our own freedom are out; that 'real life' is here and now, and we should be more concerned with the earthly 'here and now' than with a heavenly 'who knows if and when'.
That is not too great an exaggeration. It is how I have taught the Faith for longer than I care to admit". (AD2000, May 1991 reprinted on web AD2000.com.au)
Success in the classroom, Sister Mary Augustine confides, meant how much fun the children were having and how much they liked religion class. "But if pressed, I would have had to admit that they retained very little beyond 'good feelings' and that they had no more than a hazy idea of the religious truths involved".
Then she taught at a girls high school, and ran out of ideas to keep their attention. "The students claimed to be tired of Scripture and were highly indifferent to activities such a drama, dance and collage-making". So Sister polled the girls on what they did expect of a religious education class. She found that "quite a few wanted to discuss the more sensational aspects of sexual issues. Many felt that religion had very little to do with life. Most just wanted to spend the time talking with their friends about - whatever! And these were girls who had had a solid diet of over 9, 10 or 11 years of the 'new catechetics' which is supposed to make religion so meaningful and alive for children"!
Sister Mary Augustine writes that she discovered the program's fundamental flaw. The girls, she said, considered religion a non-subject, in which they were least motivated, since they felt it contained no intellectual weight, was not examinable and held no real academic accountability.
"They had been fed the ideals of loving, caring and sharing in much the same contexts almost every school day for all those years. Now, 11 years later they were hearing the same messages in scarcely more developed form -- 'I am unique', 'people are gifts', 'I'm OK, you're OK'. They were even tired of hearing that God loves and forgives us. There is a necessary limit to what one can say or discover of matters religious when religion is centered on human experience".
And that's precisely the problem with the (old) "new catechesis" -- that it is centered on the individual, feelings, experiences, instead of Christ and the fullness, and mystery, of His life and teachings.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II states it clearly:
"The primary and essential object of catechesis is, to use an expression dear to Saint Paul and also to contemporary theology, 'the mystery of Christ' (no. 5). We must therefore say that in catechesis it is Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who is taught -- everything else is taught with reference to Him -- and it is Christ alone who teaches - anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ's spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips every catechist must constantly endeavor to transmit by his teaching and behavior the teaching and life of Jesus" (no. 6, emphasis added).
This is still not the case in a great many religion classes because the established powers behind the "new catechesis", its architects and engineers, are still preparing both the texts and resources, and still teaching the teachers who will use them.
In another AD2000 article, we read:
"For the past 30 years, trainee teachers passing through Australia's Catholic teachers' colleges have been fed a diet of trendy, vacuous, experiential catechetical content and methods. The legacy of this can be found among today's Catholic parents and teachers who are part of a context in which Mass attendances are barely 20 percent, and knowledge and practice of the Faith minimal".
"Can the tide of religious illiteracy be reversed?" AD 2000, November 1997 (reprinted on AD2000.com.au)
This mirrors the experience of college students in the United States who, though they have gone completely through the Catholic school system, have minimal or no "knowledge or practice" of the faith.
A Notre Dame student recently gave us his own observations and experiences of the faith aptitude of the student population. He comments that the students with a fervent faith had parents committed to the true faith, as do his own. "The kids who have a strong faith and knowledge of the faith are those whose parents made catechesis a top priority while raising their children", he states. But then there are the others....
"Confirmation classes at parishes are a joke, period, as are grade school and high school religion classes, at least at most Catholic high schools. Listening to friends from rival and sister high schools, and seeing the faith output, it was depressing. The all-girls school where I performed in spring musicals was more an angry, feminist, agnostic, priest-hating, men-hating, rule-hating school than it was a 'Catholic' school. My mom graduated from the same high school around twenty-five years ago, and at the reunion nearly every person there was a fallen-away Catholic or a fallen-away now revert".
Letter from Notre Dame student, May 2002
It must be many of their children who Notre Dame Professor Marian E. Crowe encounters in her Arts and Letters Core Course each year, which prompted her in frustration to write: "Although 85 percent of Notre Dame undergraduates identify themselves as Catholics, very few of them either know much about or understand even the most basic Catholic teachings, and a significant number report that neither they nor their families practice the faith", she reports in an article in Crisis. "I decided at the end of the semester to give my students a non-graded 'Catholic quiz' to which they could respond anonymously", she continues.
