PARENTS AND CATECHETICAL TEXTS
By JAMES LIKOUDIS
What To Look For
It is undeniable that the catechetical crisis of the past several decades
continues to exist. One look at the statistics of religious ignorance
evident in millions of Catholic youth, as well as the continued criticism
by Catholic parents of religious education texts and programs, make it
obvious that we are not yet in the clear. The bishops of the United States
have often expressed similar concerns, as well as alarm, at so many youth
who no longer attend Mass or are "drop-outs" from the faith.
A major factor in the catechetical crisis has been the religious education
texts placed in children's hands by religious educators in Catholic schools
or parishes that have simply not "handed on the Catholic faith which comes
to us from the Apostles." An unhappy feature of many modern catechetical
texts has been the attempted radical revision of doctrinal content,
justified by a bogus appeal to the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" - an
interpretation invented by theologians and catechists at odds with Catholic
Almost immediately after the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65),
Pope Paul VI observed:
"You must know that we, and others with us - bishops, priests, teachers,
parents - who have the duty to pass on to others the doctrine of the faith,
the doctrine of salvation, feel great sorrow seeing how little the people
of our times care to listen to our voice. They care so little for religious
instruction that at times it seems we are talking to the wind. The
whirlwind of modern life attracts and upsets modern men so much, it
impresses them so much, fills them with images, thoughts, passions,
desires, pleasures and movements, that they do not seem to have the time
nor the wherewithal to listen to Christ's good news. And if they have heard
something about it in school or in church, it is such a difficult,
unrelated, and apparently useless subject for them that often they come
away bored rather than with joy, and with strange ideas rather than with
guiding lights for their souls and for their lives."
In the same address at a general audience (May 31, 1967), the Pope
identified those who had added to the difficulties with passing on the
Catholic faith in all its integrity and purity:
"Unfortunately, it is easy to find learned people, always anxious to
profess their Catholicism, who nevertheless disregard the indispensable
teaching function of the Church and naively seek to adapt the doctrine of
the faith to the mentality of the modern world. They do this, not only by
means of a praiseworthy effort to make people accept and in some way
understand those doctrines, but also by silencing, changing, and even
denying those very doctrines according to the theories of the tastes of
today's popular opinions.... Do not think that you have the faith if you do
not adhere to the contents of the faith, to the 'Creed,' to the Symbols of
Faith - that is, to the outlined synthesis of the truths of the faith."
In other addresses that followed, Pope Paul VI was undaunted and clarified
the essentials of the faith. He did not hesitate in the wake of the
notorious Dutch Catechism and the controversies surrounding it. He
offered the essentials of the faith and gave the Church his remarkable
"Credo of the People of God" (June 30, 1968).
It cannot be said that there were not warnings aplenty from the Vicars of
Christ concerning the tampering with Catholic doctrine and practice that
had won its way into diocesan and parish life by defective religious
education texts. As Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis has noted
concerning Pope John Paul II:
"Our present Holy Father has steadfastly addressed the forces which have
impoverished greatly the quality of our catechesis and left the catechized
in a weakened position before the secularized challenge of our culture".
(St. Louis Review, September 24, 2004)
In a later November 10, 2003 report to the Fall General Assembly of U.S.
Bishops, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans observed that almost
two-thirds of the high school texts actually reviewed by the Committee were
not in conformity with the Catechism:
"What causes us great concern is that many of the materials found to be
inadequate are still in wide use throughout the country."
They were so far off the mark that they could not be amended, but needed to
be completely rewritten. He urged his fellow bishops to restrict the use of
catechetical texts that were not on the Ad Hoc Committee's "Conformity
List." In a Zenit news story, the archbishop commented that:
"unfortunately, the widespread use of these books perpetuates a religious
illiteracy that is all too prevalent in the Church today."
Parents reading the various reports of the U.S. Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee
cannot fail to realize that many religion texts and materials distort
Catholic truth either by omission or commission.
Years of CUF experience with religious education texts has shown that they
are defective when...
They subtly indoctrinate students that one religion or church is as good
as another and that the Catholic Church is just one church among many
equals rather than the "one and only true Church" founded by Jesus
Christ, which possesses the attributes of indefectibility and
Catholic doctrines are treated in tentative language giving the
impression that a particular teaching of faith or morals is just one
legitimate opinion among others, rather than a matter of truth, and that
the Church can in the future change teachings of the natural law or
revealed doctrines (such as the doctrine on the Church's inability to
They insinuate that rejection of the moral teachings of the Church on
issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, in vitro
fertilization, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia are of little
consequence to one's membership in the Church and to the Church's unity.
The sacraments are presented only as ways to celebrate special moments in
life and not as privileged moments of supernatural encounter with God.
They show a studied reluctance to label sexual sins (masturbation,
fornication, adultery, cohabitation, contraception, divorce and
remarriage, homosexual acts, etc.) as the serious sins that they are -
sins that can exclude one from the Kingdom of God.
They tamper with the proper names or personal pronouns for the Persons of
the Blessed Trinity, terming God "She" or substituting other names for
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
They presume that the existence of God cannot be proved by human reason,
thereby promoting a false fideism, i.e., the reduction of faith to
a blind leap in the dark.
