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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Missing the Passion's Point

Secular commentators are now decrying the brutality of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in a fruitless, last-ditch effort to keep people from seeing it tomorrow. They say it isn't appropriate for children. It leaves even adults emotionally drained. The commentators routinely ignore the fact that Mel warned parents to leave children 12 and under at home.

I have two points to make in response to their inane remarks.

1) Every time I see these reports, I think of all the children who have seen exactly that level of violence during the course of their lives. Take in the long run of history, contemplate the dreary years before the crucifixion up to the present day. In 21st century America, our children are mostly sheltered from this level of violence through the fortune of having been born in the right place and time, but historically that film pretty much depicts the way people treated each other for centuries.

2) I don't doubt that churches are organizing grade schoolers to see the movie despite Mel's warning. Christianity is primarily for children, after all. That's the constant practice of Catholic parishes in this country for well over a century.

What the secular commentators are shocked at is the idea that Christianity might be something only an adult can really stomach, and even then, just barely.

Catholicism is for adults. We can teach children a pale imitation, but the full flavor of the cup makes it an adult drink. Historically speaking, martyred children who tasted it to the dregs did so only through the miraculous power of the Spirit.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Shooting the Messenger

Many people have written me personally and provided comments in this space concerning my articles on Catholic education. Here is an outline of my argument. You can look at it minus the rhetorical flourishes that drew both so many boos and bravos.

There are two parts to the Catholic educational system as it has commonly been used in this country over the last two centuries: the parochial school and the university. Because they are treated in quite different ways, they need to be studied separately. The USCCB informs us that the bulk of parish resources is to be devoted to adult education and formation. That is, they add a third leg to the traditional two-tiered Catholic educational system.

At one point in history, the parish school was totally funded by the collection plate and totally staffed by men and women with formal theological training. In most parishes, neither of these are true anymore. Today, the parish school absorbs between 60-90% of the total parish budget and still comes up short. Tuition, often quite high, has to make up the difference. Furthermore, it is staffed either entirely or largely by men and women without any theological training at all.

While individual school teachers may be uniformly outstanding in delivering individual subject areas, a Catholic school is characterized by the fact that the Catholic Faith permeates every subject taught, from math through science, reading, writing, music, art, etc. Unless every subject presentation is permeated by and integrated into the Catholic Faith, the school is not Catholic.

Catholic schools generally require university training, i.e., a teacher's certificate, in a subject area in order to teach the subject. One would expect the same level of education would be required in order to teach Catholic Faith. Since every subject has to be permeated with Catholic faith in order for the school to be a Catholic school and not just a private school, this means every Catholic school teacher needs two areas of concentration, or a double undergraduate major: one degree in either elementary education or a secondary school subject area, the second degree in Catholic theology.

Even if all of these conditions are met, it is the case that parents have the responsibility of doing the sacramental preparation for their own children themselves. This does not mean the parents need to homeschool their children in all subjects, or even that they need to do religious education for their own children entirely by themselves. Indeed, the very description of a Catholic school indicates that the integration of all subjects into a Catholic worldview is the purpose of the Catholic school. However, in the very narrow area of sacramental preparation, that is, preparation for First Confession, Confirmation, First Communion and remote preparation for Marriage, all of these supposed to be done by the parents. Introducing our children to the life-giving nature and principles of the sacraments is part of what makes each of us a fully Catholic parent.

Obviously, these conditions create problems. Let's make a short list of these problems:
1) If the parochial school takes 51% of the budget, it is impossible to do what the bishops request.
2) Virtually no Catholic school teacher has that second area of formal training. Indeed, many Catholic school teachers are not Catholic, those who are Catholic may not have had any formal training in Catholic Faith since their grade school or high school confirmation. Thus, it is not possible for subjects like math or science to be fully integrated with a presentation of the Faith.
3) It is not unusual to discover that even the individual who teaches religion has had no formal training in the Catholic Faith since confirmation. If an adult who only had a grade school education were asked to teach math, reading or social studies at the Catholic grade school, few parents would be pleased, yet when it comes to the Faith, that is often exactly what we get at the parochial school level and it is not uncommon even at the high school level.
4) Catholic parents have no more formal training in the Faith than most of the teachers at the Catholic school.

