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by The Orlando Truth 

       The Failure of Religious Education in the United States


     Even though Senator Kerry lost the 2004 Presidential Election, the high percentage of votes he received from Catholics (48%) demonstrated the failure of Catholic educators, over the last 40 years, to provide the basic essentials of instruction in the Roman Catholic Faith. In November 2003, the American Catholic Bishops discovered the problem that author educator Geraldine Stafford wrote about 20 years ago in Why Johnny Doesn’t Believe (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, January 1984). At that time, she wrote: “Defective textbooks and teaching methods based on the experiential approach to learning resulted in widespread religious illiteracy among Catholic youth. Young Catholics were rejecting the Church’s teachings because they lacked even an elementary knowledge of such basics as the Ten Commandments, papal infallibility, original sin, grace, and the sacraments. Today a majority of young Catholics, like the generation educated before them, know very little about the Church and its teachings.” 

      Now, in 2004, a report published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) repeats her findings. A task force headed by New Orleans Archbishop Hughes has determined that our high school religious education programs are abysmal at best, and dangerous at worst. After reviewing the 25 most popular catechetical instructional series on the market, the Bishops’ Task Force concluded that NONE of the 25 series were acceptable, and what is worse, they were NOT even fixable. According to Bishop Hughes: “The Committee has looked at 25 reviews of individual high school texts and has not been able to grant a declaration of their conformity to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ed: cited by Pope John Paul II to be a sure norm for teaching the Faith) to any one complete high school series whose texts are most             frequently used in this country. Two thirds of the series reviews have ended with the judgment that the materials were inadequate for conformity. They also could not be amended and therefore needed to be entirely rewritten. What causes us concern is that inadequate materials are in widespread use across  the country.” 

 Dissent of the Liberal Modernists 

     Even in our Roman Catholic Universities, the same pattern of failed religious instruction emerges. When once premier Catholic institutions, such as Notre Dame, Georgetown, Fordham and Boston College employ dissenting theologians who teach erroneous doctrines, what can we expect at the high school and elementary school levels of instruction? Typical of such Catholic University level of instruction is the textbook Catholicism (Third Edition, 1994) authored by Fr. Richard McBrien, who has served as Chairman of the Theology Department at Notre Dame. His text is one of the most popular used by Catholic colleges in America. Yet whatever else it may do, it is likely to leave Catholic students doctrinally illiterate. As Msgr. Nelson Logal concluded: “McBrien’s book illustrates how some of our dissenting theologians can put the Faith of the Catholic Church through the shredder of their updating speculations and still claim that the bits and pieces represent Catholicism”. Msgr. George Kelly of St. John’s University in New York observed: “Even when McBrien admits the existence of some infallible dogmas, he places such constraints on them as cultural conditioning and the ever-changing ‘historical consciousness’ as to limit their significance”. Although the USCCB Committee on Doctrine has consistently criticized McBrien’s Catholicism, instances of unsatisfactory or questionable expositions of Catholic teachings in that textbook remain so numerous as to prevent more than a few to be cited here. His textbook:

  •       Denies the fact that Christ founded the Catholic Church as a visible society with the mission to teach all nations. McBrien ignores Christ’s statement to Peter, when He said: You are Peter (the Rock), and upon this Rock (Peter), I will build My Church.” He also ignores Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to establish His Church, when God commissioned the Apostles “to go and teach all nations”.

  •       Denies the primacy of the Pope, and stresses only the collegiality of all bishops acting in unison. McBrien ignores the Second Vatican Council’s explicit declaration that “the Pope is the supreme head of the Church, a position that he can always exercise alone and unhindered.”

  •       McBrien attributes both ignorance and error to Christ. He even supports the case that Christ could have sinned.

  •       Denies dogmatic definitions of the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Assumption, and claims one can still be a good member of the Church in rejecting them, even though these dogmas have been infallibly declared respectively by Pius IX in 1854 and  by Pius XII in 1950.

  •       Denies papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals, and replaces the hierarchical teaching authority of the Magisterium (namely all bishops in communion with the pope) with a pseudo-magisterium of theologians including himself, who are not even part of the official Magisterium.

  •       Denies the virginal conception of Jesus.

  •       Denies the doctrine of the Original Sin of our first parents.

  •       Denies that the sacrament of ordination stamps the priest in a special way to act “in the person of Christ” and to preside over the laity.

  •       Denies that papal judgments in matters of faith and morals bind the consciences of the faithful. Instead McBrien argues for other sources of moral reflection and guidance, such as a person’s friends and associates (incredible, isn’t it?), the findings of scientific disciplines, and the writings of theologians. This leads him to preach the acceptability of homosexuality, pre-marital sex, and sex outside marriage.


