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Monday, April 12, 2010

Confirmation Problem

I recently received a question about how a homeschooler might deal with a parish confirmation program that really, really stunk.
Are there any options other than a parish based program to Confirm our children? Our parish does not allow parents to homeschool any of the sacramental years including Confirmation (2 year program).
My son Lucas detests going to class because it is a class of all boys that he describes as a bunch of crazed monkeys. They disrupt the class the entire 2 hours and it's very hard for him to concentrate. I realize that they all are 12 and 13 and this is normal. But Lucas is very mature for his age thinks it's silly for them to act this way.
He's asking us why he has to go through this? He could learn all this material at home without all the distraction. It's hard to argue with that logic. We've spoken with our priest and with the director of the Religious Ed program. Both have emphasized the need to be apart of the church "community" and just stick it out. Being part of this particular community (his class) would mean acting like a crazed monkey! So you can see our dilemma. Please send any thoughts and/or suggestions.
This was my response:
You have several options. 
All involve pain.   
1) Once someone is baptized, they may approach ANY legitimate minister of the other sacraments in order to receive those other sacraments. All that is necessary to receive a sacrament is 
(a) the recipient knows what it will do to him/her 
(b) the recipient wants that change to happen and 
(c) the recipient knows enough about the liturgy to successfully move through it.   
That's it.   
So, you could go to ANY PARISH IN THE WORLD in order to get your child confirmed. Any bishop, indeed, any priest whose bishop has given him authority to confirm, can do this for your child. Thus, you are quite within your rights to check out other parishes/dioceses for alternatives. Hispanic children, for example, commonly go to a grandmother's house in Mexico to get confirmed over the summer and avoid the gringo stupidity that you are presently encountering.  
2) You can fight the priest. The documents are QUITE clear on this point. The Rite of Confirmation #3 even says: 
“The initiation of children into the sacramental life is ordinarily the responsibility and concern of Christian parents. They are to form and gradually increase a spirit of faith in the children and, at times with the help of catechism classes, prepare them for the fruitful reception of the sacraments of confirmation and the eucharist.”
Articles 2220-2225 of the CCC re-state the parental duty/right in slightly different language. CCC 2225 says "Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of faith." The phrase "mysteries of faith" is a technical theological term that refers to the sacraments (Part II of the CCC is called "The Mystery of Faith" and it discusses sacraments and liturgy). The parents are the primary educators of their own children and no pastor, no bishop, no DRE, no deacon, NO ONE can interfere in your right and your duty to prepare your own children for the sacraments. I have a couple of chapters on this in my book, Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America.
If you bone up on the Magisterial documents and approach the pastor, making it clear that you know what you're talking about and you will take it to the bishop if he doesn't allow you to prepare your child at home, most pastors will back down because they know they have no ground to stand on.   If you run into a stupid pastor who really wants to fight on this issue, then after talking with him, take it to the bishop. 
Bishops know perfectly well that they can't force you through the parish program. He may or may not bluster and try to bully you into it, but if you stand your ground, he will relent, if only because he wouldn't want you to take it to the papal nuncio, which you should make clear you are willing to do.   
The most common objection is that the parish is supposed to participate in the child's preparation for confirmation. Yes, well, you are part of the parish, so you represent the parish to the child. The parish exists to support the family, not vice versa. Families got along without parishes for the first 1000 years of the Church just fine. Parishes don't exist without families. Parishes must support the parents. Anything else is a violation of the principle of subsidiarity.   
3) You can go into the class with your child, as is your right, and loudly correct any error the confirmation instructors try to bring forward, i.e., make a real nuisance of yourself. It works best if you get ALL the homeschooling parents to do this en masse. Facing a large-scale revolt, the pastor will quickly find an alternative way to deal with homeschoolers.  
The only reason he's been able to ram this down your throats so far is you haven't all gotten together and had a come-to-Jesus meeting with him. If he sees 20 or 30 families all ticked off and all ready to head to the bishop and sit on the bishop's doorstep, the pastor will back down and accommodate you.   Familiaris Consortio (#69-72) recommends that parents form associations to work together for their common good. In this day and age, that means you need to band together against your pastor, break green lumber over his head in order to get his attention, then tell him what he needs to do to fix his ignorance, and his insulting attitude towards the parents in his parish.  
He'll hate you for taking option #3, but that's ok. He'll get over it. And he will cave, guaranteed. Pastors hate parish insurrections. A big insurrection reduces the likelihood that the bishop will give the pastor a cushy parish next time he has to pass through the spring "pastor roulette" when bishop transfers pastors.   
Now, that having been said, bishops don't like noise either, because it looks bad on their vitae if the noise reaches Rome. Given the internet, most noise reaches Rome nowadays. So, #3 is really going to tick off the bishop as well (although Rome won't mind) and it will give homeschoolers a generally bad name with him. I just mention it because it DOES work, if nothing else does.   
4) Skip confirmation for the moment. Yes, I know it's a sacrament, and yes I know it sounds wrong, but if he just waits until he's 18 or 19 to get confirmed, then all of this juvenile behaviour from the pastor and the deacon magically falls away. 
Typically, most parishes have a "catch-up" program for adults who missed confirmation in their youth (which is not uncommon). The adult program is much less onerous, typically only a couple of weeks, and the level of discourse does not involve crazed monkeys.   
It should be noted that, for purposes of receiving a sacrament, canon law recognizes the age of 8 as being an adult. So, technically, an adult prep program for your child is perfectly within his rights if he's 8 years old or older. Now, nobody is going to let your twelve-year old into an adult confirmation program, and I wouldn't argue that you should try, but since your child is unlikely to fall away from the Faith UNLESS he participates in the parish confirmation nonsense, it is actually a prudent decision on your part to simply delay the sacrament until such time as either the boy or the pastor grows up.   
Since the former is more likely to happen than the latter, I don't think it unreasonable to wait until he's 19 for confirmation if you can't avoid the near occasion of sin in the parish program any other way.   Again, #4 is not the best choice, but I throw it out as an option that I think can legitimately be considered if you don't want to pursue the other courses of action. 