Now, when we examine these problems, we see a common theme to three of the points. Points 2, 3 and 4 are all problems in adult formation. If we can solve the adult formation problem, our parochial school problems might largely go away. Indeed, with proper adult formation, even the funding problem would go away, as Catholic adults would be more likely to give generously at the collection if they felt the Church were actually vital to their lives. Adult formation is clearly the problem to be solved.

Parochial schools do not do adult formation.
That leaves the parish and the Catholic university.

Let's look at the parish first.
We already know that there is not enough resources in the parish to do adult formation well. The parochial school eats the majority of the parish budget, and needs tuition besides just to stay afloat. There is no money for adult formation. As long as this financial situation continues to obtain, adult formation cannot really be done at the parish level. No one will come because the quality will not be good enough. There aren't enough resources left to make it good enough to entice adults. That leaves the university.

So, let's look at the university. Here are some facts.
Catholics who attend Catholic university are more likely to lose the Faith than are Catholics who attend secular universities.
A survey of Catholic elementary school books in 1997 showed that most of them were heretical.
A survey of Catholic high school texts in 2003 showed that most of them were heretical.
These heretical texts were written by graduates of Catholic universities.
The bishops investigating these texts admit that catechists are not being properly formed in the Faith at the university level.
Now, the ones who study the Faith aren't properly formed. So, we can only assume that the ones who don't study the Faith in formal university coursework are doing at least as badly.
Professors of theology and philosophy at Catholic universities are supposed to take the mandatum, an oath of obedience to transmit accurately and vibrantly the truths of the Faith to the students in attendance.
Only twelve universities are known to do this. The rest refuse to answer when parents ask. When parents ask the bishop who has taken the oath, most bishops also refuse to answer. The universities claim it is a matter of academic freedom.

So, the universities also appear to be out of action. Apart from twelve American universities, we have no evidence that the other universities are doing a good job in forming adults in the Faith, and quite a bit of evidence to demonstrate that they are not.

To sum up:
The parochial school is no longer likely to be Catholic in any real sense because adult formation has failed.
Despite the bishops' cajoling, the parish cannot solve the adult formation problem, because the parochial school eats the majority of the resources, leaving insufficient resources for adult formation.
The universities won't solve the adult formation problem because they see it as an infringement on their academic freedom. The bishops largely refuse to intervene.

Worst of all, this situation is not new. Given the evidence from the 1997 study, and the fact that it takes at least four years to get an undergraduate degree and a position as a textbook writer, we can assume that the Catholic school system has been broken since at least 1993, probably earlier. So, even if the resources were sufficient to put on a good adult formation program, we have at least a generation of adults who think Catholic formation is exclusively for children. In fact, as anyone who has Catholic parents knows, adult formation at the parish level has been dead for decades (plural, not singular). Thus, the very culture of the parish has already destroyed the idea that adults need formation.

All three segments of Catholic education have been severely wounded: parochial school, university and parish.

Those are the facts. Given these facts, how do we dig our way out? I suggest closing the parochial schools in order to free up the resources necessary for the parish to do the job that most desperately needs doing: adult formation. Parochial schools cannot work unless the teachers and parents involved in them are as capable in passing on the Faith as they are in passing on a proper understanding of math or English. If lengthy higher education is required for the latter, how can we honestly require any less for the former? You may disagree with this solution, but if you do, you should at least suggest an equally viable solution of your own.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Solving the Catholic Education problem

Many readers seem to think that the Catholic parochial school solves a problem. The argument is that if we get the kids today, they will be faithful Catholics tomorrow.

It is indeed hard to educate adults about the Faith, but overall, it is easier to educate adults than it is to educate children in such a way that they will be educated adults.

