“To Teach as Jesus Did” was released by the NCCB (now USCCB) in November, 1972; the document was the first effort of the American hierarchy to bring the attitudinal and pastoral dimensions of Vatican II into the United States Catholic educational schema. There are good intentions here, some strong endorsements, encouragement of creative ventures, occasional analyses of structural problems, recognition of changing times and escalating troubles. But as in most projects the devil is in the details, of which there are precious few in those particular areas of concern then and today: the increasing marginalization of religious belief and values from contemporary America.
I just happened to read “Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Catholic Church” (2014) prior to reviewing this document. “Young Catholic America” is a magnificent research venture into the present day faith life of Catholic young adults (18-23); it is also one of most depressing glimpses of the failure of the Catholic formational effort, so much so that I got to wondering: could the bishops in 1972 have written (and more importantly, acted) in ways that might have averted or mitigated the estrangement of Catholic truth among the young, and their parents for that matter, who are also the product of the post-1972 era. In many, though not all instances, the answer is a qualified yes.
The opening of TTAJD expresses hope that all Catholic education will be judged on its success in bringing men (sic) to holiness. Its most famous paragraph is arguably 14, which establishes the three-legged stool of formation: (1) presentation of Christian truth (2) in a vibrant communal setting (3) toward an energetic life of service to the world. This formula survives to the present day as an organizational principle in Catholic education. The authors seem to understand the importance of parents in the formation of their children, and they discuss it at length. Remember that community and family-based programming was still on the formative drafting table: old timers will remember the seminal catechetical work of Christiane Brusselmans, for example. It is interesting that the bishops cite the initiation sacraments and Penance as important moments of parental contact with the process (para. 25) and return to adult education in paras. 45-50.
Once entering pastoral waters, the bishops cannot avoid addressing parochial division regarding what we called then “the new theology.” (paras. 53-59) Think Common Core for a parallel. Those “vibrant communities” of para. 14 were presently agonizing over monumental liturgical and theological change. Figurative hand to hand combat, even in rectories, was not uncommon. A historical argument could be made that the greatest educational project of the twentieth century Church, the implementation of Vatican II, was a challenge for which few in the hierarchy or anywhere else were equipped to negotiate smoothly. A unity of parish faith and practice could no longer be assumed.
The bishops turned to the call and challenges facing Catholics in colleges (Catholic, private, state, commuter, etc.) at several juncture. Regarding younger students, the bishops make it clear that Catholic elementary and secondary schools are the preferred formative experience (para. 84). But by 1972 the crest of the Catholic school explosion was well along the way of subsiding. And here, I believe, is the most critical strategic shortcoming of the document, an absence of critical analysis of the sociology and business of institutional education. Based upon this document, one can only assume that the hierarchy had made up its mind to accept the exodus from Catholic schools as inevitable, impossible to stem or reverse. Lest we forget, this is a major paradigm shift from the 1880’s Plenary Council of bishops in Baltimore.
This abdication put the bishops in the unenviable position of trumpeting the glories of CCD, which is one of the true “emperor’s new clothes” vignettes of contemporary American Catholic life. The bishops would logically have to argue that the formational professionalism of Catholic schools is matched successfully by after-school, weekend, or “released time” programs to justify their decision. (Even today the number of professionals who maintain this incredulous proposition continues to surprise me.) Thus, the reader is treated to the supposition in para. 88 that one of the untapped advantages of CCD programs is their voluntary nature. As any unpaid religious education will tell you today, the only things voluntary are the instructor’s time and labor, and the poor attendance pattern of students. In 1972 the bishops called for a number of reforms yet to be acknowledged: Connectedness of CCD to Catholic schools (para. 93) including a call for “common funding;” development of parish educational centers (para. 94); funding for in-service training of religious education personnel and appropriate salaries for administrative positions (para. 97). In many instances, this would amount to a “dual system,” so to speak, of staff and buildings, which might lead a consultant to ask in 1972, why not reinforce your system already in place rather than embark upon a costly bifurcation that stood little chance of success in the first place? In any event, the monies for both tracks were frequently woefully short of this call as forty years would show.
TTAJD is a testament to the influence of the unbridled hopes and creative enthusiasm of Catholic intellectuals of the left, some of whom were chronically disenchanted by the hegemony of the Catholic school systems. To a degree this includes religious teaching communities, and para. 146 questions why religious were leaving the teaching profession, specifically women religious! The document reports (concedes?) that most Catholic school education in the future would be conducted by the laity, and equally of note, that lay persons would eventually assume administrative positions (para. 147).
“To Teach as Jesus Did” and its multiple successors stand as an indispensable lesson for all pastoral documents: map the terrain and gather intelligence before announcing a battle plan. Piety, enthusiasm and hope are indispensable to the Church, but they are no excuse for the losses in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
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