"I asked them to name the seven sacraments, the joyful mysteries of the Rosary, the liturgical seasons and their colors, and to define terms like 'Immaculate Conception' and 'Assumption'. I also asked some questions about Church history, such as what the Council of Trent was and when papal infallibility was defined; and I asked them to name one papal encyclical and its general theme. I also asked them to identify several saints and important people from Church history. The good news was that a little more than half of them could name the seven sacraments. The bad news was that most of them knew nothing else about Catholicism.
"I think it is important that the Catholic intellectuals of the future know something about the institution in which they practice their Christianity, and about what makes Roman Catholicism distinctive among Christian sects. How else will they be able in the future to answer the question 'Why are you a Catholic?' as opposed to an Episcopalian, a Baptist, a Unitarian, a Buddhist?
"Why do today's Catholic college students have so little interest in, respect for, or even knowledge of - let alone belief in - the historic claims of Catholicism to be the fullness of Christianity and to embody the authoritative apostolic tradition? Primarily because they have never been taught it. Of course, the situation bespeaks the critical, urgent need to do something about the deplorable state of catechesis in parish churches, especially for adolescents".
Marian E. Crowe, "Don't Know Much About Liturgy, Don't Know Much Theology", Crisis, March 2001.
How did it get this way?
How did we get to this critical point? The Successors of the Apostles have been aware for some time that they need to take this issue of catechetics in hand and order it to the true teachings of the faith, and they have had ample opportunity and direction. The Second Vatican Council called for a directory for catechetical instruction. Issued in 1971, this General Catechetical Directory covered what to teach in doctrine, and how to teach it in method.
According to Wrenn and Whitehead, this Directory "was one of the first official Church documents to recognize that the faith was endangered also from within the Church", by Catholics affected by secular entrapments. The Directory especially stressed the need to teach truth as the basis of all catechesis, it was virtually ignored by the professional religious educators who were running the programs. Ignored.
What did the hierarchy do? After six years of hammering out the details and gaining approval from Rome, the bishops released the National Catechetical Directory for Catholics of the United States in October 1978. It was another good guideline - which was again ignored by the religious education establishment. It is amazing that there were no consequences to this defiance. Though there certainly were casualties.
Wrenn and Whitehead quote a noted American catechetical specialist, The Rev. Alfred McBride, O.Praem., addressing the damage wrought from this experiment in liberal catechetics.
Some of the theologians and catechetical writers who were at the epicenter of "the chaos in religious education today", Father McBride stated, "were and are the major speakers at most religious education conventions.
"Through their books and articles and classroom indoctrination, they shape the minds of the leaders, who in turn pass this on to the classroom and volunteer teachers. They are not teaching Catholicism but rather a mélange of personal opinions that usually resurrect discredited nineteenth century liberal Protestantism and reflect New Age pieties".
"Why We Need the New Catechism: Vatican II Promise and Post- Vatican II Reality", in The Church and the Universal Catechism, ed. The Rev. Anthony Mastroeni, proceedings from the convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Steubenville, Ohio: Franciscan University Press, 1992), 39-40
Wrenn and Whitehead add: "At the same time, the tenets of other ideologies alien to the faith - radical feminism, extreme environmentalism, liberation theology have often been incorporated into modern catechesis and are now sometimes taught as tenets of the faith".
It is well worth recalling, as the authors point out, that the First Vatican Council dogmatic constitution Dei Filius addressed the need to stay true to the true faith. "For the teaching of faith, which God has revealed, has not been proposed as a philosophical discovery to be perfected by human ingenuity, but as a divine deposit handed over to the Spouse of Christ to be guarded faithfully and expounded infallibly" (p 87). Which hearkens back to Christ's instruction at the top of this story - and to what the bishops are doing to guard this "divine deposit" handed over by Christ. It is first and foremost their responsibility.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II on December 7, 1992, grew out of the growing concerns expressed at the 1980 Synod of Bishops about catechesis and the need for a clear, easily understood, definitive new Catechism restating the faith.
As the Prefect for the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote, in describing the astonishing interest in the new Catechism: "[I]nstead of representing a private opinion concocted by this or that individual, it draws its answer to these questions from a vast treasury of communal experience. But this experience in turn rests upon observations transcending the merely human, observations that transmit what was seen and heard by men who were in contact with God himself" (emphasis added). (Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism, Ignatius Press 1997).
