9

Religion Books in the Catholic School

[This report was prepared on behalf of a group of Catholic parents to address issues locally that may also be going on elsewhere in the country.  It is published here as a resource for parents who may find it useful.]

Religion Books in the Catholic School: Parental Concerns and Suggested Remedies

Our parent’s group has concerns with religion books in the Catholic high school.  Some diocesan religion books seem to extol Marxism, Socialism, Humanism and liberation theology, while others appear to have homosexual agendas, are written by non-Catholic authors or in other ways confuse students about the faith.  This report explains parental concerns with a sampling of diocesan religion books, and concludes with respectfully submitted remedies.  The sample religion books cited in this report are taken from several high schools throughout the diocese.  In multiple instances the same religion books are used by more than one school.  The books are as follows:

  • Brief History of Christian Worship by James F. White, published by Abingdon press
  • Justice and Peace: Our Faith in Action; by Joseph Stoutzenberger; published by Harcourt Religion Publishers
  • Living Justice and Peace by Jerry Windley-Daoust; published by St. Mary’s Press
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, published by Beacon Press
  • Our Catholic Faith: Living What We Believe by Michael Pennock, published by Ave Maria Press
  • Philosophy of Religion by Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach and Basinger; published by Oxford University Press.
  • Introduction to Christian Worship by James F. White, published by Abingdon Press
  • The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization by Vincent A. Gallagher, published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll.
  • World’s Religions: A Voyage in Discovery, Published by St. Mary’s Press
    (Several scanned pages from textbooks accompanied this document and are located here.)

1. False Ideologies are portrayed in a Positive Light and Authentic Church Teaching Ineffectively Communicated:  Parents are concerned that some Catholic religion books speak positively of Karl Marx, socialism, liberation theology and Communism. 

1.1. Positive Portrayal of Karl Marx, Socialism and Communism:  Atheistic Communism and Marxism have been condemned by the Vatican.  Divini Redemptoris (the Encyclical on Atheistic Communism) warned[i] that the doctrine of Communism was based on atheistic principles advocated by Marx, and that Communism rejects all hierarchy and divinely-instituted authority, even that or parents. [ii]   With respect to socialism, the Papal Encyclical on Socialism referred to the growth of socialism as “evil.”

 Karl Marx was an atheist.  A teaching that is sympathetic to Marxist views, socialism and atheistic Communism is not Catholic teaching.   (Divini Redemptoris #9) The Blessed Mother warned at Fatima that if men did not mend their ways, then Russia would “spread her errors.”[iii] Catholic school religion books now seem to be at times a vehicle for spreading the very error our about which Blessed Mother warned.   The dangers of atheistic communism are not communicated in religion books, to the point that the reader is almost led towards a positive view of Communism.   An example of this is demonstrated in the Catholic religion book entitled Living Justice and Peace (by Jerry Windley Daoust, published by St. Mary’s Press).   What follows is an excerpt from pgs. 47-48 of this religion book: 

 The greatest challenge to unregulated capitalism came through various socialist movements in Europe in the nineteenth century.  Socialism advocated distributing wealth according to need, not ownership of capital and profits.  The German philosopher Karl Marx, with his works The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Capital (1867) provided a bitter critique of capitalism.  His theory of history predicted the masses would rise up, overthrow the capitalist class, abolish private property, and create a form of a socialist state.  Eventually, he proposed, socialism would give way to communism, an ideal, equitable society in which government and laws would be unnecessary.  Marx’s atheistic theory, later called Marxism, was adopted as a model for social change by many workers movements around the world and for the formation of modern-day socialist and communist states…

This Living Justice and Peace religion book speaks positively of Karl Marx and seems to extol socialist and atheistic communist societies (e.g. Communism is described as an “ideal, equitable society in which government and laws would be unnecessary”).  This statement is only mildly tempered later on with a statement that Communist and Socialist societies have not been quite “the ideal society” Marx envisioned.  (No mention is made of the diabolical massacre of millions by the Communist Regime).  The book further describes the “cold war” as the time when the “United States and the Soviet Union competed to dominate the world through military might” (p. 55).  This is an historical half-truth.  During the cold war the United States and her allies sought to defend the goodness of freedom, religion, democracy and the free market system.   Communist nations, led by the former Soviet Union, sought to impose Marxist, atheistic Communism.

Page 367 of Justice and Peace defines socialism as: “government ownership and administration of the production and distribution of goods,” with no mention at all that this form of government is evil, restricts human freedom and dignity, and violates the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.

Millions of innocent civilians lost their lives in a brutal fashion during WW II, at the hands of German soldiers under Hitler’s command.   Page 57 of the religion book entitled Living Justice and Peace presents a story on forgiveness of these German soldiers during WW II.  The forgiveness message is good.  The problem is that there is little mention of the abominable atrocities that occurred during this war.   The reader receives a partial truth and is being led toward an acceptance of this war and this situation which ignores the despicable and diabolical acts that occurred.  Although we should forgive, we should not forget history, lest we lose our ability to avoid repeating it.

1.2. Liberation Theology: The teachings of Marxism are at times communicated through the social justice agenda.  This is sometimes done by teaching “liberation theology.”  The Vatican has warned against this theology and the Pope recently affirmed that certain parts of liberation theology lead to Marxism.[iv]

The Vatican has written in its Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’ that liberation theology can  

 …put liberation from sin in second place, and so fail to give it the primary importance it is due. Thus, their very presentation of the problems is confused and ambiguous. Others, in an effort to learn more precisely what are the causes of the slavery which they want to end, make use of different concepts without sufficient critical caution. It is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to purify these borrowed concepts of an ideological inspiration [in a way] which is compatible with Christian faith and the ethical requirements which flow from it.    

