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N.Y. Texts Pass Muster

The Archdiocese of New York and neighboring Diocese of Rockville Centre are partners in promoting good catechesis.

BY JUDY ROBERTS

REGISTER CORRESPONDENT

January 21-27, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/17/07 at 10:00 AM

 

Catechism Series at a Glance

WHAT’S IT ABOUT — The Register is examining 20 U.S. dioceses with the largest elementary school-age populations.

HISTORY — To improve the quality of religious education, the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, which was formed in 1994, began reviewing 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, Buffalo, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Newark, N.J., Cleveland, Trenton, N.J., Brooklyn, N.Y., Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Rockville Centre, N.Y., all require texts in conformity with the Catechism. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis does not, nor did the Archiocese of Cincinnati when reviewed in November, 2005. However, in many dioceses, except New Orleans, Philadelphia and Rockville Centre, outdated and other nonstandard texts were still found to be in use in some places.


YONKERS, N.Y. — As Catholic bookstore owners who are devoted to their faith, John and Rosemarie Iazzetti keep a close watch on their children’s religious training.

The youngest of their four children, 11-year-old Francesca, is learning about the faith at St. Ann’s School in Yonkers from Sadlier’s We Believe, one of 132 books and series that have been found to be in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Find a complete list at usccb.org.)

Rosemarie Iazzetti said she sees evidence that her daughter is grasping the essentials of the faith. Often, she said, “in day-to-day things, she makes a connection with something she has learned in religion class.”

Since 1996, the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism has been reviewing textbooks like those Francesca Iazzetti is using to assess the completeness of their presentation and conformity with the Catechism. The effort, which looks to the Catechism as a model for all catechesis, was undertaken to improve the quality of religious education in the nation’s parishes and schools.

Through the review process, publishers voluntarily submit books before publication and agree to make changes required for a declaration of conformity with the Catechism. Many bishops have responded by instructing catechists to use books that have been reviewed and found in conformity. “Almost every bishop that I know is requiring it,” Timothy Mullner, regional vice president for Catholic sales in the McGraw-Hill School Solutions Group, said. “It is becoming the new standard.”

Such policies are in place in the Archdiocese of New York, where Cardinal Edward Egan is the archbishop and where the Iazzettis live, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., led by Bishop William Murphy.

As part of an investigation centering on the 20 largest dioceses in the country in terms of elementary school-age population, the Register recently looked at the policies and practices of both dioceses.

In New York, calls to a sample of parishes and schools showed that most parishes and all the schools were on board with the archdiocese’s policy requiring use of textbooks in conformity with the Catechism. Only two parishes were using nonstandard texts; in each case, the questionable texts were for one or two grades, and materials for other grades were in conformity. A third parish had no student textbooks for its junior high program, but used texts in conformity for Grades 1-6.

At Our Lady of Refuge Parish in the Bronx, Our Catholic Faith, an older bilingual text from Sadlier that predates the bishops’ review process, was being used for Grade 7 and Grade 8 along with Resources for Christian Living’s Faith First, which is in conformity. Mary Disla, director of religious education, said she tries to pick books in conformity with the Catechism and thought that everything in use in the parish met that requirement.

Sadlier spokeswoman Angela Dinger said Our Catholic Faith has been revised and is being sent to the bishops’ committee for review, but the updated version is not expected to be available until the next school year.

At St. Boniface in Wesley Hills, the eighth grade was using an older confirmation prep text from Benziger called Jesus Send Your Spirit, which does not have the bishops committee’s approval. Deacon Thomas Colton, coordinator of religious education at St. Boniface, said he was unaware there was a problem with the book. Benziger plans to have the text reviewed in the next few years, according to Timothy Mullner of the McGraw-Hill Group, which includes Benziger.

And, at St. Joseph Parish in Kingston, a module program for Grades 7 and 8 looks to archdiocesan guidelines for content, but provides no textbook to students. Instead, Gloria Costanza, director of religious education, said teachers draw from various textbook series depending on the topic.

Ron Pihokker, director of the Archdiocese of Newark’s catechetical office, has cautioned against designing programs from different sources. Textbooks are not just books, he said, but are based on programs that have various types of ancillary support, including teacher guides.

“So if you don’t buy into the whole series,” he said, “you’re running a number of different risks. You’re losing all that support, losing the continuity of the curriculum as it’s designed for that particular series, and I think it can be confusing to the catechist.”

Sister Joan Curtin of the Congregation of Notre Dame and director of the archdiocesan catechetical office said she would look into the materials in use at all three parishes cited in the Register investigation. However, in the case of the program at St. Joseph, she said she knows the director and would expect that the books being used by the teachers are in conformity with the Catechism. Furthermore, she said, the archdiocesan guidelines the program follows are coordinated with the Catechism.

Sister Joan said she sends a list of texts that have been found in conformity to parishes as they are updated each quarter and expects religious education personnel to know what is available. Because of that and regular follow-up with parishes through regional meetings and visits, she said she was confident that most catechists were using texts in conformity.

“There is a lot of collaboration in trying to foster good catechesis,” she said.

Even though the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s textbook policy requiring materials in conformity with the Catechism has only been in effect since Sept. 1, 2005, every parish or school checked by the Register was found to be in compliance.

The Rockville Centre policy mandates that catechists choose from a list that includes only texts and series in which both the student book and the teacher manual have been found in conformity by the bishops’ committee. That still leaves plenty of choices, George Rand, director of the diocesan office of catechesis, said. He thinks the biggest contributing factor to the diocese’s success with the policy is that it gives catechists so many options in selecting textbooks.

“Any parish, regardless of what their starting point or philosophy of religious education might have been, found there were things that could accommodate them and still be in conformity with the Catechism,” Rand said.

He added that the diocese made sure everyone involved took part in an in-service training on the new policy.

“They bought into it and saw the rationale for it, and it has gone very smoothly,” he said. “I would say in this case, we have close to 100% [compliance] in both schools and parishes.”

The policy, which currently applies only to religious education in the elementary grades, was deliberated upon and approved by the Priests’ Senate. It also was phased in to allow parishes and schools to more easily absorb the cost of changing books, Rand said.

Eventually, the policy will be expanded to include high school texts, but Rand said that currently there are not enough high school materials on the bishops’ listing. The bishops started their textbook-review process with elementary-level books and recently have begun to address high school resources. The latest conformity listing contains 27 high school texts and series.

Rand credits the leadership of Bishop Murphy with moving the Rockville Centre policy forward and sees it as part of a new emphasis on the part of bishops in exercising their role as chief catechists.

Judy Roberts is based in

Graytown, Ohio.