How have the apostles' successors today, in the United States, assured that those truths are taught again and passed on in religious education? In 1990 the bishops adopted guidelines for sex education in Catholic schools, "Human sexuality, a Catholic perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning", intended, though not mandated, to aid publishers of student texts. These guidelines themselves caused concern. (See, for example, Margaret Whitehead's, "Sex Education: The Parents' Perspective, in Voices, January 1991.)
Because sex education is fraught with such serious problems, the matter is addressed repeatedly by the Holy Father in his writings. It was the abundance of such expressions of concern from parents that led the Pontifical Council for the Family to issue The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Guidelines for Education within the Family, in 1995 (TMHS - accessible in the Church documents section).
Quoting the Charter of the Rights of the Family, TMHS states: "Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them in conformity with their moral and religious convictions. (TMHS no. 42).
The Pope insists upon the fact that this holds especially with regard to sexuality: "Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them".
But parents are not in control of their children's sex education in schools.
In the same year that TMHS was issued, the US bishops conference decided to examine more closely how the Catechism was being used in school textbooks. The Office for the Catechism appointed an Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee Use of the Catechism (also known as the Catechism conformity committee) to conduct these reviews, but with a narrowly defined mandate.
This committee, whose chairman is Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, reported to the conference the results of a preliminary review bishops had made of texts used for religious education in Catholic schools - and listed a set of serious deficiencies the bishops encountered. (See below. This list was published in Voices, Summer 1997.)
But the committee's responsibilities were limited. They review only texts voluntarily submitted by publishers, and "conformity to the Catechism" is restricted to how the books cite doctrine contained in the Catechism.
The committee is not permitted to base its "conformity" judgments on how well or completely doctrine is taught. The committee's guidelines for publishers submitting texts for conformity reviews contains a disclaimer at the end. It states: "Publishers should note that the conformity review of the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism pertains to content only. It makes no judgment regarding methodology".
That means that the committee cannot reject books whose presentation of Church teaching is deficient, as long as it cites the Catechism correctly.
Why is this? Especially in light of a greater mandate issued by Pope Paul VI, in response to a Vatican II mandate, that the publication of the General Catechetical Directory would establish the norm for both the content and method of passing on the deposit of the Catholic faith through catechesis. Why was this committee of bishops - some of whom openly said they were "shocked" by the deficiencies they saw - made to depart from this directive? This restriction has left open the door to all sorts of errors, revisionist history and immorality, under the guise of methodology, and has rendered the bishops' own "conformity seal" less than useless as a guarantee of reliable Catholic textbooks.
Example: "Growing in Love"
One of the most recent series, the source of a growing controversy across the country, shows that the present system is not working. It is Harcourt Religion Publishers' 2001 series "Growing in Love" (GIL), and it is being fought vigorously by parent groups nationwide for its graphic, erotic, explicit treatment (that's methodology) of sexuality education for children. However, the bishops' committee found it in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a finding which covers student texts for grades 3 through 8, and student lessons for an assortment of grades. GIL books also received an imprimatur from Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, who has said that he gave his imprimatur because the texts had been found in conformity by the bishops' committee.
While the GIL teacher's manuals and family resource books were not reviewed by the bishops, the overall series, in all of its manifestations, is filled with material that ranges from inappropriate to obscene.
In the kindergarten "family resource book", parents are advised on how to answer their child's questions about the size of adult genitalia. And what 'having sex' means. And about what being 'gay' means.
The GIL author's answer to that one is: "People who are gay, or homosexual, are sexually attracted to people of their own gender instead of the other gender. A man who is gay loves another man. A woman who is gay, or lesbian, loves another woman. No one knows for sure why some people are gay".
Morality based on the Catechism is not given. Instead we gat a rather blasé, matter-of-fact account of the way things are in our sex-saturated culture. Among other issues throughout the series, GIL is tendentious in promoting a casual acceptance of homosexuality.
This same chapter of the kindergarten "family resource book" notes that some single parents have live-in relationships, and in other households two women or two men share responsibility for "parenting" the children. It speaks of both heterosexuality and homosexuality as "tendencies".
The third grade family resource book encourages parents to talk with their eight-year-olds about conception - in graphic terms - describing the marital act at each stage in detail. It even instructs parents to describe, in detail, what masturbation is. In fact, it goes so far beyond just a "teaching" description that one wonders about the authors and publishers of all this eroticism.