One example of liberation theology can be found in the religion book entitled The True Cost of Low Prices: the Violence of Globalization by Vincent Gallagher, published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll.  An e-mail to the publisher confirmed that the publisher is Catholic.  This book has an entire chapter on “The Need for a Theology that Liberates,” which starts on page 108. This chapter places, in a negative context, the concept of “following rules,” “family values,” and “traditional theology.”  The Catholic religion book Living Justice and Peace (p. 66-73) also has a complete section on “liberation theology.”

1.3 Dismissing Suffering as Needed for Redemption—Modern Religion as a Flight from the Cross: Sometimes, we Catholics are called to suffer before we go back to Our Father in Heaven.  Sometimes God calls us to carry our crosses as Christ did. We can do that and simultaneously try to question and eradicate the causes of unjust suffering in the world.   But The True Cost of Low Prices states on page 108: “A theology that considers suffering as a condition to be endured before going back to God in death will not question the causes of unjust suffering.”  This is non-doctrinal teaching.  The truth on suffering is that God allows suffering only to bring about a greater good.  Like the suffering of Christ, our suffering becomes the way to ultimate victory.  Salvific Doloris (The Apostolic Letter on the “Christian meaning of Suffering” 16, 27, 31) gives a complete explanation of the value of suffering in our lives.[v]

But the modern Catholic religion book often ignores the redemptive value of suffering.  Our Catholic Faith: Living What We Believe (p. 170) states:  “Jesus was asked the question about why people suffer.  He never gave a clear explanation.”  This is non-doctrinal teaching.  Christ’s answer came through his own life and by virtue of the way he suffered for our redemption.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (377) teaches that “… the sufferings to be endured can mean that ‘in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is the Church’.”  And scripture exhorts that  “…now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”(1 Peter 1:6-7)

1.4 The Writings of Father Jon Sobrino: The True Cost of Low Prices religion book also contains the writings on Father Jon Sobrino (p. 115).  Catholics are not to follow the writings of Father Sobrino.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned the writings of this Jesuit priest in a document entitled: “Explanatory note on the Notification on the works of Father Jon Sobrino, SJ.”  This Vatican document stated:

Father Sobrino tends to diminish the normative value of the affirmations of the New Testament as well as those of the great Councils of the early Church. These methodological errors give rise to conclusions which do not conform to the doctrine of the Church in certain key areas: the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Son of God, the relationship of Jesus with the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ self-consciousness, and the salvific value of Jesus’ death. 

There are additional concerns with The True Cost of Low Prices.  The author (Vincent A. Gallagher) repeatedly references the Romero Center.  A check of the Romero Center (where students attend “Urban Challenge”) website will show that it links itself to Call To Action (CTA) under a category called “Resources.”   CTA was excommunicated by Bishop Bruskewitz, and this excommunication was confirmed by the Vatican. 

1.5 Instilling Negativity in Students towards Both Country and Church: Parents notice their children coming home from Catholic high schools with negative and liberal views towards both country and Church.  The social justice agenda heaps negativity and injustices upon young minds.  To look at the index of a social justice book, is to look at a depressing list of what is wrong with the world.  The following difficulties were taken from one social justice religion book index:

 Alzheimers, disabilities, chronic fatigue, chronic malnutrition, crimes against persons, crimes against property, culture of violence, domestic violence, drunk driving, famine, inequality, injustice, institutional racism, hate groups, homelessness, homophobia, malnutrition, poverty, prejudice, psychological violence, relationship violence, senility, sexism, slaves, suicide, and war.

While the above injustices are heaped upon the Catholic student’s head in the religion class, there are important Church teachings not imparted into it.  For example, the student typically fails to learn to the need for prayer, or the need to study directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or papal encyclicals so that he might develop the spiritual life skills he will need as an adult.  Most often the Catholic school student will graduate knowing next to nothing of Catholic Church history.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church the term “social justice” is not even listed.  “Justice” is listed with a few simple pages of references.  How is it that the Catholic high school student is spending an entire year studying something that carries so little space in the Catechism of the Catholic Church?   Scripture has warned:  For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.  (2 Tim. 4:3)  Catholic parents want their Catholic children learning sound Catholic doctrine.

Social Justice books rarely mention the good already done to alleviate evils when such mention might put our Roman Catholic Church or our country in a positive light.  For example, when there is a conflict or a major catastrophe in the world, America has historically been the first on the scene to provide assistance—both militarily and financially.   The Catholic Church is the largest and most charitable institution in the United States.  To fight against poverty the Church provides soup kitchens, child care and shelters.  It provides 637 non-profit health care hospitals, 122 home health-care agencies and over 700 other services including assisted living and senior housing.  According to the USCCB site:

  • Catholic Charities provides services to over 6 million people.
  • Catholic Relief Services provides direct aid to the poor.  In 2002 alone they helped over 80 million people.
  • In 2003 the St. Vincent DePaul society served over 15 million people
  • In 2005 the local Knights of Columbus provided over 64 million service hours and $139 million dollars in charitable aid.

