Dissenters Press Releases Speakers Bureau

Crisis in Religious Education


Eamonn Keane


Throughout the English-speaking world, Catholic religious education has been heavily influenced by the ideas of Thomas Groome. His method of religious education, which he calls Shared Christian Praxis, is a blueprint for the destruction of  Catholic Faith. Nevertheless, his ideas underpin the religious education curricula of several Australian Catholic dioceses. Do you know the type of religious education your children are being exposed to? If not, it is in their eternal interests that you find out. This book by Eamonn Keane will assist you do this.



Chapter 1: Passing on the Faith


Chapter 2: Groome’s Deconstruction of Catholicism

Deconstruction of Papal Authority

Deconstructing the Ordained Priesthood

Apostolic Succession

Women Priests & Homosexual Marriages

What shall we say of Christ?


Chapter 3: Religious Education: Content, Methodology, Witness



The Teacher


Chapter 4: Shared Christian Praxis: Fatally Flawed

Rooted in Neo-Marxist Critical Theory

Divine Revelation?

Shared Christian Praxis: Fatally Flawed

The Hermeneutic of Suspicion


Chapter 5: What is Christian Praxis


Chapter 6: Can a Bad Tree Bear Good Fruit

1993 Support Units

1994 Support Units

1999 Revised Version of Sharing Our Story

Conflicting Christologies

Teacher references

Student Texts





Chapter I

Passing on the Faith 

Jesus Christ reveals the purpose of our existence, which is to know, love and serve God here on earth, and then to be happy with him forever in Heaven. To be a disciple of Jesus is to allow his words and deeds to affect all aspects of our lives.

Jesus established the Catholic Church as the means through which the saving power of his life, death and resurrection would be brought to all people for all time. A source of blessing for Catholics is that in the teaching of the Church they have easy access to true knowledge about God and his moral law. By adhering to this teaching, members of the Church can be sure that they are indeed living in the truth: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16; cf. Mt 16:16-18; Jn 21:15-17). The teaching authority of the Church, often referred to as the ‘Magisterium’, is exercised by the Pope and by the bishops in communion with him.

Catholic parents have a responsibility to form their children in the doctrines of the faith. It is to help them carry out this responsibility that Catholic schools exist. The only reason why parents should prefer Catholic schools to other types of schools is because of the quality of religious and moral education they provide. Pope John Paul II has stated that if a Catholic school could be reproached “for negligence or deviation” in the religious education it provides, it would then no longer be deserving of the title ‘Catholic’.[1]

In each diocese, it is the local bishop who has primary responsibility for ensuring that the religious education and catechesis provided in Catholic schools conforms to the doctrine of the Church. Vatican II reminded bishops of their duty to ensure that catechists and religious education teachers “are adequately prepared for their task” by “being well-instructed in the doctrine of the Church.”[2] Pope John Paul II has told bishops that proper oversight of catechesis in their diocese will sometimes impose on them “the thankless task of denouncing deviations and correcting errors.”[3] However, the faithful performance of this duty will, said the Holy Father, win for the bishops “the joy and consolation” of seeing their Churches flourish “because catechesis is given in them as the Lord wishes.”[4]

Today, many Catholic parents grieve because one or more of their children have given up the practice of the faith or have adopted lifestyles at variance with the Church’s moral doctrine. Coupled with this, the 1996 Catholic Church Life Survey revealed that rejection of various Church doctrines is common even among a large proportion of those Catholics who still go to Mass regularly.

There are multiple reasons why many Catholic youth think the Church has little to offer them. For example, the influence of the secular and hedonistic culture undermines their sense of God and of sin. Added to this is the lack of support and example from many of their parents who don’t practice the faith. Significant though these factors may be in explaining why Catholic youth are giving up the practice of the faith, it is certain however that one cannot love what one does not know. This problem becomes particularly acute if during religious education (RE) classes in Catholic schools, youth are exposed to heterodox (contradictions of Catholic doctrine) ideas as though they represented a rational corrective to Catholic doctrine. In this regard, parents need to do everything in their power to combat the influence of dissent on the religious education of their children. A failure to do so would be equivalent to abandoning their children to enemies of the faith (cf. Jn 10:12).

Dissent from Catholic teaching is endemic amongst student teachers at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), as is ignorance of the faith among Catholic high school students. In 1999, Professor Dennis McLaughlin of the ACU released results of a survey he had conducted of the beliefs, values and practices of student teachers at the ACU. Administered to 647 first and final year student teachers at campuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, McLaughlin’s most significant findings were:


·         only 50 percent of students understood God as the Blessed Trinity;

·         only one-third of students believed that the bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass;

·         62 percent believed that the Church should ordain women;

·         2 percent said they accepted the Church’s teaching on contraception and divorce;

·         10 percent accepted the Church’s teaching on pre-marital sex;

·         14  percent said they accepted the Church’s teaching on abortion.


In an address to the 2002 Conference of the Association of Principals of Catholic Secondary Schools of Australia, Professor McLaughlin stated that on the basis of other survey work he had conducted he believed the “vast majority” of teachers in Catholic schools “have reservations about the contemporary Catholic Church, their employer.” He said that these teachers, together with the majority of Australian Catholics, constitute a “parallel Church” which largely disregards the teaching of the “institutional Catholic Church, the Vatican, the Magisterium.” Professor McLaughlin’s findings regarding the religious beliefs and practices of Catholic school teachers and ACU students form a consistent pattern with the findings of Br. Marcellin Flynn regarding the ignorance of Catholic doctrine by students in Catholic high schools.[5]

In religious education, dissent can express itself not only in texts books and audio/visual materials, but also in teaching methodologies. In some educational processes, the methodology can be indistinguishable from the content insofar as it embodies philosophical ideas that determine the perspective from which the content is presented. Of particular concern in this regard is a method of religious education known as Shared Christian Praxis. It is the brainchild of Thomas Groome who is an ex-priest and professor of religious education and theology at Boston College. Even though he is a leading dissenter from Catholic doctrine, he has had a significant impact on religious education in Catholic schools in Australia. In October 2002, he was the keynote speaker at the second national conference of the Association of Principals of Catholic Secondary Schools of Australia.

The first diocese in  Australia to explicitly base its religious education curriculum on Groome’s method was Parramatta in 1991. Titled Sharing Our Story, this curriculum was revised in 1999 and its Core document prescribes the use of  Groome’s method. In 2000, the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn published its new religious education curriculum titled Treasures New and Old which borrows heavily from the Parramatta curriculum. It too prescribes the use of Groome’s shared Christian praxis.

In a letter dated 14th April 2003, Bishop Hanna of Wagga informed his priests of a decision he had taken to replace existing diocesan religious education curricula with Parramatta’s Sharing Our Story. “Through the use of this resource,” said Bishop Hanna, “we are plugging into a wide network of professional and ecclesiastical expertise.” In his letter, Bishop Hanna revealed that as well as Canberra-Goulburn, Sharing Our Story is used also in the Archdiocese of Hobart, the country dioceses of Victoria and Wilcannia-Forbes.

The Core curriculum documents for Parramatta and Canberra-Goulburn praise Groome for having developed “an overarching approach to religious education and ministry.” These documents direct that “approaches to assessment should support and strengthen the commitment to shared Christian praxis,” which they say “sets the overarching style” of each syllabus. Coupled with this, in 2000 the Parramatta Catholic Education Office (CEO) produced a publication titled An Introduction to Shared Christian Praxis that carried an imprimatur by Bishop Manning. Authored by Barry Dwyer, the “For Further Information” section of this publication listed the following items:

·         a publication by the Parramatta CEO on shared Christian praxis;

·         a video program featuring Thomas Groome;

·         two books authored by Groome including Sharing Faith;

·        an article on shared Christian praxis.


The last item mentioned above was authored by members of the RE team at the Parramatta CEO. After expressing their endorsement of the view that shared Christian praxis “is by far the most admirable faith forming religious education model available today because of its educational and theological precision,” they went on to call for the professional development of teachers along lines that would  enable them to undertake an “implementation” of shared Christian praxis that would be “faithful to Groome’s thinking.”[6]

This confidence in Groome is misplaced given that his dissenting ideas go hand-in-hand with his method of RE. In Sharing Faith, Groome either contradicts or obscures various Catholic doctrines, especially those relating to the nature and origin of the ministerial (ordained) priesthood and its link to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. For example, he asserts that the Church’s doctrine regarding the reservation of the ordained priesthood to men alone “is the result of a patriarchal mind-set and culture and is not of Christian faith.”[7] He posits that “the injustice of excluding women from priesthood debilitates the church’s sacramentality in the world” and that “it is a countersign to God’s reign."[8] He even asserts that the Church’s doctrine on this question is “doing spiritual and moral harm to society.”[9] Elsewhere, he maintains that non-ordained Christians can administer the sacrament of reconciliation.[10]

In his dissent from the teaching of the magisterium, Groome has even taken to publicly excoriating Pope John Paul II. When the Holy Father issued Ad Tuendam Fidem the stated purpose of which was “to protect the faith of the Catholic Church” against errors arising “especially from among those dedicated to the various disciplines of sacred theology,” Groome responded to it by saying it was “a pretentious attempt by the present pope to stifle conversation and dialogue,” adding, “I read the blessed thing and without being too melodramatic, I was on the verge of tears. It is a very sad day.”[11]

Despite Groome’s direct attack on Catholic doctrine in Sharing Faith, the Core curriculum documents for Sharing Our Story and Treasures New and Old still recommend the book to teachers. Given that these Core documents carry imprimaturs from Bishop Manning and Archbishop Carroll, teachers who read Sharing Faith could easily conclude that Groome’s erroneous ideas are valid expressions of Catholic doctrine and pass them on as such to their students in the classroom.

In an article I had published in the December-January 2002 edition of AD2000, I drew attention to the fatally flawed nature of Groome's shared Christian praxis and I pointed out how the revised version of Sharing Our Story had again prescribed it as the methodology to be used in teaching the curriculum. At the same time, I cited examples from Groome’s work of where he contradicts the dogmatic and definitive teaching of the Catholic Church. In a letter in the February 2003 edition of AD2000 responding to my article in the previous edition, Bishop Manning stated that I was seeking “to discredit Thomas Groome’s method of shared praxis by discrediting his theology.” Having said this, Bishop Manning went on to add:


“There is nothing unorthodox or heretical about shared praxis. It makes explicit a method of teaching practised by all good teachers through the centuries before the term shared praxis was ever coined. It is simply taking a life experience, reflecting on it, interpreting it in the light of Scripture and Tradition and getting on with living the Christian life. This is what we do sometimes when we pray.”


With filial regard for Bishop Manning and Archbishop Carroll, and with deepest reverence for the sacred office which they bear, I nevertheless think it is a grave mistake to present the works of public dissenters to religion teachers as worthwhile reading material for their professional development. Also, I am certain that in prescribing shared Christian praxis as the method to be used by teachers, the Core documents for Sharing Our Story and Treasures New and Old are not being faithful to the Church’s directives regarding choice of methodology in religious education as these are set forth in Catechesi Tradendae and the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC).

Basing an RE curriculum on a defective methodology can be likened to placing poison in a cup of water. A sip from the poisoned cup can kill, so too can defective religious education methodologies corrupt the faith of Catholic children. As poison mixed with water is not always clear to the naked eye, neither may the corrosive effects of defective RE methodologies be easily discernible. 

Those who have constructed the Sharing Our Story curriculum seem oblivious to the poisonous ideas that flow through Groome’s shared Christian praxis.  One such idea has it that the Word of God (Sacred Scripture and Tradition), as authoritatively interpreted and mediated by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, cannot be trusted since it may contain distortions and untruth. Hence, according to Groome, the teaching of the Church must be subjected to what is called a “hermeneutic of suspicion”. The essence of this “suspicion” is that nothing can be taken at face value. Theologians who employ this method assume that much of what is written in the Bible or contained in the doctrinal statements of the Church is mere propaganda defending ideologies that were dominant when these texts were formulated.

Those who insist on maintaining the nexus between Sharing Our Story and shared Christian praxis may claim that none of Groome’s dissenting ideas appear in the foundational texts of the curriculum. But that is not the point. Their stated aim is to have teachers and students learn his method as it applies to how Catholic faith should be lived in the world. The students and teachers don't have to be taught Groome's dissenting ideas, they will be opened to them as a result of using shared Christian praxis the way Groome intends it to be used. If this claim is not true, why else would the compilers of Sharing Our Story quote Groome’s work in such a positive light and explicitly lend their endorsement to the claim that his method of RE is the best available today? Or again, why would they call for an implementation of shared Christian praxis in a way  that is “faithful to Groome’s thinking”?

Bishops and other Catholic education authorities must act decisively against the teaching and propagation of error in Catholic precincts. The words of Pope St. Felix III apply here: "An error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed."[12] Given the importance of this question, the primary purpose of this book is to outline the subversive nature of Groome’s shared Christian praxis. In doing so, I will start by outlining some of his heterodox ideas as a prelude to showing how these same ideas are immanent in his method of religious education.


[1] Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 69

[2] Vatican II, Christus Dominus, n. 4

[3] Pope John Paul II, Catechesis Tradendae, n. 63

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bro Flynn’s findings in this regard were first documented in his book The Culture of Catholic Schools - A Study of Catholic Schools 1972-1993. A more recent book on the question co-authored by Br. Flynn titled Catholic Schools 2000: A Longtitudinal Study of Year 12 Students in Catholic Schools, reveals that the decline in the religious belief and practice of the faith by Catholic Year 12 students continues.

[6] Michael Bezzina, Peter Gahan, Helen McLenaghan, Greg Wilson, Shared Christian Praxis as a Basis for Religious Education Curriculum: The Parramatta Experience, Word of Life, Journal of Religious Education, Australian Catholic University, ACT, Vol. 45(3), 1997, pp. 3, 11.

[7] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education &Pastoral Ministry, Harper, San Francisco, 1991, p. 328.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. p. 518.n.114.

[10] Thomas Groome, Signs of Hope, PACE 12, Direction A, St Mary’s Press, Winona 1982,  p. 2

[11] Thomas H Groome, The Boston Globe, July 2, 1998; cf. The Wanderer, July 16, 1998.

[12] Pope St Felix III, cited by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical  Inimica Vis, n. 7

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Chapter 2

Groome's Deconstruction of Catholicism

Groome asserts that Jesus established his Church along egalitarian lines. In Sharing Faith he says: “Throughout his ministry, Jesus called together ‘an inclusive discipleship of equals’ to participate in his mission and to carry it on after him.”[1]As a logical extension of this, he adds that the Church “should be an egalitarian community.”[2]

Deconstruction of Papal Teaching Authority 

If Groome’s egalitarian Church were ever to exist, authority would have to be exercised in it via majority vote or consensus. However, this would leave no room for the supreme authority of the Pope, something which would not seem to bother Groome. He says:


“In mainstream Catholic understanding of papal magisterium, however, the pope, as bishop of Rome, must teach in consultation and collegiality with the bishops of the world and represent the consensus faith of the whole Church, in fidelity to Scripture and Tradition.”[3]


             As was the case with Peter within the group of the apostles, the Pope as a member of the college of bishops always remains the Vicar of Christ. He is not the vicar of the Church as Groome would have him. In the documents of Vatican II we read: “The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”[4] In regard to the supreme teaching authority of the Pope, Vatican II added: “And therefore, his definitions [the Pope’s], of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable…and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgement.”[5]

            In view of the teaching of Vatican II given above, it is clear that Groome’s assertion that the Roman Pontiff in exercising his papal magisterium “must teach in consultation and collegiality with the bishops of the world” is erroneous. Indeed, this very proposition was anathematised by Vatican I.[6]

From his attempt to ‘downsize’ papal authority, Groome proceeds to a similar reductionist assault on the teaching authority of the Magisterium in general. He says:


“If we remember that the Church is the whole community of the Body of Christ, including all baptised Christians and not just its leaders, then we recognise that the Church’s ‘teaching authority’ cannot be limited to the institutional magisterium.”[7]


As opposed to what Groome asserts above,  Vatican II taught as follows:


“But the task of giving an authentic interpretation to the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”[8]


In Sharing Faith, Groome casts doubt on the Catholic doctrine that there is a direct line of succession linking the present Pope to St. Peter. He says: “The traditional Catholic assertion that there is a direct historical line of succession between the present Pope and Peter, presumed to be the first bishop of Rome, must also be nuanced.”[9] He adds that “in light of New Testament scholarship, we cannot presume a line of direct succession between pope and Peter...the function of bishop as we might recognise it today did not begin until the second century.”[10] Then, with the aid of a quotation from Raymond Brown,  he says:


“In light of this, ‘the supposition that, when Peter did come to Rome (presumably in the 60’s), he took over and became the first bishop represents a retrojection of later church order’.”[11]


Let us pause for a moment to notice how Groome uses the hermeneutic of suspicion in his words quoted above: “must also be nuanced.” This phrase suggests that the reader should be suspicious of the “traditional Catholic assertion that there is a direct historical line of succession…”. ‘Nuanced’ in Groome’s sentence implies that there is a deficit of some sort – be it in terms of meaning or historical accuracy - in the Catholic doctrinal position that links the present Pope to St. Peter in a line of perpetual succession.