The GIL series is the subject of several articles on the Harcourt web site.
After claiming that the bishops' Catechism conformity Committee's review together with the imprimatur of Archbishop Hanus "have set a baseline standard that guarantees a program's catechetical acceptability", (which is a false statement -- the bishops did not find the entire program in conformity), Matthew J. Thibeau states, "However, appropriateness of a series to an individual school and parish setting remains a critical part of the educational process". Meaning what? "Children deserve to experience, integrate and express the fullness of mature Christian faith", Thibeau says.
But children deserve a childhood of innocence, and a sensitive education in sexuality provided first by their parents, and then carefully watched over by parents if provided in a school.
In The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, the Pontifical Council for the Family quotes Pope John Paul's description of "the years of innocence", which span "from about five years of age until puberty". This document states:
"This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex. [A]t this stage of development, children are still not capable of fully understanding the value of the affective dimension of sexuality. They cannot understand and control sexual imagery within the proper context of moral principles and, for this reason, they cannot integrate premature sexual information with moral responsibility. Such information tends to shatter their emotional and educational development and to disturb the natural serenity of this period of life. Parents should politely but firmly exclude any attempts to violate children's innocence because such attempts compromise the spiritual, moral and emotional development of growing persons who have a right to their innocence" (TMHS nos. 78, 83).
Then it refers to sex educators:
"Because their work is often based on unsound theories, lacking scientific value and closed to an authentic anthropology, and theories that do not recognize the true value of chastity, parents should regard such associations with great caution, no matter what official recognition they may have received... No material of an erotic nature should be presented to children or young people of any age, individually or in a group. The principle of decency must safeguard the virtue of Christian chastity. If in fact parents do not give adequate formation in chastity, they are failing in their precise duty. Likewise, they would also be guilty were they to tolerate immoral or inadequate formation being given to their children outside the home" (emphasis added - TMHS nos. 138, 126, 44).
But moral formation now mostly ranges from inadequate and immoral to insidious, as programs such as GIL reveal an underlying agenda of the 'new catechesis', a supposedly new, updated, contemporary rendition of faith.
One of the articles on the Harcourt web site, by Sister Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND, says up front that "Community is at the heart of our catechetical process. Personal faith grows most naturally within community and in fact requires the involvement of the whole community. A first step in establishing this atmosphere is what I call gathering. In liturgy we do this in the gathering and introductory rites before we listen to the word of God and partake of the Bread of Life".
Nothing about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, the Eucharist. In fact, nothing about Jesus. No Christocentricity here.
Another article promoting the GIL series, by Toinette M. Eugene, a former nun and a "womanist" theologian, takes the philosophy of communal authority further:
"The traditions of diverse cultural communities who teach that 'it takes a whole village to raise a child' are affirmed and utilized in the developmental presentation on family life and human sexuality", she writes. Calling this "a holistic catechesis", Eugene continues: "Cultures provide catechesis with important categories, schema, and examples for framing content based on affective familial and sexual understandings".
Now re-read that sentence to discern what it's really saying. Her meaning is revealed more clearly a bit further on: "Racism, sexism, homophobia, and the other socially isolating evidences of social sinfulness are addressed thoughtfully, explicitly, and carefully [in Growing in Love]".
Homophobia? How easily that loaded neologism is thrown at anyone who holds traditional moral beliefs about the human person and order and chastity. Social sinfulness. That's the first time sin is referred to; but "social sin" does not mean personal sin, or reconciliation, or redemption. When sin goes, the need for a Savior goes - and He has pretty much disappeared in these catechetical programs, especially His Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection. His teachings are revised, too, sometimes beyond recognition.
According to Toinette Eugene, who was also a consultor to the bishops' "women's pastoral" committee, "[a]ttention is given (in the GIL series) to developing a reverence for the racial, multicultural, sexual, and gender differences and uniquenesses that give human life its particularity and flavor".
Reverence? That belongs to God. The not-so-thinly veiled agenda is evident here. Right in the middle of her article, Eugene states: "However, we Catholics often approach education for family life and human sexuality with a morality approach that begins with 'Don't do this' and 'Don't do that'".
Clearly the Commandments are out, too. They interfere with "self-actualization".
Why would any bishop - or committee of a bishops' conference - approve such an example of moral decay for families and young children? The Catechism Committee says it cannot comment on "methodology" before giving its highly important conformity stamp; a bishop says he gave GIL his personal stamp of doctrinal integrity because the committee had already given theirs.