And the Church does much more beyond this at both the national and the local level.  Catholic students should be permitted and encouraged to feel positively about the Catholic Church.   Yet the social justice book fails to convey this positive view.  While being taught “Marxist” doctrine as something positive, students are not being taught the tremendous good the Catholic Church has done and is doing to improve the human condition.   This manner of presentation can easily distort truth in the student’s mind and leave the student with a contemptuous attitude for Holy Mother Church.  Beyond that, the Church is not good because She does good things; the Church is good because with Christ as Her head, She seeks to do the Father’s will.

The one-side presentation of the social justice agenda can kill a student’s love of Church and of country.   Love of country is Catholic.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2239) states: “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity.”  This message is poorly communicated in social justice books, or it is undermined.  For example,   one social justice book (Justice and Peace p. 362) defines patriotism as “love of country that admits its shortcomings and tries to right them.”   

 1.6 Discouraging Obedience towards Civil Authority: Another message social justice books ineffectively communicate is the need for obedience to authority.  CCC 2238 states: “Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of His gifts.”  As an example of ineffective communication of this Truth one social justice book (J&P p. 327-329) rambled on for two pages about civil disobedience, but failed to mention civil obedience or obedience at all.  Similarly, page 318 of Living Justice and Peace promotes civil disobedience.  Unfortunately, there is no corresponding promotion in this book to actual obedience—either to civil authority or to Church hierarchy.  [see Living Justice and Peace index on pgs. 324-326] If students are not taught to obey and submit to civil and Church authority, how will they know how to obey and submit to the will of God?   It further should be noted that these social justice books ignore the need for obedience to parents, or the need to strengthen or support  the family.   Yet, the USCCB document on “Themes of Catholic Social Teaching” states that “Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined.”

1.7 Ignoring the Will of God: Christ Himself said: “The poor you will always have with you.”  (Mark 14:7)  The social justice drums beat in such a way as to make it seem that it is the will of God for everyone to go out and tackle poverty.  Poverty must be tackled.  But it is not everyone’s mission to do so.  It is everyone’s mission to do the “will of God.”  Like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, students must be taught to say “Father, not my will (and not the social justice will) but your will be done.”  Catholics need to discern what that will is.   

For one student, the will of God may be staying home to spend time with a sick grandparent.  For another it might be helping her mother around the house with chores, or playing with a younger sibling, or simply just to pray.  Social justice books cannot determine the will of God in the life of any student.   Yet this is the deceptive mindset propagated by these books which typically include an overwhelming number of “actions” for the student to take as if “busyness” meant “holiness.”  Social justice is a social studies matter.  If students want to brainstorm ways to improve social conditions, as social justice books so often prompt students to do, then they should brainstorm in their social studies classes.[vi]  Wrapping students up in “social” exercises during their religion classes distracts from their needed study of the Catechism, and other authentic religious studies.  The result is that we now have armies of social activists yet very few soldiers for Christ. 

1.8 Ignoring Prayer: Since our Lady promised at Fatima that the Rosary would bring peace to the world, one would think social justice books, so desperate to bring peace, would recommend that students be on their knees praying this prayer daily.  In truth, the social justice book seems void of the Rosary.   Nor does it seem to favor traditional Catholic prayers (e.g. Benediction, Litany’s, Novena’s etc.).  Nor does it recommend regular Mass, confession or sanctifying our own souls and growing in holiness as part of the remedy.   God, through the Catholic Church, has given us these gifts of prayer and the Sacraments to help bring grace to our lives and to the world.  Yet, the social justice book generally ignores these gifts—and forges ahead in its blind crusade to battle the world’s problems on its own.

 The social justice methods can be summed up on page 78 Living Justice and Peace.  Here we learn the “Circle of Faith-in-Action” steps of social justice.  These steps are: “Awareness, Analysis, Action and New Awareness.”  What does the circle leave out?  Oddly, it leaves out the one thing that could help the most, and that is prayer, in particular prayer to the Father.  Christ Himself prayed to the Father before He did anything great.  Before raising Lazarus from the dead He prayed “Father, I thank you for hearing me…” (John 11:41).  He also prayed “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…”  (Matt: 26:39), and He taught us to pray “Our Father, who art in heaven…”   At times Christ went off to pray to the Father alone.  He prayed before healing others.  He gave us the Eucharistic prayers of the Mass at the Last Supper.

 If Christ himself was so devoted to prayer to the Father on earth, and if we are His followers, how can we think our serious “justice” problems will be solved without serious prayer to the Father?    Page 78 of Living Justice and Peace says of the first stage of Awareness: “Before we can work for justice in the world, we must see, hear, and know the world in a spirit of friendship…”  This is non-doctrinal teaching.    The Catholic Church does not say we need to know “the world in a spirit of friendship” at all. However, it does teach of our need to pray.   The social justice agenda sends the message that we can and must solve problems on our own without the help of the Father.  This is also what the humanistic mind, the socialistic mind, the communistic mind and the atheistic mind believes. 

Real social justice work has to be grounded in prayer and rooted in the authentic teachings of the Church in order not to be polluted by socialism and other forms of false utopian ideologies.  The first principle of Catholic social justice is subsidiarity and that is not often mentioned or barely touched upon in these books.  But the main problem is that we cannot send out children out into the world to change it without first equipping them properly with the truths of our faith.  And the social justice agenda takes up so much space and time in the Catholic religion curriculum that the children are not being properly grounded in the faith.  We do not object to children being exhorted to do service exercises that develop a sense of charity and compassion—so long as students are given the correct Gospel context and the information is presented as in continuum with the works of the saints who the students should be getting to know on an ongoing basis.

