Truth on its Merits
Si,-1 am profoundly moved, but none the less highly amused, that the towering rage of Mr.
Burke should fall upon me in his third and, I hope for the good of the controversy, his final letter.
Mr. Burke is a little confused in his ideas, especially about authority. He says I am " obviously an authority on the teaching of the Church." That is an honour, Sir, ICJ which I dare not lay claim. He asks if I am an authority on teaching. I should have thought the question would be am I an authority on teaching the Catechism ? On both questions I think I can Nay I speak with some authority because I speak with knowledge and truthfulness. Ear be it from Pie to claim to be " an ex
pert " on these matters. I leave such a claim to Mr. Burke.
Mr. Burke issues a challenge. He thinks it is a sort of " Heads I win, tails you lose " challenge. But once again Mr. Burke is wrong. A good teacher puts a good question. To Mr, Burke's challenge. and to most of his specious, overlapping ques tions I answer yes. They are so beside the point that even if I answer no to some or all, the truth of what I say remains. Truth is the conformity of the mind with reality. It stands on its own merits not on my titles. Can truth itself have no hearing just because it happens to he uttered by the man-in-the-street, or Balsam's ass. or babes and sucklings?
I have counted at least 14 errors in Mr. Burke's last letter. Yet 1 cannot presume on your courtesy to allow me to reply to each in your columns. For indeed I am of the opinion that this controversy has strayed from its initial purpose. It should have issued forth long ago in something practical and useful, and not go wrangling over matters in which nobody is interested. I must, however, point out a few of Mr. Burke's latest and most palpable errors; as for the rest 1 hope he will give me the opportunity to do so in private.
He says that I "accuse the teachers of misusing the Catechism and assume the need for reform of C'ate chism presentation." I have read and re-read my betters and see there is no truth in the former accusation.
stand by the latter but do not assume it. I tried in very brief, to give an objective presentation of the purpose, Ilse and limitations of the Catechism in our schools. and rightly criticised those who have tried to say clever and startling things about the Catechism. regardless of the implications. Mr. Burke flatters himself if he thinks those who were thus criticised are representative of the Teaching Body.
Again, Mr. Burke says Mr. Gaffney used the words " fossilised pedantry" but riot in relation to the %hole Catechism, " in his context he refers to one question," Mr. Burke saes. But I cannot agree. I have before me 1HE CA1MM IC HERALD, February 9, 1951. and there Mr. Gaffney is reported as saying in the paper he gave, entitled " Blessed are the Parrots ": " In the majority of dioceses. . . ten year olds must learn off by heart such fossilised pedantry as the following," and then follows Q. 204 with its answer which includes a well-known and frequently used quotation from Romans XIII 1 and 2. Here was Mr. Gaffney's observation : "Now 1 submit that that answer and most of the others too (italics mine) mean as much to the average child as the information about sporangiophores means to the adult, and that their Catechism answers are equally sterile and fossilised." And to quote Mr. Gaffney from the Universe; " our English Catechism has a stiff and cumbersome Illth century vocabulary ehich moves along the arterial road of the city of Clod (its theology) with the difficulty of a hi-centenarian clutching at its crutches of explanations."
Is this referring to one question ? do not think so. It is thoughtless, dangerous talk, and impossible to defend. And I ask readers to judge what weight they can give to Mr. Burke's arguments and to beware too of his facility for edging his opponent into the poeition he himself has vacated because Mr. Burke found it untenable. Such tricks are amateurish in a controversy, but they sometimes deceive readers who depend on memory alone to recall the finer points already made.
I feel, however, that I should place on record that there has been too much ranting over the exaggerated and unguarded statements Mr. Gaffney made, resulting in missing the positive and practical approach so necessary in this controversy. If 1 may be permitted to say so I think Mr. Gaffney's interest in this question is eminently a practical one, taken right from his every day job of work and it is this : Whatever lapsed and leakage may be or not be is of course important, but not quite the question here. but Catechism Reform is a means we have at hand and if we use it we can do something practical and positive day in day out towards plugging the " leakage " in that spot which is right under our nose. Mr. Gaffney has a right to use the word cause in the popular sense, and few philosophers will readily subscribe to Fr. Geary's definition of cause, Mr. Gaffney has the right too, to use
leakage " in its acquired and one may almost say technical meaning, and no amount of research work in the Oxford Dictionary will change that.
But Mr. Burke says I "dismiss the problem of Catechism Reform." This indeed is a strange saying since my first letter ended thus: " All this to voice my suggestion : " I. Could a competent authority, without abbreviating. simplify the Catechism where necessary ?
" 2. Could we have on a National or Diocesan scale refresher courses for teachers with a view to being religious educators ?"
And there. Sir, I leave it, doubting very much if official simplification of the Catechism alone meets the problem, gets at the brain of the octopus, because good teachers have since been simplifying it according to the years and ability of their children, yet the octopus remains. But if it is thought necessary, if it is partly the solution or helps in the solution of the problem of leakage I am all for it.
Many other errors has Mr. Burke made which are not corrected in this letter, for if they were THE CATHOLIC HERALD itself would not contain the letters that should be written.
D. J. RYAN (Rev.). SL Mary's, The Mount, Walsall.