What's going on? How can this system be fixed?
In Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul addresses the issue of "inculturation", acknowledging that the power of the Gospel message cannot be isolated from the cultures where it is known. But it is the Gospel that transforms the culture, he states, and not the reverse.
"When that power enters into a culture, it is no surprise that it rectifies many of its elements. There would be no catechesis if it were the Gospel that had to change when it came into contact with the cultures. To forget this would simply amount to what Saint Paul very forcefully calls 'emptying the cross of Christ of its power'" (CT no. 53).
Tangled conference procedures impede correction
At the US bishops "Spring meeting" in Kansas City in June 1997, the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee Use of the Catechism gave a stunning report that revealed a list of deficiencies found consistently by the members of the committee while reviewing religion books from several publishers.
There were no less than ten. In brief, what the bishops discovered repeatedly in many of the religion books your children may be studying include lack of attention to, or insufficient treatment of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the apostolic nature of the Church and her teaching function, Christian anthropology which sees man as a religious being by nature, God's initiative in the world together with an over-emphasis on human action as pre-eminent, the transforming effects of grace, the sacraments, original sin - and sin in general, the Christian moral life, and eschatology - the last things of death, judgment, heaven and hell. (A complete list of the committee's findings was published in Voices, Summer 1997)
"Some parents, pastors and catechists have been complaining of just such deficiencies for over twenty-five years and ought not to be blamed for feeling a little underwhelmed by the Ad Hoc Committee's report", observed Sean Innerst, Director of Religious Education for the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota.
"The methodology employed in many texts is tailored to produce and/or justify dissent. That is the open secret among the members of the catechetical establishment. We ought to be grateful that the bishops are taking note of the inadequacy of content in catechetical materials. But catechetical methodology must be addressed too. With the wrong methodology, even the best content will be no weightier than the opinion of the next person who picks up the text".
Sean Innerst, Catechetical Experience and the Experience of Catechesis
One hopes that message is not lost, as the bishops continually shift their complicated structure of catechetical oversight, with layer upon layer of committees. The recent restructuring of the conference only partly accounts for the bureaucratic complexity.
In 1995, the bishops' committee charged with implementing the new Catechism of the Catholic Church became the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee Use of the Catechism, a/k/a the Catechism committee. The same year, the committee began looking into the feasibility of developing a national catechism, a study that took three and half years, concluding that the project was not a good idea at the time.
In 1998 the conference reviewed proposals to produce a national adult catechism, and two years later decided that this would be a good idea.
With the restructuring of the conference, the former Department of Education in the formerly separate social policy wing, the United States Catholic Conference, became the US bishops' Committee on Education (which includes several subcommittees), headed by Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh.
In November 2001, two "editorial oversight boards" met to review their respective projects - one from the Committee on Education, concerning a revised National Directory for Catechesis; the other from the Catechism Committee, concerning the proposed national adult catechism.
A new Committee on Catechesis, has been created to broaden the conformity review process to include the complete treatment of the faith in catechetical texts in both content and method. As it was explained to us, the new committee will not replace any committee, but add on a new team with its own, wider mandate, and which will begin work in November 2002. The Committee on Catechesis will, reportedly, fine-tune the whole process. Somehow, the bishops' Office for the Catechism explains, this will not duplicate ongoing efforts by the Catechism conformity committee in reviewing materials, but should expand them.
If you feel lost somewhere in the middle of all that, you're not alone. Depending on who we spoke to, the accounts and explanations varied as to how many committees there are and will be, what they are called and what they are supposed to be doing.
An allied question: why on earth do we need a "national adult catechism"? Who actually believes that the United States requires a unique version of the Catechism separate from the rest of the world? Why?
One longtime religious education director observed "they've been using the same advisors and getting the same results for a long time". For far too long, obviously.
"After Vatican II, the bishops sort of ceded responsibility to the publishers", Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who was a member of the Catechism committee, told us.
"Catechetical materials have been deficient in doctrinal conformity. We need one committee on catechesis", he said. "It has been stuck between two committees, the bishops' Education Subcommittee on Catechesis and the Ad Hoc Committee. It's an anomaly for us not to have one Bishops' Committee on Catechesis. Now, we will have one starting in the Fall, and it will be responsible for everything that comes under catechesis".