Given the gravity of “social justice” problems put forth in the social justice book, one might expect social justice books to exhort students to spend ongoing Holy Hours before the Blessed Sacrament in intercession for these intentions.  This is not the case.  Although these books may extol Mother Teresa and her work and encourage students to model her selfless acts, they do not similarly encourage students to model Mother’s charism for and devotion to prayer.  The student is left to think she can be like Mother Teresa, without Mother Teresa’s prayer.  Mother Teresa herself told us otherwise, and said how silence and prayer are the beginning of service.  She said:  “…the fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is service.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes 55 pages to prayer.  The social justice book may likely devote next to none.

Mother Teresa’s missionary work was an answer in obedience to the will of God.  She referred to this work as the “call within the call.”  Her day started with daily Mass and included hours of prayer and Adoration.  She prayed the Rosary and forever had rosary beads wrapped around her tiny hand.  Her order emphasized prayer, trust in God and obedience over independent thinking and modern-day problem solving.  She believed suffering brought people closer to Christ.  Mother Teresa saw the face of Christ in the suffering, and aided the suffering in response to God’s call for her life—not because she was on some self-proclaimed justice mission to transform the world and stamp out poverty.   

Most of us, at some point will experience almost unbearable suffering.  It is easy at these times to feel abandoned by the Father.   Like Christ, as He hung upon the cross, we may say: “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?”  Then we have two choices.  We can say “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and abandon ourselves to God and seek, through prayer, to find and do His will.  If we do this, then we will discover that ultimately every “crucifixion” in our lives will be followed by a resurrection.  But there is another option.  We can decide to handle matters on our own, ignore God, dismiss prayer and proceed to plot our own course towards our self-appointed destination.  Sadly, the latter appears to reflect the general mentality of the social justice book in the Catholic high school today.

2. Catholic School Books are Sympathetic to the Homosexual agenda:  Our Church teaches that…

 …basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved…  Homosexual persons are called to chastity.  By virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection…  (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2357, 2359)

Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes  less than one page to this topic, the Catholic school religion book may go on about it relentlessly, saying one thing, and then another, spinning the reader in circles so that in the end one is dizzy and knows neither what the Church teaches, nor what one ought to think.

2.1 Promoting Acceptance towards Homosexual Activity: One example of this can be found in Justice and Peace: Our Faith in Action by Stoutzenberger, published by Harcourt Religion Publishers.  This book devotes six full pages to “homosexual persons,” mingling half-truths with actual Church teachings all the way—leaving the reader confused about what to believe.  Page 271 gives a full-page to a “snapshot of a homosexual young person.”  The page leaves us with the sense we should not judge the young person, but also with no message of the truth that we ought to be concerned and pray for his immortal soul, a concern that true compassion and love would warrant.  Instead the only message given the student is one of acceptance.

2.2 Misconstruing Sin: Page 365 of this book describes homophobia as “the fear of being homosexual or of people with a homosexual orientation.”  But sin is the one thing we Catholics must fear.   Christ told us to be afraid of the “one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”  (Matt.  10:28)  We are warned in 1 Cor. 6 not to be “deceived”:  “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

2.3 Homophobia: Page 273 of this book states that “Homophobia is a strong and destructive force at work in our society…”  [Please note that the problem, according this religion book, is not the homosexual act, but the homophobia.  This ignores the Catholic truth that homosexual acts are a “grave depravity.”] There are many more confusing statements throughout the section which fail to mention “love the sinner hate the sin.”  The “Group Talk” at the end gives students exercises designed to lure them toward the homosexual mindset starting with: “Are you or is someone you know homophobic? Explain.”  One student from a diocesan Catholic school who had this book for Religion came home emphatically stating: “I never knew you were a homophobe, Mom.”  (The student was not joking.)

2.4 Inclusion and Exclusion: The homosexual agenda is further advanced in Living Justice and Peace.  One way to advance the homosexual agenda is to promote the concept of “inclusion.”  This term is not in the Bible, nor is it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nor has a papal encyclical been written to explain it.  Page 144 teaches “exclusion,” and “inclusion.”  These non-doctrinal terms are used by those who seek to advance the homosexual agenda by guiding students in thinking that there is no need to judge behavior as morally right or wrong.  This thinking persuades students into thinking all behaviors, including homosexual behaviors are “okay” and should be accepted.   It is this thinking that is leading to the redefinition of marriage to something other than what God intended.  This redefinition of marriage is leading to the destruction of the family.  Since the Catholic faith is primarily passed on through the family, by destroying the family the enemy can destroy the primary vehicle for transmission of the Catholic faith on earth.

3. Religion Books Advance Teachings on New Age, Psychology or Philosophy Rather Than Religion: Another concern with Catholic school religion books is that they promote the New Age Agenda or attempt to teach psychology or philosophy rather than the One True faith.  Our beliefs about faith are rooted in scripture and Tradition, not in “New Age” thinking or philosophies or psychology.  Many religion books have become “feeling and opinion-focused.”  For example, a discussion question on page 130 of Our Catholic Faith asks: “Among your peer group what are considered the most serious kinds of sins?”  Once that question is posed to teenagers the teens will likely put more belief in what their peers think than in what our Church teaches.  Similarly page 140 of the same book asks “How do you feel about Jesus being the judge of your life?”  The teenager may tell you he or she does not “feel” Jesus is the judge of his or her life.  There is nothing wrong with feelings and opinions but they have little to do with learning Catholic Truths. Faith is a gift and an assent to Truth. If we want students to assent to Catholic Truths, then students must first be taught these truths.  Catholic religion books need to focus on solid Truths.  To direct the students toward feelings and opinions with respect to Catholic doctrine is to place the student on a path to dissent from that Catholic doctrine.

