Do Catholic Textbooks Meet the Catechism Test?

INDIANAPOLIS — The task of bringing high-school catechetical texts into conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church is proving to be a daunting one for the group of U.S. bishops charged with reviewing the materials.

Although the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism has informed publishers of deficiencies in a number of textbooks and given them examples of how they might improve the books, the panel has encountered resistance from some quarters.

At the bishops’ meeting in Washington, D.C., last fall, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, who heads the committee, said a review of 25 high-school texts since mid-2001 had found most were deficient in key areas, yet many of these books are still being used widely throughout the country.

The weaknesses, he told the bishops, included descriptions of the Catholic Church in some texts as “one Church among many churches” and presenting doctrinal subjects with “tentative language,” making it seem as if Catholic doctrine is just one position among many rather than the truth.

Archbishop Hughes was not available for an interview with the Register, but Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis, the former head of the committee who serves as a consultant to the panel, characterized some of the textbooks he has seen as “pretty alarming.”

“What we have found failing in the high-school texts could easily be summarized as reflecting the 10 major deficiencies we had found in textbooks earlier at the elementary level,” Archbishop Buechlein said.

Msgr. Daniel Kutys, executive director of the bishops’ Office for the Catechism, said the key problem-areas include an ecclesiology that fails to clearly delineate the Catholic Church from other churches, an unbalanced Christology that focuses more on Christ as a human being than his divine nature and an avoidance of masculine names or pronouns for God to such a degree that it impacts Trinitarian theology. Some, for instance, do not call God “Father” or will talk about Jesus but not use “Lord.”

He said publishers have complained that some of the changes the bishops want are methodological, not doctrinal, but the ad hoc committee has said methodology can have doctrinal implications.

‘Clear Statement’

For example, Msgr. Kutys said, some writers and publishers want to present Catholic teachings by saying, “Catholics believe that …” Yet if high-school students are taught “Catholics believe abortion is wrong,” he said, there is nothing in the statement to say that what Catholics believe is the truth.

“We want the catechetical text to be a clear statement of what we believe without formulas that imply it is a matter of opinion,” he said. “It should be a clear statement of the truth of our faith.”

Even though publishers submit their texts to the ad hoc committee voluntarily, some couldn't or wouldn't make the recommended changes, Msgr. Kutys said.

“The bishops on the committee are a little bit frustrated,” he said. “They feel very comfortable [with materials] on the elementary level. A lot of those textbooks carry doctrinal conformity to the Catechism. They're a little frustrated that more high-school books didn't.”

Archbishop Hughes, he said, felt bound to let the bishops know that some of the nonconforming books are still on the market.

“Not all of them are horrible, but a lot still have these problems,” he said.

Msgr. Kutys said he is still hopeful publishers will cooperate and bring their texts into conformity.

Neither Archbishop Buechlein nor members of the committee have named publishers whose high-school texts are deficient, although the group has made available a list of those that are in conformity.

Among the high-school texts on the list are six published by Ave Maria Press; three by St. Mary's Press; two by the Midwest Theological Forum; and one each by the Apostolate for Family Consecration, C.R. Publications, Harcourt Religion Publishers, the Legionaries of Christ, Priory Press and Resources for Christian Living.

Ave Maria, for example, has been involved in a review of its materials from the outset under a plan it established to publish and obtain approval for one high-school text a year. Harcourt, on the other hand, concentrated first on getting its elementary texts in conformity and now is working on the secondary ones. Some smaller publishers were able to submit an entire series for approval.

Ave Maria's publisher, Frank Cunningham, said the Notre Dame, Ind., company started submitting materials for review in the late 1990s.

“We were at the point where we were starting a new round of high-school textbooks, so obviously it was something we wanted to do,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we could use the Catechism and relate our texts to it.”

Voluntary Process

Cunningham said because the process is voluntary, some publishers might have opted not to submit their texts.

“The only thing we could see was this would be a help to us,” he said.

Since Archbishop Hughes made his comments in November, Archbishop Buechlein said he has seen some movement toward conformity. He also is hopeful that an effort by the bishops’ Committee on Catechesis, which he chairs, to develop doctrinal curricular guidelines for high-school catechetics will help bring uniformity to what is being taught at the secondary-school level.

“It's a way for us to address the fundamental doctrinal needs that we see missing at the secondary level,” Archbishop Buechlein said.

The Indianapolis archbishop said he believes most bishops are insisting that the texts used in schools in their dioceses be ones that have been declared in conformity with the Catechism.

At the November meeting, two bishops suggested that the U.S. bishops publish their own high-school catechetical series.

“We're not saying we would not at this point,” Archbishop Buechlein said. “It depends on whether the publishers cooperate.”

He said in many cases it is not the publishers themselves who are resisting change but their writers.

“I don't know if they have difficulty finding writers,” he said, “or if the writers don't agree with what the bishops are saying.”

Judy Roberts writes from Millbury, Ohio.