Let me list some of the problems encountered as you try to set up a new Catholic grade school:

You won't be able to pay for it. Catholic schools suck 70-90% of the money a parish generates, leaving nothing for any other activity - including the activity which the entire Magisterium says is the most important thing a parish can do besides liturgy,, i.e., the education of adults.

You won't be able to build a Catholic curriculum, because that requires the trivium and quadrivium, not the Prussian Protestant "subject" curriculum popular in most schools today and required for state licensing.

If you can find a trivium and quadrivium curriculum, you won't be able to find teachers for it, since no one knows how to teach subjects outside of the Prussian Protestant system. Furthermore, there are no universities whose education degrees include coursework showing adult Catholic teachers who know their Faith how to integrate their Faith into integrate the curriculum, no matter which curriculum you use.

Worse, you won't be able to pay these teachers a just wage, so you'll be violating a basic principle of Catholic social justice.

If you can find these teachers, you won't be able to implement the curriculum because the parents will oppose it. It's not how they were taught, and it "doesn't seem to prepare their children for life."

If you can get the curriculum past the parents and actually implemented for a grade school, now you have to do the same thing all over again at the high school level. As anyone familiar with child psychology and child development knows, the ability to reason may be available at an early age, but it really begins to blossom during and after the high school years. That's why the Pope insists that catechesis which ends at the threshold of maturity is quite useless. If the teens aren't re-catechized from the ground up, the grade school instruction will disappear.

So, everything you did to establish a decent grade school and middle school has to be repeated from scratch in the high school, or the children won't retain the Faith. Indeed, it has to be reinforced after they graduate high school (either in university or in an adult formation process) or they will fall away from the Faith.

No matter how good your grade school, high school will undo it if the high school is no good.
No matter how good your high school, college may well undo it if the college is no good.

And even if you manage to build a decent Catholic grade school, high school and locate good colleges, you still have to let the parents do the sacramental preparation, because that's what the Catechism requires.

So, you're building an enormous and expensive structure which has to work perfectly or you'll be faced with the same damned problem you had before you started: the adults don't know the Faith.

The only difference is that you'll have the illusion of having made progress. From this point on until the end of time, the parish can repeat to itself, "Well, we'll get the next generation, Well, we'll get the next generation..."

Did Vatican II happen in a vacuum?

Which is more likely: heretics fell out of the sky and all the orthodox believing adult Catholics suddenly start taking stupid pills in order to bring about the level of lost Faith that we saw after the Council


The adults never knew the Faith to begin with because we spent a century teaching nothing but a children's catechism to everyone.

Is it not likely that all those "orthodox" Catholics of the forties and fifties fell away like leaves in the forest precisely because they had no intellectual grounding in the Faith? They had no adult formation? They were completely unable to identify heretics because they were at a loss by any question which wasn't in the Baltimore Catechism? Was it not the case that this loss occurred because people just did whatever Father said, and when Father said sin was just a psychological problem and not a teaching of the Church, that Purgatory didn't exist, that Hell was a figment of our collective imagination - we all just went along with it?

Was it not the case that the loss after Vatican II merely highlighted a festering problem that no one had addressed: the fact that adult formation had essentially ceased?

Pope Pius XI points out in Divini Illius Magister #80, “...the mere fact that a school gives some religious instruction (often extremely stinted), does not bring it into accord with the rights of the Church and of the Christian family, or make it a fit place for Catholic students. To be this, it is necessary that all the teaching and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus and textbooks in every branch, be regulated by the Christian spirit, under the direction and maternal supervision of the Church; so that Religion may be in very truth the foundation and crown of the youth's entire training; and this in every grade of school, not only the elementary, but the intermediate and the higher institutions of learning as well. To use the words of Leo XIII: It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety. If this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence.”

Catholic schools won't solve today's problems because the people who need Catholic education today aren't the children. They are the adults.