3. 1 Philosophy of Religion:  Philosophy of Religion has no place in a high school religion class.  This is an advanced class for an upper level college philosophy student.  It is not a basic level class.  Students might be ready in a philosophy (not religion) class to study Aristotle to prepare them for a study of St. Thomas Aquinas and basic Greek Philosophers.  High school students do not have the necessary foundation to study Philosophy of Religion.  Is there any purpose of such a course of study for high school students other than to sow seeds of confusion?  

3.2 Humanistic Psychology:  Man’s Search for Meaning is written by Viktor Frankl.  Dr. Frankl, who died in 1997 was not Catholic. He was Jewish.  He was the “prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists” according to one biographical description and thus it would be hard for his writings to guide Catholic religion students toward Catholic truth about our search for meaning in life in a Catholic religion class.  For example, how could he explain to Catholic students that since the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our lives, that if we have that then there is nothing more we need?  It’s not that Dr. Frankl’s message might not be a good message for students in a psychology class.  But parents are trying to understand the purpose of having this book as part of a Catholic school religion class.  

This book describes Dr. Frankl’s time in a concentration camp and the “psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence.”   But Catholic parents want their Catholic children to learn the “Catholic” method of finding meaning in all forms of existence in their Catholic religion class.  This is especially true because parents notice that Catholic high school students are developing a mindset that is consistent with secular humanism.   If the school wants to use this (psychological and humanistic)  book as part of religion, then parents would like to see accompanying documented material explaining where Dr. Frankl’s thinking is consistent with our faith and where it veers from it.    If the religion class wants to relate finding meaning in life back to a concentration camp, then why not have the students read about a Catholic saint like St. Maximilian Kolbe?  Why not teach the Catholic religion class student how this great saint found meaning through the Catholic faith in a concentration camp?  An alternative book for this class would be With God in Russia, by Father Walter J. Ciszek.  An American priest, Father Ciszek spent 23 years in Russian prison camps.  This book teaches not only the triumph of the human spirit, but the beauty of the Catholic faith and the dangers of communistic and socialistic regimes.

4. When Books are written by Non-Catholic Authors:   When Catholic schools use non-Catholic authors to try to teach the Catholic faith to students, the presentation most often fails because the presentation is flat.  It is flat because it is lacking.  And what it is lacking is love—love for the Magisterium, love for the Eucharist, love for Our Blessed Mother, love for the Liturgy,  love for the saints and the Sacraments, love for our Holy Father and love for Holy Mother Church.  This flat presentation likewise functions to flatten the faith of the students.  This is a phenomenon to which many Catholic parents, who have struggled to ground their children in the true Catholic faith, can attest.

4.1 “Mr. Protestant Worship”: As an example, James F. White (1932-2004) was an ordained deacon and elder of the United Methodist Church.  He was known as “Mr. Protestant Worship,” according to the North American Academy of Liturgy. ([vii])  The Catholic school uses two of his books.  One is Brief History of Christian Worship and the other is Introduction to Christian Worship.  How might the writings of Mr. Protestant Worship “flatten” the faith of the Catholic student?

One example can be found in his book Introduction to Christian Worship on page 248.  It is here that his writings on the Eucharist state:

Vatican II made a notable contribution in restating the whole question of presence by declaring that Christ is present in the mass not in one but in a variety of ways in the person of the minister, in the bread and wine, in the sacramental action, in the word, and in the congregation (CSL, par 7)… How different history might have been had these insights come a thousand years sooner!

And what did Mr. Protestant worship leave out from the above citation?  He didn’t tell the reader that Christ was “present… most especially in the Eucharistic species,” as is stated in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL, par 7).  And if you don’t know that Christ is there “most especially” in the Eucharist then why go to a Catholic Mass?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 1373) states:

The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique.  It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.”  In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.’” This presence is called “real” —by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be “real” too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.

Furthermore, Mr. Protestant worship makes it sound like the presence of Christ in the “Congregation,” in the “Word” etc. was some new discovery for Vatican II, and if only we Catholics had discovered this “insight” sooner, then surely things would have been different between us and the Protestants.  But this teaching is not new at all.  It is what the early Church followers taught.   A more suitable book for Catholic students in a Catholic religion class is The Lamb’s Supper by Dr. Scott Hahn—a faithful Catholic author.

5. World Religion Books:  Parents question the wisdom of teaching non-Catholic (e.g. World) religions to high school students who are still yet unformed in their own faith.  This teaching may do more uprooting in Catholicism than rooting and thus do more harm than good.  This problem grows even worse when the author is not Catholic.  The presentation becomes one of:  “this religion believes…, and that religion believes… and oh, by the way, the Catholic religion believes….”  These World Religion books don’t say “this is why this faith is in error, and the Catholic faith is the True faith of God.”  The religions are presented in a sterile fashion, almost as if they were choices on a menu.  In this era of “choices” this may leave the still-unformed student thinking he is free to pick and choose from among the plethora of religions presented before him.  Rather than learning about other faiths, students need to be taught how to defend their own faith, through Catholic apologetics—a feat that scant few students, if any, can currently accomplish.

