BALTIMORE — Andrea Reddinger knows first-hand what her children are learning in their parish religious education classes. She not only is one of the teachers, she has helped evaluate the textbooks.
For Reddinger, who has a child in seventh grade, it is both important and necessary that those books are in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“I know both sides of this because I'm teaching as a parent,” she said. “I know that anybody could be saying anything, and I like to know as a teacher that there are specifications about what I can teach and should be teaching these children, and what is not really acceptable to teach.”
Consequently, Reddinger was surprised to learn that one of the textbooks in use in her parish was not in conformity with the Catechism by the U.S. bishops. The book, Harcourt Religion Publishers’ Crossroads, is being used for seventh and eighth graders at Our Lady of the Fields Parish in Millersville, Md.
Diane Lampitt, president of Harcourt, said the company is in the process of revamping all its curriculum products and submitting them to the bishops. However, she said Crossroads is an older product, and only new texts are being sent to the bishops for review.
“We can't just stop a product and start another one right away,” Lampitt said, adding that Crossroads will go out of print eventually if people aren't buying it.
After publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1993, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began looking at catechetical materials in this country to see how they conform to it. The Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism was instituted in 1994, and it started reviewing materials in 1996. A year later, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, of Indianapolis, then chairman of the committee, reported to the bishops what they had found in this initial review.
He outlined 10 areas where catechetical texts were deficient: the Trinity and the Trinitarian structure of Catholic beliefs and teachings; the centrality of Christ in salvation history and an insufficient emphasis on the divinity of Christ; the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings; a distinctively Christian anthropology; God's initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action; the transforming effects of grace; presentation of the sacraments; original sin and sin in general; the Christian moral life; and eschatology.
By 1998, the committee had developed a standard, or protocol, which it would use to assess the submitted material. Publishers have the option to submit the material or not. The bishops wanted it voluntarily submitted because they didn't want to review material that didn't have a chance at being changed.
New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes is now chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. The committee's findings are updated quarterly and compiled in the Conformity Listing of Catechetical Texts and Series, which is posted on the bishops’ website (www.usccb.org).
In many dioceses, including Baltimore, principals and parish directors of religious education are directed to choose books from the listing. As of March 1, there were 92 texts on the list.
As part of a series, the Register is looking at 20 dioceses with the largest elementary populations to learn whether books in conformity with the Catechism are being used. The Register has looked at the Archdiocese of New Orleans, headed by Archbishop Hughes, which requires catechists to choose books from the conformity list, and the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., headed by Bishop Edward Kmiec, which directs catechists to use textbooks on that list — but with its limited catechetical office staff finds it difficult to enforce.
Donna Fischer, director of religious education at Our Lady of the Fields, said she also was unaware that the Crossroads series lacked the bishops’ conformity declaration. The series was in place when she became director three years ago, and she had understood that all the books in use were in accord with the Catechism.
For grades 1-6, the parish is using Silver Burdett Ginn's This Is Our Faith, which has been declared in conformity with the Catechism. It is to be replaced next year with another series from the bishops’ listing, Sadlier's We Believe. Plans are to replace Crossroads, too, Fischer said, as soon as a suitable series can be found. Crossroads is “fairly old, but we didn't want to make that change this year because the junior high coordinator didn't have something she liked better,” she added.
In its preschool program, Our Lady of the Fields is using another series that is not on the bishops’ conformity listing, but that one, Our Sunday Visitor's I Am Special, is soon to be submitted to the bishops for review, according to Kelly Renz, Our Sunday Visitor's acquisitions editor for religious education. Previously, Renz said, the committee that reviewed texts did not have a protocol for an early-childhood religious-education series.
Sharon Bogusz, coordinator of elementary and sacramental catechesis for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the conformity listing should be the starting point for choosing textbooks in both parish and school religious education programs.
The archdiocese makes sure educators know about the list by giving all new catechists a copy of it. They also are given the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership's publication, How to Choose Catechetical Texts, which was just updated to reflect the new National Directory for Catechesis, a guide published by the bishops’ conference for all who have catechetical responsibilities in dioceses and parishes.
Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Kathy Kandefer, associate director of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, said the publication is mainly aimed at helping educators pick the best resources for the needs of their particular parishes. She said the 28-page booklet presumes that the books being considered are in conformity with the Catechism, and quotes a variety of sources, including the National Directory for Catechesis, to support that.