It is true, as Pope John Paul II points out, that the New Testament does not state Jesus’ “specific desire to choose Rome as the primatial See.”[12] Our Lord entrusted that, adds the Holy Father, “to historical events in which the divine plan for the Church, the determination of the concrete conditions of Peter’s succession, would appear.”[13] The New Testament does however reveal Jesus’ intention in regard to the role of Peter and his successors in the Church. Given that there must be a succession to Peter in virtue of Christ’s institution of the Petrine office, and that there are no signs of such a succession or claims to it evident in any  See other than that of Rome, then not to accept the Bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter would leave us with no alternative but to assert that Christ’s Church is a wholly invisible reality. But such a proposition is heresy, something that belongs to classical Protestantism as it is given expression in the Westminister Confession. 

In establishing his Church with a hierarchical constitution, Jesus definitely intended that there would be successors to St. Peter in terms of his teaching and ruling authority. Vatican I defined this truth of faith when it said: “It is by the institution of Christ the Lord, that is, by divine right, that blessed Peter has endless successors in his primacy over the whole Church.”[14] Linking this primacy to the See of Rome, Vatican I stated that “the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter in the same primacy.”[15] According to Pope John Paul II, this definition “binds the primacy of Peter and his successor to the See of Rome, which cannot be replaced by any other see.”[16] Thus, in the solemn teaching of Vatican I we read: 


“If, then, any one shall say that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord, or by divine right, that Blessed Peter should have a perpetual line of successors in the primacy over the Universal Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Blessed Peter in this primacy - anathema sit.[17]


From what has been said above regarding the “perpetual line of succession” linking the present pope to St. Peter, it is clear that Groome is in contradiction of Catholic doctrine when he asserts that “we cannot presume a line of direct succession between pope and Peter.” If the link between Peter and the present pope is one of “perpetual succession”, then it cannot be anything other than “direct succession.” The fact that the pope may choose to live for a time at Avignon or somewhere else does not in the least negate this truth.

In historical terms, the earliest reference to St. Peter’s presence and martyrdom in Rome is found in Pope St. Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians. Written around 96 A.D, this letter was occasioned by disobedience amongst Christians in Corinth whereby they rejected their local hierarchy. In his capacity as head of “the Church of God dwelling at Rome,” St. Clement commanded the Corinthian Christians on pain of grave sin to submit in obedience to their lawful hierarchy.[18] This authoritative intervention towards the end of the first century by Pope St. Clement in the affairs of Christians in Corinth (a Greek city), is evidence that the successor of St. Peter in the See of Rome  was by that time exercising universal jurisdiction in the Church founded by Christ. Other significant testimony to the presence of Peter in Rome and to the Bishops of Rome in the first two centuries as his successors are to be found in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Irenaeus.

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 Deconstructing the Ordained Priesthood


According to the teaching of Vatican II, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass is the “source and summit of the Christian life.”[19] The Eucharist Sacrifice is inextricably linked to the priesthood of Christ. The role of a priest is to act as a mediator between God and man. The New Testament recognises no other priesthood other than that of Christ. His sacrifice, whereby he freely “lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10: 11), is presented in the New Testament as the sacrifice of the priest who sheds his own blood for the expiation of sins (cf. Mk 14:24; Rom 5:6; Eph 1:7; 2:3; 1 Jn 2:2; Eph 5:20-25). The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ as the “high priest” who bears in himself a “priesthood that continues for ever” (Heb 5: 9-10; 7:24).

Christ made all members of his Church sharers in his priesthood (cf. Rev 1:6; 1 Pet 2:5, 9). This participation in the priesthood of Christ is of two types: i) the “common” priesthood of all the faithful, and ii) the “ministerial” priesthood which is also referred to as the “hierarchical” or “ordained” priesthood. 

The common priesthood is conferred by Baptism through which the faithful are incorporated into the Church and “reborn as sons of God". As such, they are able to participate in the worship of the Church and receive the other sacraments, as well as being commissioned to bear witness to the Gospel in their daily lives.[20] 

The ministerial priesthood is conferred through the sacrament Holy Orders by which “the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time.”[21]  There are two degrees of ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ: i) episcopal consecration through which the fullness of Holy Orders is conferred on bishops, ii) the presbyterate (priests) which is conferred through priestly ordination. The third degree of the sacrament of Holy Orders known as the diaconate, does not confer the ministerial priesthood, but rather calls those on whom it is conferred to a particular form of service in the Church.

In reference to the ministerial priesthood, Vatican II stated that through the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Holy Orders, priests “are signed with a special character and so are configured to Christ the priest in such a way that they are able to act in the person of Christ the head.”[22] This means that through the service of the ministerial priest, “it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth.”[23]

The distinction between the “common” and “ministerial” priesthoods is critical to our understanding of the Church. Highlighting this distinction between the two priesthoods, Vatican II said that they “differ from one another in essence and not only in degree.”[24] Consistent with his reductionist assault on the hierarchical nature of the Church, Groome in Sharing Faith relativises this teaching by asserting that it merely “reflects the present ‘mind’ of the Church,” and that “historical circumstances and critical scholarship may yet nuance it.”[25] He adds that the “primary intent” of Vatican II’s teaching on this question was “to affirm the close relationship” between the two priesthoods and that “their distinction seems more parenthetical.” [26]

In 1983, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF), issued with the approval of Pope John Paul II a letter to the world’s bishops titled Sacerdotium Ministeriale (The Minister of the Eucharist). It stated that “it is of the very nature of the church that the power to consecrate the eucharist is imparted only to the bishops and priests who are constituted its ministers by the reception of holy orders.”[27] It rejected as contrary to Catholic doctrine the assertion that a local community can “have the right to designate” its own leaders and to confer on them the faculties necessary “for presiding at and consecrating the eucharist.”[28] It added that the Christian community “was deliberately structured hierarchically by its divine Founder,” in consequence of which “there have existed from its earliest days specific apostolic powers deriving from the sacrament of holy orders.”[29] It stated  that among the powers which Christ entrusted exclusively to the apostles and their successors “is the power of confecting the Eucharist.”[30]

The Council of Trent teaches that when Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper and commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return, “he thereby constituted them priests of the New Covenant.”[31] In harmony with this, it added:


“If anyone says that by the words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11: 24) Christ did not establish the apostles as priests or that He did not order (ordinasse) that they and other priests should offer His body and blood, let him be anathema.”[32]


Groome is particularly concerned to reconstruct the history and nature of “ministries” in the early Church. In Sharing Faith, he asserts that “the many specific ministries in the New Testament church seems to have emerged from the existential situations and needs of the first Christian communities.”[33] Again, notice the method of suspicion at work. Groome’s statement that all of  “the many specific ministries” in the New Testament “seems to have emerged from the existential situations and needs of the first Christian communities” implies that the ministerial priesthood also arose from the “needs” of the community.

As we have seen, the Council of Trent definitively teaches that Christ first conferred the ministerial priesthood on the apostles at the Last Supper. Being logically consistent, however, Groome relativises this truth. After asserting that the “equating” of “apostle with sacerdotal function” is not “in the first century,” and in regard to what he reductively calls “the traditional Catholic notion that the apostles were commissioned at the Last Supper to preside at Eucharist,” Groome goes on in Sharing Faith to quote with apparent approval Kenan B. Osborne where he says:


 “In spite of the long tradition of this view, contemporary scholars find no basis for such an interpretation. In other words, Jesus did not ordain the apostles (disciples) at this final supper to be ‘priests,’ giving them thereby the power to celebrate the eucharist.”[34]


In Sharing Faith, Groome attributes to Raymond Brown what he terms the now “generally accepted” thesis that “the first Christians did not see the confecting of the Eucharist as a personal and ontological power invested in one person who rendered Eucharist for the community.”[35] “Instead,” says Groome, “through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the ‘sacramental powers’ resided in the whole community, ” so that “the community chose certain people to preside at divine worship for the sake of ‘holy order’.”[36]

Groome’s suspicion of the Church’s teaching on the origin of the ministerial priesthood is clear in the quote above where he infers that the Church’s doctrine regarding the source of the power of the sacrament of Holy Orders is untrue. His conclusion in this regard is based on the way that Raymond Brown applied the hermeneuic of suspicion to the Church’s teaching on the question under consideration.

Again in Sharing Faith, Groome asserts that “the notion that presiding at Eucharist is an exclusively priestly function did not become widespread until the beginning of the third century.”[37] He adds that “the association of priesthood with Eucharist emerged as later Christians began to allegorise the sacrifices of the Hebrew covenant, which were offered by priests.” Finally, says Groome, the Eucharist came to be “perceived as replacing the sacrifices no longer offered in the now destroyed temple, and thus requiring the sacerdotal function of the priest.”[38]

The Council of Trent set forth the principle that “sacrifice and priesthood are by divine ordinance united” in both the Old and the New Testament, and that in instituting the ministerial priesthood, Christ gave “to the apostles and their successors in the priesthood…the power of consecrating, offering, and administering his body and blood…[as] shown by the Sacred Scriptures and [as] has always been taught by the tradition of the Catholic Church.”[39]

We see from the above that in defining Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist and ministerial priesthood, Trent did so on the basis of what has been “shown by the Sacred Scriptures and has always been taught by the tradition of the Catholic Church.” This gives rise to some important principles. The first is that in reading Sacred Scripture from a Catholic perspective, we must do so within the framework of the Church’s Faith, not apart from it. It follows that we cannot interpret a text of Sacred Scripture in a way that contradicts interpretations of other passages of the Bible accepted by the Church.[40] The second principle to be observed is that we cannot propose an interpretation of the tradition that comes from the apostles that is at variance with what the magisterium has already ruled definitively to be the doctrine of the Church. From what we have seen so far of Groome’s work, it is clear that he has failed to conform to these Catholic principles governing the interpretation of the Word of God.

In his recent encyclical on the Eucharist titled Ecclesia De Eucharistia (EDE), Pope John Paul II was concerned, amongst other things, to reaffirm Catholic doctrine regarding the link between the celebration of the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood. In stating his purpose in issuing the encyclical, the Holy Father said:


“It is my hope that the present Encyclical Letter will effectively help to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery.”[41]


In EDE, Pope John Paul II warned against tendencies to obscure “the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, grounded in apostolic succession” for any valid celebration of Eucharistic mystery.[42] In stating that the Eucharist originates with Christ, the Holy Father added that “it was entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and has been handed down to us by them and by their successors.”[43] Coupled with this, the Pope stated that the ministerial priesthood “effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist.”[44]

After stating that “succession to the Apostles in the pastoral mission necessarily entails the sacrament of Holy Orders, that is, the uninterrupted sequence, from the very beginning, of valid episcopal ordinations,”[45] Pope John Paul II added in EDE that the “assembly” gathered together for the celebration of the Eucharist “absolutely requires the presence of an ordained priest as its president.”[46] In saying this, the Holy Father pointed out that “the community is by itself incapable of providing an ordained minister,” since “this minister is a gift which the assembly receives through episcopal succession going back to the Apostles.”[47]

Catholics believe that through the consecration in the Mass the bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ. This aspect of the Eucharistic mystery has always been adhered to in the Church founded by Christ. Hence, in the teaching of Trent we read:


“It has always been the conviction of the Church of God…that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change in the whole substance of the bread into the whole substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.”[48]


Since the Eucharist can only be confected by those who have had the ministerial priesthood conferred on them by way of an “uninterrupted sequence of valid episcopal ordinations”[49] going back to the Apostles, it follows that Groome is in contradiction of Catholic doctrine when he asserts that “sacramental powers” resided in the whole community which “chose certain people to preside at divine worship for the sake of ‘holy order’.”[50] Indeed, Pope Pius VI taught that it is “heretical” to assert that “the power of the ministry and of ecclesial rule comes to the pastors from the community of the faithful.”[51]


 Apostolic Succession

As noted earlier, Groome claims that “the function of bishop as we might recognise it today did not begin until the second century.”[52] In Sharing Faith, he quotes Raymond Brown with apparent approval where in reference to the celebration of the Eucharist he says: 


“There is simply no compelling evidence for the classic thesis that…there was a chain of ordination passing the power of presiding at the Eucharist from the Twelve to missionary apostles to presbyter-bishops. How one got the right to preside and whether it endured beyond a single instance we do not know…”[53]


In reference to what he terms the “Tridentine perspective” on “ministry”, the most significant aspect of which was its emphasis on the tripartite division of ordained ministry according to the ranks of bishop, priest and deacon, Groome in Sharing Faith says:


“New Testament evidence suggests…the Tridentine perception of ministry is much more the product of history and of the sociocultural contexts in which the church found herself than of any blueprint to be found in the New Testament communities.”[54]


Regarding the presence in the New Testament of bishops, priests and deacons, the Council of Trent declared: “If anyone shall say that in the Catholic Church there is not instituted a hierarchy by divine ordinance, which consists of bishops, priests and ministers - anathema sit.”[55] The term “ministers” used in this passage is synonymous with the word “deacons”.[56]

While the words “ordained” or “ministerial” priest do not appear in the New Testament, equivalent terms such as presbyteroi (presbyters) do which initially meant “elder ones” or “elders”. The Greek word presbuteros is rendered in Latin as presbyter, which translates into French as pretre  and hence the English word priest. Also, those who received the power of the apostolic ministry from the Apostles were called “episkopoi” which primarily used to mean “overseers.” The English word “Bishop” comes from this Greek term “épiskopos.” In the New Testament it is not always easy to distinguish between “presbyters” (elders) and “bishops” (overseers).[57]

As Pope John paul II has stated, the Apostles knew that it was “Christ’s will that they provide for successors, who as their heirs and representatives, would continue their mission.”[58] Vatican II says: “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles left bishops, as their successors. They gave them their own teaching authority.”[59] The Apostles, adds Vatican II, “consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of confirming and finishing the work begun by themselves,” and to these men they gave “the order that, when they should have died, other approved men should take up their ministry.”[60] Finally, on the question of apostolic succession, Vatican II stated that bishops are “regarded as the transmitters of the apostolic line” in virtue of an “unbroken succession going back to the beginning.”[61]

We see how leaders were appointed in the early Church in the account of the institution of “the Seven” in Acts 6:1-6. The initiative is taken by “the Twelve” who “called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them” (Acts 6:1-2). It was the apostles who suggested to the “community” how problems between the “Hellenists” and the “Hebrews” should be resolved. St. Luke says that “the whole assembly approved this proposal,” and after electing suitable candidates to carry out the assigned tasks, they then “presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6: 5-6). Note how it is the apostles who confirm the “Seven” in their office, the “community” has no authority to make such an installation.

Elsewhere in the New Testament where the institution of ministers is referred to, there is no mention of a community role in the process. For example, as the Church took root in Antioch the apostles sent a representative named Barnabas (cf. Acts 11:22). After his conversion, St. Paul went with Barnabas to Jerusalem as the “ecclesial centre of authority to confer with the apostles.”[62] From Antioch, Barnabas and Paul were sent out on an apostolic mission after the apostles had “laid hands on them” (Acts 13:2-3).

As the early Church grew, the apostles appointed “presbyters” whose responsibilities are defined in detail by St. Paul in his pastoral letters to Titus and Timothy whom he appointed as heads of their respective Christian communities (cf. Acts 24:23; Tit 1:5; 1 Tim 5:17).[63] After the Council of Jerusalem, the apostles sent to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas two men named Silas and Judas who were considered as “leaders among the brothers” (Acts 15: 22).

The bestowal of the apostolic ministry was effected through a special sacramental rite involving the laying on of hands through which the special gift of the Holy Spirit was transmitted. In this regard, St. Paul said to his disciple Timothy: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Tim 1:6), and "If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task" (1Tim 3:1).[64] To Titus he said: “This is why I left you in Crete, that you amend what was defective, and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you,” adding that “a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless…he must hold fast to the sure doctrine and also refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:5-9).