5.1 Example of World Religions Book: World Religions: Voyage of Discovery is written by Jeffrey Brodd. A call to the publisher of this book confirmed that Mr. Brodd teaches religion at California State University.  Christianity is named in the Table of Contents.  But before we even get to Christianity, the student studies lengthy chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Shinto, Ancestors of the West (Zoroastrianism) and Judaism.  Finally, on page 223, we find out something about Christianity. Parents do not believe high school students are sufficiently formed in faith to sort through all these different faiths with objectivity, in what is to be their “Catholic” religion class. Because of their youth, World Religion can become the gust of wind which blows non-grounded students very far away from the Catholic faith and Catholic Truth.  If books on other religions are to be used in the Catholic religion class, then these books must clearly state why these other religions are in error.  Alternatively, supplemental written material is needed to provide this explanation.  Finally, other religions might be covered lightly, but not in so much depth.

5.2 Authors who Practice Mysticism: Another difficulty is found in Illustrated World’s Religions by Huston Smith; published by HarpeSanFrancisco.  Smith himself turned away from Christianity to mysticism to practice Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and Sufism.   There are 250 pages in his book.  One can’t presume him to be a big fan of the Catholic Church as only three pages (from 222 to page 224) are devoted to Roman  Catholicism—the One True Faith. 

5.3 Teaching Hinduism and Reincarnation: Our Catholic Faith: Living What We Believe (p. 134) starts off a section on “Hinduism and Reincarnation” which states: “Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religions, has a rich tradition espousing the sacredness of life, prayer, meditation, and spiritual disciplines.  It also teaches a belief in reincarnation.”  The book then does try to state what Catholics truly believe, but having begun with such a delightful description of Hinduism, the portrayal fails the reader. If the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not teach about Hinduism and Reincarnation, why is it necessary for the Catholic high school religion book to teach Hinduism and Reincarnation to Catholic high school students?   But if the religion book must teach Hinduism, then the book should clearly state that Hinduism teaches a “false belief in reincarnation.”  Students need to be taught that Hindus also wrongfully reverence and elevate things like cows.  The Catholic school religion book should refrain from extolling Hinduism’s “rich” traditions, most especially when those traditions involve reverencing cows.  

6. When Catholic Religion Books Reference Non-Catholic Sources:  In addition to using non-Catholic books, there are also problems when supposedly Catholic books use non-Catholic sources and references.  As an example, in Justice and Peace: Our Faith in Action, there are multiple non-Catholic references.  Page 276 sends people to a web-site for Spiritan Campus Ministry.  This ministry is not Catholic.  Page 147 gives a “Special Beatitudes” (e.g.” Blessed are you who stand beside us as we enter new and untried ventures, for our failures will be outweighed by the times when we surprise ourselves and you”) by Stan Carder in Committed Mercy.  It appears that neither the author nor the publisher (Baker Books) of Committed Mercy are Catholic.  Page 277 cites an odd prayer to our “Sovereign” from the psalms.

6.1 New Religious Humanists: The Catholic high school religion book Living Justice and Peace references the (non-Catholic) New Religious Humanists as its source for the writings on page 122.  These writings state:  No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche.  She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off his own leg.  One problem with this statement is that it is not the mother’s leg being gnawed off — it is the baby being killed.  Abortion is the destruction not of the mother’s leg, but of the baby’s entire  body.   

6.2 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Living Justice and Peace (page 202) contains an entire chapter on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, and a full section on “self-esteem.”  Maslow was Jewish, not Catholic.  He was a psychologist, not a theologian, and thus is hardly able to communicate Catholic teaching in a Catholic religion class.  He would not be able, for example, to communicate how one’s identity was with Christ, how we are a “holy people,” and that the remedy for most of our problems can be found in our Eucharistic Lord.

 It’s not that his writings might not be worthy reading for the high school student.  The question is why are Maslow’s writings in a Catholic religion book?  One big concern is that his concept of “self-esteem” has generally displaced the Catholic call to grow in holiness in young minds and in many adult minds as well.  If Maslow’s hierarchy is presented to students in a Catholic religion book, then a written explanation should be provided in the book of what is and is not Catholic about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  If this is not stated in the book, then students need a written clarification on this.  Failing that, it might be best to simply move Maslow’s needs from the religion book to the psychology book where it most rightfully belongs.  If Psychology books are not teaching from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, then why are religion books teaching from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?  Time spent learning psychology in the Catholic religion class is time spent not learning Catholic religion in the Catholic religion class.

6.3 Non-Catholic Resources Referenced by Catholic Books: If students are to embrace an authentically Catholic faith, they need authentically Catholic religion books to do that.  Authentically Catholic books need to reference material from authentically Catholic sources.  The following are names of some publishers whose resources were cited in the “Catholic” Religion book Living Justice and Peace.  It appears that none of the following publishers/publications are Catholic:

Simon and Schuster, Macmillan company, Conari press, Free Spirit Publishing, Fellowship, Christian Science Monitor, The American Feminist, Stone Soup for the World, Bantam Doubleday Dell, The New Religious Humanists, Salt of the Earth, Newsweek, Hope, The Chicago Reporter, Teaching Tolerance Magazine, Harper Collins Publishers, Witness, The Chronicle On Online, The Other Side, Guideposts for Teens, The Sierra Club, People magazine, International Herald Tribune and New Society Publishers.

7. Conclusion and Recommendations:  Books in the Catholic school have introduced students to many non-Catholic teachings including Marxism, Communism, Liberation Theology, Buddhism, the Pro-homosexual agenda, as well as New Age, Psychological or Philosophical approaches to Religion. 

