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50 Years Later . . . The Evidence Is In: Yes, Doctrine Matters

January 23, 2014 Featured Today No Comments


In a provocative essay, “What do liberal Catholics want?” published in The Week, January 15, senior correspondent Damon Linker wonders if liberal Catholics “ever really cared about reforming doctrine in the first place.”
Linker had presumed that liberal Catholics were still interested in a reform agenda, that they were hoping Pope Francis would “revise Church doctrine in a liberal direction” on such issues as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, married priests, women priests: the whole Call to Action agenda set in Detroit in 1976.
But Linker had the proverbial “wake-up call” while doing an interview on Pope Francis and the Church for National Public Radio, when a self-identified Catholic from Kentucky, Trish, flatly told him that “doctrine for a Catholic, now, is not even an issue. . . . Catholics do not care about doctrine. It’s irrelevant. It’s a non-issue for Catholics.”
Trish further told Linker that Catholic doctrine is “useless.”
“The congregation does not care,” she added.
“Is Trish right?” asked Linker. “To judge by the passionate intensity of liberal response to Francis over the past few months, despite the fact that he’s done nothing at all to change or reform the Church’s teachings, I suspect she might be. And that’s an interesting development that raises important questions for the Catholic Church in the United States — and, I suspect, throughout much of the Western world….[Trish] is completely indifferent to what the Church teaches across a range of topics, and she thinks her fellow American Catholics agree with her. . . .
“If Trish is the future of American Catholicism, we appear to be left with a puzzle: When does a Church without a doctrine cease to be a Church at all?”
The American Conservative’s blogger Rod Dreher, who left the Catholic Church for the Russian Orthodox, picked up on Linker’s question, and pushed the argument, observing in a January 17 posting:
“Treating doctrine as beside the point is something else entirely. Yes it is.”
Dreher, who has previously confessed that he left the Catholic Church because he could not accept the doctrine of papal infallibility, added:
“Even after I left the Catholic Church, I would find myself in the bizarre position of arguing with Catholics, and defending Catholic doctrine. The thing is, it was impossible to find common ground, because a) they knew nothing about doctrine, not even basics; and b) whatever the Church taught didn’t matter to them, because they didn’t see it as binding anyway; and c) they genuinely did not understand why this had anything at all to do with their status as Catholics. The freaky thing, to me, was that this wasn’t a pose; they were as sincere as they could be.”
Dreher then commented on the “neutron bomb” of an article in the November issue of Commonweal by Sydney Callahan (whose husband Daniel is a former editor of the magazine; both of them were public dissenters against Humanae Vitae).
Like so many Catholics of her generation, Callahan laments that her husband and six children have left the Church, and now she finds herself sitting alone at Mass.
Callahan picks 1968 as the year “the cultural hurricane” hit her family, how her children were “captured” by the counterculture, and how going to Mass (and CCD classes) became a lost cause, especially after her “husband’s faith had faded.”
“Looking back,” she writes, “I see that there was no structured way in our parish for my children to get what I had gotten in my intellectual journey to the Catholic faith.”
In her lament, Callahan does not mention the role, if any, of the “new catechetics” in the unraveling of the faith of her children, blaming instead the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
But Catholic children were groomed for that revolution, starting as early as 1960 (before Vatican II), when the Brussels-based, Jesuit-founded Lumen Vitae catechetical center opened a U.S. base in Monroe, Mich.
Its first project was the catechism series, The Lord Jesus (Allyn and Bacon), which was touted as a “truly revolutionary textbook series — which may reach ten million Catholic pupils in the next ten years” — and which forecast “that a revolution was about to take place in Catholic religious education.”
By 1968, the catechetical revolution was in full swing.
In April 1968, Triumph magazine published a symposium on one such catechetical series, The Roots of Faith, which was being used in scores of dioceses as the mandated religious education text.
Contributors to the symposium included Thomas Molnar, Frederick Wilhelmsen, Fr. Robert Fox, and Triumph’s editor, Michael Lawrence.
The approach of this catechism, wrote historian and philosopher Thomas Molnar, “is sure to enervate the child, take apart his inner focusing mechanism, and create an atmosphere of listlessness and passive receptivity, ultimately an uncritical indifference to matters requiring judgment.”
He scored the series for “putting the Church on history’s defendant bench, belittling her achievements, attributing doubtful motives to her actions, stressing her worldly failings, questioning her unique channels for grace. The Roots of Faith does not expressly ridicule the faith; but the child will inevitably be left with the impression that the faith in which he is brought up is at best imperfect, the work of fallible men and outmoded institutions, not to be abandoned, perhaps, but in dire need of completion and maturation.”
Philosopher Frederick Wilhelmsen judged that the authors of the text have “invented a new religion.”
“The Roots of Faith, is not heretical on a grand scale; these books are far more dangerous than mere deviations from the faith, something far more subtle than direct heresy; a new religion which is less a frontal contradiction of the old than a contemptuous dismissal of the old as so irrelevant that it need not, indeed should not, be explicitly denied. . . .
“Indeed, in Roots of Faith all religions except the Roman one are treated with a truly touching piety. Pages upon pages of praise for outlandish heathen sects, but not a word in favor of Christendom. The young mind is given nothing to exult in, nothing to be proud of in his own matchless inheritance.
“He is robbed of the knowledge that the Roman Church made Western civilization, and is left with a new cult fashioned by a knot of religious revolutionaries who do not have the courage to state plainly what they want: a new religion; a new religious sensibility unbuttressed by saints and the troublesome Marian cult; a new liberty that glories in the dissolution of authority into the body of the assembly; a new aesthetics reflective of man’s perpetual temptation to fall into Puritanism; a new faith that an already discredited democracy will somehow sanctify the liberal-secular world in which the authors of The Roots of Faith are so much at home. . . .
“Give children sound doctrine,” Wilhelmsen concluded, “as crystal clear as diamonds and then give them the poetry of our own inheritance; you will have gained them for life. But give them the paltry secularism of our miserable age, and they will come to whore after its gods.”
Fr. Robert Fox, an expert in the field of catechetics whose six works on catechesis were incorporated into the Holy See’s 1971 General Catechetical Directory by John Cardinal Wright, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, focused on the lack of doctrine in The Roots of Faith, and explained why the teaching of doctrine is so important.
“The reason why instruction must be given in the doctrines of the faith is that, in the blindness of original sin, man cannot know, apart from being taught it by the Church, that God can and will save him. Ignorant of the true nature of God, the natural man — the man without connection to the supernatural — seeks salvation within himself and from his own abilities.
“This causes him to boast of his own powers and keeps him from God. Hence his need for doctrinal nurture, which only the Church can offer.”
Triumph editor Michael Lawrence, in “What Parents Are For,” warned readers that if they have children learning from The Roots of Faith “you will not be allowed to maintain the comfortable relations you may now have with the official Catholic school system, because you are going to find out that the duty imposed on you by natural law to see to the education of your children cannot be fulfilled in cooperation with that system.”
In other words, suggested Lawrence, parents are obligated to pull their children from any Catholic school using The Roots of Faith, and take on the duty which is theirs, to properly instruct their children in the faith.