The principle of apostolic succession at work in the New Testament Church is evident in St. Paul’s farewell discourse to the presbyters of Miletus. Here we read: “Now be solicitous for yourselves and for the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops to pasture the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Cardinal Ratzinger notes how this text illustrates “that the Holy Spirit places men in this office: it is not a delegation on the part of the community…but the gift of the Lord, who gives personally what only he can give.”[65]

The task assigned to those who succeeded the apostles in their apostolic ministry is threefold: i) to proclaim the Gospel (cf. 2 Tim 1:8, 13; 2:2; 4:2, 5; 1 Tim 4:11, 13; 6:20); ii) to exercise direction of liturgical service (cf. 1 Tim 3:9; 4:13); iii) to lead and guide the community (cf. 1 Tim 3:15; 5:17-19; 1 Pet 5:1-4). This office is perpetuated down to our own day where the bishops, as legitimate successors of the apostles, are empowered to teach, sanctify and govern those placed under their pastoral care.[66]


[1] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 301

[2] Ibid. p. 444

[3] Thomas Groome, Educating for Life,  Thomas More, Texas, 1998, p. 240

[4] Vatican, Lumen Gentium, n. 22; cf. Christus Dominus, n. 2

[5] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 25.

[6] Cf. Pastor Aeternus, Denz. 3074-75

[7] Thomas Groome, Educating For Life,op.cit. p. 241.

[8] Vatican II, Dei Verbum, n. 10.

[9] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 314.

[10] Ibid. p. 314.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, January 27, 1993.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Denz. 3056.

[15] Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Denz. 3058

[16] Pope John Paul II, The Bishop of Rome Is Peter’s Successor, General Audience, January 27, 1993

[17] Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Denz. 3058.

[18] Cf. St. Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, [59,1}, in William A. Jurgens’ The Faith of the Early Fathers, Liturgical Press, Minnesota, 1970, Vol. 1, p. 12.

[19] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 11; CCC. n. 1411.

[20] Cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 11.

[21] CCC. n. 1536.

[22] Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 2.

[23] CCC. n. 1548.

[24] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 10; cf. CCC, n. 1547.

[25] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, p. 324

[26] Ibid.

[27] SCDF, Sacerdotium Ministeriale, Section III, n.4

[28] Ibid. Section II, n.3

[29] Sacerdotium Ministerialet, Section III, 3

[30] Ibid. Section III, 4

[31] Council of Trent, (DS 1740); cf. CCC, n. 1337

[32] Council of Trent, Session 22, Canon 2, (DS 1752).

[33] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 309

[34] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 314, 512n. 27.

[35] Ibid. p.310

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Council of Trent, Session 23, Chapter 1 (DS 1764). I have taken this translation of the teaching of Trent from Theology of the Priesthood by Fr. Jean Galot, S.J (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1985, p. 129.

[40] Cf. Vatican II, Dei Verbum, n. 12

[41] Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, n. 10

[42] Ibid. nn. 10

[43] Ibid. n.27

[44] Ibid. n.31

[45] Ibid. n.28

[46] Ibid. n.29

[47] Ibid. n.29

[48] DS 1642, cf. CCC, 1376

[49] Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia De Eucharistia,  n.28

[50] Thomas Groome,  Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 310

[51] Pope Pius VI, Const. Auctorem Fidei, August 28, 1794: Denz. 1502.

[52] Thomas Groome,  Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 314.

[53] Thomas Groome,  Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 310

[54] Ibid. p. 311-12.

[55] Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacrament of Order, Denz. 1776.

[56] Cf. Pope John Paul II,  General Audience, October 6, 1993

[57] Cf. Pope John Paul II, General Audience, March 3, 1993

[58] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, July 1, 1992

[59] Vatican II, Dei Verbum, n. 7.

[60]  Ibid. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 18.

[61] Ibid. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 18.

[62] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, July 8, 1992

[63] Cf. Pope John Paul II, General Audience, July 8, 1992

[64] Cf. CCC, n. 1590. The Scripture quotations given here, which have been taken from the CCC, are adapted from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, 1989.

[65] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Called to Communion, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1996, p. 122.

[66] Vatican II, Christus Dominus, nn, 6, 11, 12


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 Women Priests and Homosexual Marriages?

In asserting that in the early Church local Christian communities could designate their own leaders and confer on them authority to preside over the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Groome in Sharing Faith says that usually “this designation fell to the community leader, not because of a sacral power, but by her or his function of leadership…”[1]

In asserting as he does above that women presided over the celebration of the Eucharist in the early Church, Groome does not substantiate his thesis with corroborating evidence from the historical record. Indeed, in the first centuries of Christianity, it was only within heretical sects that attempts were made to confer the priesthood on women by allowing them to “preside” over “eucharistic” celebrations. St. Irenaeus identified the practice with Valentinian gnosticism.[2] Speaking of the current push for women’s ordination in the context of resurgent heresy, Fr. Donald Keefe, S.J. says:


“It should not be supposed that the issue of women’s orders is novel: it dates back to the Montanist heresy of the second and third centuries, and since then has surfaced intermittently in association with comparably gnostic and anti-historical interpretations of Christianity.”[3]


Since 1975, the constant teaching of the Church regarding the impossibility of conferring the ministerial priesthood on women has been reaffirmed on many occasions by the magisterium.[4] In 1982, Groome asserted that the reasons given by the Church for the non-ordination of women are “false”.[5] He stated that the admission of women to the ministries of “deacon, priest, bishop and pontiff” was a vital step towards the establishment of “a Church of mutuality and inclusiveness.”[6] Since then, Groome has continued to assail the Church over its teaching on the reservation of the ministerial priesthood to men alone.

In Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, published in 1994, Pope John Paul II  stated that the practice of not conferring priestly ordination on women was founded on the example of Christ as recorded in the Gospels and on the universal Tradition of the Church. In view of this, the Holy Father declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”[7] In 1995, the CDF issued with the approval of Pope John Paul II a clarifying statement in regard to the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which said:


“This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written word of God and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal  Magisterium.”[8]


In 1995, Groome stated that “the continued exclusion of women from ordained ministry in the Catholic Church is seen by fair-minded scholars as without theological or biblical warrant.” In saying this, he cited dissenting statements by Karl Rahner as an example of a “fine, balanced and scholarly refutation” of the “arguments” given by the magisterium as to why it is impossible to ordain women.[9] Far from being a “scholarly refutation” of the Church’s teaching, Rahner’s assault on it was big on cliches but devoid of substance.

More recently, Groome has been a featured speaker at Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) gatherings in the US. VOTF has seized upon clergy sex abuse scandals to campaign for the restructuring of the Catholic Church along democratic lines - which for Groome would require “that we reconstruct the Catholic priesthood” so as to facilitate “women as priests and bishops.”[10]

In June 2003, Groome publicly distanced himself from the Church’s teaching on the need to defend the meaning of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. In May 2003, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in the U.S was considering a Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment which stated that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts understands "marriage" to be a union of one man and one woman. The purpose of this amendment to the state constitution was to preempt a possible favourable judgement by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts in regard to an application before it seeking to have marriage licenses granted to homosexual couples.

In 1996, a statement on “Same-Sex Marriage” was issued by the U.S Bishops opposing the granting of  the status of “marriage” to homosexual couples. In November 2002, the CDF issued with the approval of Pope John Paul II a Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Involving the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. This Doctrinal Note stated that there existed “fundamental and inalienable ethical demands” that obliged Christians to seek to safeguard the family “based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman” adding that “in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such"

On  28 May 2003, the Catholic Bishops of  Massachusetts issued a joint statement calling on Catholics to support the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment. The bishops’ statement said that any judgement by the Supreme Court redefining marriage so as to include homosexual couples “would have devastating consequences.” In an interview with the Boston Globe on June 26, Groome was asked the following question: “That official (church) voice recently was used in the Massachusetts bishops' letter regarding gay marriage. Catholics by a majority have told pollsters they don't think homosexual behaviour is immoral. What's your position?” In reply, Groome said:


“I think the bishops are entitled to speak out on issues of public morality. There will always be a distinction between what is moral and what is legal. I don't know where I come down on whether or not the law before the Massachusetts Legislature (that would define marriage as heterosexual only) is wise.”


Here, Groome casts his dark cloud of “suspicion” over the veracity of the Church’s definitive teaching regarding the inalienable ethical demand that same-sex relationships not be equated in law with marriage. But Groome muddied the waters even further. When asked by the Boston Globe “how independent can Catholic teachers be from church orthodoxy,” he answered: 


“It all depends what we mean by orthodoxy. I don't know of any Catholic theologian who doesn't want to teach what is orthodox Catholic faith. The difficulty is that the official church at the moment has a narrower view of what is orthodoxy than I have. Take an issue like ordination of married men, the notion of optional celibacy. The present church's legislation requires celibacy, and many of the bishops and the present pope would see that as close to being divinely inspired. That wouldn't be my sentiment at all. I think it's a human regulation that we should dispense with. It should be optional. I would have a similar sentiment on the ordination of women.”


Doctrinally speaking, Groome has placed two questions on the same plane which should not be treated as such. While the Church is committed to maintaining mandatory clerical celibacy in the Latin Rite, and it has very good reasons for this which I cannot treat of here, the question of the Church’s doctrine on the male-only ministerial priesthood however pertains to something instituted by Christ over which the Church has no power. Basically, Groome is depriving "orthodoxy" of its concrete content: his "official church", by which he means the teaching of the magisterium, is not authoritative any longer as far as he is concerned. He apparently feels free to reject whatever Church doctrines do not measure up to whatever is politically correct.

In asserting that the teaching of the Church on the non-ordination of women is false, Groome is effectively saying that the Magisterium is leading the faithful away from the truth, ie. away from Christ. In reality, it is Groome who has moved away from the truth. The CDF’s Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio fidei’stated that those who deny truths such as the “doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men” are “rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine” in consequence of which they would “no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.”[11]


 What Shall We Say of Christ?


Groome posits the absurd idea that in the interests of  greater “sensitivity to inclusive language,” it “is helpful to reduce reliance on gender-based pronouns” when referring to Jesus in order “to emphasize his humanity rather than his maleness.”[12] He asserts that Christ’s maleness was a mere accident of  his life in consequence of which “it is through his divinity and humanity, not particularly his maleness” that he “is our Saviour and Liberator.”[13]

In part, Groome’s proposal to neuter Christ is an attempt by him to lend credence to his assertion that the Church’s teaching on the male-only ministerial priesthood is false. In particular, he is concerned to discredit that aspect of Church teaching which holds that the sacrament of Holy Orders has to be reserved to men alone since only men can sacramentally represent Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist in terms of his spousal relationship to the Church, which is that of Bridegroom to Bride and New Adam to New Eve.

A problem with Groome’s proposed neutering of Christ is that it seems to disregard the fact that to be in possession of a human nature is to be either male or female. Since maleness or femaleness is a primal and constitutive element of true humanity, then the masculinity of Jesus Christ is a constitutive aspect of his humanity and without it his humanity does not exist. Hence, in tandem with the integral nature of  its doctrine on the Incarnation and Resurrection, the definitive teaching of the Church is that Christ “was and remains a man.”[14]

If Groome’s ideas on the neutering of Christ were carried to their logical conclusion, they would destroy the marital symbolism drawn from the orders of creation and redemption which are so central to the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery. Not only would this compromise the content of the deposit of faith, it would also cause great harm to individuals and society since it would undermine the real and symbolic meaning of marriage.

On the question of Christology, it is  revealing to note what Groome had to say in regard to Michael Morwod’s book Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium.  A “Notice” regarding this book was issued by Archbishop Pell in Melbourne in 1998 which said that it “must not be used as a text in any of our Catholic schools and is not to be displayed, sold, or distributed in any of our churches.” The official  Report On The Doctrinal Content of Tomorrow’s Catholic, issued by the Archdiocese of Melbourne, listed Morwood’s major doctrinal errors as follows:


1.       A denial of the Incarnation of the pre-existent Eternal Word, the

Second Person of the Holy Trinity;

2.       A denial of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, by referring to Jesus as a

“human person” and redefining divinity;

3.       A belittling of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity;

4.       A denial of Original Sin;

5.      A distortion of the doctrine of the Redemption through the saving death of Jesus Christ for our sins.


Despite Morwood’s repudiation of the central dogmatic elements of Catholicism, Groome nevertheless had no compunction about penning the following comments in his foreword to the book:


“He [Morwood] is convinced, and rightly so, that the ‘package’ of Catholicism we received from the previous era is no longer adequate to the challenges of this age — To refashion Catholicism to meet the challenges of this new era requires imagination and courage, and Morwood demonstrates both…Tomorrow’s Catholic invites us to take some bold steps in the right direction.”



[1] Ibid. p. 310 (bold print inserted by this author).

[2] Cf. St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1,13,2.

[3] Fr. Donald Keefe, S.J., Covenantal Theology: The Eucharistic Order of History, Presidio Press, Novato, California, 1996, p. 42

[4] i) Pope Paul VI, Response to His Grace the Most Reverend DR F.D Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, Concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood, 1975; ii) Inter Insigniores, SCDF, 1976; iii) Pope John Paul II: Mulieris Dignitatem (n. 26), 1988; Christifideles Laici (n. 51), 1988; Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 1994; iv) Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1577), 1992; v) Response to Dubium, CDF, 1995; vi) Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio fidei,’ CDF, (n. 11), 1998.

[5] Thomas Groome, Signs of Hope, PACE 12, Direction A, St Mary’s Press, Winona 1982,  p. 4.

[6] Ibid. p. 3

[7] Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, n. 4 ; cf. nn. 1 and 2

[8] Response of CDF  to the ‘Dubium’, L’Osservatore Romano, November, 22, 1995.

[9] Thomas Groome, Language for a ‘Catholic’ Church: A  Program of Study (revised and updated edition), Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995, pp. 31, 70, n.10

[10] Thomas Groome, Boston Globe, 19 May 2002.

[11] Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio fidei,’ CDF, nn. 6, 11.

[12] Thomas H. Groome, Language for a Catholic Church ( Revised and Updated Edition), Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995, p. 28.

[13] Ibid. pp. 26-27

[14] Inter Insigniores, n. 5


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Chapter 3 

Religious Education

Content,  Methodology, Witness


Religious educators sometimes distinguish between Catechesis and Religious Education, the former is said to be concerned with nurturing a deeper knowledge of the Catholic faith in those being educated, while the later is said to concern itself with religion as an historical and sociological phenomenon. In its document The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, the Congregation for Catholic Education stated that this distinction “does not change the fact that a school can and must play its specific role in the work of catechesis.” It added that since the Catholic school “as a whole is inserted into the evangelical function of the Church,” it thereby “assists in and promotes faith education.”[1]

In the discussion that follows, I will use the terms catechesis and religious education interchangeably. In doing so, I give to the term religious education the same meaning it carries in the new Melbourne religious education curriculum titled To Know, Worship and Love. Mandated by Archbishop Pell in the late 1990s and brought to completion under the direction of Archbishop Hart in 2001, this curriculum understands religious education as necessarily embodying a “call to faith” dimension which receives varying degrees of emphasis across the different modules of the curriculum.



Religious education must be directed at the entire person, always respecting his integral dignity and freedom. At the same time, “the ultimate goal of all Catholic education is salvation in Jesus Christ.”[2] According to Pope John Paul II, catechesis refers to all efforts made within the Church “to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they may have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ.”[3] Referring to the Trinitarian character of catechesis, the Holy Father says: “…the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Holy Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”[4]

In the religious education process, young people should be encouraged to relate to Jesus as their Lord and God, as well as their brother and friend.. At the same time, RE should be concerned to open the students’ minds to Christ’s relationship to his Church and to their own place in carrying out its mission.[5]

The human mind was created capable of knowing truth, hence the content of divine Revelation is directed first of all to the mind. Speaking of this, Fr James V Schall, S.J. says: “Thinking, knowing the truth, knowing why the truth is truth…is itself a proper activity of the being of man.” Fr. Schall adds that “a Catholicism that does not maintain its basis in truth, that does not pass on what was handed down to it as true, would not only betray its own founding, it would also cease to be at all interesting, at all provocative.”[6]

There is no conflict between a religious education curriculum that is person and Christ centred, and one that is doctrinally centred. According to Cardinal Newman, Gospel faith is “a definite deposit, a treasure common to all, one and the same in every age, conceived in set words, such as to admit of being received, preserved, transmitted”.[7] The Catholic Faith is concerned with facts: for example, we believe in the Incarnation of God’s Eternal Word, the Virginal Conception of Christ and His Bodily Resurrection, the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. In Newman’s understanding of how a strong faith develops, doctrinal knowledge was seen as something everyone needed to be in possession of. He said:


“[Gospel] faith is what even the humblest member of the Church may and must contend for; and in proportion to his education will the circle of his knowledge enlarge...and according as his power of grasping the sense of [the Creed’s] articles increases, so will it become his duty to contend for them in their fuller and more accurate form.”[8]


Doctrinal formulas provide young people with something their minds can grasp. In this regard, Pope John Paul II points out that a good religious education program should seek to have the students commit to memory such things as “the words of Jesus, important Bible passages, the Ten Commandments, the formulas of the profession of the faith, liturgical texts, essential prayers, key doctrinal ideas etc.”[9]

Annually since 1998, the Catholic Education Office in Sydney has held a religious education test for grade six students in schools of the archdiocese. The test covers various areas of Catholic life and practice, including Holy Mass, sacraments, religious symbols and decision-making. One school that has distinguished itself in terms of the high proportion of its students who get High Distinction Certificates is St Joseph’s Riverwood. The parish priest of Riverwood, Fr. John Walter, plays an active role in the catechesis of the students at St Joseph’s. He points to the high degree of receptivity Catholic children have to the mysteries of the faith when their presentation is tailored to their stage of development.