25 comments:

William said...

That's great advice. I wonder which path he/she will take?

I'd know that I'd take number 2 in a heartbeat myself, to let the priest and possibly the Bishop understand that alienating those that take their faith seriously isn't the best approach.

"Join the Community." Please. Any pastor should jump for joy that the parents are willing to personally teach the Confirmation course to their children.

DavidofOz said...

We were living in the US for 2 years and our eldest was ready for confirmation. Back home in Australia, confirmation is for grade 5 or 6 students, in this US diocese it was for 15/16 year olds. The parish priest wouldn't let my daughter be confirmed as she was too young. Knowledge and readiness were not relevant. The fact I was actually teaching the confirmation class was also not important. I wrote to the bishop who replied it was the priest's decision.
So we waited until we returned home from the "land of the free" and had the eldest three children confirmed together at a homeschooling camp.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

David,

According to the documents, a bishop is not permitted to refuse a child confirmation based on age alone.

If you had prepared your daughter, so that there was no question of her readiness apart from age, and then appealed to the bishop, he would have been stuck. You could then have appealed to the papal nuncio.

Your solution is also good, however! :) Personally, I will not send any of my children through a parish confirmation program because the programs are all stupid.

Mamie Farish said...

Hi Steve, there are good confirmation programs, as well as bad ones. We at IHM in Los Alamos have a wonderful youth ministry and a common sense approach, working with student and family. That's the way it ought to be done. It helps to have a supportive pastor, which we do. We really need pastor leadership. In our times, there's too much at stake. Pettiness, sloppy programs should not be tolerated.

Suzanne said...

The silliness of some confirmation programs here in the US - including my own ridiculous program when I was a teen - is what led me to seek the Sacrament of Confirmation outside the US.

I'm praying that our diocese will mimic that of Tyler, Texas and a few others who have come to realize that all the sacraments of initiation (baptism, Reconciliation/Eucharist, confirmation) are supposed to be done in relative close succession (less than 8 years apart)!

As a side note, I was confirmed through a ridiculous LifeTeen program by the founder of the program in Az., who has now been defrocked. God help us!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Mamie,

I'm glad you have access to a good one.

I've worked in three different parishes in three different states. I am not personally acquainted with any decent confirmation programs.

Suzanne said...

Oops! That should read "is what led me to seek the Sacrament of Confirmation outside the US for my own children."

Elizabeth said...

Steve, in your mind CAN there be a good confirmation program run by a parish? Or is it an intrinsically flawed system?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The best confirmation program would be one which followed the documents of the Church.

If you want to create a parish community that lasts, it has to be built around the parents, not the kids.

Kids move, change, grow and leave in ten years. While parents do move, parents are much more likely to be in the parish for fifty years. There's essentially zero chance the kids will be.

So, the best process would be a parish program that taught parents how to prepare their own children for confirmation. This strengthens parent-child ties, family ties, which is the primary point of anything the parish does. A secondary consequence would be a building up of the "association of parents" that Familiaris Consortio describes.

Parents in this program would naturally learn to lean into each other and form associations with one another as they try to figure out how to get their job done.

