The recent celebration of SS Peter and Paul was, amongst other things, a celebration of the Catholic Faith. Sadly, so many Catholics have a very poor knowledge of this faith. I was talking to another priest recently about this and he said that we have lost three generations because of bad catechesis. I know I go on about this (and I am probably boring people) but here is the problem;
we decided to see religious instruction (the word catechesis was abandoned in schools) in the context of a tripod - a trio of "partners" communicating and supporting each other: parish, school and parents. This was fine on paper and in (pardon my language) certain upper middle-class parishes, but on the whole it has not worked. Some bishops and teachers will blame the parents. Well, alright, but where do we go from there? How are we going to solve that problem? Whilst we are praying for mass conversion of "lapsed" parents, what can we do for the children? Can we catechise them in the parish? No, because they are not there (because their parents do not bring them). Where can we reach them? The answer is obvious; in school. Therefore, simple logic suggests that our schools should once again become places of catechesis. Is anybody listening?
Now we have another problem, namely what do we teach them and how do we teach it? I ask this question because over 35 years (I was ordained in 1975) I have constantly had to deal with young Catholics (some of the first lot now being grandparents) who did not understand key tenets of the Catholic Faith. One of the reasons for this was bad teaching in schools (note, I do not say bad teachers). What kind of faith was passed on by these people? Often they did not, and still do not, attend Church. Neither did they and do not come to RCIA meetings or whatever you want to call them, neither do they read Catholic books or newspapers (well, the newspapers can be left aside). So, what do we do? Some lay people, and priests too, say that Catholic High Schools should be closed because they are just turning out more lapsed Catholics. I do not think this is the answer, but I do believe that we need two things, and we need to agree on this quickly before any more damage is done.
1. We need to agree that in Catholic schools R.E. includes catechesis (as it used to do)
2. We need an orthodox, complete presentation of the Faith (suitable for the different key stages and levels of course) which DOES NOT leave out essential teachings or "fudge" Catholic morality.
Oh, and there's a third thing of course - we need to pray for our children and our schools (and our parents). So much damage has been done by a faulty, pie-in-the-sky, "out of touch" model and by pop psychology that we now simply accept that First Communion and Confirmation are, for many, simply rites of passage that leads them out of the church door only to return for weddings, funerals and the odd family baptism. Is this what we want for the Church? I know I don't. You may be asking what has brought this on. A parishioner recently told me that he was speaking to a Catholic High School teacher and asking her what they taught. He asked her about sin and was told; "Sin! Oh no we don't talk about that!" I realize that some people will think that bad catechesis is not the whole story. Obviously not, but when good catechesis was really needed - for example in the late '60's, it was being "updated" in such an appalling way - and this process continued - that young Catholics who were being misled by the permissiveness and the media really didn't stand a chance. I seem to remember one priest saying something like, "if only we had had the courage to challenge all that, we might have saved some of those kids from disaster". Yes, the new catechetics was part of the problem but it was a major part and, in my opinion, has had more to do with the collapse of the Church in some places - e.g. England and Wales - than many are prepared to accept. Even if I am wrong, the Vatican guidelines were not always followed as has been shown in the book, "The Ebbing Tide". No matter where we would rather shine the spotlight, the faith has not been taught as it should have been, and we simply cannot go on any longer encouraging a "cafeteria" Catholicism and spiritual indifference.