Describing one aspect of the catechetical method he employs, Fr Walter said: “Over and over again I have been deeply impressed by the immediacy of the children’s comprehension when presented with simple, orthodox exposition of the whys and wherefores of the faith. Minor corrections are incorporated in the follow-up questions and by constant revision, repetition anchors knowledge.” Having said this, Father Walter added:


“It is a truism to say that grace builds on nature. But true knowledge is an indispensable partner in remaining faithful to the demands of faith. The Catholic faith cannot be imposed; it must be willingly embraced through a personal response by every generation. It must be taught if it is to be caught. It must be learnt if it is to be lived.”[10]


While greater knowledge of the doctrine of the faith does not necessarily confer greater sanctity, it is also true however, as Pope John Paul II points out, that “the blossoms” of faith and piety “do not grow in the desert places” of a memory empty of doctrinal content.[11] We should note in this regard what Cardinal Newman said of his own spiritual journey: “When I was fifteen (in the autumn of 1816) a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influences of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through God’s mercy, have never been effaced or obscured.”[12] Describing how doctrinal knowledge fosters spiritual growth, Newman said:


“[Doctrinal] propositions may and must be used, and easily can be used, as the expression of facts, and they are necessary to the mind in the same way that language is ever necessary for denoting facts...Again, they are useful in their dogmatic aspect as ascertaining and making clear for us truths on which the religious imagination has to rest. Knowledge must ever precede the exercise of the affections.”[13]

In emphasising the importance of the doctrinal element in religious education,  I am not suggesting that there is no need to take account of the lived experiences of those who are to be educated in the faith. Jesus himself constantly drew on his hearers’ daily experience in order to build a bridge from it to what he intended to instruct them on regarding the Kingdom of God. Consequently, a wise teacher will always take account of the background of students and what may be of concern to them at a particular stage in their development. Of course  all mediums of communication should be used in religious education including drama, music and art.


[1] The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, Congregation for Catholic Education, n. 69

[2] Pope John Paul II, Address to Catholic school teachers, New Orleans, December 12, 1987.

[3] Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 1.

[4] Ibid. n. 5

[5] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Address to Catholic school teachers, New Orleans, December 12, 1987.

[6] Fr James V. Schall, Catholicism and the Truth of Things, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 2002.

[7] Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, II, cited by Archbishop Eric D’Arcy in The New Catechism and Cardinal Newman, Communio 20, Fall 1993, p. 499.

[8] Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons II, cited by Archbishop Eric D’Arcy, op. cit. p. 496.

[9] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Catechesis Tradendae, n. 55.

[10] Fr. John Walter, Sydney Archdiocese RE Test: behind one school’s success story, AD2000, March 2003, p.3

[11] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 55.

[12] Cardinal John Henry  Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Penquin Books, London 1994,  p. 25.

[13] Cardinal John Henry Newman, Grammar of Assent, cited by Archbishop Eric D’Arcy, op. cit. p. 499.


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The methodology employed in religious education must be conducive to fostering in students a greater love and appreciation of Catholic doctrine. The word ‘method’ is derived from the Greek word methodos which literally means “a way or path of transit.” Since the character of the methodological principles of any discipline influence its conclusions, then a discipline seeking to communicate objective truth must employ a methodology ordered to that purpose. Hence, in Catholic religious education, the methodology employed must be predicated on the belief that the teaching of the Church can be trusted as a reliable guide to truth.

Regarding the choice of catechetical methodology, the GDC states that the Church “does not have a particular method,” adding that a “variety of methods is a sign of richness as well as a demonstration of respect for those to whom catechesis is being addressed.”[1] Such a diversity of methods allows teachers to better adopt their religious education programs to the intellectual development and personal circumstances of their students, including “their degree of ecclesial and spiritual maturity.”[2]

The GDC makes particular reference to the deductive and inductive methods of catechesis. The deductive method begins with the Word of God, liturgy, creeds etc and applies them to life; while the inductive method starts with life experience and proceeds to the Word of God to enlighten and interpret it.[3] However, the GDC points out that the inductive method does not exclude the deductive method, but rather requires it since God’s self-revelation is on his initiative and is not reached merely by human reasoning. The deductive method is sometimes referred to as the kerymatic approach, while the inductive method is referred to as the existential approach.[4] The integration of the deductive and inductive methods makes it easier for those being catechised to set about forging that unity of faith and life which is an essential trait of the disciple of Christ.

The Archdiocese of Melbourne’s new religious education curriculum follows closely the criteria laid down in the GDC governing the choice of methodology. Monsignor Peter Elliott, the curriculum’s general editor, stated that “religious educators are offered the option of either a deductive approach (starting with faith – doctrine, scripture etc) or an inductive approach starting with life.”[5] He added:


“Freedom of method allows the teacher or catechist to decide what approach is appropriate in a specific situation. Educators are encouraged to be open and flexible in light of a principle enunciated in the early stages of the project: clear content and flexible method. Educators should not be preoccupied about process.”[6]


Explaining how the title of the Melbourne curriculum relates to its methodological principles, Monsignor Elliott said: “ ‘To Know’ may refer to the cognitive or doctrinal approach. ‘To Worship’ aptly describes the kerygmatic (scriptural/liturgical) method. ‘To Love’ focuses around the experiential or ‘life situation’ method.” Monsignor Elliott added that “all three ways of catechesis are meant to be integrated according to the 1997 General Directory for Catechesis.[7]


 The Teacher

            No matter how sound the content and methodology upon which a religious education curriculum rests, the project will be subverted if the teacher does not bear authentic witness to what he teaches. In “serving divine truth in the Church,” the teacher is challenged to seek “the most exact understanding” of that truth “in order to bring it closer” to himself and to others.[8]  It is only with “assiduous study of the word of God transmitted by the Church’s Magisterium,” together with the determination to transmit the faith in its integrity, that  the RE teacher can apply to himself the words of Jesus: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (Jn 7:16).[9]

Young people look for authenticity in those who teach them about ultimate realities. Pope Paul VI highlighted this when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to  teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”[10] Hence, a question that must figure prominently in the examination of conscience by anyone who teaches religion to Catholic youth is this: “Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live?”[11]

Catholic religious educators need to ponder deeply the words of Pope John Paul II where he says that those being educated in the faith “have the right to receive ‘the word of faith’ not in a mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigour and vigour.”[12] Given the critical role of the teacher in the RE process, it is evident how necessary it is that training and formation programs targeted at teachers are irreproachable as far as their fidelity to the Church’s doctrine is concerned. Religious education curricula drawn up by Catholic education offices should have to pass the same test of integrity, as should the books they recommend for  teachers and students.

[1] GDC, n. 148

[2] Ibid., n. 148

[3] Ibid. n. 150

[4] Ibid. n. 151

[5] Monsignor Peter Elliott, Shaping A New-Text Based Religious Education Curriculum, Journal of Religious Education 50 (1), Australian Catholic University, 2002, p. 20

[6] Ibid. p. 21

[7] Ibid. p. 20

[8] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 2  (cf. footnote n. 1 where the Holy Father quotes Redemptor Hominis, n. 19).

[9] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 6

[10] Pope Paul VI, Evangeli Nuntiandi, n. 41.

[11] Ibid. n. 76.

[12] Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 30


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Chapter 4

 Shared Christian Praxis - Fatally Flawed


Before evaluating Groome’s Shared Christian praxis, it will help if I first identify some of its philosophical and theological underpinnings.

The word ‘praxis’ has a long history and has taken on various meanings. For the moment we will make do with some dictionary definitions such as: i) “exercise or discipline for a specific purpose; practical application of rules as distinguished from theory,”[1] ii) “practice, esp. as opposed to theory,”[2] iii) “the practising of an art or skill. (Greek, = doing).”[3]


Rooted in Neo-Marxist Critical Theory

Groome’s ideas on praxis based religious education have been greatly influenced by Paulo Freire who was an influential Brazilian Marxist educationalist. In acknowledging his debt to Freire, Groome stated: “My first attempts to use a praxis approach in religious education began after meeting Freire and reading his foundational work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in 1972.”[4]

Freire was a disciple of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who founded the Italian Communist Party. Gramsci’s major philosophical aim was the reconstruction of Marxism as a philosophy of praxis. To this end, he perceived of education’s primary role as that of creating a cultural climate conducive to the establishment of Marxist ascendancy in the world. Freire followed Gramsci in his interpretation of Marxsist theory as necessarily involving a battle for the minds of people with a view to empowering them to engage in emancipatory political action ordered towards the establishment of an egalitarian society.

While Freire sought to create an educational system for use with the oppressed of Latin America, Groome set himself the task of creating a ‘liberating’ pedagogy of faith. He says: “Freire invented a pedagogy for the oppressed, and I had a more obvious task of trying to create a pedagogy for oppressors.”[5] Consonant with this, he holds that an overriding objective of religious education to be the development of a critical consciousness that will foster an ‘emancipatory praxis’ from which will emerge a more egalitarian society and Church. Given such a vision, it is not surprising that Groome perceives all education as eminently political in nature. “I contend”, he says, “that the essential characteristic of all education is that it is a political activity.[6]

Another philosopher who has greatly influenced Groome’s educational ideas is Jurgen Habermas who is one of the most influential representatives of the neo-Marxist social philosophy known as Critical Theory. This philosophy originated amongst a group of intellectuals at the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University in the 1920s. It closed in 1934 when many of its leading members emigrated to the United States where they opened the New School for Social Research in New York. After World War II, the original German school reopened in 1950.

Members of the Frankfurt School sought to reformulate Marxist philosophy so as to make it more adaptable for the purpose of reconstructing social and cultural conditions in Western countries. Writing in the March 2003 edition of First Things, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich and founding director of the Institute of Ecumenical Theology, pointed to the role of Jurgen Habermas and other members of the Frankfurt School in framing the public debate which gave direction to the student revolution in Germany in the late 1960s. This “cultural revolution,” said Professor Pannenberg, was directed not only against the educational system, “but also against moral values rooted in Christianity” and against what was portrayed as the “authoritarian” nature of the traditional family structure.

Habermas postulates that the reception of language and tradition have to be sifted by way of a critical theory (reflection) in order to decipher the ideological distortions and false claims they are believed to contain and which give rise to “distorted communication.” Such “distorted communication”, posits Habermas, fosters the development of a false consciousness that “serves to legitimate relations of organised force” and thereby protects the interests of those in power.[7] In order to overcome such “distorted communication” and to forge an emancipatory praxis, Habermas perceives of a need to submit  all texts, knowledge and tradition - together with the structures of authority and domination in society - to a “hermeneutic of suspicion” in order to transpose the life praxis out of which they emerged as well as the unconscious compulsions that sustain them.

No doubt, it is necessary at times to subject reality to a “hermeneutic of suspicion”. If more Germans, for example, had subjected Hitler’s Mein Kampf to such a critical analysis the world might not have had World War II thrust upon it. However, the Critical Theorists believe that the whole of reality, including the truth claims of the Catholic Church, need to be subjected to such a “hermeneutic of suspicion” in order to transpose the false elements they are alleged to contain. This means that the texts of Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Magisterium, are sifted via the “hermeneutic of suspicion” in order to transpose their alleged ideological content, which it is asserted have operated to maintain structures of oppression and domination.

What exponents of Critical Theory often lose sight of is the need to subject the “hermeneutic of suspicion” itself to such a hermeneutic. In other words, the Critical Theorists undercut their own method by failing to stringently apply its principles to their own conclusions. Consequently, for a hermeneutic of suspicion to be valid, it has to have a foundation that is immovable and not subject to revision. Without such a foundation, the hermeneutic of suspicion is open-ended with no possibility of an ultimate and objective statement about reality. This is a clear failing when the hermeneutic of suspicion is applied to Divine Revelation, which in Catholic faith represents  an immovable or irreducible deposit of faith of which the magisterium of the Church is the authoritative interpreter.

Apart from Freire and Habermass, Groome also draws on the ideas of Karl Marx and marxist-type liberation theology for his understanding of  “Christian praxis”. I will deal with this later.


 Divine Revelation?

Groome’s approach to Divine Revelation draws heavily on the ideas of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza who is a militant pro-abortionist and a Professor of theology at the Harvard Divinity School.

Like Groome, Fiorenza has developed her feminist theology of liberation in dialogue with the Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas. She seeks to “reconstruct” the history of Christian origins so as to lend validity to her assertion that the early Church was structured as “a discipleship of equals.” Her method of biblical interpretation revolves around four hermeneutical elements, central to which is the “hermeneutic of suspicion”.

Fiorenza says that “the first and never-ending task” of a hermeneutics of suspicion “is to elaborate as much as possible the patriarchal, destructive aspects and oppressive elements of the bible.”[8] Regarding the canon of Sacred Scripture, she asserts that “the motivation for the authoritative collection” was partly political due to “struggles between orthodoxy and heresy, as well as the political goal of establishing the unified church.”[9] She contends that “only the nonsexist and non-androcentric traditions of the Bible…have the theological authority of revelation.”[10]

Since the canon of Sacred Scripture cannot provide her with substantiating evidence that the early Church was structured as a “discipleship of equals,” Fiorenza creates new “models” for the interpretation of the historical data “that can integrate both egalitarian and ‘heretical’ traditions.”[11] She holds that “feminist biblical scholarship cannot remain within the limits drawn by the established canon,”[12] but must also “explore extra-canonical writings” and make them “available to a wider audience.”[13] By the term “extra-canonical writings”, Fiorenza has in mind various heretical gnostic texts.[14]

Fiorenza sees her theological labours as part of a “spiritual struggle for a different religion” which in seeking to realise “the dream and vision of G*d-Sophia’s [sic] alternative community,” will be “inspired and compelled by Her gospel of liberation.”[15] The odd way in which Fiorenza spells God is deemed to be  more appropriate on the basis that anything we can say about God can never exhaust all that remains hidden in the mystery that he is.

Fiorenza repudiates the Catholic doctrine on the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death: “the death of Jesus was not a sacrifice” she says.[16] She asserts that “Jesus rejected all hierarchical forms of power in his community of followers,”[17] in consequence of which the hierarchically structured Church does not represent “the authority of Jesus Christ,” hence we should not “submit to the patriarchal authority presently displayed by the Vatican.”[18] After alleging that it “is invalid to deny ordination to women on scriptural grounds,” Fiorenza goes on to claim that the “exclusion of women from the sacramental priesthood corrupts the Eucharist and the Christian church.”[19]

In regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fiorenza says that “as the ‘queen of heaven’ and the ‘mother of God’, Mary clearly resembles and integrates aspects of the ancient goddess mythologies, eg., of Isis or the Magna Mater.” She asserts that “the Mary-myth has its roots and development in a male, clerical, and ascetic culture and theology,” and as such has “very little to do with the historical woman Mary of Nazareth.”[20] She claims that the “Mary-myth…has not served to promote the liberation of women.”[21] After positing that “the Goddess of radical feminist spirituality is not so different from the God whom Jesus preached and whom he called ‘Father’,”[22]  Fiorenza adds:


“The more Jesus Christ became divinised, the more it was necessary to have a mediator between the Christian community and the transcendent God and his majestic Son...The cult of Mary thus grew in proportion to the gradual repatriarchalization of the Christian God and of Jesus Christ.”[23]


[1] Webster Comprehensive Dictionary: Encyclopedic Edition.

