Catechism Investigative Series
by JUDY ROBERTS
Catechism Series at a Glance
What it’s about — The Register is examining 20 U.S. dioceses with the largest elementary-school parishes.
History — To improve the quality of religious education, the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism began reviewing textbooks in 1996.
At Issue — Textbooks are checked for conformity to the Catechism in 10 areas: the Trinity; the divinity of Christ; the magisterium; Christian view of man; an emphasis on God’s action, not man’s; grace; the sacraments; sin; Christian morality; and eschatology.
What we’ve learned — New Orleans and Pittsburgh are in conformity. Cincinnati is not. Buffalo, St. Louis, Baltimore and Miami are partially in conformity, but outdated texts often remain in the hands of students.
What’s the holdup? — Diocesan officials fail to clearly communicate the policy, and some publishers are continuing to sell older, unapproved texts for a variety of reasons.
HORICON, Wis. — Wisconsin youth minister Bill Thimm credits the Catechism of the Catholic Church with improving the quality of religious-education textbooks over the last decade.
“They really had it watered down after Vatican II into that touchy-feely-love-love stuff and just had gotten away from teaching more of the solid truths of the Church,” said Thimm, who works at Sacred Heart Parish in Horicon, Wis., part of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “After the Catechism of the Catholic Church came out, the publishers started using that to incorporate information in their books. … Frankly, now I think we are on a better track.”
The change Thimm has noticed stems from a textbook-review process begun in 1996 by the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, which was formed in 1994.
Under the review protocol now in place, publishers voluntarily submit texts to the committee before publication and agree to make changes required for a declaration of conformity with the Catechism. As a result, 106 texts and series with that declaration now are available to teachers of elementary and high school students. The list can be found at the U.S. bishops’ website (www.usccb.org).
Sacred Heart is one of several Milwaukee parishes where the bishops’ efforts have been well-received. Two series from the list are used: Sadlier’s Faith and Witness, for students in Grades 6-8, and Silver Burdett Ginn’s Blest Are We for those in Grade 5 and under.
And, at St. Charles Borromeo in Milwaukee, Resources for Christian Living’s Faith First series, which bears the bishops’ declaration of conformity, is used for Grades 1-8 in both the parish religious education program and the school. Cathy Krol, director of Catholic youth formation, said conformity with the Catechism was “a huge factor” in selecting the series “because our families have told us that that’s what they want. They want their children to know what the Catholic Church teaches.”
Lack of Communication
Not all catechists in the archdiocese, which is under the leadership of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, are doing the same, however.
When questioned about the Register’s findings concerning textbook use in the archdiocese, Randy Nohl, director of lifelong faith formation for the archdiocese, responded by e-mail, saying he believes most parishes and schools in the archdiocese use texts bearing an imprimatur, “nihil obstat” and the bishops’ declaration of conformity, especially in the lower grades where there is a greater selection of texts with the declaration.
“As parishes purchase new text series,” said Nohl in a statement, “publishers offer additional books in declaration of conformity and the curriculum guidelines continue to be implemented in parishes and schools, the use of quality materials that meet the needs of students and their families will continue to become more prevalent in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”
He added: “We are concerned that young people are formed in faith that is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, appropriate to their developmental level and include families in their formation.”
A random check of parishes by the Register found eight to be using books that lack a conformity declaration. The most popular of these was Discovering, published by St. Mary’s Press, an older junior-high series used by at least seven parishes. In addition, some catechists in the archdiocese were unaware of the need to choose books from the conformity listing or uninformed about the status of the books they were using.
John Vitek, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary’s Press in Winona, Minn., has said Discovering was never reviewed by the bishops in part because it does not fit the format of materials that are submitted to the ad hoc committee and because the company has decided to send only new products to the panel for review. St. Mary’s currently has just five texts on the bishops’ conformity listing, three for high school students and two for confirmation preparation.
Vitek has said Discovering will be published as long as it remains popular and that lack of a conformity declaration has not hurt its sales.
He estimates that only a third of the dioceses in the country require all books used in parishes and schools to have the conformity declaration.
In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Discovering series is used at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ripon; St. Alphonsus, Greendale; St. Robert Bellarmine, Union Grove, and in a collaborative program involving Our Lady of Divine Providence, SS. Peter and Paul, Three Holy Women and the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist parishes in Milwaukee.
Carol Fischer, director of youth ministry at St. Alphonsus, said she considers the Discovering series to be “absolutely fantastic.” No one from the archdiocese has ever questioned it, she said, adding that a total of six parishes in her district use the series.
At St. Robert Bellarmine, Michelle Heeren, director of religious education, said she wasn’t aware Discovering was not on the conformity listing. She said she likes the series because it teaches teens real-world issues.
“If I were the only one using it, I might be worried about it, but when I go to district meetings, I find the majority of us out here are using St. Mary’s Press so they must be doing something right,” Heeren said.
Allan Salentine, a Bellarmine parishioner and father of three who teaches in that parish’s religious-education program, said he is not as familiar with the Discovering text used by his seventh-grade daughter as he is with the series used by his second-grader and the third-grade class he teaches. That series, Silver Burdett Ginn’s This Is Our Faith, has a declaration of conformity with the Catechism.
He said, however, that his seventh-grade daughter often tells him, “We’ve already gone through this,” when talking about her class. Salentine acknowledged this could have something to do with the textbook, but said he also takes into account the fact that students in parish religious-education classes typically come from a variety of backgrounds, making it difficult for teachers to teach at a higher level.
Judy Roberts is based in