But the Ad Hoc Committee will remain, so it will still not be just one committee handling all matters of catechesis.
Cardinal George spoke of the reality of the Ad Hoc (Catechism) Committee's limited mandate: "Neither the conference nor the bishops tell the publishers what to submit for review. But we can say that if you haven't been found in conformity, you won't be approved for use in our dioceses". However, he explains, "every bishop does have the prerogative to set up his own guidelines for conformity in his diocese".
At least one bishop will not permit "Growing in Love". Though the series bears the imprimatur of Archbishop Jerome Hanus, and part of the series was found in conformity by the Catechism Committee, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, a member of that committee, has ordered most of the series out of the schools in his archdiocese. He issued a memo to parishes and schools forbidding purchase or use of any of the GIL series other than the student text.
That rather rare override of another bishop's imprimatur is dramatic evidence of how bad the material is - and the inadequacy of the bishops' review process as it has operated these half-dozen years.
A mother registers concern, dismay
A letter from a concerned mother to the Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on the Catechism, dated February 2001 and published anonymously on the internet, provides a stark illustration of the failings of the current review process.
Addressed to Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, chairman of the Catechism Committee, the mother anguishes over the "extremely graphic, explicit and inappropriate" materials in the GIL series, noting that his office had assured her that only the student books from GIL were approved by the bishops, as the publisher had not submitted the teachers' manuals or resource materials for approval. Nonetheless, those unapproved books are finding their way into many school religious education programs.
"The offensive material is found in these books", she wrote, listing the explicit contents in them, including "sex toys, sexual perversions" and others we won't mention here.
"It seems to me that if the Committee is going to be effective, it should review all the materials in a program", she continued. "By not doing so, this creates problems on the local level. The personnel in the Catechetical Department of our [diocese] are leading parents to believe the entire program was approved by the Ad Hoc Committee. Also, the Ad Hoc Committee should take into consideration the methodology that will be used to teach the program".
The letter writer said she reviewed material from three publishers that were found in conformity by the bishops committee, and found that all use the "values clarification" method. "This 'experiential' method ... has been condemned by the Church", she wrote. "I beg you to amend the Ad Hoc Committee's objectives to include the review of all materials included in each program and the consideration of methodologies to be used. Children's souls are at stake. They have a right to their innocence and they have a right to the true faith".
This letter expresses the concern of thousands of Catholic parents. She was also correct about the Holy See's disapproval of "values clarification". The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality makes this clear:
"One widely-used, but possibly harmful, approach goes by the name of 'values clarification'. Young people are encouraged to reflect upon, to clarify and to decide upon moral issues with the greatest degree of 'autonomy', ignoring the objective reality of the moral law in general and disregarding the formation of consciences on the specific Christian moral precepts, as affirmed by the Magisterium of the Church. Young people are given the idea that a moral code is something which they create themselves, as if man were the source and norm of morality. However, the values clarification method impedes the true freedom and autonomy of young people at an insecure stage of their development. In practice, not only is the opinion of the majority favored, but complex moral situations are put before young people, far removed from the normal moral choices they face each day, in which good or evil are easily recognizable."
"This unacceptable method tends to be closely linked with moral relativism, and thus encourages indifference to moral law and permissiveness" (TMHS no. 140).
Time for Clarity, Time for Truth
Cardinal John Henry Newman, in an address to the laity of his time, stated:
"I want a laity...who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their Creed so well that they can give an account of it and who know enough of history to defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity. And one immediate effect of your being able to do all this will be your gaining that proper confidence in self that is so necessary for you".
Present Day Position of Catholics in England,
Longman Green & Co. edition (p 390-391)
Right now, the laity need confidence in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will be a long and hard won achievement, given the recent damage to bishops' credibility. Many people are now voicing their view that the bishops don't want to deal with the real and difficult issues, that they are less interested in responsibility and accountability than in popularity, and that bishops are generally more oriented toward processes than results.
In the April 2002 issue of Catholic World Report, editor Philip F. Lawler discussed some of the problems in the hierarchy in his editorial "Playing Charades". Concerning the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Lawler spoke of "the wisdom of the norms that Pope John Paul had set out to ensure the doctrinal integrity of Catholic schools, and the difficulties that the American bishops would face in putting those norms into effect".
He continues: "But as the years passed, and the US bishops continued to pother over the issue, I concluded that the discussion was moot. Until our bishops show some interest in enforcing the standards of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the discussion of that document will remainpurely academic.