[2] Macquarie Dictionary.

[3] Oxford Dictionary.

[4] Thomas H Groome, Christian Religious Education:Sharing Our Story and Vision, Harper & Rowe, San Francisco, 1980, p. 175.

[5] Thomas Groome, National Catholic Reporter, December 30, 1983.

[6] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 12.

[7] Jurgen Habermas,  A Review of Gadamer’s Truth and Method, in ‘Hermeneutics and Modern Philosophy’, edited by Brice R. Wachterhasuer, State University of New York Press, Albany  1986, p. 272.

[8] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, “The Will to Chose or to Reject: Continuing Our Critical Work” in Feminist Interpretations of the Bible, op. cit. pp. 130-131.

[9] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Searching The Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary, Volume Two, Crossroad, New York 1994, p. 5.

[10] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Towards a  Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics, in Readings in Moral Theology No 4, edited by Charles Curran and Richard A. McCormick, Paulist Press, New York 1984, p. 376.

[11] Ibid. p. 174.

[12] Ibid. p. 8.

[13] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Searching The Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary, Volume Two, Crossroad, New York 1994, p. 5.

[14] See chapters 30, 32, 34, 38 and 39 of  Searching The Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary, Volume Two, edited by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Crossroad, New York 1994.

[15] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Sharing Her Word, op. cit. p. 183, emphasis added.

[16] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, op. cit. p. 130.

[17] Ibid. p. 93.

[18] Ibid. p. 247.

[19] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Discipleship of Equals, op. cit.  pp. 87, 145.

[20] Ibid. pp. 73-74.

[21] Ibid. p. 55.

[22] Ibid. p. 93.

[23] Ibid.  p. 93-94.



The fact that Fiorenza’s theology can be viewed as a hydra of historical reductionisms and heretical affirmations has not deterred Groome from referring to her as a “great Scripture scholar.”[1] In Sharing Faith he says: “Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, probably more than any other New Testament theologian, has established the inclusive praxis of Jesus toward women and the ‘inclusive discipleship of equals’ he intended for his community.”[2]

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Shared Christian Praxis - Fatally Flawed


In drawing attention to philosophical influences that have helped shape Groome’s method of religious education, I was not suggesting that teachers of religion not look to philosophy for insight. However, Pope John Paul II pointed out in Fides et Ratio that some philosophies can “obscure” or “deny” the contents of faith.[3] In consequence of this, when importing philosophical ideas into methods of religious education it is necessary to adopt a critical caution lest in doing so we corrupt the message to be communicated. In Fides et Ratio, the Holy Father drew attention to the need for such a discernment when in reference to the Church Fathers he said: “Faced with various philosophies, the Fathers were not afraid to acknowledge those elements in them that were consonant with Revelation and those that were not.”[4] In saying this, the Pope  cited the example of St. Paul and St. Irenaeus who did not hesitate to “sound the alarm” when they were “confronted with a cultural perspective which sought to subordinate the truth of revelation to the interpretation of the philosophers.”[5]

Turning now to Groome’s methodology. After a relevant “Focusing Activity’, shared Christian praxis follows five movements which are:

·         Movement 1: Naming/Expressing ‘Present Praxis’.

·         Movement 2: Critical Reflection on Present Action

·         Movement 3: Making Accessible Christian Story  and Vision

·         Movement 4: Dialectical Hermeneutic to Appropriate Christian Story/Vision to Participants’ Stories and Visions

·         Movement 5: Decision/Response for Lived Christian Faith.[6]


For our present purposes, we only need to note that the hub around which the shared Christian praxis process revolves is Movement 3. Speaking of what he means by the term “Christian Story” which is introduced in Movement 3, Groome says that “in more traditional language” the term “story” can “be called scripture and tradition.”[7]  In Sharing Faith, he says: “I use Story as a metaphor for the whole faith life and practical wisdom of the Christian community that is congealed in its Scriptures, symbols, myths, rituals, liturgies, creeds, dogmas, doctrines…”[8]

According to Catholic teaching, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture “make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church.”[9] The contents of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition is also known as the sacred “deposit of faith.”[10]

In Sharing Faith, Groome applauds Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s attempts at “constructive” and “reconstructive” hermeneutics. He says:


“Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s work has become a model of such reconstruction; she recreates the history of the first Christian communities to reflect more accurately the ‘basileia vision of Jesus as the praxis of inclusive wholeness’ in a ‘discipleship of equals’ with women as full partners.”[11]


In Sharing Faith, Groome says that “Revelation as doctrine” which “understands revelation as ‘divinely authoritative doctrine inerrantly proposed as God’s word by the Bible or by official Church teaching’...is not appropriate to movement 3 of shared Christian praxis.”[12] In stating this, he quotes Fiorenza as saying that such a view of revelation is deficient in that it “takes historically limited experiences and texts and posits them as universals which then become authoritative and normative for all times and cultures.”[13]


 The Hermeneutic of Suspicion

In line with his endorsement of Fiorenza’s ‘scholarship’, Groome holds that “to make absolute any expression or interpretation of a faith tradition is to ossify and deaden it,” and that “to forget that there have been distortions and corruptions reflected in Christian Story/Vision is historically naive.”[14] To ensure that educators remain alert to the presence of such “distortions and corruptions” in ‘Christian Story,’ Groome in Sharing Faith states:


“Religious educators should approach the faith tradition with a healthy suspicion and, as educators, help people to recognise that ‘much that has been proudly told must be confessed as sin; and much that has been obscured and silenced must be given voice’.”[15]


Groome has structured Movement 3 of shared Christian praxis in such a way that religious educators can approach ‘Christian Story’ with the type of “healthy suspicion” he recommends above. Consequently, Movement 3 involves educators turning “to the ‘texts’ of Story/Vision with a critical hermeneutics that has dialectical aspects.”[16] In doing so, the educator “employs a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ to uncover mystifications and distortions in the dominant interpretations of Christian Story/Vision and to reclaim its ‘dangerous memories’.”[17] In all of this, “the educator’s task in hermeneutics of suspicion” is to “look out for false consciousness and distortions in original texts and/or in their accepted interpretations, to uncover negative consequences they may have had over history or still legitimate now.”[18]

Groome says that “a hermeneutic of suspicion reflects awareness that God’s revelation is always mediated in particular historical circumstances and through culturally conditioned symbols, ” and that consequently “people who interpret these symbols” are to refuse “all claims that human, historical, interpretative matters elude relativity and corruption.”[19] He adds that “this hermeneutic of suspicion is essential, if the interpretative activity of religious education is to avoid Habermas’s criticism of the hermeneutical sciences.”[20] According to Groome, Habermas’s position is that without the element of “suspicion” hermeneutics tends to serve “the interest of ‘practical control’ and thus tends to maintain people ‘within the walls’ of a tradition by forgetting the social interests that gave rise to the original expression of the tradition and who it was intended to benefit.”[21]

In his treatment of Catholic tradition, Groome makes a distinction between what he terms “Tradition” with a “big T” and “tradition” with a “small t” in order to differentiate between what he believes to be  essential to the Church’s life and practice and what is not.[22] In making this distinction however, he often fails to draw accurate lines of demarcation between the two categories with the result that he sometimes reduces definitive and dogmatic teachings of the Church to the level of “small t” which he then subjects to  erroneous reinterpretations. 

After stating that  “Scripture and tradition are to be continually reinterpreted in light of changing circumstances and contemporary consciousness,” Groome adds that when “freedom of conscience” is taken into account, “then Catholicism has no place for fundamentalism or dogmatism in the authority it grants to tradition.” [23] Regarding the need for such a critical approach to tradition, he says:


“Such a ‘critical consciousness’ seems theologically appropriate to Catholic tradition, given how much untruth is in every statement of faith.”[24]


Groome’s claim that there is “much untruth” in “every statement of faith” has been condemned by the magisterium. The question of how language used by the Church to define her faith  functions to transmit truth in a derminative way was taken up by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei. In warning against any attempt to interpret the Church’s teaching “in such a way as to weaken the genuine meaning of the words or the recognised force of the concepts involved,”[25] Pope Paul VI stated that the formulas used by the Church to express dogmas of faith “are not tied to a certain specific form of human culture, or to a certain level of scientific progress, or to one or another theological school.” Instread, said Pope Paul VI, such formulas “set forth what the human mind grasps of reality through necessary and universal experience and what it expresses in apt and exact words, whether it be in ordinary or more refined language.”[26]

This question of the use of language by the Church to express truth in a determinative way was taken up again by Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio. He said: “The word of God is not addressed to any one people or to any one period of history. Similarly, dogmatic statements, while reflecting at times the culture of the period in which they were defined, formulate an unchanging and ultimate truth.”[27] The Holy Father added that  “the history of thought shows that across the range of cultures and their development certain basic concepts retain their universal epistemological value and thus retain the truth of the propositions in which they are expressed.”[28] Then, by way of a footnote, Pope John Paul went on to quote Mysterium Ecclesiae where it says:


“As for the meaning of dogmatic formulas, this remains ever true and constant in the Church, even when it is expressed with greater clarity or more developed. The faithful therefore must shun the opinion, first, that dogmatic formulas (or some category of them) cannot signify the truth in a determinative way, but can only offer changeable approximations to it, which to a certain extent distort or alter it.”[29]


Returning now to the question of methodology in catechesis. Earlier I noted how the GDC stated that the Church “does not have a particular method” of catechesis.[30] In saying this, the GDC was not thereby implying that the relationship between the content of a catechetical program and the nature of the methodology it employs can be regarded as neutral. In stating that the catechetical process must be based upon “the principle of fidelity to God and fidelity to man,” the GDC added that this requires “an avoidance of any opposition…or presumed neutrality between method and content.”[31] It stated that since “the method is at the service of revelation and conversion,” it thereby follows that the content of catechesis “requires a process of transmission which is adequate to the nature of the message.”[32] The guiding principle here, said the GDC, is that “a good catechetical method is a guarantee of fidelity to content.”[33] Compliance with these directives requires that nothing in a methodology of religious education be in conflict with the doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church.

In Catechesi Tradendae, Pope John Paul II stressed how important it is not to give young people the idea that the doctrine of the faith  is based on “fallible opinions or in uncertainty,” but rather that  that we must “show them” how it is based on the “immovable rock” of the Word of God “who cannot deceive or be deceived.”[34] The Holy Father added that “one of the aims of catechesis” should be to give young people “the simple but solid certainties that will help them to seek to know the Lord more and better.”[35] Designating  criteria that should govern the choice of catechetical methods, the Holy Father said:


“The choice made [of methodology] will be a valid one to the extent that, far from being dictated by more or less subjective theories or prejudices stamped with a certain ideology, it is inspired by the humble concern to stay closer to a content that must remain intact. The method and language used must truly be means for communicating the whole and not just a part of the ‘words of eternal life’ (Jn 6:69; cf. Acts 5:20; 7:38) and the ‘ways of life’ (Acts 2;28, quoting Ps 16:11).”[36]


In speaking to a group of U.S. Bishops in 1998, Pope John Paul II again drew attention to the principles that must govern the choice of cathechetical methodologies when he said:


“Efforts to renew catechesis must be based on the premise that Christ’s teaching, as transmitted in the Church and as authentically interpreted by the Magisterium, has to be presented in all its richness, and the methodologies used have to respond to the nature of the faith as truth received (cf. 1 Cor 15:1).”[37]

Dr Michael Bezzina, Director of Religious Education and Educational Services at the Parramatta CEO, has pointed to the important place of the “hermeneutic of suspicion” in shared Christian praxis. After saying that “a close reading of Groome reveals that Movement 3 does not in fact rely on simplistic assertions of faith,” Bezzina quotes Groome as saying that the approach is one which encourages religious educators to “approach the faith tradition” from the perspective of a “hermeneutics of suspicion”.[38] Bezzina was one of the authors of the article referred to in Chapter 1 which referred to Groome’s method in terms of its “theological precision” and which called  for an “implementation” of shared Christian praxis that would be “faithful to Groome’s thinking.”

As outlined by Groome in Sharing Faith and his other published works, shared Christian praxis is a process that treats Catholic doctrine as contingent matter that can be subjected to neverending and contradictory reinterpretations. In Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II noted that “recent times have seen the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which have been judged certain.”[39] These doctrines, said the Holy Father, can leave those exposed to them “especially the younger generation…with a sense that they have no valid points of reference.”[40]  As against this, Pope John Paul stated that since the human being is “one who seeks the truth,” then life “can never be grounded upon doubt, uncertainty or deceit,” since “such an existence would be threatened constantly by fear and anxiety.”[41]

Shared Christian praxis is an educational process that opens up the possibility for a repudiation of all Catholic doctrine. By subjecting the doctrines of the Church to “suspicion”, Groome is encouraging teachers to "devalue" Catholic teachings that have been "judged certain" by the magisterium. As such, it is a methodology that discourages teachers from responding “to the nature of the faith as truth received.” Cardinal Ratzinger has pointed out that if the objective content of the deposit of faith “is no longer trusted,” then “new content slips in unnoticed.”[42]

Groome’s deployment of the “hermeneutic of suspicion” as a constituent element of his catechetical method follows logically from the deep seated scepticism regarding the doctrinal principle in Catholicism that is a characteristic mark of his theology. In shared Christian praxis, the “hermeneutic of suspicion” functions as a determining principle to the extent that the doctrines of the faith are treated like mythic putty to be reshaped at will. Rather than starting with “Christian Story” (Scripture and Tradition) as “truth received,” shared Christian praxis advocates  that it be introduced to the students as something to be critically dismantled in order to identify its “distortions” and “untruth”. What are the implications of this for parents whose children are to be taught the Catholic faith according “to the mind of Groome”? It means that their children are to be taught to distrust the word of God as it is mediated by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

In a paper delivered at a Commonweal Forum in January 1998, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, stated that “liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project” which “is now parasitical” and “unable to pass on the faith in its integrity.” Describing the methodology of liberal Catholicism, Cardinal George said: “Using sociology of knowledge and the hermeneutics of suspicion, modern liberals interpret dogmas which affront current cultural sensibilities as the creation of celibate males eager to keep a grasp on power rather than as the work of the Holy Spirit guiding the successors of the Apostles.”

In his encyclical Dominum Et Vivificantem (On The Holy Spirit In The Life Of The Church And The World), Pope John Paul II traces the idea of subjecting the Word of God to “suspicion” back to the Devil. Regarding the “original reality of sin in human history” as it is depicted in the account of the Fall in the Book of Genesis, the Holy Father says that it first of all takes place in man’s will and conscience as “disobedience” to the will of God.[43] This original disobedience, says the Holy Father, “presupposes a rejection, or at least a turning away from the truth contained in the Word of God.”[44] The Pope adds that this first act of disobedience was committed “as an effect of the temptation that comes from the ‘father of lies’ (cf. Jn 8:44).”[45] Referring to how this sin “is unceasingly renewed during the whole history of man on earth,” the Holy Father said:


“Here we find ourselves at the very centre of what could be called the "anti-Word," that is to say the '"anti-truth:" For the truth about man becomes falsified: who man is and what are the

[1] Thomas Groome, Educating For Life: A Spiritual Vision for Every Teacher and Parent, Thomas More, RCL Company, Allen, Texas 1998, p. 185.

[2] Thomas H. Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 319.

[3]Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 84.

[4] Ibid. n. 41.

[5] Ibid. n. 37.

[6] Thomas Groome, see Chapter 4 of Sharing Faith.

[7] Thomas H. Groome, Shared Christian Praxis, A Possible Theory/Method of Religious Education, in Critical Perspectives On Christian Education, edited by Jeff Astley, Gracewing, Herefordshire, 1994, p. 228 (emphasis added).

[8] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, pp. 113-114.

[9] Vatican II, Dei Verbum, n. 10.

[10] CCC, n. 84.

[11] Ibid. pp. 234-235.

[12] Thomas H. Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. pp. 218-219.

[13] Ibid. p. 219.

[14] Ibid. p. 232.

[15] Ibid. p. 233.

[16] Ibid. p. 230.

[17] Ibid. p. 232.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. p. 502n.55.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Cf.  Educating for Life, op. cit.  pp. 254-255.

[23] Educating for Life, op.cit. p. 242.

[24] Ibid. p. 142.

[25] Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, n. 10

[26] Ibid. n. 24

[27] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 95.

[28] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 96.

[29] Ibid. n. 96n. 113.

[30] General Directory for Catechesis, n. 148

[31] Ibid. n. 149

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 60

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid. n. 31

[37] Pope John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano, June 3, 1998 (emphasis added).