If anyone can show me ANY evidence that the early Church established parochial schools, I will believe that Catholic parochial schools matter. Until then, I don't.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Eating Children Alive

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.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

The Clowns at Georgetown

Did you hear the news from Georgetown University? You remember Georgetown. It’s the “Catholic” university whose Jesuit-led administration adamantly opposed putting crucifixes in the classrooms. In fact, if it weren’t for a groundswell of support from the alumni and the undergrads (including the Muslim and Jewish undergrads, let it be noted), there would still be no crucifixes on the walls.

Well, now we know why the administration didn’t want crucifixes on campus. Who wants reminders of suffering and death when you’re in the middle of ripping apart living children on campus using government funds? Yes, it seems Georgetown is involved in slicing and dicing embryos in order to sell their organs… oh wait, no, it’s just their stem cells, so that makes it all better, doesn’t it? Well, it does according to the Reverend Kevin T. Fitzgerald.

According to the Reverend Fitzgerald (it’s hard to call a man “Father” when he advocates using the remnants of children torn apart for research) using these cell lines for research is acceptable because:
1) The researchers didn’t know they originated in abortion,
2) The abortions weren’t specifically caused in order to get the cell lines,
3) The abortions which produced them happened 25 to 40 years ago,
4) The research might one day provide health benefits,
5) Who wants to lose government funding?

If this is the level of ethical reasoning in Georgetown, it’s time to re-orient the university towards a more intellectual level of discourse. I suggest a hair salon or barbershop, although those familiar with Georgetown insist a set of pick-up basketball courts would not only provide the necessary elevation in moral reasoning, but would also provide excellent calisthenics for all involved while better blending into Georgetown’s culture.

We can see why Georgetown is better off being converted into a parking lot by examining the good priest’s reasoning. The first is impressive in its audacity. These researchers are working on tissue and they don’t know it’s origin? How does that work, exactly? There are hundreds of cell lines: researchers typically decide which cell line to work based in part on its origin. After all, you would hate to get a grant for a project on kidney cells only to find out your secretary actually used the funds to order lung tissue. But let’s say she got the lung tissue right. Well, which lung tissue line? There are always concerns about a cell line’s history – how has it been used in the past, how stable is it, does it give reliable, reproducible results, etc. In the normal course of researching the line you want to use, you will ordinarily discover its source. To say these researchers didn’t know the source of the tissue they were using is arguably a statement about the level of research taking place at Georgetown.

But that’s just the beginning. Next, he tells us the abortions weren’t specifically caused in order to get the cell lines. That is the most rank absurdity a man could utter without being struck by lightning from the heavens. Perhaps the woman who had a sharp knife shoved between her legs and had her child torn apart inside of her didn’t know or intend a cell line to be established, but the man wielding the blade certainly did. Cell lines require absolutely fresh cells. The minute that knife starts cutting the child to shreds, those cells begin to die. They have to be put in a culture immediately, or there won’t be anything to culture at all. Thus, researchers who establish cell lines from aborted children typically kneel right at the foot of the abortionist’s table, placing the bits of the baby into their culture dishes even as the abortionist’s suction machine is whirring in their ear.

So, yes, the abortion was intended to produce a cell line. What does the good priest think, that the researcher clubbed the abortionist over the head and took the cells out of the aspirator while the nurse looked on in surprise? Or maybe he thought the researcher dug through the garbage after hours and scraped the cells off of an old bit of newspaper and coffee grounds? If so, he should give up his job as a medical ethicist, since he clearly doesn’t know squat about cell cultures or basic biology.

Then we hear that the abortions were performed decades ago, so they aren’t relevant. In the parlance of the modern “ethicists”, that makes the action sufficiently distant so as not to contaminate the research ethically. Yvonne Bontkowski, a member of Children of God for Life, pointed out that this meant she didn’t need to go to confession anymore. After all, the Fall of Adam and Eve was a long time ago, so it certainly doesn’t impact her actions today. And since there’s no definition of what “distant” means, what’s the difference between an abortion committed yesterday and one committed twenty-five years ago? To God, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day, so if it isn’t a problem in one case, it sure isn’t a problem in the other one either. You can build a whole new theology out of this: if I just wait long enough to go to confession, I never have to go at all. The effect of evil actions apparently evaporate over time. As the king said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “This new learning amazes me! Tell me again how we know the world is banana-shaped.”

