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Dissenting from the Dissenters

Minnesota Homeschoolers Brace for Archdiocesan Betrayal?

Michael J. Matt POSTED: 9/5/12
Editor, The Remnant  

( As part of an ongoing effort to uphold orthodoxy here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Archbishop John Nienstedt, who's under significant attack of late for his courageous support of a constitutional amendment opposing same-sex marriage here in Minnesota, has issued a Clergy Bulletin on the Sacrament of Penance and the Celebration of First Holy Communion which includes many excellent directives, including the requirement that First Confession take place before First Holy Communion, that confessionals be outfitted with fixed grilles to protect the anonymity of penitents, and that at least one parent attend Sunday Mass weekly as a prerequisite for a child to receive the sacraments.

In addition, this Bulletin--co-signed by Jennifer Haselberger, Chancellor for Canonical Affairs--stipulates that homeschooling parents must enroll their children in a parish Penance and First Holy Communion preparatory program.  Given the entrenched heterodoxy which Archbishop Nienstedt is attempting to uproot in this archdiocese, however, many area homeschoolers are concerned over the potential ramifications of some of these new directives, enforced as of August 1, 2012. 

Specifically, the following requirements have home-schoolers on edge:

For the Sacrament of Penance

- The child must have completed the approved sacramental preparation program in use at the parish or institution where the sacrament will be received.

-  All candidates for the sacrament of penance, even those who are home-schooled, must be enrolled in a parish process of preparation for the reception of the sacrament of penance. They must participate in all of its communal dimensions (ritual, prayer services, etc.) and any other requirements determined by the parish.

For the Celebration of First Holy Communion

- A child must be currently participating in a program of systematic, approved catechesis either in a Catholic school or through a parish sacramental preparation program.  A child who is receiving religious education as part of an overall home school program must follow a text that is currently listed on the conformity list approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

- ...all candidates for reception of First Holy Communion, even those who are homeschooled, must be enrolled in a parish process of preparation for the reception of First Holy Communion.  They must participate in all of its communal dimensions (ritual, prayers services, etc.) and any other requirements determined by the pastor.

The Archbishop's pastoral concern here seems nothing less than laudable. He's obviously attempting to correct a pattern of heterodoxy by establishing diocesan norms for preparing children for the reception of the sacraments.  To do this successfully, any bishop would naturally have to set standards and even insist on approved texts according to which first communicants could be accurately tested. 

No problem here, of course, unless more is to be read into the words “must be enrolled in a parish process of preparation”.  What exactly does this mean?  Area homeschoolers aren't sure.  If it means that parishioners educating their children at home would be permitted to set up their own preparation courses so long as they use Church-approved texts and agree to attend the practice sessions where first communicants would learn how to line up, when to walk down the aisle, how to make the responses, etc., there would be little cause for concern.

In that case the only issue for homeschoolers would be to ascertain which USCCB text best augments the home catechetics program already in use.  A cursory glance at the Conformity Listings of Catechetical Texts approved by the USCCB as sufficiently faithful to the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes titles published by Ave Maria Press, Ignatius Press, RCL Benziger, Our Sunday Visitor, even one by the Leaflet Missal Company.  I see no mention of the Baltimore Catechism, of course, but that doesn’t mean it can't be used by Tradition-minded homeschooling parents who would simply notify their pastors that they will be using an older text. (Surely, the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis wouldn’t attempt to ban the Baltimore Catechism and the Catechism of the Council of Trent from its list of approved texts for religious education.)

So obviously, an explanatory note is needed, since some families are concerned that they will be required not only to nix the old standard catechisms but also to formally enroll their children in Faith formation programs at the parish level--something which would constitute a serious overreach on the part of the archdiocese, especially when the Faith formation programs are often staffed by well-intentioned folks who are themselves either woefully undereducated in the Faith or expected to tweak their catechetics in accord with the heterodox opinions of pastors or Directors of Religious Education who are progressives, liberals and oftentimes at odds with Archbishop Nienstedt's own reforms. His defense of marriage initiative, comes to mind. 

In addition, the homeschoolers are arguing that there's good reason why the archdiocese requires careful screening and criminal background checks for any person applying for a teaching position in a Catholic parish. We’ve all been bruised and broken by the clerical sex scandals in our Church, and, quite frankly, many home educators have elected not to take any more chances with the innocence and wellbeing of their children. Who can blame them, after all the scandal in the Catholic Church in recent decades!

A few relatively mild examples from this writer’s own purview of experience come to mind, which suggest such concerns may not be altogether unjustified.

One of my own children was baptized by a priest in good standing in the archdiocese who, unbeknownst to my wife and me at the time, had been caught soliciting male prostitutes at a local park. He has since been laicized, we were told, but that doesn't lessen the hurt or the sense of betrayal.   