[38] Dr Michael Bezzina, Word in Life, Vol. 45 (3), Australian Catholic University, 1997, p.19.

[39] Ibid. n. 5.

[40] Ibid. n. 6.

[41] Ibid. n. 28.

[42] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1987. p. 319 (emphasis added).

[43] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Dominum Et Vivificantem, n. 33

[44] Pope John Paul II, Dominum Et Vivificantem, n. 33

[45] Pope John Paul II, Dominum Et Vivificantem, n. 33




impassable limits of his being and freedom. This "anti-truth" is possible because at the same time there is a complete falsification of the truth about who God is. God the Creator is placed in a state of suspicion, indeed of accusation, in the mind of the creature. For the first time in human history there appears the perverse "genius of suspicion."[1]


As noted earlier, Groome contends “that the essential characteristic of all education is that it is a political activity.[2] My own view is that education is essentially a moral activity, albeit with political implications. In general, the cultivation of a critical consciousness among Catholic students is a valid educational objective, but it can never be taken to justify encouraging students to doubt or repudiate the doctrinal teaching of the Church. Indeed, a decision to use a method of religious education in a Catholic school that encourages students to distrust the authoritative teaching of the Church on the grounds that it may embody “untruth” is to act immorally. Such an approach would amount to nothing less that the systematic scandalisation of youth.

[1] Pope John Paul II, Dominum Et Vivificantem, n. 37, bold print has been inserted by this author.

[2] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, op. cit. p. 12.



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 Chapter 5

What is Christian Praxis?

To explain what he means by praxis, Groome goes back to Aristotle who he says identified three ways of knowing called theoria, praxis and poiesis. He states that theoria “amounts to a spiritual type of contemplation of ideas, objects and events,” and he explains poiesis (also referred to as technique) as “the activity of making artefacts and the knowledge...upon which such activity was based.” [1] Groome says that praxis “is a combination of the theoria dimension (reflection) and the poiesis dimension (action).”[2] He maintains that Aristotle understood praxis as “the twin moments of reflection and participation,” so that: “Praxis was action that was reflectively done or was reflection upon the action that was being done. It was only in being reflectively done that it was known.”[3]

To clarify what he means by ‘praxis’, Groome turns “to the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School and especially to the reflection of Jurgen Habermas.”[4] He says that “for Habermas knowledge is by praxis.”[5] After quoting Habermas as saying that - “Self-reflection is at once intuition and emancipation, comprehension and liberation from dogmatic dependence,”[6] - Groome goes on to say: “My description of both critical reflection and action draws heavily on Habermas.”[7]

Groome also draws on the ideas of Karl Marx for his understanding of ‘praxis’. After stating that “praxis as a way of knowing was greatly overshadowed by theoria in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the recent past,” he adds that it was Marx who “reunited theory and praxis and reintroduced praxis as the primary way of knowing.”[8]

Groome does not understand well enough the notion of praxis in either its Aristotelian or Marxist form, nor does he understand it in a way that is integrally Catholic. For Aristotle, praxis is not a combination of  theoria (theory) and poisis. Rather, praxis is guided by a moral desire to act truly and rightly - something which the Greeks called phronesis. In the thought of Aristotle, theory provides the general principles that should govern praxis (action) and thus it is a form of knowledge. Consequently, for Aristotle, praxis is not simply action based on reflection but rather is action that embodies certain qualities including a commitment to conform one’s actions to the truth and to all that is perceived as good.

As opposed  to Aristotle, Marx inverted the relationship between theory and praxis. For Marx there is no objective truth. With the ‘Idea of God’ dismissed as something invented to symbolise human ideals, social perfection in the Marxist framework was not attained through conversion to God and his will, but rather through revolutionary praxis aimed at the realisation of the “new man” living in a classless society. The only truth that existed in the Marxist system was that which emerged from revolutionary praxis - something that was always relative and contingent.

According to the distinguished philosopher, Rocco Buttiglione, the “idea of the self-creation of man through praxis constitutes the authentic core of Marx’s thought.”[9] Marxist revolutionary praxis sets out to gain control of material surroundings and social relationships in order to transform them.[10] Buttiglione says that Marxism’s “one-sided attention to the transformation of our surroundings” implies that “any price in terms of human value and of the individual’s suffering is acceptable in order to achieve that revolutionary change of objective structures which will in the future bring about a completely new humanity.”[11]

In contemporary culture, our understanding of freedom is in crisis. This crisis is related to moral relativism which has separated the notion of freedom from its foundation in truth. In other words, the crisis of relativism in both religion and morality is expressive of an erroneous conception of praxis, whereby praxis is not understood in terms of its relationship to truth. It is only if our actions have their foundation in truth that they will be expressive of a praxis that is in keeping with our dignity as children of God. 

In his philosophical work The Acting Person, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), endeavoured to present a Christian understanding of praxis which Marx had failed to explain in an integrally human way. Wojtyla set the vocation of the human person within the context of his duty to realise himself in the truth by imposing the law of truth on his passions. While acknowledging that the human person is influenced by culture and other circumstances of life, Wojtyla nevertheless pointed out that he is called to transcend such conditioning so as to obey the truth.[12] As against this, the Marxist philosophy of praxis was false and dehumanising. Having repudiated objective truth and objective being, it was thereby incapable of providing an ethical judgement on all the crimes that were committed in the name of the “class struggle”. It could not provide an objective or immutable foundation for the evaluation of human acts.

Wojytla’s insistence on the necessary link between praxis and truth is a feature of all his writing. For example, in Sign of Contradiction he says: “The dignity of the human person has its foundation in conscience, in the inner obedience to the objective principle which enables human ‘praxis’ to distinguish between good and evil.”[13] Since his elevation to the Chair of Peter, he has continued to stress the link between truth and human freedom. In his first encyclical he said: “Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (Jn 8:32).”[14]

Catholicism is a dogmatic religion in that it holds certain propositions as absolutely true. Since beliefs have consequences, what a person holds as true is not a matter of indifference. Blessed Pope John XXIII spoke of the Church as “a standard raised before the nations” from which comes “a pervading light and a gentle love which reach all men.” [15] In saying this, Blessed Pope John noted also that “all the evils which poison men and nations and trouble so many hearts have a single cause and a single source: ignorance of the truth,” [16] something which he said is a serious matter “with which our eternal salvation is intimately connected.” [17]

In his actions man expresses who he is, through his interaction with the external world he expresses his interior self. Hence, in a life that is authentically Catholic, “praxis comes from the faith and is a lived expression of it.”[18] Faith “inspires criteria of judgement,” it determines values as well as “lines of thought and patterns of living which are valid for the whole human community.”[19] By restoring “man’s true freedom,” Christ assigns to the human person a task: “Christian practice, which is the putting into practice of the great commandment of love.”[20] In this Catholic understanding of praxis, the good, and the knowledge of it, is immanent in the doing. Hence, as a CDF Notification regarding errors contained in a book by Leonardo Boff points out, “Praxis neither takes the place of nor generates the truth, but rather is at the service of the truth that has been revealed to us by the Lord.”[21]

In contemporary thought, the term praxis has come to be associated mostly with Marxist philosophy which seeks not so much to explain reality and so arrive at truth, but rather seeks to change reality and so create the truth. In the Marxist framework, the self-creation of man is sought via a material dialectic which progresses from thesis and antithesis to synthesis.  Marxist ideas have had a significant impact on various strands of what is generically referred to as “liberation theology.” Since ‘liberation’ understood as liberation from the “slavery of sin” is a Gospel theme, then the expression ‘theology of liberation’ is in itself a valid term.[22] However, liberation theologies which attempt to substitute “concepts borrowed from various currents of Marxist thought” for the Gospel meaning of salvation, are “incompatible with Christian faith and the ethical requirements which flow from it.”[23]

The Marxist notion of a priority of praxis over theory often appears in liberation theology as a priority of orthopraxis over orthodoxy. Cardinal Ratzinger has warned of a newly emerging religious syncretism which like Marxism puts praxis above knowledge and is thus based on a single principle which is “the primacy of orthopraxis with regard to orthodoxy.”[24] In speaking of the problems inherent in such a trade-off in Christian life, Cardinal Ratzinger said:


“For if the word ‘orthopraxis’ is pushed to its most radical meaning, it presumes that no truth exists that is antecedent to praxis but rather that truth can be established only on the basis of correct praxis...Theology becomes then no more than a guide to action, which, by reflecting on praxis, continually develops new modes of praxis. If not only redemption but truth as well is regarded as ‘post hoc’, then truth becomes a product of man. At the same time, man, who is no longer measured against truth but produces it, becomes himself a product.”[25]


The question of the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxis was resolved by Pope John Paul II in Catechesi Tradendae. In the thought of the Holy Father, orthodoxy and orthopraxis refer essentially to the same realities - an objective truth which permits us to access the objective reality of God and his self-revelation. Orthodoxy and praxis in this case coincide with ‘being’ and hence reality. Consequently, in Catechesi Tradendae we read:


“It is useless to play off orthopraxis against orthodoxy: Christianity is inseparably both. Firm and well thought out convictions lead to courageous and upright action...This revelation [Divine Revelation] is not however isolated from life or artificially juxtaposed to it. It is concerned with the ultimate meaning of life and it illumines the whole of life with the light of the Gospel, to inspire it or to question it.”[26]


When Pope John Paul II uses the notion of praxis in regard to the new evangelization, he means that we are required to live up to our baptismal call to holiness by conforming our lives to the doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church. In this correct understanding of praxis, there is an orthopraxis that is the proper response to orthodoxy.

As presented in Groome’s work, the notion of ‘praxis’ does not embody an integrally Catholic meaning. For Groome, proper praxis is arrived at by ‘sharing our experiences’ so as to set up a process of dialectical affirmation and negation whereby we decide for ourselves what we should do and believe. As such, Groome’s notion of ‘praxis’ is simply another form of relativism. With its ingrained prejudice against the teaching of the Magisterium, shared Christian praxis is a subversive ideology ordered towards the deconstruction of Catholicism. To the extent that he has repudiated the doctrinal principle in Catholicism, Groome has left himself little option but to adopt the Marxist concept of “praxis” which demands “putting praxis above knowledge” with the result that “praxis” comes to be equated with “light.”[27] In this scheme of things, the Church of the ages  past is “replaced” by a ‘church’ of and for today, while “yesterday’s truth” becomes something to be contradicted by “today’s truth.”[28]

The greatest service we can extend to others is to be instrumental in helping them embrace the Catholic faith. As against this, Vatican II stated that the spread of atheism is facilitated by Christians who are “careless about their instruction in the faith,” or who “present its teaching falsely” or fail to bear witness to it in their “religious, moral, or social life.” [29] Groome’s shared Christian praxis reduces Catholic faith to political ideology. As such, it is impossible to harness it to an effective religious education for of its nature it tends to create the truth rather than transmit it.

In Sharing Faith, Groome tells of how he used the shared Christian praxis process in a parish-based program to lead elderly members of the parish away from a position of support for the Church’s teaching on the non-ordination of women to a position of opposition to it.[30] This is a clear example of how the application of shared Christian praxis “according to the mind of Groome” corrupts the teacher of religion insofar as it invites him to be unfaithful to the deposit of faith as it has been transmitted by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. By thus encouraging teachers and students to sit in judgement on the Word of God, shared Christian praxis institutionalises pride and dissent.






[1] Thomas H. Groome, Shared Christian Praxis: A  Possible Theory/Method of Religious Education, op.cit. p. 219.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 219

[5] Ibid. p. 223

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. p. 227

[8] Ibid. p. 219

[9] Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, Erdman’s Publishing Co., Michigan, 1997, p. 293.

[10] Cf. Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, op.cit. pp.  297-298.

[11] Ibid. p. 298.

[12] Cf. Rocco Buttiglione, Introduction to Karol Wojtyla’s The Acting Person, Lublin 1994 - reproduced in English translation as an Appendix to Buttiglione’s Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, op. cit. pp. 352-380. See also, The Acting Person, pt. 2 , ch. 4.

[13] Karol Wojytla, Sign of Contradiction, Geoffrey Chapman, Australia, 1979, p. 36.

[14] Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, n. 12.

[15] Blessed Pope John XXIII, Ad Petri Cathedram, n. 2

[16] Ibid. n. 6

[17] Ibid. n. 9

[18] Sacred Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, Instruction On Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, Section X, n. 3.

[19] Ibid. n. 96.

[20] Ibid. n. 71.

[21] CDF, Notification on the book Church: Charism and Power by Fr. Leonardo Boff, March 11, 1985

[22] Cf. Sacred Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, Instruction On Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, Section III, n. 4 and Section IV, n. 2.

[23] Ibid.  Introduction.

[24] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, address during meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America, Mexico, May 1996, L’Osservatore Romano, November 6, 1996.

[25] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, op. cit. p. 318.

[26] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, n. 22.

[27] Cf. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Current Situation of Faith and Theology, L’Osservatore Romano, November 6, 1996.

[28] On such trends in theology and catechesis, see Principles of Catholic Theology:Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1987, p. 25.

[29] Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n.19

[30] Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith, pp. 247-48, 282


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 Chapter 6

Can A Bad Tree Bear Good Fruit?


In this final chapter, I will briefly trace some salient aspects of the history of the Sharing Our Story curriculum from its inception to the present time. I do so in order to demonstrate what can happen to a religious education curriculum when it is based on Groome’s shared Christian praxis.

First published in 1991, Sharing Our Story was the first religious education curriculum developed in Australia spanning K-12.[1] The Bishop of Parramatta at the time was Bede Heather. Bishop Manning was appointed in 1997. When it was introduced, the Head of RE at the Parramatta CEO was an ex-student of Groome’s at Boston College and it was he who “presented the Praxis approach as the basic model for the new curriculum.”[2] Dr. Michael Bezzina has stated that according to survey work conducted as part of the 1996 review of Sharing Our Story: teachers, religious education coordinators and school principals in the Parramatta diocese believed that “of all the strengths of Sharing Our Story...the praxis method was the most commonly identified.”[3]

While some aspects of the first edition of the Sharing Our Story curriculum document were praiseworthy, such as its emphasis on the need for a religious education program that will “contain a substantial intellectual component,”[4] it nevertheless lacked doctrinal precision in areas such as Christology, ecclesiology, conscience and morality. Most significantly, it recommended for further reading works of dissenters such Richard McBrien, Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, Eduard Schillebeeckx, Leonardo Boff, Bernard Haring and Anthony Kosnik.


1993 Support Units


To evaluate Sharing Our Story, it is necessary not only to focus on its prescribed methodology and content, but also on the  various sets of Support Documents that have been produced over the years to help with its implementation. A 1997 article co-authored by members of the RE department of the Parramatta CEO, reveals that the 1996 review of Sharing Our Story stated that one of  the “strengths” of  the Sharing Our Story Curriculum was “the collaborative process used in developing the support documents based on shared Christian praxis.”[5] This article also revealed that “inexperienced teachers” tended “to be too dependent” on the support materials which “became largely the material teachers used” for the “critical reflection movement.”[6]

In the review of the Support Units that follows, I will confine my attention to the ones for Years 11 and 12. The introduction of these Support Units in 1993 gave rise to much public controversy.

One exercise, a Quiz on page 15 of the Who Is Jesus Support Unit, asked the students to answer True (T) or False (F) to the following proposition: “Because Jesus was God, he knew from his earliest years what lay in store for him?” The answer required as correct by the authors of the Support Unit was “F” (False). This official answer is wrong - it represents a resurgence of the Agonite heresy which attributed ignorance to the humanity of Christ.[7] Other items of serious concern in the 1993 Support Units included:


·       the definition of Christ’s Divinity by the Council of Nicaea was described as the official mythologisation of Christianity;

·       the material implicitly denied that the Church was founded by Christ;

·       asserted that the teaching of the Church whereby we are ransomed and reconciled with God through Christ’s death on the Cross is merely a historical model for interpreting the Crucifixion which no longer “holds sway,”

·       claimed that the Second Vatican Council redefined the role of the Pope as the “first among equals,”

·       one suggested activity involved students considering possible future trends in the Church including women priests, a female Pope and the abolition of the Church’s hierarchical structure.