Ideally, the "catechism classes" that Rite of Confirmation #3 refers to would also be taught be parents of the confirmands, and for exactly the same reasons as described above. The parents would be forced to learn and grow in their own Faith just to be able to teach the catechism classes to their own children.

If a parent doesn't want to participate in this, fine, that's their choice. But the first Confession, Confirmation and first Eucharist prep program must all be set up like the baptism prep programs - you teach the parents, let the parents teach their own children.

Patrick said...

Lovely thought, however most religious educators would be worried that allowing parents to do the education alone would lead to a cut in Catholic education (and possibly their services). I do like the idea that the parents should be going to classes with the kids, however in my area the class schedules are often at times that are unlikely to allow very many adults with jobs to attend as well. My local bishop is fighting for the parents to show up at least 50% of the time for Sunday mass (and makes this point in every homily) much less trying to maintain the parents education in their faith as well.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Patrick:

You are EXACTLY correct.
The whole point of the sacramental prep programs - and all the other parish programs - is to make sure the parish staff stays employed.

They don't WANT parents involved.
The don't WANT adults taught.
If parents got involved, had to learn the Faith, and actually taught their own children, think of all the jobs that would be lost!

No DRE.
No need for a secretary to handle class scheduling for dozens of individual classes.
No need for a volunteer coordinator.
No need for a youth coordinator.
No need for a CRAP (Children Really Are Protected) program.

Why do you think classes are offered at times difficult for parents to attend? That's PLANNED, my friend. Adult events are scheduled so that only old people and the unemployed can show up.

Nobody talks about it, but NOBODY wants adult formation. Priests don't want it because parents start demanding their rights, and start asking uncomfortable questions about how Father runs the liturgy. DREs, Youth Ministers and the rest don't want it because it endangers their phoney-baloney jobs.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

To be honest, adult education even endangers the Catholic school, because the only way you can distinguish between the Catholic school and the public school now is the religion class.

When parents realize they can do that on their own, then what, exactly, is the point of the parish school? It's staffed by non-Catholics and populated by a large number of non-Catholics. It really just serves as a way for affluent Catholic parents to keep their children away from whatever local minority/problem group there may be.

Even in the inner city, the point of the Catholic school is to keep children of involved parents away from the gangs of children of uninvolved parents in the public school.

So, to keep everything status quo ante, the parents have to remain emasculated. Part of the parish staff's reason for being is precisely to maintain that status quo ante.

Elizabeth said...

We'd probably be better served to fire the DRE's etc and use their salary to furnish an orthodox parish library.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I know a lot of people who want to establish parish libraries, but I'm not sure it's a viable solution anymore.

Who would use it?

Most people I know, when they want to find out something, they google it.

The number of people who read books each year is dropping, book sales in general are dropping every year, Christian book sales have been dropping every quarter for the past several years (4th Q 2009 was the first time it didn't in a long time).

Surveys show people over 60 still read books, people over 40 prefer pamphlets at the back of church, and people under 40 prefer the Internet. By the time the parish library is built up to a useful point, the people who would use it will mostly be dead.

Elizabeth said...

I doubt that the under 40 crowd is interested in showing up to adult education classes on how to teach their children the faith any more than they're interested in opening a book. My experience is people either already care about their faith enough to learn about it on their own or they don't care enough about it to make an effort to learn more.

The Internet is great but I question the efficacy of learning your faith via the Internet. Perhaps others have a better Internet attention span than I do but when surfing the Internet I often learn interesting trivia but rarely do I learn something that is truly spiritually enriching.

My other comment would be I wouldn't want to poison my mind with the crap most of these classes would inevitably be filled with! There are of course a few good orthodox "teachers" but they are few and far between.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Elizabeth,

I don't disagree with most of your points. The only people who show up for sessions are people interested in the Faith (or at least in some kind of faith) already. It is almost always retired people, and occasionally a group of stay-at-home mothers.

It is impossible to do spiritual reading on the Internet - you need a book for that.

Adult formation classes would typically be run by the same nut jobs who got us into this mess, so they would be of limited usefulness.

My point isn't that a library is not useful - it is. Rather, the problem is identical to the problem of adult formation sessions (even good ones): how do you convince anyone out in the parish to come to the parish library?

This isn't Field of Dreams. Just because we build it doesn't mean they'll come.

Elizabeth said...

So we do nothing other than have 15 kids that we raise in the faith...?


I'll be honest I'm sick and tired of being Catholic. It seems insane to stick to a faith that can only be found by reading a book or talking to a few strangers over the Internet! It is to embarrassing to evangelize. What are you supposed to say "This is the one true faith but ignore everything the people in leadership say."? How does one teach their children to respect priests when their tertiary priest refers to himself as the "punk priest"? If there was another Church that Jesus established I'd run away as quick as possible!

