At St. Mark Parish in the
Archdiocese of Newark, students in Grades 1-7 learn from Loyola Press’s Christ Our Life series,
and eighth graders use Resources in Christian Living’s Faith First. Both texts are among 111 that have been declared in
conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the
Smorol, who is 46 and also has a son in high school, said she thinks the quality of her children’s religious education is better than what she received growing up.
“I don’t remember knowing half the things my kids know. ... I don’t even remember using books that much,” she said.
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. In response, many dioceses around the country now mandate that catechists use books that bear the bishops’ declaration of conformity. John Vitek, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary’s Press in Winona, Minn., estimated that only a third of the dioceses in the country require the use of books bearing the conformity declaration.
But the Archdiocese of Newark, led
by Archbishop John Myers, is one that does. All textbooks are to be chosen from
the bishops’ conformity listing, and schools and parish programs are asked to
report annually what books they are using, according to Ronald Pihokker, director of the
With the bishops’ list growing wider and longer all the time, especially at the elementary level, Pihokker said, there is no reason not to use materials in conformity with the Catechism.
“The policy is clearly listed in the administrative manual, and the staff makes itself available to schools in the market for books,” he said.
Using Older Books
A random check of schools and
parishes in the archdiocese by the Register found that he was largely correct,
especially in the case of books used for Grades 1-6. With one exception, the
use of Harcourt’s The Children’s Catechumenate for children preparing to enter into full
communion with the Church at St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield, texts for
Grades 1-6 at the parishes surveyed all were on a listing of those found in
conformity with the Catechism. That list is on the
However, at four parishes, junior
high students were found to be using materials that do not have conformity
declarations. Our Lady of Good Counsel in
Both Holy Spirit Parish in Union
and St. Elizabeth in
And, Our Lady of the Valley Parish
Ray Latour, president of Silver Burdett Ginn Religion, has said the company decided to publish new junior high texts as part of its Blest Are We series and submit them for review rather than invest in a revision of Connect, but keeps Connect on the market because students respond favorably to it.
Program directors at the four parishes using the texts were either unaware that the materials were not in conformity with the Catechism or didn’t see using them as a problem. All said the archdiocese had not questioned the texts.
Margaret Novak, CCD coordinator at
Our Lady of the Valley in
However, the problem with such texts is that even though they may not contain material in conflict with the Catechism, they may give an incomplete presentation of the faith, something that is assessed by the bishops’ review process. Furthermore, just because a publisher receives a conformity declaration for one text doesn’t guarantee that all the other texts offered by the company meet the bishops’ standards. In fact, older texts are more likely to have some of the deficiencies that led to the current review process.
In addition, two other parishes in
the Newark Archdiocese, Church of the Annunciation in Paramus and Church of the
Curriculum Is Key
Although Pihokker was concerned to learn that textbooks not on the conformity list were in use in the archdiocese, he said the most critical factor is that all religion teaching be in conformity with the archdiocesan curriculum guide, which itself is in conformity with the Catechism.
“Curriculum is the key,” he said, “and the textbook is one among many tools used in the classroom.”
He said he would be concerned, however, about programs that were “thrown together” because the major publishing companies have gone to great lengths to provide developmental programs that cover all the bases.
“The danger is that when we put something together ourselves, something is falling through the cracks,” he said. “That’s why it’s critical that we follow the curriculum guide. It’s kind of the guide we want to hold any textbook up against.”
Pihokker said designing a program using several different sources can not only result in copyright infringement, but can be confusing to catechists. Textbooks, he said, are not just books, but are based on programs that have various types of ancillary support, including teacher’s 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.”
Judy Roberts is based in
At a Glance
What it’s about: The Register is examining 20
improve the quality of religious education, the
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 so far:
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.
— Judy Roberts
- April 9-15, 2006