These 1993 Support Units provided extracts for students from Anthony Kosnik’s book Human Sexuality. Written by a committee of the Catholic Theological Society of America under the leadership of Kosnik, this book sought to justify forms of sexual perversion including artificial insemination by a donor, adultery and mate swapping, premarital sexual intercourse, homosexual acts, sterilisation and contraception even if it is abortifacient.[8]

The Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in November 1977 condemning the Kosnik book. The SCDF also issued a statement of condemnation and  ordered Paulist Press to stop publication and distribution. Despite this, one suggested activity in the 1993 Support Units involved giving students a handout comprised of several pages from Kosnik which in purporting to deal with chastity nevertheless promoted a relativistic understanding of sexual morality.[9] Another activity dealing with conscience entailed giving the students four  pages from the Kosnik book where it is asserted that acts such as masturbation, direct sterilisation, contraception and premarital sex are not prohibited by absolute moral norms.[10]

In late 1993 and early 1994, several priests of the Parramatta Diocese expressed concern about the contents of the Support Units and called for their withdrawal. In response to their concern, one of the priests received a letter dated 10th March 1994 from the Secretary of the Association of Secondary School Principals in the Parramatta Diocese which said:


“The Association publicly expresses its confidence in the Department of Religious Education and Educational Services of the CEO, commending its team for the curriculum program, Sharing Our Story, and its support documents which have been so warmly and enthusiastically received in the schools of the Diocese. These have enabled our students to approach our Catholic tradition in an intelligent, informed and faithful way.”

1994 Support Units


In response to the controversy occasioned by the appearance of the 1993 Support Units, the Parramatta CEO undertook a review of  the materials and published a new edition of them in July 1994 which were distributed to the schools in early 1995. While some of the most objectionable material in the 1993 Support Units did not appear in the new edition, there was still much that was of concern in it.

The 1994 Who Is Jesus? Support Unit asserted as a matter of fact that the words of  Jesus recorded in the Gospels are simply retrojection by the Evangelists. For example, in regard to the Gospel of St. Matthew  we read:


“Students may have trouble with the idea of Jesus ‘predicting’ conflict in the community because of him. The author, of course, is ‘writing back’ the very real conflicts that were happening in his community, between the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus, as if they were being predicted by Jesus.” (p. 30).


This Who Is Jesus? unit relied heavily on a biblical studies approach to Christology. It “especially recommended” for student use a book called Jesus, Mystery and Surprise: An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels. This book contradicts the doctrine of the Church in regard to Jesus’ consciousness of the salvific meaning of his Crucifixion. It asks, “Did Jesus himself know the saving (soteriological) power of his death?” - to which the authors answer: “We do not know.” [11] This Who Is Jesus unit contained several pages from one of Leonardo Boff’s books which it recommended be given to students. In these pages, Boff refers to Jesus’ mission as a “utopic project” and he equated  the coming of the Kingdom of God with the process of class struggle.[12] Boff also placed his “Communitarian” model of church in opposition to the hierarchical Church founded by Christ.

A striking characteristic of the biblical sections of the 1994 Support Units was that there was little if any mention of inspiration, inerrancy or historicity. The Units implied that biblical criticism was an exact science. The emphasis in the unit on “experience” betrayed a heavy dependence upon Groome’s shared Christian praxis and on the principles underlying Liberal Protestantism. The use of the term “faith” tended to underline subjective rather than objective content..

The understanding of conscience presented in the Decision-Making and Contemporary Issues unit drew heavily on a book by Timothy O’ Connell titled Principles of Catholic Morality which was rooted in proportionalist thought. The units reduced the moral doctrine of the Church to the level of mere “ideals.” In one place we read: “The official teaching of the Church always aims to set the ideal before people, giving guidance and support to achieve this ideal...”[13] In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II rejected the notion that the moral doctrine of the Church can be reduced to “ideals”. He said:  “It would be a very serious error to conclude...that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man.”[14]

The Human Relationships unit, in dealing with the question of  the  reception of the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried stated


“Where a case cannot be proved - for lack of witnesses, for instance - but the person feels convinced that the marriage was not valid, the Church fully respects a conscience decision to remarry, although it will not publicly authorise the remarriage. It recognises the right of such a remarried person to receive Holy Communion in good conscience, scandal being avoided.” (p. 80).


The Church, basing itself on the words of Jesus in the Gospel, teaches that attempts to “remarry” after a divorce are not efficacious and therefore sexual relations of divorced persons who have attempted remarriage when their first marriage was valid are adulterous.[15] In Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II explicitly mentioned the most difficult case - those who are “subjectively certain” in conscience that their previous marriage was not valid.[16]  He said:


[1] Sharing Our Story, Curriculum Document, Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Rotary Offset Press, Sydney 1991.

[2] Professor Patricia Malone, et. al, Report on Review of Sharing Our Story, ACU, 1996, p. 10.

[3] Dr Michael Bezzina, Word in Life, Vol. 45 (3), Australian Catholic University 1997, p.19.

[4] Sharing Our Story, 1991 Curriculum Document, op.cit. , p. xix.

[5]  Michael Bezzina, Peter Gahan, Helen McLenaghan, Greg Wilson, Shared Christian praxis as a basis for Religious Education Curriculum,  Word of Life 45(3),1997, p.7.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Cf. Pope Vigilius, Constitutum, 14. 5. 553, DS 419; Decree of the Holy Office of 1907 and 1918, DS 3432, 3424, 3435, 3645-3647; Pope Pius X, Miserantissimus Redemptor, 8.5. 1928, AAS 20, 174; Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 2.6. 1947;  Sempiternus Rex, 8.9. 1951; Haurietas Aquas, 25. 8. 1956; SCDF, 24.7.1966, AAS 58(1966) 650- 660; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 473-474.

[8] For a penetrating review of  Human Sexuality see On Understanding Human Sexuality by William May and John Harvey O.S.F.S., Synthesis Series.

[9] Cf. Support Units Years 11 and 12, Parramatta CEO, 1993, Suggested Activity 2.22, Human Relationships, pp. 47-49.

[10] Ibid. pp. 78-83

[11]Gideon Goosen and Margaret Tomlinson, Jesus Mystery and Surprise: An Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, E. J. Dwyer, Sydney, 1989, p. 125 

[12] Support Units (1994),  Who Is Jesus,  p. 61.

[13] 1994 Suport Units, Human Relationships, p. 79

[14] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 103.

[15] Cf. Mk 10:11-12; Mt 5:32; 19:9; Lk 16:18;  Council of Trent, Session XXIV, 11 Nov. 1563, canon 7; Pius XI, Enc. Casti Connubii.

[16] Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n. 84.




“[The] Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected in the Eucharist.”[1]

In 1994, the CDF issued with the approval of Pope John Paul II a Letter to the Bishops of the world  calling on them to defend the Church’s teaching on why the divorced and remarried cannot receive Holy Communion if their previous marriage was valid.


 1999 Revised Version of Sharing Our Story

The 1999 revised version of Sharing Our Story, while in some ways an improvement on the earlier version, is  again seriously flawed.  Even if all the support materials  produced by the Parramatta CEO to facilitate the implementation of this revised version proved to be irreproachable, the curriculum is still vitiated because of its foundation in Groome’s methodology.


[1] Ibid.


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 Conflicting Christologies

In early 2000, the Parramatta CEO issued to schools a set ‘Draft Support Units’ which to my knowledge are still being used. These Units provide teachers with doctrinal background drawn largely from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, references for both teachers and students, teaching activities, unit outcomes and assessment strategies. Again, however, there are problems with these support materials.

In places the Draft Support Units combine statements from the CCC with erroneous or confusing commentary. For example, in a Preliminary (Year 11)  unit titled Jesus of History, Christ of Faith  we read:


“Jesus left the desert and entered his ministry having struggled with fundamental questions related to his identity and destiny. He understood his goals and values, and discovered a great reservoir of inner strength and purpose on which to draw throughout his life and, ultimately, in his suffering and death. Of course, like all people, Jesus continued to be tempted, by his opponents and even disciples, to stray from the purpose to which he had committed himself. Through this struggle, Jesus continually returned to his original goals and convictions, and gradually uncovered the call of God leading him further into the mystery of his love. That call involved Jesus sharing his conviction and experience of God’s love with others who would listen and respond. Through prayer, reflection and the choices he made, Jesus came to ultimately understand the fullness of truth, the meaning and purpose of his existence.”[1]


The assertion in the passage above that Our Lord suffered from a lack of self-awareness is not compatible with the Jesus depicted in the New Testament and Catholic Tradition. The New Testament is clear on the point that Jesus' self-understanding as “from and sent by the Father,” and as possessing a unique relation to the Father, that of the Son, was decisive for him from the beginning of his earthly mission. To say that Jesus “struggled with fundamental questions related to his identity and destiny,” is to suppose his indecision over both his identity and his mission to give the Spirit. This concludes to a Nestorian Christ. Nestorius “regarded Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son.”[2] Hence, he held that from the moment of the Incarnation, there existed in Christ a duality not only of natures “but also of person, the divine and the human.”[3]

Regarding Christ’s human knowledge, the CCC says: “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.”[4] It adds: “By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal”.[5] Hence, says the CCC: “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony, and his Passion and gave himself up for each one of us: ‘The Son of God...loved me and gave himself for me’(Gal 2:20).”[6]

[1] Sharing Our Story, Draft Support Unit 6PC2, Parramatta CEO, 1999.

[2] CCC. n. 466.

[3] Ibid.

[4] CCC. n. 473.

[5] CCC. n. 474.

[6] CCC. n. 478



 Teacher References

The Draft Support Units again make the mistake of recommending to teachers for further reading books that espouse heterodox ideas. There are many such books listed, here I will review but two of them.



The Christian Story


A book titled The Christian Story is referenced as a teacher resource.[1] Written by Laurie Woods who is a senior lecturer in Theology at the ACU in Sydney, this book has been used as prescribed reading in various Scripture units conducted at the ACU since 1995.

At times Woods speaks of Jesus’ identity in confusing ways. In reference to the passage in 2 Cor 2:5 where St. Paul says that he proclaims “Christ Jesus as Lord,” Woods says: “The title Lord certainly indicates the early Christian belief that Jesus was more than human even though it is not an explicit statement of belief in the divinity of Christ.”[2] In contrast to this, the CCC says: “The title ‘Lord’ indicates divine sovereignty. To confess or invoke Jesus as Lord is to believe in his divinity. ‘No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:3)”.[3]

In regard to the “I am” and the “bread of life” statements attributed to Jesus in St. John’s Gospel, Woods asserts that “the probability is that Jesus never used such language…”[4] However, the CCC says that Jesus referred to himself as the “only Son of God” (cf. Jn 3:16; 10:36) and in doing so he “affirms his eternal preexistence.”[5] Regarding the relationship between Jesus and God, Woods says: “Jesus Christ was seen as being one with God without being regarded as Yahweh, the God of Hebrew history.”[6] In regard to the divine name Yahweh, the CCC says: “Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name…‘I Am’.”[7]

Woods asserts that “whether Jesus saw himself as divine is a question of debate,” adding that the Gospels “do not solve the problem because they reflect the faith of the Gospel writers and do not give us undiluted insights into the very mind of Jesus.”[8] Since Jesus is a Divine Person whose humanity was totally assumed by his divinity at the Incarnation, the Church teaches that from the first moment of his existence Our Lord knew in his human mind that he was God. Thus, to recall again a passage from the CCC quoted earlier: “The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God.”[9]

Wood’s makes erroneous assertions about the Resurrection of Jesus. In analysing St. Paul’s answer to the question – “How are people raised, and what sort of body do they have…” (cf. 1 Cor 15:35-53) - Woods says: “He [Paul] affirms that a physical body cannot enter into the glory of heaven…”[10] “By obvious implication,” says Woods, “the body of the risen Christ is also non-physical,adding that “confirmation of this view is present in the resurrection narratives of all four Gospels.”[11]  Woods says that while “the disciples were convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead,” they “did not commit themselves to belief in an empty tomb.” He adds: “The empty tomb stories were part of their belief in the resurrection but not an essential condition for it to happen.[12] Maintaining that “it was not necessary for the tomb of Jesus to be empty in order for the disciples to believe that he had been raised from the dead,” Woods concludes his discussion of Jesus’ Resurrection by saying that “Paul’s idea of the transformation of the resurrection body does not require a person’s physical corpse or mortal remains as necessary ingredients.” [13]

Christ’s Resurrection “was not a return to earthly life” as was the case with Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter whom Jesus raised from the dead during his public life. Rather, his Resurrection “is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history,” whereby “the three divine persons act together as one” and “manifest their own proper characteristics.”[14] In raising up “Christ his Son,” the Father’s power “perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity.”[15] The resurrected body of Jesus, “authentic” and “real” though it be, “possesses the new properties of a glorious body…”[16] Consequently, “in his risen body,” Christ “passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space…his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state…”[17]

The CCC also teaches that “the mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified…”[18] It states that the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples in “the same body that had been tortured and crucified” and which still bore “the traces of his passion.”[19] The New Testament accounts of the appearances of the Risen Christ stress the physical reality of his presence. The disciples had actual physical contact with him: Thomas was invited to probe his wounds (Jn 20: 24-29), the other apostles were invited to touch him and see that he had indeed “flesh and bones” unlike a ghost (cf. Lk 24:39). Bearing witness to the resurrection faith he had received from the apostles, St. Ignatius of Antioch said:


“I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the Resurrection. And when he came to those with Peter He said to them: ‘Here, now, touch me, and see that I am not a bodiless ghost’. Immediately they touched Him and, because of the merging of His flesh and spirit, they believed.”[20]


The CCC states that “Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order.”[21] Hence, despite the transcendent dimension of Christ’s Resurrection, Catholic faith does not allow us to regard the resurrected body of Jesus as something “non-physical” as Woods asserts. According to St. Augustine, Christ’s risen body is called a “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 “not because it is converted into spirit, but because it is subject in a particular way to the spirit; so that it [the spiritual body] may be at home in heaven, all earthly weakness and imperfection is changed and converted into a heavenly stability.”[22] Hence, Pope John Paul II can speak of man’s entry into the glory of the resurrection as a state whereby “the body will return to perfect unity and harmony with the spirit: man will no longer experience the opposition between what is spiritual and what is physical in him.”[23] The Holy Father adds: “The resurrection will consist in the perfect participation of all that is physical in man in what is spiritual in him. At the same time it will consist in the perfect realisation of what is personal in man.”[24]

The question as to whether or not Christ’s body remained in the Tomb after his Resurrection is not one that Christians are free to answer in the affirmative. The Empty Tomb, while not in itself “a direct proof of Resurrection” – “the absence of Christ’s body from the tomb could be explained otherwise” – is nonetheless “the first step toward recognising the very fact of the Resurrection.”[25] Had the tomb not been empty, how could there have been continuity between the crucified body of Christ that was laid in the tomb after his death  and his resurrected body?

The teaching of the Church regarding the Resurrection of Jesus and the Empty Tomb is this: “The physical remains of Jesus, placed in the tomb after his death, were raised in the Resurrection. Hence, the empty tomb.”[26] Consequently, in the CCC we read: “The empty tomb and the linen cloths lying there signify in themselves that by God’s power Christ’s body had escaped the bonds of death and corruption. They prepared the disciples to encounter the Risen Lord.”[27]

Regarding Woods’ statement about Christ’s resurrection and the Empty Tomb, the point at issue is whether Christ rose in his body or whether he rose purely spiritually, ie. in his Spirit alone with his body remaining in the tomb. In this context, we are not discussing the precise state of Christ’s risen body, this is a mystery of faith, as we have seen the Church uses various terms such as ‘glorified’ to speak of it.  By asserting that the Empty Tomb “was not an essential condition” for Christ’s Resurrection “to happen”, Woods is asserting that Christ’s Resurrection does not exclude the possibility that his body remained in the tomb. This is a contradiction of Catholic dogma.

[1] Sharing Our Story, Draft Support Units 1999, 36C8

[2]Laurie Woods, The Christian Story, Australian Catholic University, Sydney 1995, p. 82. Since 1995, Wood’s has had other editions of this book published by the ACU. However, the same problems as were present in the 1995 version persist.

[3] CCC. n. 455.

[4] Laurie Woods, The Christian Story, op.cit., p. 105.

[5] CCC. n. 444.

[6] Ibid. p. 116.

[7] CCC. n. 211, cf.  Jn 8: 28.

[8] Ibid. p. 115.

[9] CCC. n. 473.

[10] Laurie Woods, The Christian Story, op. cit. p.137

[11] Ibid. p. 137, bold print and italics were inserted by Woods.

[12] Ibid. p. 138, bold print and italics were inserted by Woods.

[13] Ibid. p. 139, bold print and italics inserted by Woods.

[14] CCC. n. 648

[15] Ibid.

[16] CCC. n. 645.

[17] CCC. n. 646.

[18] CCC. n. 639.

[19] CCC. n. 645.