I've discovered a TLM an hour away. That has been a bit of a respite but when I see the Mass as it should be I just get angrier about all the abuses to the liturgy that currently occur in the majority of parishes across the globe.

Please excuse my rant I know it doesn't have all that much to do with the topic at hand but the thought of battling with some heretic priest over my son receiving the sacraments is enough to make my blood boil!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Cardinal Ratzinger once said, "Success is not one of the names of God."

Mother Teresa liked to point out that we are called to serve, not to succeed.

You thought, being Catholic, you could avoid crucifixion? Avoid scourging by the people who were supposed to be your friends and support? Where in the Gospels did you get that idea? :)

But, I, too, have been absolutely outraged by the sins of the priests - the sins against the liturgy, the constant mis-teaching of Church doctrine. That's why I wrote a book about it, after all! :)

If there are priests anywhere that you trust, go to them for your children's sacraments. Every one of my children has received their sacraments from my brother-in-law, a good priest who lives ten hours away from us. Which is closer than he was. He used to be a two-day drive. We've never gone through a parish children's prep program and we never will.

Confirmation we're still working on, but I'm willing to wait until they're 18 if that's what it takes to avoid the parish prep programs.

I refuse to send them through those things.

Oh, keep in mind that if you have a child who is ill enough and old enough (age of reason) to receive Anointing of the Sick (e.g., the child has to undergo surgery), and the child is not confirmed, the priest is REQUIRED to confirm the child before Anointing.

That's an additional way to avoid the parish Confirmation program! :)

Elizabeth said...

I guess I'll just start praying my son needs his appendix taken out around the age of 8...

Suzanne said...

Steve, thanks for the heads up on that...my youngest came along after our multifamily Confirmation trip. Very good to know.

Sigh. Onward and heavenward, we hope!

Patrick said...

There was a point made earlier that needs to be enhanced. Under John Paul II, it was pointed out that without an Internet presence, the Catholic Church has no voice in much of the world which is why he pushed hard for better Vatican resources on the web. That is still the case. I have literally dozens of friends and co-workers in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s who have never picked up a newspaper for anything other than the sports section. They have never used a library after high school or college. They have seriously never bought anything other than magazines in book stores. Any Catholic information they have picked up has been through religious news articles on the Net, homilies in church or when they skipped through channels on cable/satellite television. Though it may be difficult (though not impossible) to use the Internet for spiritual reading, those resources are the only ones that even have a chance to be accessed by much of the population. I know I use the Net extensively for Catholic documents because the local bookstores are nearly useless, but so are most local churches whose very priests can no longer explain their faith, and the only religious television channel offered by my local cable provider is EWTN whose information I have learned long ago "to trust but verify". Considering the Catholic Church was nearly the sole information source during the Middle Ages, it can no longer even be called the soul information source for most Catholics today and it will never become one again if it cannot get information through to the average Catholic in the modern world.

sarah said...

Hi,
I am 12 years of age and living in Ireland. The norm here is to be confirmed at 11,12 or 13. I am schedueled to be confirmed in less than two weeks. But, alas I don't feel ready. I would be counted mature for my age and I know for a fact that the other thousands of pre teens in Ireland that will be getting confirmed at this age in Ireland havve no clue and I repeat no clue as to what they are receiving.

I do not want to recieve my confirmation this year. I would rather wait until I'm 18. I think confirmation is and adult sacrament and at 12 I'm not an adult. I go to Church every Sunday. I say my prayers and quite frankly am alot closer to God than the other children in my class who are, believe it or not being pressured into recieving a sacrament that they don't understand.

My teacher and local pastor/priest are saying my wish NOT to recieve the sacrament now is just a "teenage phase". I'm afraid it's not and my mother has said she will back me on my decision.

Confirmation should be when the person themselves feel ready. Anybody can learn a few prayers off and recite them to the Bishop but very few 12 year olds have strong enough faith for this sacrament. I am standing by my desision.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Sarah,

Read CCC 1308. Note that the sacrament of Confirmation is

not
NOT
*NOT*

a sacrament for adults. Indeed, of the 22 rites of the Catholic Church, 21 of them confirm infants.

Confirmation is NOT a rite of passage to adulthood. Anyone who tells you it is doesn't know anything about the sacrament and has NEVER read or understood the CCC on the subject.

Read what the CCC says about what it does (1302-1305). Ignore your "teachers." What part of that scares you?

All it does is strengthen the gifts you got in baptism. It does NOT give you any new gifts of grace. It just makes you better able to use what you already have.

What is scary about that?

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Busy for new posts lately, Steve? :)

Matheus F. Ticiani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.