BRICK TOWN, N.J. — Terry DeCarlo remembers the moment when the students in her confirmation preparation class “got” what she had been teaching them.

The mother of two was helping lead the pre-confirmation retreat at Church of the Visitation and as she listened to the discussion, she said, “All of a sudden there were lots of light bulbs burning. A lot of them really, really got it.”

DeCarlo’s class, which included her 14-year-old son, had been learning about the sacrament of confirmation from The Spirit Sets Us Free, published by William H. Sadlier, Inc., one of 115 texts that have been declared in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, which was formed in 1994. (A list of the texts can be viewed at

Since 1996, the bishops’ ad hoc committee has been reviewing children’s religion textbooks to make sure they give a complete and accurate presentation of the faith based on the Catechism. Publishers voluntarily submit the texts and agree to make the changes required for a conformity declaration. Some dioceses now mandate that catechists use books bearing the bishops’ declaration of conformity. John Vitek, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary’s Press, Winona, Minn., estimates that a third of dioceses in the country have such a requirement.

In the Diocese of Trenton, where Church of the Visitation is located and where Bishop John Smith is the bishop, all parish and school religious education programs are instructed to use texts that have been determined by the bishops to be in conformity with the Catechism.

Eileen Hoefling, associate director of the diocese’s Office of Catechesis, said she would expect that, for the most part, everyone is following the guidelines.

A random check of 10 parishes in the diocese found all but three to be using texts that have received the bishops’ conformity declaration. Even in those three, the texts that were not on the conformity list were only for junior high students; all the parishes were using texts with the conformity declaration for children in Grades 1-6.

What it Means

Seventh graders at St. James Parish in Pennington, N.J., where Deacon James Palsir is the director of religious education, also use the Crossroads series. In addition, Grades 7 and 8 use a workbook put together by Deacon Palsir and a team of teachers that has not been reviewed by the bishops. Students in Grades 1-6 use Loyola Press’s Finding God and Silver Burdett Ginn’s This Is Our Faith.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in West Trenton, N.J., also is using a text for Grades 7 and 8 that does not have the bishops’ conformity declaration: His in the Spirit, published by Pauline Books and Media. Brenda O’Callaghan, director of religious education, said she inherited the text from a previous director and is seeking a replacement. She said she will not consider any text that is not on the bishops’ listing. The parish also uses the Blest Are We series by Silver Burdett Ginn for Grades 1-6.

Asked about the use of out-of-conformity texts in the three parishes, Hoefling said two of the parishes have been present when she has spoken about the importance of conformity and that both are supposed to be seeking new materials. “I don’t know what the holdup is,” she said.

She said she was especially concerned about the use of workbooks at St. James.

“I’d personally rather see them use a text,” she said. “I want to know who’s doing this ... where are they getting their material, how are they selecting it and are they selecting it according to our curriculum guideline?”

Ronald Pihokker, director of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.’s, catechetical office, has also expressed concern about catechists who create their own materials because the major publishers have gone to great lengths to provide programs that cover all the bases.

“The danger is that when we put something together ourselves, something is falling through the cracks,” he said.

Follow the Shepherd

Hoefling added, “The main publishers strive very much to keep in conformity with the Catechism and they also try to update their material so that they are speaking the mind and the spirit of the Church right now.”

John Margicin, co-director of religious education at St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish in Hamilton, N.J., where Sadlier’s We Believe and Silver Burdett Ginn’s This Is Our Faith are being used, said all the texts used in the parish must be in conformity.

“Actually, I think everyone should be in conformity with the bishop of the diocese,” Margicin said. “He’s the one that sets the pace. And the bishop is in conformity with the national bishops’ conference so that the information the students are being taught is in conformity and in agreement with the Catholic Church.”

Franciscan Missionaries of the Infant Jesus Sister Clare Sabini, director of religious education at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Marlton, N.J., said conformity also is a priority for her in choosing new texts. The parish uses Sadlier’s We Believe and Loyola Press’s Christ Our Life.

Sister Clare added, “Children must receive what the Catholic Church needs to teach, not some person’s opinion. I think parents are pretty tired of opinions.”

Judy Roberts is based in

Graytown, Ohio.

At a Glance

WHAT’S IT ABOUT — We’re investigating the 20 U.S. dioceses with the largest elementary-school populations.

HISTORY — The U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism began reviewing religious textbooks in 1996.

AT ISSUE — In the past, textbooks have been found to be deficient in 10 fundamental 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, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Trenton, N.J., use textbooks in conformity with the Catechism. Cincinnati does not. Newark, N.J., Milwaukee, Buffalo, N.Y., St. Louis, Baltimore and Miami are partly in conformity, but outdated texts often remain in the hands of students.

WHAT’S THE HOLDUP? — Diocesan officials fail to clearly communicate and enforce policies, and some publishers are continuing to sell older and/or unapproved texts for a variety of reasons, and some catechists prefer familiar or popular texts.