America got a wonderful present this Christmas past. On Christmas Eve, 2003, Catholic news services reported the findings of a special commission investigating Catholic school resources. The commission found nearly two-thirds of high school catechetical materials used throughout the United States are trash. That is, these texts are not in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When asked about the problem, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, the head of the commission, replied, “The committee recognizes that the causes are manifold. A particular area of concern is the way in which catechetical leaders, catechists and potential textbook writers are being taught and formed in our institutions of higher learning.”
It is a masterpiece of understatement.
A short while ago, I explained why Catholic schools don’t matter. Now let me explain why they do. The Pope’s apostolic letter on the Catholic universities is entitled Ex Cordae Ecclesia – “Out of the Heart of the Church”. Put that together with what he said in his letter on catechesis: for “instruction in the Faith to be effective, it must be permanent. It would be quite useless if it stopped short on the threshold of maturity.”
The university is the heart of the Church because the students at a university are on the threshold of maturity. When a person has the capacity to undergo university training, he has the capacity to be truly taught the necessary adult understanding of the Faith. True, not every Catholic adult has gone to university. But university training is arguably the pre-eminent method of adult formation. At the university, adults spend their lives teaching other adults. If the university method of adult formation is not safe-guarded, it is unlikely that other adult formation methods will be safeguarded either. Without an adult formation in the Faith, a man or woman can be a biological parent, but he or she cannot be a fully Catholic parent.
This matters. In fact, it is critical. Correct formation of Catholic parents is critical precisely because the family is the core building block of society and the Church.
You see, while begetting a child is certainly an enjoyable experience and it is certainly part of being a parent, the biological act of begetting the child is not sufficient to fully make me a parent. God may have reached out and given my wife and I the gift of a child, but unless and until we teach our child about the God who touched us with his life, the God who endowed him with life, we have not become fully parents. We only become fully parents when we instill in our child an understanding and love of the God who enlivened him.
That’s why the Catechism says what it does in article #2221, “Conjugal fecundity is not limited to procreation, but also includes moral education and spiritual formation.” In this, the Catechism simply paraphrases Aquinas, who said the same nearly a millennium ago. He pointed out that the ministry of parents is comparable to that of priests, with one exception: priests only give spiritual life. Parents give both physical and spiritual life.
So, we can only be fully parents when we teach our own children about God. But we can only teach what we know. And we only know what we have been taught. Like any other knowledge, knowledge about God is a “use it or lose it” proposition. Since we are adults, we will only use knowledge of God that is applicable to our adult lives. Just as I can’t run a business based on a twelve-year old’s understanding of finance, so I can’t live an adult Catholic life using a twelve-year old’s understanding of God. If my last encounter with Catholic theology was my confirmation class, I’m trying to deal with mature adult experiences using a teenager’s understanding of God. That is a disaster waiting to happen.
The family is the first school, the parents are the primary educators. If we as parents don’t have adult understanding, we will not pass on the Faith effectively. We can’t be given an adult understanding in grade school or middle school. That is, after all, why universities exist – only as we approach our twenties are we capable of absorbing a universal education. Thus, the university is the heart of the Church, it is ex cordae ecclesia. Or at least, that’s what it is supposed to be.
Re-read Archbishop Hughes’ words. The textbooks stink because universities aren’t teaching catechists correctly. In a word, the “catechetical leaders” (read the professors) in the Catholic universities are often heretics. The young adults in their care, men and women who are finally capable of adult understanding, the baptized men and women who need adult understanding, who have a right to correct teaching, are instead trained to be heretics too. Assuming they don’t fall away from the Faith altogether, these young men and women will most likely follow their teachers’ heresy.
In 1901, the bishops told Catholic parents it was a mortal sin to send their children to a non-Catholic school. Today, most bishops will not tell parents whether an ostensibly Catholic faculty is, in fact, Catholic. It is a simple, startling fact that a student is more likely to lose the Faith at a “Catholic” university. Conversely, he is more likely to keep his Faith if he avoids Catholic universities and sticks to secular universities. Most “Catholic” universities aren’t. Because many bishops refuse to tell parents whether the universities in their dioceses are orthodox, because they refuse to state whether the professors in the universities have promised to faithfully pass on the Faith, parents are unable to complete their God-given task: helping their own children grow in the Faith.
So it is here, at the university level, at the heart of the Church, that the loss occurs. What we do at the parochial school or even the high school level is really just moving deck chairs around on the Titanic. If we fail in the Catholic university, all the schooling prior to it is quite useless.
The parents have a divine right to assistance in completing this last, crucial step in their children’s formation. The children have a divine right to be taught the Faith. The bishops have a divine duty to assist the parents. By and large, the bishops ignore these rights and duties.
Ideally, the bishops should clean the heretics out of the universities. Failing that, the bishops should at least let parents know which professors are loyal to the Church. To refuse parents this information is to silently ignore their own vocation as bishops. This silence, in fact, arguably constitutes a sin of omission against the family. Because the family is the basic cell of society, this failure is an attack not only on Catholic parents, but on our culture and on the Church itself. Yet this is where many bishops stand today.
So it comes as no surprise to discover Archbishop Hughes’ statement in the news. In fact, it isn’t really news. The heresies, the deficiencies, the heterodoxies found in texts today are almost exactly the same heresies, deficiencies and heterodoxies the commission found in 1997 , when the last public statement on catechetical texts was made. Apart from Archbishop Hughes’ admission of where the problem lies, nothing has changed.
A handful of American bishops have done their jobs. The rest allow the wolves to ravage the family. Even as young Catholic men and women finally reach maturity, even as they finally have the capacity to begin to grasp the fullness of the Faith, their parents unknowingly hand them over to the ravening maw of the heretic who lies in wait within the heart of the Church. As the parents watch in horror, their children are disembowled before their eyes. The bishops watch in silence.
Let’s stop pretending. If we refuse to have Catholic universities and we won’t provide decent adult formation in the parish, then let’s at least save a bit of money. Without adult formation, parochial schools are quite useless in passing on the Faith. Close them. Put the money into parish formation for adults. Stop the hypocrisy.