     This Third Edition textbook has never been able to obtain an IMPRIMATUR (Certification of authenticity in presenting the Catholic Faith) from any Bishop. In fact, earlier editions of this text, published as early as 1981, were so riddled with theological errors that they had to be supplemented by an entire full volume edition of changes, to rectify false and misleading statements. This current edition obviously still has far to go to present the truth of the Roman Catholic Faith.   

Religious Instruction in Diocese of Orlando 

     Is it any wonder then, that if our Catholic College textbooks misrepresent the Faith, that the religious textbooks in use at the high school and parochial school levels are similarly deficient, as Archbishop Hughes Task Force discovered. In our Diocese of Orlando, Bishop Dorsey has promulgated an approved list of religious textbook publishers (including HARCOURT and SADLIER), from which local parochial and high schools may choose for their educational needs.   

     Consider one of the most popular religious instructional textbook series used in our Diocese of Orlando, namely that published by HARCOURT RELIGION PUBLISHERS also located in Orlando. Their instructional series is titled: Walking by Faith.  These books are not just poorly written. They are an attack on our Catholic Faith. The pattern is consistent – teach a little doctrine and then bring it into the ‘real world’ by making that message secondary to community relations. The community, rather than God, is what these texts are emphasizing. Jesus is portrayed as a kind of divine figure from the past Who taught about the importance of how we all relate to each other and our neighbors in the community. These books suggest that Jesus and His agonizing atonement for our sins are something that happened a long time ago. In our modern culture, we are told that the pressing issues are not sin, sacrifice, and prayer but concern for the health of the community and proper utilization of natural resources. Jesus is out of the picture as far as the goal of our faith and hope and devotion. Jesus is merely a traffic director, pointing the way to our sharing with our neighbors. 

     The discussion about the Mass is similarly confused.  The Mass is depicted as not really the same sacrifice as Calvary, but rather as an opportunity where we gather to cultivate our relationships with each other. We are to wonder what a sacrifice is and are not told about the existence of sin and the atonement gained by Jesus’ bloody sacrifice of Himself on our behalf. The book downplays Jesus’ giving of Himself to God the Father to atone for our sinfulness. By our doing something good for our neighbor, our efforts are depicted as equal to Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself. Again and again, we are treated to the real message of these books. We are not to focus our entire being on becoming more like Jesus in an all out effort to know, love, and serve Him. Rather our main interest is to fulfill our need to belong to a community of believers (who do not even know what they believe). This textbook series presents the Catholic faith in New Age, Modernist dress and totally destroys any sense of a real community of believers. Although it is acknowledged that “there is a time and place for individual acts of worship in the Catholic Church”, it is maintained that “at the heart of our worship, however, is the community of faith, and that no matter who we are, rich or poor, young or old, our presence is important in that gathering”. The authors’ continued emphasis on community conjures up the feeling that their message is fundamentally more an advertisement for a 1960’s commune than anything else. This is quite at odds with the message our Lord taught and exemplified while He walked on earth.  

     In this connection, Dr. Robert Peszynski, a Catholic educator, has recently (July 2004) reviewed the Second and Fifth Grade Religion Texts published by Harcourt. His findings are damning. His litany of problem statements in these textbooks include:

  •     “Each sign from the earth is a revelation – that is, each is a part of the gradual process through which we come to know God.” This quotation confuses the meaning of actual revelation as it refers to Divine Revelation and our natural law understanding of the world as it is reveals itself to us in our own personal experiences.

  •     “Jesus came from God.”  This quotation suggests that Jesus is not God incarnate, but rather a human agent of God, as in the heresy of Arianism.

  •     “Jesus remembered the stories that Mary had told Him. He told stories too. Jesus’ stories helped people see God’s love in their lives. Jesus shared God’s love in other ways, too. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He made people who were left out feel welcome. In all His actions, Jesus used signs of creation, like water and bread and oil. He helped people look at creation in a new way.” This paragraph does not tell us that Jesus was God but only that Jesus shared the stories His mother and human father told to Him in His youth. Then it suggests His miraculous powers of healing were simply additional signs of the goodness of creation that was the point of the stories He heard as a baby. This is confusing.  The book does not teach definitively that Jesus is God. It instead emphasizes that Jesus, like us, is part of creation and used signs of creation.

  •       Mortal and venial sin are not explained.

  •       Doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist is not clearly explained. Pictures of round loaves of bread blending with grapes, wheat and other vegetation convey the impression that Christ’s most sacred Body and Blood are natural manifestations of the products of the earth.

  •      The origin of the universe is discussed, but leaving the impression that there may be other even more credible stories of its origin than Creation by God.

  •      The text says: “The words and actions of the Mass are very important.  They bring us closer to God and one another. At Mass, we gather with other followers of Jesus. We sing and pray together. We listen to readings from the Bible. We remember and give thanks. Every person shares in Jesus’ holy meal.” The holy meal is Jesus but this does not come through this book’s rendition of the essence of our Catholic Faith. Again, it is always the community that takes precedence. Nothing is explained as to the significance and real meaning of the Liturgy of the Mass. The central theme is that the Liturgy is all about us and the focus is quite other than on Jesus. 