[20] St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans [ca. AD 115], cited in William Jurgens’ The Faith of the Early Church Fathers, op. cit. Vol. 1, pp. 24-25.

[21] CCC. n. 643.

[22] St. Augustine, De fid. et Symb.6, cited in The Navarre Bible: New Testament Compact Edition, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, 2001, p. 442.

[23] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, December 9, 1981, L’Osservatore Romano, December 14, 1981.

[24] Ibid.

[25] CCC. n. 640

[26] This is the teaching given by the CDF in 1988 in response to an erroneous interpretation of Christ’s Resurrection propagated by Fr. David Coffey in the early 1980s. This ruling of the CDF was made public by Cardinal Clancy and published in the Sydney Catholic Weekly on September 28, 1988.

[27] CCC. n. 656.



Freedom and Purpose


The second book I want to draw attention to which appears as a teacher reference in the 1999 Support Units is titled Freedom and Purpose: An Introduction To Christian Ethics. Widely used as a reference by teachers in Catholic schools, this book is a required text for teachers studying the Moral Issues section of the Certificate of Religious Education (NSW) course which is an initiative of the NSW Directors of Catholic Education and Religious Education.

Freedom and Purpose is written by Robert Gascoigne who is an Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Philosophy at the ACU in Sydney. In referring to mortal sin, he says:


“The traditional understanding of mortal sin defined it in terms of full knowledge, full intent and grave matter. The defect of this understanding lay in its tendency to equate the degree of subjective sinfulness with objective gravity of matter, coupled with an understanding of sin in terms of individual actions.”[1]


Gascoigne argues that mortal sin should be understood in terms of a “fundamental option,” which he says “is a state of personal being which rejects the love of God and neighbour at the deepest and freest core of the person.”[2] To illustrate what he considers to be the “defect” in the Church’s teaching on mortal sin, Gascoigne cites the example of a husband who he  suggests  may not have committed mortal sin by freely and knowingly engaging in an act of “sexual infidelity”. He says:


“Let us consider an example: a husband who is normally faithful to his wife commits an act of sexual infidelity. He knows what he is doing and is aware that he is being unfaithful to his wife. It is an untypical action, and one that he quickly and sincerely repents of in word and deed…Clearly from the perspective of most ethical traditions what this man has done is seriously wrong. He has been unfaithful to his wife in the most intimate sphere of their relationship. He has abused the physical language of sexual relations by using it without the commitment of love.”[3]


From the context in which the above quotation appears, it is clear that in using the term “sexual infidelity” Gascoigne is referring to a violation of the moral law in grave matter such as adultery. He says: “From the perspective of the traditional theory of mortal sin, this man would have been in a state of mortal sin prior to repenting of his action: one deliberate action, done with awareness, constitutes mortal sin.” Having said this, Gascoigne adds:


“What is highly implausible about this traditional account is how one action can totally reverse the character of someone’s life. This is what the traditional account claimed, since it held that an essentially good man could make himself worthy of eternal damnation in one action.”[4]


In his 1983 Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, Pope John Paul II rejected the theory of  fundamental option as it is presented in Gascoigne’s book. The Holy Father said that mortal sin cannot be reduced to a “fundamental option” in such wise as to assert that mortal sin cannot be committed through a single action in which one freely and consciously chooses to act contrary to God’s commandments in a grave matter.[5] The Holy Father reaffirmed this teaching in Veritatis Splendor when he stated: "The separation of fundamental option from deliberate choices of particular kinds of behaviour…involves a denial of Catholic doctrine on mortal sin."[6]  Indeed, the Holy Father cited the Council of Trent in its solemn teaching where it repeated St. Paul’s warning in 1 Cor 6:9 that one sins mortally whenever he deliberately and knowingly engages in certain specific kinds of behaviour including adultery.[7]

Gascoigne asserts that “the magisterium has no unique competence or authority in the detailed knowledge required for developing specific moral norms.”[8] He says that  the magisterium’s moral teaching “is an exercise of its ordinary, non-infallible, teaching authority,”[9] on the basis of which he concludes that “public dissent from non-infallible Church teaching can contribute to progress in the Church’s understanding and can be an expression of the Christian’s responsibility to conscience.”[10] He adds: “The moral teaching of the magisterium calls for respect and serious reflection by members of the Church, and should only be departed from after conscientious and self-critical consideration of the relevant question.”[11]

In his discussion of infallible teaching and specific moral norms, Gascoigne does not mention the fact that it is the ordinary universal magisterium that is the normal channel for the expression of the Church’s infallible teaching.[12] Distinguished moral theologians, such as Germain Grisez and William May, argue  that the core of Catholic moral teaching regarding the specific precepts of the Decalogue as these have been set forth by the teaching authority of the Church have been taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium. Indeed, in condemning procured abortion and euthanasia as intrinsically evil, Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae invoked the formula used by Vatican II to identify the infallible teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium.[13]

In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II stated that “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.”[14] Gascoigne’s assertion that Catholics “should only” depart from the Church’s moral doctrine once they have given it serious consideration implies that a choice to engage in acts such as sexual abuse of children could be regarded as subjectively defensible in certain situations. To accept such a line of reasoning is equivalent to saying that the human person is a totally autonomous creator of his own moral truth. As opposed to such absurdity, Pope John Paul II stated in Veritatis Splendor that “in proclaiming the commandments of God and the charity of Christ, the Church’s Magisterium also teaches the faithful specific particular precepts and requires that they consider them in conscience as morally binding.”[15]

[1] Robert Gascoigne, Freedom & Purpose: An Introduction To Christian Ethics, E. J. Dwyer, New South Wales, 1993, p. 86. Gascoigne’s book is still being reproduced by the ACU where it is being used for a courses in “Christian Theological Ethics”.

[2] Ibid. p. 84

[3] Ibid. p. 83

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, n. 17.

[6] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 70

[7] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 49. For another clear exposition of the Magisterium’s teaching on mortal sin, see CCC, n. 1874.

[8] Robert Gascoigne, Freedom & Purpose, op.cit. p. 190

[9] Ibid. p. 192

[10] Ibid. p. 194

[11] Ibid. p. 196

[12] I have dealt with meaning of the terms “infallible” and “definitive” teaching in Chapter 2.

[13] Cf. Evangelium Vitae,  nn. 57, 62, 65; Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 25.

[14] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor,  n. 81.

[15] Ibid. n. 110.

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 Student Texts

Out of the Desert

The most commonly recommended resource for students listed in the 1999 Support Units is a series of texts titled Out of the Desert. The series is written by a team of authors two of whom hold senior positions in the RE department of the Parramatta CEO. An indepth analysis of the Out Of The Desert series would require more space than a short book of this size will permit.  Consequently, I will confine myself to some brief comments which I think will demonstrate Out of the Desert’s unsuitability for use in Catholic schools.

Regarding the foundation of the Church,  Book One (Year 7) of Out of the Desert states:


“In the beginning there was Jesus’ ministry of preaching and healing. Jesus did not set out on purpose to found ‘the church’ in person. Those who followed Jesus formed the church. Instead, Jesus had gathered a group of disciples who went about with him and whom he sent to preach and heal as he himself had done (see Matthew 10:1, Luke 6:13-16). After the death and resurrection of Jesus, there were gradual moves to form a more organised group which we today call the early church.”[1]


Regarding the foundation of the Church, Vatican II states: “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church…as a visible organisation through which he communicates grace to all men.”[2] Elsewhere it adds: “The Catholic Church was founded by Christ our Lord to bring salvation to all men.”[3] The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that while the Church was prepared for in the Old Covenant, it was nevertheless “Christ who instituted the New Covenant” and thus “the Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross.”[4]

The CDF Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio fidei’ stated that “the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ” is an article of Catholic faith.[5] It added that anyone who “obstinately” places in doubt or “denies” dogmas such as that which declares the Church to be founded by the will of Christ thereby falls “under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Code of Canon Law.”[6]

In a section dealing with the story of the ‘Fall’ in the early Chapters of Genesis, Book Two of Out of the Desert says:


“The story is not strictly a myth of falling into sin and guilt - only what has been elevated can fall! Nor is it about the tragic fall of an innocent first couple, a once-upon-a-time story when our ancestors were perfect, aware of themselves and of God. Then they made a sinful choice, and because of it little children are already guilty in their mother’s womb: we have all become bad.”[7]


Instead, says Out of the Desert, the story of the Fall “is about losing our freedom by not trusting in God” and “nowhere in the story does it say that our first parents sinned!”[8] Having said this, it adds:


“It should also be noted that no one dies in the story. The Bible is not interested in questions about the theory of sin, death or evil. It is concerned instead with the right way to respond to God. Death is part of God’s design for human life. ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3:19) does not mean that death is a punishment for sin.”[9]

To lend substance to their assertion that death was from the beginning intended by God as a necessary part of human experience, the authors of Out of the Desert state: “Death is natural and necessary, otherwise the world would become overcrowded. We have to leave room for those who follow us.”[10]

Given that man was created in the supernatural order, death is a consequence of Original Sin and in this sense not intended by God. On the hypothesis that man was created simply in the natural order, then death would be natural.

In the Book of Wisdom we read: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living...It was through the devil’s envy that death entered the world.” (Wis 1:13; 2:24). In the New Testament, the principal text on Original Sin and death’s entry into human history is found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans where it says: “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” (Rom 5:12).

The CCC states that “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”[11] The Council of Trent defined as an article of Catholic faith that through Adam’s sin at the beginning of human history, justice and holiness were lost and the punishment of death was incurred.[12] The solemn teaching of Trent that death was incurred as a result of original sin was repeated by Vatican II when it said man must suffer “bodily death from which he would be immune had he not sinned.”[13] This teaching was reaffirmed in the CCC.[14]

After stating that “the Council of Trent solemnly expressed the Church's faith concerning original sin,” Pope John Paul II in his long-running Catechesis on the Creed went on to add:


“The Tridentine decree (cf. DS 1512) explicitly states that Adam's sin tainted not only himself but also all his descendants. Adam forfeited original justice and holiness not only for himself, but also "for us" (nobis etiam). Therefore he transmitted to the whole human race not only bodily death and other penalties (consequences of sin), but also sin itself as the death of the soul (peccatum quod mors est animae).”[15]


In a subsequent Catechesis, the Holy Father again reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on death as a consequence of original sin by saying:

“ [The] whole of human existence on earth is subject to the fear of death, which according to revelation is clearly connected with original sin. Sin itself is synonymous with spiritual death, because through sin man has lost sanctifying grace, the source of supernatural life. The sign and consequence of original sin is bodily death, such as it has been experienced since that time by all humanity. Man was created by God for immortality. Death appears as a tragic leap in the dark, and is the consequence of sin, as if by an immanent logic, but especially as the punishment of God. Such is the teaching of revelation and such is the faith of the Church. Without sin, the end of the earthly trial would not have been so dramatic.”[16]


From what has been said above, it is clear that the authors of Out of the Desert are in contradiction of the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church when they assert that “death is part of God’s design for human life” and that “death is not a punishment for sin.”

Book Three of Out of the Desert contradicts Catholic teaching on the hierarchical nature of the Church as something that is of divine origin. Taking Paul Collin’s Mixed Blessings as its reference point in regard to changes that took place in the Church under Pope Gregory VII, it states: “Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) and his successors introduce a hierarchical, centralised church, aspects of which still remain to day.”[17] In teaching that the Church is “Hierarchical”, Vatican II stated that it was Christ himself who established it as a “society structured with hierarchical organs.”[18] Hence, Pope Gregory VII did not introduce the “hierarchical church”, he merely reasserted papal authority.

Peter Mudge, one of the authors of the Out Of The Desert series and a member of the Parramatta CEO’s RE team, claims that the focus of the texts is “the spirit of Vatican II.”[19] In like manner, Book Three of the series asserts that the series includes a focus on “the spirit of Vatican II as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.[20] However, the texts I have cited contain contradictions of the teaching of both Vatican II and the CCC.

The authors of Out of the Desert might claim that their work cannot be charged with heterodoxy since each of the three books I quoted from carry imprimaturs: Book One by Bishop Bede Heather, Book Two and Three by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. All I can say to this is that I don’t know why the imprimaturs were given. However, if I am right and the statements I quoted from the books are indeed contrary to Catholic teaching, then to recommend their use for students in Catholic schools is unjust.

While much more could be said about the 1999 Sharing Our Story Draft Support Units, I hope the points I have raised here will be sufficient to encourage a rethink by Catholic education authorities in those dioceses who are contemplating the adoption of the Parramatta curriculum.

[1] Janet Morrissey, Peter Mudge, Adam Taylor, Out of the Desert, Book One, Longman Publishers, Melbourne, 1997, p. 101 (emphasis added).

[2] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 8.

[3] Vatican II, Inter Mirifica, n. 3

[4] CCC. n. 766; see also CCC. nn. 761-62.

[5] Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the ‘Professio fidei,’ n. 11, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, L’Osservatore Romano, July 15, 1998.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Janet Morrissey, Peter Mudge, Adam Taylor, Out of the Desert, Book Two, Longman, Melbourne, 1998, p. 2.

[8] Ibid. p. 2. The acknowledgments section at the front of this book expresses gratitude to “RECs, RE teachers and students of the Parramatta and other dioceses who trialled materials and supported this project.”

[9] Ibid. p. 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] CCC. n. 390.

[12] Cf. Council of Trent, Decree Concerning Original Sin, Fifth Session, June 17, 1546, n.1.

[13] Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n. 18; cf. CCC. n. 1018

[14] Cf. CCC. n. 1018

[15] Pope John Paul II, Consequences of Original Sin for All Humanity, General Audience, October 1, 1986

[16] Pope John Paul II, The State of Man in Fallen Nature, General Audience, October 8, 1986

[17] Ibid. p. 144.

[18] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, n. 10.

[19] Peter Mudge, Word in Life 45 (1), Australian Catholic University, 1997, p. 14.

[20] Out of the Desert, Book Three, op.cit. p. xiii.


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At issue in the debate over Groome’s Shared Christian Praxis is the authentic transmission of the faith “delivered once and for all to the Apostles,” as well as the spiritual birthright of innocent children to receive that faith free of corruption and  distortion.

The critical sieve through which Groome processes the doctrines of the Church, leads to a relativisation of the very foundations of Catholic faith. His method of religious education engenders scepticism about objective truth which easily leads to moral and religious relativism. When applied to divine Revelation as it has been mediated by the Church, the  hermeneutic of suspicion, so central to Groome’s methodology, does not foster a critical consciousness properly understood, but rather leads to the adulteration of the Word of God.

Through Baptism, Catholic children have received a special instinct for God as well as the germ of the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding. If taught properly by teachers who think with the mind of the Church, as this is given voice through the teaching of the Magisterium, Catholic children are capable of grasping and spiritually enjoying the great truths of Catholic doctrine.

In my opinion, the majority of religious education teachers in Catholic schools are not ideologically driven, but in their formation courses many of them have been led to drink from poisoned wells. At times this problem is exacerbated by dissembling bureaucrats in Catholic Education Offices who construct faulty RE curricula and who organise inservice courses for teachers that often fail to engender love and reverence for all that the Church teaches.

In the present difficulties regarding the transmission of the Catholic faith to younger generations, it is imperative that parents become more aware and active in all that pertains to the religious education of their children. They should not be at all reticent in demanding that teachers and Catholic education authorities produce and deliver RE curricula that carry not a trace of error or dissent. It is their inalienable right and duty to insist that this occurs. If they are not satisfied with the way religious education is being taught in the Catholic school their children attend, then they should consider withdrawing them from classes and seek alternative ways of providing for their intellectual formation in the faith.

Ultimately, bishops will have to exercise their responsibility to protect children in Catholic schools from exposure to error whatever its source. When it comes to the religious education of Catholic youth, any compromise or dallying with error amounts to nothing less than acquiescence in the scandalisation of the young, something Our Lord threatened with grave punishment (cf. Lk 17: 1-3).



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                         Copyright 2003 Eamonn Keane


1st printing - August 2003

2nd printing - November 2003

3rd printing - January 2004


I want to thank my wife Pat for all her help and support in the writing of  this book. I also thank Mrs Jane Gresser for her generosity and hard work in preparing the book for publication.

About the Author: 

Eamonn Keane is married with five children and teaches at a high school in Sydney. Other books he has written are:


Population and Development

The Ordained Priesthood: The Real Issues!

Humanae Vitae: Wisdom For All Ages

The Brave New World of Therapeutic Cloning

A Generation Betrayed

For further information about this book:


Association for Renewal of Religious Education

            P.O. Box 56

            West Pennant Hills

            NSW 2125