When Catholic Catechetical Works Don't Teach the Faith

Archbishop Hughes Outlines Deficiencies, and a Plan of Action

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, DEC. 24, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Nearly two-thirds of high school catechetical materials used throughout the United States are not in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.



Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, chair of the U.S. bishops' ad hoc committee for the Implementation of the Catechism, reported the results of the committee's evaluation of catechetical books at the episcopate's conference last fall. He urged that bishops in their own dioceses restrict the use of catechetical texts to those that have received the judgment of conformity by the committee.

Archbishop Hughes shared with ZENIT what deficiencies the current textbooks have and what the U.S. bishops are doing to remedy the situation.

Q: What are the conclusions of the committee you presented to the bishops?

Archbishop Hughes: The United States bishops' Committee for the Implementation of the Catechism has conducted more than 25 reviews of individual high school catechetical texts during the last two-and-a-half years. Our experience in conducting these reviews has made clear to us that the high school catechetical publishers want to develop high school religion texts that are in conformity with the catechism, but as yet the fruit of this work is uneven.

There are relatively few high school texts that have received a conformity judgment by the committee. Close to two-thirds of the conformity reviews we have conducted on high school catechetical materials have ended with a judgment that the materials were not only inadequate for conformity but also could not be amended.

The greatest concern for the members of the committee prompting my report to the bishops is that many of the materials found to be inadequate are still in wide use throughout the United States.

Q: What are some examples of deficiencies found in the catechetical textbooks?

Archbishop Hughes: Some of the texts found to be inadequate are relativistic in their approach to the Church and the faith. Students, for instance, are readily 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.

In many of the texts we have found that there is an effort to state clearly the doctrine and the Church teaching. Unfortunately, this doctrine and Church teaching 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.

In sacramental theology, our young people are sometimes being taught that the sacraments were instituted over an extended period of time with the implication that they still can be changed. These same sacraments are often 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. Sometimes the impression is given that the community baptizes or confects the Eucharist. The unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist is often obscured. They may be led to believe 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 restriction of ordination to men is ambiguous or even misleading.

Often the moral life is not adequately presented. There seems to be a reluctance to name premarital or extramarital intercourse as sinful. Virtue may be encouraged primarily in order to make personal life or the world better. The relationship between living a moral life and eternal life is often not treated.

There is in some texts a studied avoidance of the revealed proper names or personal pronouns for the persons of the Blessed Trinity. The Father may be referred to as God. Jesus may not be identified as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit may be called the Spirit of God or God's Spirit.

The interpretation of sacred Scripture tends too much to rely upon the historical-critical method without drawing upon the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church.

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

Although high school texts are generally strong in their emphasis on the social mission of the Church and the moral responsibilities of Catholics in this area, the social teaching is not always grounded in the divine initiative of the Holy Spirit or related to personal moral teaching and to eschatological realities.

Q: What are the committee's main concerns about the widespread use of these books?

Archbishop Hughes: Unfortunately, the widespread use of these books perpetuates a religious illiteracy that is all too prevalent in the Church today. It is very important that young people are given an opportunity, first of all, to learn the truths of the faith, and secondly, to grow in understanding of them.

Q: Has the committee determined the cause of this situation?

Archbishop Hughes: The committee recognizes that the causes are manifold. A particular area of concern is the way in which catechetical leaders, catechists and potential textbook writers are being taught and formed in our institutions of higher learning.

Q: What has the Committee for the Implementation of the Catechism developed as the national doctrinal guidelines for high school catechetics?

Archbishop Hughes: The bishops' committee has been using a protocol that summarizes the content of the catechism to evaluate the texts. Publishers also have a copy of this and are asked to fill out a form in relationship with the protocol when they submit their texts. The committee is also developing doctrinal guidelines for the exposition of the doctrine on a high school level. This effort is still in progress.

Q: How will the committee implement those guidelines and bring faulty catechetical texts into conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Archbishop Hughes: The committee has urged that bishops in their own dioceses restrict the use of catechetical texts to those that have received the judgment of conformity by the committee.

The publishers already have the protocol to use as a basis for the development of texts. The committee staff has also offered its service in providing workshops for writers of texts. The publishers themselves have expressed an interest in receiving the doctrinal guidelines when they are completed and endorsed by the bishops.