The divinity of Christ who is "God from God, Light from Light, true God
from true God," is downplayed in favor of treating Jesus as a mere man,
a "human person" (the ancient Nestorian heresy), and sometimes even with
moral flaws and imperfections.
The miracles of Our Lord and those recounted in both the Old and New
Testaments are treated as "myths" or "dramatic embellishments" by ancient
writers, or are explained away as ordinary phenomena, not truly
extraordinary manifestations of supernatUral power.
Angels and demons (including Satan) are not treated as real intelligent
spiritual beings, and man himself is treated as not having been made by
God for a supernatural destiny, i.e., the beatific vision, (a destiny
which cannot be achieved by natural powers alone).
There is a failure to stress that man is a composite of body and soul and
that the soul is more important than the body - or when Adam and Eve are
not treated as our historic first parents at the origin of the entire
human race, but rather as the product of a natural evolutionary process
that ignores the direct creation of the soul of every human person by God.
There is a failure to explain that the original sin of Adam and Eve
resulted in the loss of sanctifying grace and the transmission of a
fallen, wounded human nature to all their descendents (excepting Our Lord
and Our Lady), and necessitating the sacrificial redemption chosen by our
Savior to save mankind from sin, the devil, and hell.
The seriousness of mortal sin and the distinction between mortal and
venial sin is not adequately treated, or when sin itself is not presented
as primarily an offense against God.
There is insufficient emphasis on every baptized Catholic needing to grow
in the holiness first given in Baptism and strengthened by the divine
grace given in the other sacraments.
The Mass is presented as a meal, but not primarily as an unbloody
sacrifice, which perpetuates in time the sacrifice of Calvary.
It is not clearly taught that the Real Presence of Christ in the
Eucharist is made present through transubstantiation and that Christ is
to be adored in the Eucharist.
The theological terms essential for understanding the doctrinal content
of the faith are not carefully explained and presented for memorization.
Some examples include: soul, "created in the image and likeness of God,"
original sin, actual sin, sanctifying grace, temporal debt of punishment,
satisfaction, Real Presence, transubstantiation, Incarnation, Immaculate
Conception, virgin birth, purgatory, penance, last judgment, Magisterium,
etc., (cf. Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, no. 55).
The biblical accounts in the Old and New Testaments are treated as
containing historical errors, thus bringing into question the inerrancy
of the written Word of God.
The authentic social doctrine of the Church is distorted by partisan
sociopolitical agendas being imposed on unsuspecting young readers.
Explicit sexual information is provided that would disturb the emotional,
mental, or spiritual equilibrium of children and youth, and offend their
modesty and chastity, or violate the right of parents to supervise
without interference their children's education in purity.
Space does not permit noting the many other specific errors found in the
modern religious education texts of the last four decades or commenting on
the erroneous methodologies (e.g., values clarification, James Fowler's
schema of faith development, Erik Erickson's ritual development) that
interfere with the transmission of doctrinal content that is at the heart
of Catholic catechesis. Suffice it to say that parents should also be aware
that texts may even be doctrinally correct but nevertheless suffused with
the spirit of a bland and profane naturalism.
An anti-supernatural and worldly ethos in texts has too often been
reflected in a "life-experience pedagogy," wherein feelings are more
important than truth. This ethos has been manifested by inferior art work
(poor illustrations of Christ, the Mother of God, and the saints), the
failure to emphasize that the Christian life is one of serious spiritual
combat, and the unfortunate promotion of questionable liturgical
celebrations that lack reverence and the sense of the sacred. Even the
physical format of religious education books should help convey a sense of
the supernatural beauty, splendor, and lofty mysticism of the Catholic
Ten Areas Of Deficiency
The situation of American religious education has been the object
of recent study by the US Bishops, who, in 1993, appointed the Ad
Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. Chaired by
Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, the Committee concluded after a year's
study that all too many Catholic school catechetical texts were not
in conformity with the Catechism and were seriously deficient in
*See Cuf's Faith Facts: "Where Do We Go Wrong? Top Ten Errors
in Catechesis Today." For a free copy, call (800) MY-FAITH or visit
Christian Moral Life
The Last Things
Recommended Catechetical Texts
Grades K-8: Faith and Life series, written by CUF and
published by Ignatius Press. It has been a matter of pride for
members of CUF that this series has long been the very best for use
with elementary school children and was the first of its kind to be
declared "in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church"
by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee to
Oversee the Use of the Catechism. This revised version is now
available from Emmaus Road Publishing.
Grades 6-12: For middle school and high school students, a
fine one volume basic question-and-answer (134 page) catechism
based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church - Jesus, the
Catechism and Me - is available from its author: Fr. Robert J.
Levis at Gannon University, Perry Square, Erie, PA 16541.
Grades 9-12: For high school students the Didache high
school textbook series is now available. Write to Catholic
Formation Materials, 15750 S. Bell Rd., Suite 1C, Homer
Glen, IL, 60441, call (856) 478-3987, or email:
This article appeared in CUF's "LAY WITNESS", issue of May/June