But the priest isn’t finished shoveling yet. He says the research on embryonic stem cells from sliced and diced children “might” provide health benefits. Very nice. Tell that to the people who got injections of aborted fetal cells into their brains to treat Parkinson’s. Apparently no one told the fetal cells they weren’t in the womb. They started growing into fetal parts inside the patient skulls, putting enough pressure on their brains to kill them. The technical term for this is “teratoma.” Teratomas happen a lot with cells from aborted embryos. Cells from abortion are so darned unstable that they act like cancer cells when they are implanted into a patient. That’s why embryonic stem cells from aborted children have never healed anyone. Researchers can’t get them to stop turning cancerous.

The funny thing is, we could go elsewhere to get embryonic stem cells. Umbilical cord blood is rich in them. Milk the cord blood after a child’s birth, after the cord is tied, and you can treat hundreds of diseases. The same goes for stem cells obtained from adult tissue in a simple, non-life-threatening procedure. Neither of these techniques for obtaining stem cells harm anyone. Hundreds of people are walking around today, alive, healed, because there are ethical researchers who get stem cells from the umbilical cord right after it is cut, or from simple blood or bone marrow aspiration, even a scraping of fat from adults. That’s right, liposuction provides eminently useable stem cells, stem cells that can be used to treat hundreds of diseases today.

So why does anyone insist on slicing and dicing children in order to get stem cells? Because some people just like to slice and dice children. That’s why the media never reports on advances in adult stem cell use, or on how easy it is to use stem cells from cord blood and fat. They want to justify abortion, so they keep pursuing medical uses for abortion. Meanwhile, the cells obtained from these abortions keep maiming and killing people. God’s funny that way. But some people just don’t take a hint.

One of those people is Cardinal McCarrick. An otherwise staunchly pro-life man, he has apparently been bamboozled by the clowns of Georgetown in what can only be described as a moral shell game. “Just keep your eyes on the shells, ladies and cardinals! The hand is quicker than the eye! Can you guess where the pea is hidden? Lay your money down, Cardinal, lay it right down!” He bought the arguments hook, line and sinker. Ah, those clowns at Georgetown! Just watching them brings a grown man to tears.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Why Catholic Schools Don’t Matter

“Our parish can get along without the school. But that school cannot get along without the parish.” That shocked the parish council. One gentleman gently chided the pastor, “Oh no, Father, the parish exists in order to serve the school.” Father shook his head. “No, it doesn’t.” Council members shook their heads. A new pastor came in a year later. He said the same thing. He got the same reaction. That’s why the Catholic Church in America is in trouble.

When the apostles started out, they knew they had work to do. The whole world needed conversion. Everyone was pagan. That is, the world looked very much like it does today. The apostolic approach to the problem differed from ours.

Peter, for instance, did not set up a single parochial school. Luke did not write a children’s Gospel. Not one of Paul’s epistles were decorated with yellow duckies. In short, according to the Scriptures and Church history the apostles didn’t bother teaching children the Faith. They taught only the adults. Why?

Because the apostles understood the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno described the principle succinctly: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.”

The apostles knew they could not replace parents. Through the sacrament of marriage, God endows parents with the ability to teach their own children about Him. The apostles only needed to teach the parents the Faith, it was the parents’ responsibility to teach their own children. So, what has changed in the last two millenia? The answer to that is simple. Nothing.

A child’s primary catechist is his parents. The bishop is the primary catechist of the diocese, but he is not the child’s primary catechist. The priest is the pre-eminent catechist in the parish, but he is not the child’s primary catechist. The Director of Religious Education (DRE), the CCD teachers, the parochial school teachers, all of these people are somewhat useful in passing on the Faith, but none of them are the primary catechists. The parents have the first and primary responsibility to pass the Faith onto their own children. No one else does.