Only The Beginning

Triumph’s April 1968 symposium, “Catechism vs. the Child,” which also took note of other deficient catechisms designed to destroy the faith of Catholic children and set them in opposition to their parents, was an opening salvo of the “catechism wars” that raged through the U.S. Church in the late 1960s, and all through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
On June 25, 1970, The Wanderer published “Religion Texts: An Indictment,” a “scathing indictment” of a dozen of the most widely used catechetical materials written by Therese Ickinger of the Philadelphia-based POPE, Parents for Orthodoxy in Parochial Education. Written in the form of an open letter to the priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Mrs. Ickinger showed how the new catechetics was an insult to parents’ intelligence and morality.
After listing more than 60 of the most egregious passages, she asked the priests:
“In short, Fathers, shall every one of the pivotal truths of Christianity be put through the existential wringer? Shall the Mass, the sacraments, the priesthood, Christian morality itself be withered with semantic dissembling; indeed the very concept of the Living God be immanentized into an evolutionary pan-Christianism….This ‘Christ’ of the ‘new catechisms’ is but the god Baal on a cosmic pedestal. We bend no knee to him.”
On September 3 and 10, 1970, The Wanderer published in two installments the full text of a paper prepared by the Houston-based CREDO, Catholics for the Restoration in Education of Doctrinal Orthodoxy, founded by Tom and Marie Dolan, for the U.S. bishops, titled, “High School Texts and the Crisis of Faith.”
Similar to Ickinger’s report, this paper cited hundreds of “deficiencies” in the most popular catechetical texts and the virtual elimination or disappearance of the Church’s basic teachings, including those on man’s immortal spiritual soul, angels, original sin, Christ’s atonement, the Last Judgment, Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, the intercession of saints, the binding force of the Ten Commandments, the virgin birth, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the Catholic Church’s founding by Jesus Christ.
Pope John Paul II took note of the crisis in catechesis in his 1979 document Catechesi Tradendae, which deplored the “ambiguous and harmful” catechetical works “which bewilder the young and even adults” but it had little or no effect on the catechetical establishment; neither did the Holy See’s 1971 General Catechetical Directory or the National Catechetical Directory produced by the U.S. bishops in 1979.
Sadly, in the United States, the Church’s catechetical establishment continued to wage war for decades against the efforts of the Holy See and countless Catholics for doctrinally sound catechetics, even to the extent of opposing and obstructing the production and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — with the result that most churchgoing U.S. Catholics agree with Trish from Kentucky, cited by Damon Linker, that doctrine is “useless.”

There Is One Truth

On the contrary, doctrine is necessary for life. As Blessed Cardinal John Newman explained in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, believers must conform themselves to the truth revealed by God and His Church.
“That there is a truth then; that there is one truth; that religious error is in itself of immoral nature; that its maintainers, unless involuntarily such, are guilty in maintaining it; that it is to be dreaded; that the search for truth is not the gratification of curiosity; that its attainment has nothing of the excitement of a discovery; that the mind is below truth, not above it, and is bound, not to discourse upon it, but to venerate it; that the truth and falsehood are set before us for the trial of our hearts; that our choice is an awful giving forth of lots, on which salvation or rejection is inscribed; that ‘before all things it is necessary to hold the Catholic faith,’ that ‘he that would be saved must thus think’ and not otherwise. . . .
“This is the dogmatical principle which has strength.”

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