"Ex Corde Ecclesiae was promulgated in 1990. A full decade passed before the American bishops finally agreed on a plan for the implementation of the Pope's directives. And that plan, when it finally emerged from the bishops' conference, was manifestly toothless. Our bishops - the chief pastors and teachers of the Catholic faithful in the US - made it quite clear that they would place their seal of approval on any theologian teaching at a Catholic university, no matter how thoroughly and vigorously that scholar dissented from Church teachings. And when a few cantankerous theologians announced that they would not even ask for such certification, the bishops sent the message that that would be all right, too. So the situation is quite simple, really. The Pope outlined the responsibilities of diocesan bishops to guarantee the authenticity of Catholic education. The American bishops declined to accept those responsibilities. What more is there to say on the topic?"
This summed up the problem not only for Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but for catechesis as well.
An editorial in the May 12 issue of Our Sunday Visitor ("A leadership crisis, not a clergy crisis") put responsibility at the feet of the bishops:
"In too many instances, a management ethos of damage control and delegation has substituted for spiritual leadership. The outrage unleashed in Boston and elsewhere is that the bishops responsible for the safeguarding of the flock have been derelict in their duty. It isn't about celibacy. It's about confidence in our leaders.The lack of 'correct moral teaching', an over-reliance on psychology and the mainstreaming of theological dissent have left the Church with an uncertain message and unconfident messengers, for which we have paid a high price".
The editorial noted that the Vatican and the US cardinals have agreed that "[t]he bishops need to 'promote correct moral teaching' and 'publicly reprimand individuals who spread dissent' or take 'ambiguous approaches' to pastoral issues".
The 'religious education chaos' parallels the sex-abuse scandal, the Church crisis of historic proportions that we have been suffering through for months. Catholic writers, such as Michael Novak and George Weigel, have blamed the "culture of dissent" and its permissiveness for over thirty years for the general loss of the faith - starting with the clergy.
Novak writes, "[T]he much acclaimed 'Church of Vatican II', the Church of 'the progressives', energized since 1965 by dissent and rebellion against many traditions and teachings of the Church, and intent upon foisting on the Church a new morality of sex and marriage and birth and priesthood, has made an awful botch of things... Never has the Catholic Church in America been so shamed, humiliated, and mortified before the whole world. The 'new morality' of the New Breed has turned into a disgrace". ("Something Good is Coming", National Review Online, April 23, 2002).
The same has been said about the "new catechesis" and the abuse of the innocence of children through disastrous sex education programs.
Declares Novak, "[T]here is no way on earth that a pope sworn to be faithful to the same Gospel that the Church has announced since the time of Christ can give his blessing to the sexual ideology of the 'progressives', which has jettisoned chastity, fidelity, and the glory of the human body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit.
"A pope must defend the faith and morals that the Church has taught always and everywhere. National conferences of bishops are much more conformable to the pressure of national opinion. Individual bishops who resist can be publicly humiliated, until they give. [I]n the United States, our bishops have proved woefully weak in the face of the zeitgeist, not to mention the other social and political forces sometimes arrayed against them. During the decades of their predominance, what a botch the 'progressives' have made of a once-vital Church".
Michael Novak, "The Fall of the Progressive Church"
(National Review Online, May 1, 2002)
To chart a course through the present crisis to needed reforms, George Weigel recently observed, "the bishops capable of leading the reform the Church needs will be evangelists and pastors, capable of communicating their passion for Christ to their priests and people.... [I]t should be clear that the typical bureaucratic cast of mind - which emphasizes efficient management and damage-control, and almost always prefers amelioration to necessary confrontation - can be in serious tension with the bishop's duty to teach, govern and sanctify. Apostles, not managers, are what will move the Church from crisis to reform".
The words of Pope John Paul II in a homily he gave at Saint Peter's Basilica on Pentecost, 1998, the Year of the Holy Spirit, resound:
The Apostles know that the work Christ has entrusted to them is arduous, but decisive for the history of humanity's salvation. Will they be able to complete it? The Lord reassures their hearts. At every step of the mission that will lead them to proclaim and witness to the Gospel to the furthest corners of the globe, they will be able to count on the Spirit promised by Christ.
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas is a Chicago journalist, and a member of the editorial board of Voices. She is married and the mother of two sons.
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