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Sunday, January 11, 2004

On the bright side: At least the kids have been saved from the horrors of "triumphalism," "rigorism," "rote learning," and can wield glitter with the best of them....

The bishops examined the books used in Catholic religious education throughout the U.S. The results? Let's just say the catechetical establishment appears to have more than a few staffers with Mean Nun Stories, and are taking it out on the rest of us.

In other words, a couple-three problems were noted, according to Archbishop Alfred Hughes:

Some Examples of Deficiencies:

Some of the texts found to be inadequate are relativistic in their approach to the Church and to faith. Students, for instance, are easily led to believe that one religion or church is as good as another and that the Catholic Church is just one church among many equals. There is often a blurring between the Catholic Church and other Christian ecclesial communities. Our young people are not learning what it means to say that the sole Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church or the true ecumenical teaching of our Church.

Our young people are not learning what we know and believe is based on objective truth revealed to us by God. In many of the texts we have found that there is an effort to state clearly the doctrine and Church teaching. Unfortunately, this doctrine is sometimes introduced with a formula such as "Catholics believe this or that...." This tentative language gives the impression that the teaching is just one legitimate opinion among others rather than a matter of truth. Unfortunately, we find numerous instances of this problem.

The sacramental theology which our young people are being taught is also often seriously flawed. In some texts they are taught that the sacraments were instituted over an extended period of time, with the implication that they can still be changed. Often the sacraments are presented as a way to celebrate special moments in life and not as a privileged moment of encounter with Christ.

The distinctive role of the priest may be sidelined or even ignored. Our young people are sometimes being taught that it is the community who baptizes or who confects the Eucharist.

They may be told the various ways in which Jesus is present during Liturgy without a clear statement that He is present in the Eucharist in a unique and special way.

They may be taught that the sacramental power to forgive sins and anoint the sick was once shared by all the faithful.

In some texts the teaching about the Church's prohibition on the question of the ordination of women is ambiguous or even misleading.

In some lessons on the sacrament of marriage, they are being exposed to language which makes reference to "partners" rather than "man and woman" or "husband and wife".


Troubling Concerns about Moral Teaching

Since the Catechism Committee first identified common deficiencies in presentations on morality, there have been evident strides. Topics such as grace, sin, conscience and the formation of conscience now appear in almost every text dealing with moral issues. However, there are still some troubling concerns.

For instance, there seems to be a reluctance to name premarital or extra-marital intercourse as sin. The students may be encouraged to avoid premarital intercourse in order to escape consequences such as pregnancy or disease, not because such actions are sinful. Similarly, practices of virtue and goodness may be encouraged in order to make the world and one's life better. The relationship between the moral life in this world and the life to come is not often treated. Moreover, moral teaching, like faith teaching, may be presented using tentative language, implying that morality is a matter of opinion and personal choice.

Other problems which commonly recur include a studied avoidance of revealed proper names or personal pronouns for the Persons in the Blessed Trinity. This leads to an inaccurate understanding of the divine nature of the Persons of the Trinity as well as their unity with each other and their proper relations. Some of the texts, in trying to avoid masculine titles or pronouns for the Persons of the Trinity, speak of the Father only as God and then speak of Jesus without noting His Sonship or divinity, creating an implication that Jesus is somehow different from God or even somehow less than God.

The Christology in texts may be unbalanced with an overemphasis on the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His divinity. Sometimes the treatment of the Holy Spirit is either missing or flawed. We have seen numerous instances in which the third Person of the Trinity is referred to as "the Spirit of God" or "God's Spirit", which could suggest that the Holy Spirit is somehow less than God.

The interpretation of Sacred Scripture tends to rely almost exclusively on the historical-critical method and does not generally draw on the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church. The implication is that the Scriptures are to a large degree merely human texts. The divine role is usually stated, but often then obscured in the way in which Scripture passages are treated. In some instances miracles are explained away as ordinary phenomena, not of supernatural origin. We have even seen some of the miracles of Jesus explained as a result of lucky timing!

The approach to the Church often overemphasizes the role of the community. The ideal Church is sometimes presented in such a way that the student would be led to believe that we should live without reference to the role of the hierarchy in the Church.

In general, the high school texts are strong in their emphasis on the social mission of the Church and the moral responsibility that Catholics have in this area. The social teaching, however, is not always grounded in the divine initiative of the Holy Spirit of related to personal moral teaching or to eschatological realities.


Whatever else can be said, it appears that the publishers are trying their best not to be more Catholic than the Pope, and have succeeded brilliantly. OTOH, the materials had the coveted National Catholic Reporter Seal of Approval™. No Marian "maximalism," "ultramontanism," "devotionalism" or other "ultraconservative" flaws that bring out the Inner Savanarola in SixtiesChurch folk to be found in these texts, no, sir!

Er, ma'am!

How serious are the deficiencies? Archbishop Hughes ordered the nonconforming books pulled from his archdiocese pronto. Good for the Archbishop and the other members of the Committee. If I wanted to raise my kids as mainline Protestants, I'd go back to the UMC.

So, has your diocese responded yet?

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