Salvation Redefined: Catholic Parents and Religious Education in Post-Vatican II Canada. (Book Review).
This book is a major contribution to understanding Canada's Catholic post- Vatican-If troubles in religious education. Many of today's parents are not aware of the reasons why religious education textbooks approved by the bishops for Catholic schools remain weak, unsatisfactory, and even spineless. This book will be a revelation to them.
In his foreword, Msgr. Vincent Foy writes that, following the Second Vatican Council, modernists in Belgium, Holland, France, and elsewhere gave us what is called "The New Catechetics"--sometimes labelled "The Creedless Catechetics." Cardinal Ratzinger once referred to it as "the misery of the new catechetics." Dietrich von Hildebrand said that it poisoned the souls of children with a distorted presentation of Christian revelation, and called it "a diabolical game, a terrible irreverence against God and innocent children." Its arrival in Canada was ensured when the Canadian bishops authorized a Canadian Catechism in 1966.
Introduced in Quebec under the title Viens vers le pere, it was translated into English and published by the Paulist Press under the title Come to the Father. It soon spread across Canada, though it did not teach the ten commandments, the precepts of the Church, the Sacrifice of the Mass, Original Sin, the Immaculate Conception, or the infallibility of the Pope.
Msgr. Foy adds that about the same time sex education was introduced into our Catholic schools, not family-life education in accordance with Vatican directives but teaching based on models provided by SIECUS (The Sex Education and Information Council of the United States). "So when our Catholic children were being reduced to a state of religious illiteracy," Msgr. Foy comments, "they were being traumatized by a flood of sex information for which they were not prepared."
Lorene Collins' account begins in Western Canada in 1968. Her family was living in Alberta at that time. As good Catholic parents began to find the Canadian Catechism completely unsatisfactory, they began to make complaints, which rarely got a satisfactory hearing. As Msgr. Foy writes, Lorene's own efforts can only be described as heroic: "She was harassed, insulted, humiliated, and subjected to attempted brain-washing." In September 1970, however, Father Charles Keenan was sent to St. Edmund's Parish in Edmonton during the one-week absence of the regular pastor. On September 13, he delivered a homily in which he said, "You parents would not put poison in your children's food. Then you must also protect them from the spiritual poison of the Canadian Catechism."
But the curriculum consultants and coordinators who ran the parish meetings dealing with the Catechism were experts at putting down parents who raised possibly embarrassing questions: the parents, they said, had not kept up with educational theory, they did not understand doctrine, they were nostalgically attached to the past. Here was another instance of clerical abuse, comparable to today's abuse of minors in the United States though, of course, very different in kind. In fact, the author compares the techniques the so-called experts used to brainwashing methods which had become prominent in China by the end of the Second World War.
Remi De Roo, Bishop of Victoria, criticized the CUF as "the extreme right-wing of the Church," a group of people "who don't know the realities of today. They have a very superficial reading of history, they identify with the culture of the past, they are ignorant of e past." It was shameful of the Canadian Church to have bishops making such arrogant and ill-informed statements. The laity deserved better leadership than this.
Finding little support from the hierarchy or the Church bureaucracy, parents dissatisfied with religious teaching in the schools began to form Canadian chapters of an American organization, Catholics United for the Faith (Lorene Collins became head of its Canadian branch). Through such groups, Catholic parents from coast to coast, who were worried that their children were not being taught the Catholic faith, got together to make formal presentations to the hierarchy. There was a great deal to complain about. At no period in the Church's history, Mrs. Collins writes, had the Mass been defined as the Canadian Catechism defined it: "a meal in honour of the risen Jesus where we gather to hear the Word of God." In 1974, a French-Canadian bishop Leo Blais, retired as Bishop of Prince Albert, SK, summed up what was being taught as follows: "No sin; no need for a saviour; the whole structure of Christianity collapses."
Lorene Collins gives an excellent summary of the most important critiques. One was by Father (later Cardinal) Ambrozic. Another was "Retreat from the Faith," a brief by the St. Athanasius Society in Hamilton led by Jim Daly, a McMaster professor, and Sister Mary Alexander, a teacher, which was outstanding. Their brief began, "The striking thing about CTTF (Come to the Father) is its incompleteness, its silences, evasions, suppressions, aversions, fears, and dreads. Like its other faults, these are too frequently repeated...to be anything other than the result of deliberate and careful choice." The criticism mounted, but the bishops remained obdurate until in 1974 they finally let it be known that "This is our book. We want no other." Catholic religious education in Canada has suffered ever since, despite name changes (from Come to the Father to Born of the Spirit because of feminist complaints) and constant re-writes.
In an Epilogue "The Tapestry of Love," Lorene Collins contrasts the personalist view, aligned with Christian humanism, found in John Paul II's first encyclical Redemptor hominis with the pseudo-Catholicism that revolutionaries within the Church openly proclaimed after the Second Vatican Council. The claim that these people were motivated by concern for the average lay person, she writes, was similar to that of the Serpent who claimed concern for Adam and Eve in the Garden. The tapestry of love was reflected in the fidelity which Catholics in Canada displayed, a story of service and commitment which began with Jacques Cartier in 1534, which enabled the spread of the faith in succeeding years.
Finally, the book contains an appendix headed "The Patrimony of Truth and the Catholic Media," a brilliant discussion by Father John Mole, O.M.I., on how Catholic journalists successfully campaigned against a Council decree on social communication, Inter mirifica, and established in many people's minds a right of dissent. The faithful were plunged into confusion by the most furious onslaught against Christian moral teaching on matrimony in the history of the Church. This section adds a fitting conclusion to an important part of our religious history, the story of how faithful people were plunged into an entirely needless conflict because of the hostility or indifference of those who should have been looking after their interests.
(Orders may be placed directly with Life Ethics Centre, 104 Bond St., Toronto, ON, M5B 1X9, Tel: (416) 204-9691; Fax: (416) 204-1027; e-mail: email@example.com or through a local Catholic bookstore.)
The reviewer is Emeritus Professor of English, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.