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Bishop demands end to dissent.

Peoria's Myers wants church teaching to promote uniformity

CHICAGO - Issuing a "cry of alarm" concerning the state of religious education in his diocese, Peoria, Ill., Bishop John Myers has demanded an immediate end to all dissent from official church teaching by those involved in religious instruction.

Both public disagreement and "the private withholding of assent from received teaching" are absolutely "unacceptable" and "inappropriate," be wrote in a 9,000-word pastoral letter published in his diocesan newspaper in late January.

In order to promote uniformity, Myers ruled that Catholic-school students would be tested regularly on their religious proficiency, and a passing grade would be a prerequisite for graduation. The largely rural diocese has 17 high schools and 49 elementary schools.

Myers called for "memorization of basic teachings" and prayers, ordered the diocesan school office to develop a religious-education curriculum based on the new catechism of the Catholic church and said the catechism's teaching should be integrated into all parish education programs.

Myers praised increased lay involvement in catechetical work but lamented the state of religious literacy in Peoria and elsewhere.

"Our people are not praying as well as they should. Mass attendance is down; indeed, many have drifted away from the church; Catholics divorce at the same rate as the rest of society," Myers wrote.

"Nationwide, vocations to the religious life have been down. Many young people and ethnic minorities have left the church for fundamentalist groups ... Catholics support abortion, euthanasia, illicit sexual acts and in vitro fertilization. Catholics' opinions concerning poverty and social justice vary little from their non-Catholic counterparts."

He declared that "errors and imbalances in catechetical theory and practice?" have contributed to the decline. Among the errors cited was an emphasis on the "personal or affective aspect of faith to the detriment of the dogmatic or cognitive aspect."

Another error, he wrote, "is the belief in |ongoing revelation' and the subsequent emphasis on |personal experience.'"

He explained that "catechists should not measure success or failure by the subjective religious experiences ... that may or may not occur. For Catholics, divine revelation ... was completed with the death of the last apostle."

Myers also deplored the tendency of some educators to emphasize the "mysteriousness" of God and to present dogmas as "poor approximations of reality." In fact, he said, "Catholics are not just people who share eternal questions but a people who share common answers, answers we know to be true."

Myers' no-nonsense approach permeated the entire 30-page document:

* On dissent, he noted by way of example: "The only appropriate discussion in a catechetical setting about the question of women and ordained priesthood is a discussion by the catechist and students about why the teaching of the church is correct."

* On those who have personal problems with any church position, he wrote: "If after prayerful study the catechist still finds him or herself unable to give assent to the church's teaching, he or she may, in honesty and the good of the church's catechetical mission, need to temporarily or permanently leave the catechetical role."

* On testing students, he said: "Standard tests to measure the effectiveness of our religious education should be given in grades three, six, eight and 12. By the 1996-97 school year, a proficiency test given in exit-grade levels will be part of the graduation requirement for all Catholic schools."

* On the new universal catechism, he wrote: "I direct pastors to ensure that each parish and mission have a copy ... readily available for consultation. Each administrator, catechist and teacher should be provided with a copy" and "parish liturgies should be planned with catechesis in mind."
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Title Annotation:Bishop John Myers of Peoria, Illinois
Author:McClory, Robert
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Feb 26, 1993
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