     Against this background, our Diocese still refuses to permit the use of the Vatican approved religious education textbook series published by IGNATIUS PRESS. 

Science Cannot Disprove the Supernatural 

     All these textbooks try to explain Faith primarily by naturalistic phenomena alone, which results in their skewed focus on community and neighbor rather than on God. Their authors suffer from a narrow tunnel vision that believes only the experienced laws of nature are reasonable, and thus denies the realm of the supernatural, including the continuing activity of God in the world. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998, specifically criticized this point of view, with eminent logic, when he essentially said: “Reason cannot be reasonable unless it admits of the possibility of the continuing intervention in this world by God, its Creator.” The Pope’s viewpoint was recently confirmed by Dr. Richard McNally, a scientist at Harvard University (New York Times, October 10, 2004), who admitted, “supernatural intervention is by definition beyond the reach of science”. Therefore, science can never be used to disprove the existence of the supernatural realm of Faith. Rather, as Avery Cardinal Dulles has said: “The historical evidence for Christ and the Catholic Faith is more than adequate.”  The discovery of the empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday coupled with Christ’s subsequent appearances to 500 persons during the 40 days prior to His Ascension testify to the truth of His physical Resurrection by supernatural means beyond any reasonable doubt. The Apostles were not fools. Unlike pseudo-theologians in their ivory towers who are easily duped, the Apostles were street-wise fishermen and tax collectors, who were so convinced of Christ’s physical Resurrection that they were willing to be martyred for their witness to this truth.  Thus when the authors of these discredited textbooks try to develop a relationship with God through merely natural means without reference to the supernatural, they are acting like a boxer trying to win a fight with one hand tied behind his back. It is the biggest error of Modernism.  

     Moreover, in repudiating or redefining our orthodox Catholic Faith that has been consistently taught since the time of Christ, these authors are essentially claiming that they have had an “epiphany of wisdom” experienced solely by them. The intellectual arrogance and ignorance exhibited by that claim is mind-boggling.  Consider that for their claim to be valid, it must be recognized that God would have permitted mankind to be deceived as to His teachings for almost 2,000 years. Such a gross deception is logically inconceivable for God, Who is All Just and All Love, and said: “Remember I am with you all days, even to the end of time.”

                                Supplemental Religious Education 

     Although formal schooling, as discussed above, is the principal means of educating people in the Faith, such education is supplemented (1) by instruction provided in priests’ homilies at Sunday Mass, and (2) direct statements by Bishops on specific matters of Faith.  

      Unfortunately, priests in our Diocese of Orlando, with few exceptions, mouth only sugary homilies  preaching love of neighbor and avoiding any confrontation with sin. 

      Even more negligent has been the failure of bishops to speak out on specific matters of Faith. Just consider three flagrant examples:

  •     Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C. has been entrusted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Chairmanship of their Committee whose main purpose is to guide Catholics in the current presidential election, with respect to the dominance of the abortion issue in overriding all other political concerns. Despite the importance of this issue, he has continually procrastinated. Several months ago he stated that his committee would only publish its report in mid-November after the presidential election. So much for guiding the Catholic faithful! Such feigned neutrality is his tacit endorsement of the pro-abortion candidate.

  •         Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts waited until Election day to issue a public statement saying that the right to life should be the central issue in voters’ decisions.  The bishops of all four Massachusetts dioceses were unanimous in similarly condemning, on both moral and legal grounds, assisted suicide, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. But why did they wait until the actual day of the election to make their statement? Amazing! Now they can claim to be on record upholding the teachings of the Church but will not have harmed their boy, Kerry’s chances of winning in that state.

  •       Bishop Dorsey and Bishop Wenski of our Orlando Diocese were recently requested to make a statement to teach us the Catholic position about the potential euthanasia of mentally handicapped Terri Schiavo in St. Petersburg, Florida. Despite Pope John Paul II’s clear indication that food and   water are never to be denied in such instances, Bishop Dorsey and Bishop Wenski refused to support Terri (by name), thereby ignoring the Pope’s statement.  

     Our Pope has continually instructed the bishops to teach. Yet, as cited above, there are many “successors to the Apostles” who are unwilling to do so, thereby showing contempt for the Church they would have us believe that they love and serve. In view of our bishops’ almost total abdication of Catholic education, it is no wonder that the two generations since 1960, uneducated in the Catholic Faith, are no more than cultural Catholics, who have no serious knowledge of the Faith. If they did, they would realize that they are Catholics in name only. Such persons are ready prey for unprincipled politicians who concentrate on offering them all the benefits of the secular world. It should surprise no one that Senator Kerry received such a substantial vote of support from such Catholics.




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