The bishop does not delegate this responsibility to the parents. Neither does the priest or the DRE or the Catholic teachers. At the moment a man and a woman exchange vows in marriage, each consecrates the other as both spouse and catechist.

Let us be absolutely clear. The Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, God Himself, consecrates the bride and bridegroom to be the primary catechists to their own children. Canon law, the Catechism and the documents of the Church are all quite clear on this. Bishops, priests and their lay employees all exist to assist the parents, not to replace them. It is their job to make sure the parents know the Faith and know how to pass it on. It is the parents’ job to do the passing on.

But parents can’t teach what they don’t know. The Pope understands. In his very first encyclical, “Teaching the Faith Today” (Catechesi Tradendae), article #23 points out, 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.”

Quite useless. That means all the time, money and effort poured into the parochial school, the Catholic high school and the CCD program, all of it is money poured down a rat-hole if adults, if parents, are not taught the Faith.

Let me repeat that.

Without adult formation, the entire Catholic parochial and high school educational system is a complete waste, a total failure, an abject defeat, a colossal shibboleth, an empty shell, nada, nothing, goose egg, empty set, we keep knockin’ but there’s nobody home. It is useless.

This is especially true today. Lay teachers in Catholic schools are trained by secular humanists. Their last formal instruction in the Faith could easily have been their confirmation classes. They had zero college coursework showing them how to integrate Catholic Faith into the curriculum. Indeed, many lay teachers aren’t even Catholic. They may be otherwise fine teachers, but they have neither the knowledge nor the ability to integrate the disciplines.

Even if they were good enough, it wouldn’t matter. Children cannot absorb the whole of Catholic Faith. Only an adult mind has the capacity. So where should the bulk of our efforts lie? With teaching children or with teaching adults? Which is more important, the parochial grade/high school or the parish?

Bishops, priests, DRE’s, catechists, all of these people are supposed to be teaching the adults, not the children. After the parents are taught, the parents are meant to prepare their own children for the sacraments. The bishop, the priest, the DRE, the other catechists might give the parents pointers, advice, supplementary material, etc., on how to do this, but it is the parents who are supposed to prepare their own children for First Confession, Confirmation and First Eucharist. The bishop, the priest, their lay employees are required by canon law to verify that the child is indeed ready to receive the sacraments, but it is the parents who are supposed to prepare them for these sacraments. Others might teach other points of Faith, but sacramental preparation is the parents’ job.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly says this. Open it to article #2225, “Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith.” The Catechism is divided into four major sections. Flip back to the Table of Contents and read the heading to Section II. It is called “The Christian Mystery”. What are the contents of Section II? The sacraments. From the earliest days of the Church, the sacraments have always been called “mysteries of Faith”. Indeed, the Greek word for sacrament is still “mysterion”: mystery.

The American bishops know all this. The even wrote a letter, “Our Hearts Are Burning Within Us”, that says adult education is of central importance and that the bulk of parish resources are to be devoted to adult education. The bulk of parish resources. Hmmm….

Look at your parish. Consider how much time, money and effort is poured into your parish school, the physical plant devoted to it, the raw number of personnel. Now do the same for the adult formation program(s) in your parish. Hmmm…

Everyone agrees the family is under assault. Everyone fails to notice the local parish is often in the vanguard of the assault. Attempting to replace Catholic parents violates parental rights, violates the principle of subsidiarity, and attacks the family, yet the attitude of a significant number of DRE’s, priests and bishops is precisely this, “Parents are not qualified to teach their own children because they are ignorant of Catholic Faith, so it is up to me to do the job.”

To any bishop, priest or DRE who thinks this, let it be said as succinctly as possible, “No, it is not up to you to do their job. It is up to them to do their job. It is up to you to teach them to do it. Stop enabling their co-dependence. Start doing your job so they can do theirs.”