7.1 Need to Ground Students in Doctrinal Truths. Parents have a right to expect that Catholic Schools will strive to ground students in doctrinal Catholic truths.  Toward that end, parents respectfully request Diocesan oversight of the materials (books and videos) in Catholic schools.  Parents request that Catholic School religion books be written by Catholic authors who truly love the Magisterium.  The reason for this is simple.  Parents want their children to love the Catholic faith.  If an author is to communicate this love of faith to the student then the author must have that love himself.  One cannot give what one does not have.  No author can love the faith and not be a Catholic because if the author loved the faith then the author would join the faith and thus become a Catholic author.  If the author does not love the faith enough to join it, then the author does not love the faith enough to have his writings taught to Catholic high schools students in a Catholic religion class.

7.2 Need for Authentic Catholic Devotions.  To further ground students in the faith, parents also respectfully request that students be taught to pray authentic  Catholic devotions (see links for you-tube videos below) during religion class, and that authentic Catholic prayer (as opposed to New Age meditations) become a part of the religion class itself.  Parents ask that New Age prayer and New Age teachings in Religion classes be stopped.   If Catholic students are to be guided in “meditation,” then Catholic parents request that their children be guided in “meditating” on the mysteries of the Rosary.  If students cannot meditate on the Rosary, if they do not even know the mysteries of the Rosary, if they are regularly missing Mass on Sunday, is it prudent to direct them to meditate “like St. Teresa of Avila?” (Keeping in mind that St. Teresa’s contemplative prayer was only given to her after years of suffering and growing in holiness.)   

7.3 Need to Instill Love of Country and Direct teaching against Atheistic Communism and Marxism:  Catholic high school students need direct, solid and truthful teaching on the evils of Socialism, atheistic Communism and Karl Marx.  Efforts need to be made to instill a love of country and of Church in the Catholic high school student.  It is important to teach what America and our Church have done right, and to counter a growing sense of cynicism toward God and country by the student.   Students should be proud of both their country and their faith.  Parents request that social justice books, which have done more harm than good to the faith of Catholic students, be replaced with an authentic Catholic history book or other authentic Catholic books.

7.4 Recommend Remedies: It seems that traditionally when books are in error, the authors are given the chance to re-write the books. The books are re-written only for new or the same errors to be found.  Is it wise to trust authors whose understanding of the faith is flawed to lay the foundation of faith for our children?  Parents do object that authors and publishers, who have already led their children astray, would be given yet more chances to lead their children astray yet further.  This is especially true given that there are already authentic Catholic books for high school students, written by authors who genuinely know and love our Catholic faith.  These books can be easily previewed in advance.   Examples of these authentic Catholic books are as follows:

  • Didache four-year series: Introduction to Catholicism, Understanding The Scriptures, The History of the Church, Our Moral Life in Christ  (recommended by Cardinal Francis George, Dr. Scott Hahn and EWTN)
  • Ignatius Teaching Bible, the new Youth Catechism recommended by Pope Benedict, The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Vatican Approved Family Catechism by the Apostolate for Family Consecration
  • Mass and the Sacraments by Father John Laux, The Lamb’s Supper by Dr. Scott Hahn
  • Understanding the Mass by Rev. Maynard Kolodziej, OFM
  • Following Christ in the World by Anne Carroll
  • Catholic Apologetics and Catholic Morality both by Father John Laux
  • Papal Encyclical on Humane Vitae and Divini Redemptoris (on Atheistic Communism) and Ecclesia de Eucharista.

Recommended books and movies on the lives of the Saints are:

  • St. John Bosco,
  • St. Maria Goretti,
  • St. Terese of Lisieux,
  • St. Patrick.

Every Catholic high school student can now be catechized directly by a member of the Roman Curia for free.  The Apostolate for Family Consecration has an on-line Catechism with videos of Francis Cardinal Arinze teaching the complete Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The following links and you-tube videos can help students to defend and understand their faith and learn traditional devotions which are generally absent or lacking from the modern Catholic high school:


[i] …This modern revolution… exceeds in amplitude and violence anything yet experienced in the preceding persecutions launched against the Church.  Entire peoples find themselves in danger of falling back into a barbarism worse than that which oppressed the great part of the world at the coming of the Redeemer… This all too imminent danger… is Bolshevistic and atheistic Communism, which aims at upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian Civilization….

Ever since the days when groups of “intellectuals” were formed in an arrogant attempt to free civilization from the bonds of morality and religion, Our predecessors overtly and explicitly drew the attention of the world to the consequences of the dechristianization  of human society… The doctrine of modern Communism… is… based on the principles… advocated by Marx… According to this doctrine there is in the world only one reality, matter, the blind forces of which evolve into plant, animal and man.  Even human society is nothing but a phenomenon and form of matter, evolving in the same way… In such a doctrine… there is no room for the idea of God. ..

Communism… strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse.  There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.  Communists hold the principle of absolute equality, rejecting all hierarchy and divinely-constituted authority, including of parents…

[ii]Divini Redemptoris the Encyclical on Atheistic communism (1-10)

[iii] The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: The Fatima Message

[iv] ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVITO THE BISHOPS OF THE SOUTH III AND SOUTH IV REGIONS OF THE BRAZILIAN BISHOP’S CONFERENCE ON THEIR “AD LIMINA” VISIT Saturday, 5 December 2009

[v] Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfill… Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about “that man should not perish, but have eternal life.” Precisely by means of his Cross he must strike at the roots of evil, planted in the history of man and in human souls. Precisely by means of his Cross he must accomplish the work of salvation. This work, in the plan of eternal Love, has a redemptive character.