Once catechists in the Baltimore Archdiocese are given guidelines for picking books, Bogusz said, “We don't go into parishes and police whether they're using one textbook over another.” However, she said that if she learned a parish was using materials not meeting the criteria, she would speak to those involved individually and work toward getting them to use books that are in conformity.
In the case of Our Lady of the Fields, it was Fischer who contacted Bogusz, the archdiocesan official, after learning the Crossroads series was not in conformity. Bogusz then followed up by sending a clarifying e-mail to all catechetical leaders reminding them of the process to be followed in choosing books.
Except in two instances, a random check of other Baltimore Archdiocese parishes and schools found all to be using books in conformity with the Catechism.
St. Philip Neri School in Linthicum Heights, Md., is also using Crossroads for Grades 7 and 8, though the books for Grades K-6 carry the bishops’ conformity declaration. Principal Teresa Baker said conformity with the Catechism is very important to her and her staff, but that the school has stayed with Crossroads for now because they have been unable to find anything else they like.
At St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Crofton, Md., the Benziger series, Share the Joy, which is on the bishops’ listing, is used for grades K-6. Discovering, published by St. Mary's Press, is the text for Grades 7 and 8; it does not bear the bishops’ conformity designation.
Sister of the Holy Family Helen Milano, director of religious education, said she likes Discovering because it fits the needs of the parish's home-based religious education program. She said she is not particularly concerned that the book is not on the bishops’ conformity listing.
John Vitek, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary's Press in Winona, Minn., said Discovering was published before the review process began and that the company has decided to send only new products to the bishops’ committee for evaluation. He said another reason Discovering has not been submitted for review is because it is not in a traditional textbook format.
The series will continue to be published as long as it remains popular, he said, adding that not having a conformity designation does not seem to have hurt its sales.
“Each bishop is free to establish guidelines in his own diocese, and at the present time, it's maybe a third of the dioceses in the country that have mandated that the conformity declaration is required for use of books in their diocese,” Vitek said.
Among other parishes and schools in the archdiocese using or in the process of changing to texts from the conformity listing are:
" Holy Family Catholic Community in Middletown, Md., which is in its last year of using Sadlier's We Come to Jesus, an outdated text, and plans a switch to either Resources for Christian Living's Faith First or Silver Burdett Ginn's Blest Are We, both of which are on the conformity listing.
" St. Joseph (Sykesville) in Eldersburg, Md., which uses Silver Burdett Ginn's Blest Are We series.
" St. Ursula Parish, Baltimore, which uses Loyola Press's Christ Our Life, a text found by the bishops’ conference to be in conformity.
" Woodmont Academy in Wood–stock, Md., which has been using Ignatius Press's Faith and Life, but will be changing to Circle Media's The Treasure of My Catholic Faith in the 2005-2006 academic year. Both texts are on the bishops’ listing.
Dianna Arnold, a member of St. Joseph's Sykesville who has two children attending Woodmont Academy, said she loves the books her children are using. Arnold said her children also have taken part in their parish religious education program's first Communion preparation for which they used The Gift of the Eucharist, a Silver Burdett Ginn book that bears the conformity declaration.
“It was a little bit basic for what my kids get,” she said of the first Eucharist text. “My kids get so much religion at school that they already know the answers when we go over the questions.”
The first Eucharist book seemed good as a basic text, Arnold said. “It went over important things, but from the standpoint of Woodmont, their religious education program is so in-depth that this is ‘lite’ for my kids. But it seemed like a good book for an hour a week when they do religious ed.”
Sister Milano said at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, catechists have copies of the Catechism to serve as a supplement to any other materials being used.
“I think they underestimate the person who is sharing faith. There is complement and supplement to any booklet and the main person is the catechist. That's where it's at.”
However, Sister Margaret Brogden, youth and religious education minister at Transfiguration Catholic Community in Baltimore, which uses Sadlier's Coming to Faith, a series that is on the bishops’ listing, said conformity with the Catechism is extremely important because not all catechists, especially volunteers, may be sufficiently acquainted with Church teaching.
She said, “This is a sure way that we're not teaching heresy, which is important.”
Judy Roberts is based in Graytown, Ohio.