A reader asks,

Have any of you heard of the Pandamania VBS [vacation Bible school] that many parishes are adapting this year for summer VBS? My wife received an email from a home school group she subscribed to and so now we have some reservations ...
We’re not trying to be a family of misanthropes, but we don’t want to infuse our kids with stupid ideas either.

My own family’s summer religious training thus far consisted of me ordering yet another catechism at 4:00 this morning, in yet another night of panic-ridden insomnia (and yes, I tried eating cheese to clear my head). We’re not joiners, so I don’t even know if our parish is offering PandaMania, which is a protestant program for children adapted for Catholics. My reader sent a link from a homeschooling blog which points out all sorts of red flags, though.

One of the “People of Faith” cards, for instance, features Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit scientist whose theological ideas are suspect at best (the rest in the set appear to be saints, which makes much more sense). A bizarre choice.

The “Connecting Kids to Justice” portion of the Pandamania program worries me more. According to the PandaMania website,

Connecting Kids to Justice is a feature that focuses on raising awareness of Catholic social teaching and various social issues ... [and] will highlight the Catholic Climate Covenant initiative.

The Catholic Climate Covenant is an initiative of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change which seeks to show respect for God’s creation by focusing on the link between creation and poverty embodied in the life and ministry of Saint Francis and the words of the Psalmist: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds” (Psalm 24:1).

Okay, but the link my reader forwarded explains why the organizations that make up the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change are the last people you’d want to be involved, even indirectly, in presenting the Faith to your children. It’s not a matter of politics—these are organizations which flagrantly reject the Church’s teaching on contraception and abortion, here and in the third world. Even an indirect association with them is scandalous, and it’s not clear how direct the association actually is. The link from my reader concludes:

It seems to me that these organizations worship at the altar of politics dressed in Catholic social teachings. They take something that honest Catholics may be concerned about, like environmental stewardship, poverty, health care, or immigration, and use it as a front to advance their political agenda that usually undermines Church teaching and authority.

The link focuses on what is problematic in the program (and man, that panda is annoying); and the Pandamania website itself makes the program look somewhere between useless and dreadful (“What happens when a pack of fun-loving pandas invades your church?” Erm, I’d call 911 and the Knights of Columbus). Two thousand years of top-flight scholarship and divine inspiration, and the best we can offer is ... wacky pandas who may or may not be advocating for abortion? I looked hard for some reason Catholics would want to get involved with PandaMania, but I’m left distressed that Our Sunday Visitor is endorsing this program

My goal is not to tear down my fellow Catholics of good will, but to help parents make informed choices for their kids.

So, what do you think? Do you have experience with PandaMania? Can it be made worthwhile through the efforts of a sensible, decent, faithful teacher, or should you just skip it and make your kids read the Narnia series or something this summer? Based on PandaMania’s website, I wouldn’t touch this program with a ten-foot pole, even if the Pope himself were teaching it. But I’d be interested to hear if your child attended and got something decent out of it—or if your parish uses a different program that seems more trustworthy than PandaMania.