From Mrs Daphne McLeod SIR — Although I couldn't agree with every contribution, I read your panel discussion on the Second Vatican Council (December 2) with great interest. I was delighted with Christina Farrell's comments, as she succeeded in highlighting the key issue which still remains unresolved 40 years after the Council ended, namely the religious instruction given in Catholic schools and parishes today.
We all agree that religious instruction in Western Europe and throughout the English-speaking countries, changed dramatically in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most Catholics accept that, judging by the disastrous results, this was not a change for the better, but not many of us realise that these revolutionary changes were not decreed by the Second Vatican Council at all.
Histories of the Council show that the Council Fathers spent only two mornings debating the Schema on Catholic Education, one of the shortest documents presented to them. During their discussion, as the document on education, Gravissimum Educationis, confirms, they sorted out various administrative problems pertaining to some countries but said nothing at all about revising either the method or the content of religious instruction. This is because they were perfectly well satisfied with the way the Faith was being taught; indeed, Cardinal Spellman of New York remarked that "never in the history of the Church have we had such a well instructed laity". Nobody demurred because the other bishops knew that was true — then.
The changes came after the Council when, all the bishops having returned to their dioceses, Pope Paul VI created five post-conciliar commissions to implement the decrees of the Council. He instructed the commissions that they were "to adhere closely to the tenor of the solemnly approved and promulgated documents". So they were merely empowered to implement decisions already made by the Council and had no legislative authority whatsoever to make any changes.
Unfortunately the chairman of the Education Commission, Fr Johannes Hofinger SJ, who shared Fr Jungmann's disdain for the orthodox interpretation of some doctrine and for proper teaching methods, chose to ignore this safeguard. Selecting like-minded people from every country, he set up study weeks around the world which taught a new, unsound version of the Faith to be passed on to the priests, catechists and RE teachers in their countries (see Catechisms and Controversies by Mgr Michael Wrenn, published by
The decisions of the Educational Commission have devastated the Church in this country and in others. Although some bishops in America and Australia have restored sound teaching with excellent results, the majority of our children and young adults are sadly ignorant of the beautiful truths of the Catholic faith. This "widespread religious ignorance" was referred to by Cardinal Ratzinger when he set up the committee to compile the Compendium to the Catechism.
It was also mentioned repeatedly by speakers at last year's Synod of Bishops. Leonardo Casco, president of the Family Alliance in Honduras, summed it up when he said: "Huge numbers of Catholics today have no understanding of the doctrinal principles of the faith they profess. It is now essential to give our lay faithful basic doctrinal, ethical, and moral formation and to teach them the importance of belonging to the unique Church of Christ, of being a Catholic."
Perhaps the 40th anniversary of Vatican II is a good opportunity to start following the decrees the Second Vatican Council actually agreed and dropping the totally unauthorised encumbrances which have caused so much harm. Let's make a start with religious instruction by running sound courses on the faith in parishes and retraining teachers and catechists to follow the Catechism of the Catholic Church faithfully.
Yours faithfully, DAPHNE MCLEOD Great Bookham, Surrey