St Paul tells us: ‘I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.’ A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering. ..  we ask all you who suffer to support us.  We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity.  In the terrible battle between forces of good and evil… may your suffering in union with the cross of Christ be victorious. 

[vi] Sample social justice exercises: The social justice book will typically provide “actions” for students to take.  For example, one social justice book (LJ&P) stated “Working with others from your class, brainstorm some specific ways to build more inclusive structures at the local, national or global level.” (LJ&P 166); another asked “If you were in charge of an ad campaign designed to address the problem of world hunger, what slogan would you use?  Who would your audience be for this ad campaign?  What would be the rationale for using your slogan?” (J&P 201)  While the student is busy building “inclusive” structures, or designing an “ad” campaign, he likely knows next to nothing, and is learning nothing, of the True faith.

[vii] North American Academy of Liturgy: memorial


  • “If the author does not love the faith enough to join it, then the author does not love the faith enough to have his writings taught to Catholic high school students in a Catholic religion class.”

    That sentence sums up the entire problem. Even the materials for my 7th-grade R.E. students, which carry the Imprimatur, are pretty fluffy. You could present everything solid from the whole workbook in one or two sessions, then spend the rest of the year learning the Catechism, the Rosary, and other essential elements of our Faith.

    These books, even when they are written with good intentions, try too hard to be “relevant,” when the most relevant things by far are the Eucharist, prayer, and the Magisterium’s teachings. A good catechist will present solid food in ways that are understandable to kids.

    It’s not impossible, but it does mean the catechist can’t take shortcuts with his own formation, or neglect his own sinfulness, or spend too little time in prayer himself. I think the spiritual shortcomings of authors and catechists are at the heart of the problem.

  • Tarheel

    I will need to go back and read the article one more time but, one question does come to mind. Should there not be an ‘Impratuer’ (forgive my misspelling) in the front of these books?

  • Tarheel

    That makes me wonder if the reviewing and approving authority actually reviewed them? And wasn’t there a similar case in Canada or Ireland a year or so ago along these same lines?

    And then I must ask if the bishop where these books are being used is aware of these issues?

  • Mary Kochan

    Yes, the books used in relgion class should have an imprimatur. And some of these books have one. The bishop has been notified and it appears action is being taken. Parents need to look at their individual child’s religion book.

  • nickkname

    What about Catholic school books that reference the Rabbinic Writings in order to show Jesus’ roots in Judaism, i.e., He is really the Messiah and not a fake?

  • Unfortunately the Imprimatur only guarantees that a book is free from error. It’s no guarantee that the book is particularly worthwhile. If the book takes 200 pages to explain that “water is wet,” it is free from error, but it hasn’t said very much. That’s the case with the materials I have been using in my class. They’re 100% Catholic, but so is margarine.

  • It is becoming more difficult to find books with an imprimatur or nihil obstat even in the catechetical market place. There is no happy medium, it seems. There are books that are so dry and boring that you lose the interest of your intended audience, or the other extreme of seeking only to be “relevant” at the expense of true catechesis. The bright side of much of it, however, is that it is at least better than the catechesis I received growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s. There were many years when we had no books, no scripture, just the kumbaya attitude. Fortunately parents are getting involved and taking back the faith from those who would tear it down from within.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Technically speaking, the nihil obstat is an indication that something is free from error (lit. “nothing obstructs” or “nothing stands in the way of”). The imprimatur is a philosophically positive expression. It is third-person passive subjunctive of imprimere, meaning to imprint (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/imprimatur#Latin). As a subjunctive, it implies a command form of the verb; as a passive, the command is softened. Thus, the English word, imprimatur, literally means “it may be printed.” It is in this context that we get the more familiar, “let it be printed.”

    Philosophically speaking, imprimatur does not imply nihil obstat. The reason is the logical hole left by one or the other. Scott Hahn, for example, is on record as stating that his theological exercises on the edge (so to speak) of Catholic doctrine should not be taken as a restatement of doctrine itself. This is what a good theologian always says. Theologians are supposed to think with the Church, not against it, but there is a lot of room within the Church where doctrinal questions are unsettled. To affirm an imprimatur on a theological discussion of unsettled questions is a good idea; to affirm a nihil obstat on the same discussion is presumptuous. Thus Church might well take a stand on the questions in the discussion in the future, and that stand might be in opposition to the perspective offered in the current theological discussion. The same kinds of logical holes can apply if a nihil obstat is offered without an imprimatur. PrairieHawk’s observation about a 200-page treatise that concludes merely that “water is wet” is one of the best examples to offer. You can have very bad writing that is free from error, and you might not want to affirm that it ought to be published (em>imprimatur) just because the writing is so bad. (Perhaps such should apply to this droning post!)

  • Dear Dad,

    Can I have the car keys? (Just kidding.)

    Thank you for clarifying the complex wrinkles of the Imprimatur vs. the Nihil Obstat. I tend to use “Imprimatur” to mean both, since a book usually carries both, but as you’ve said, they aren’t really the same.

    My observation is that while pablum doesn’t really do any harm, it represents a precious opportunity lost. These kids are in RE for maybe 25 hours a year, and it’s critical that we feed them as much good formation as we possibly can during that time. We don’t have time to waste on fluffy, feel-good affirmations, whether they’re strictly doctrinally true or not.