In one of the parishes in which we lived over the past fifteen years the pastor was quite candid about having lost his faith completely and yet was still allowed to carry on, despite increasingly bizarre manifestations of his heterodoxy. Would it now become necessary for homeschoolers to entrust their children’s souls to the "care" of this tragic man and his team? 

In another parish, the First Grade teacher—the lady responsible for training all first communicants at the parish school—was not even a baptized Catholic and in fact was cohabitating with her boyfriend at the time—common knowledge even among her little pupils. Would a parent now be considered a renegade if he elected not to place the souls of his little ones in the hands of that young lady, especially at such a critical stage of their Faith formation?

Such unfortunate aberrations in Catholic parishes are no longer mere anomalies, which is why so many Catholics have decided to educate their children at home. They have good reasons for doing so--reasons that have everything to do with a parent's sacred responsibility before God to ensure that the Faith is instilled in his children. 

In an effort to safeguard our own children's innocence, my wife and I (like so many homeschooling parents) are motivated by Pope Pius XI's encyclical Divini Illius Magistri in which classroom sex education is formally condemned. In many if not most diocesan parishes these days, however, a form of classroom sex-ed has become the norm, and oftentimes a two-year Theology of the Body indoctrination course is required in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation.  The lay authors of the texts used for these courses may claim to present authentic adaptations of Pope John Paul's teaching on the subject, but do they really? Some of the texts we've looked at seem to revel in graphic images and frank discussions of sexuality that would emotionally scar our children and are wholly antithetical to the norms of chastity which were instilled in all Catholics by the old-time nuns and priests  just four decades ago and in this very same archdiocese.

There is a tremendous amount of confusion in the Church today, and, as some of us see it, until it is more or less sorted out, parents have not only the right but also the duty to teach their children at home and according to their Catholic consciences which were formed in Catholic homes and Catholic schools long before the present crisis in the Church ever erupted.

Pope Pius XI defended that parental right in no uncertain terms in Divini Illius Magistri: "By nature parents have a right to the training of their children but with this added duty that the education and instruction of the child be in accord with the end for which by God's blessing it was begotten. Therefore it is the duty of parents to make every effort to prevent any invasion of their rights in this matter, and to make absolutely sure that the education of their children remain under their own control in keeping with their Christian duty, and above all to refuse to send them to those schools in which there is danger of imbibing the deadly poison of impiety."

We remain hopeful that Archbishop Nienstedt will not insist on across-the-board conformity with these new directives, especially in parishes where parents would essentially be forced to have their children “imbibe the deadly poison” not only of impiety but also of heterodoxy and scandal.  Surely the Archbishop knows that faithful Catholics who have accepted the monumental task of educating their children at home can also be counted on to demonstrate that their first communicants are properly catechized according to the teachings of the Catholic Church and with the approval of their priests, whether or not they happen to reside in the same territorial parish.

In our case, we drive 45 minutes (one way) every Sunday to attend an archdiocesan-approved Latin Mass.  Will our priest be allowed to continue testing our children as he has always done, according to training programs based on the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Baltimore Catechism, the Catechism of the St. Pius X or the new Catechism of the Catholic Church?  If not, then how would this be any different than the forced violation of the Catholic conscience which the Obama Administration has in mind with its HHS Mandate?

Isn't there enough government intrusion into our lives these days without our own Church getting into the act?

We respectfully ask Archbishop Nienstedt for a clarification on this, lest there should ensue a misunderstanding in application that will surely lead to an immediate migration of tradition-minded Catholic homeschoolers into the chapels operated by the Society of St. Pius X.

Would this be an extreme reaction on their part? No, not when considering their options. What else is a homeschooling family to do if they happen to hail from a dissenting Catholic church such as St. Joan of Arc, St. Frances Cabrini, the Basilica of St. Mary's (the Archbishop's own co-cathedral) or any of the 15 or so parishes shepherded by priests who are reportedly at odds even with the Archbishop's own defense of marriage initiative?

Homeschoolers are waiting to see how these new directives will be enforced, with many remaining confident His Excellency will side with the faithful who while assuming the responsibility of educating their children at home, nevertheless laud the Archbishop’s leadership where the defense of orthodoxy, Christian marriage and the proper education of children are concerned.

One final thought: If this home-educating father of seven children lived in St. Frances Cabrini or Gichiwaa Kateri parish here in Minnesota,  I would grievously fail in my duty before God and my children were I ever to comply with any directive that mandated I place my children in religious education programs approved by the likes of Father Mike Tegeder (pictured below)—the notorious dissenter from Church teaching on marriage and morality, whom Archbishop Nienstedt himself has had to reprimand.

If you were a father, Your Excellency, would you place the souls of your little children in the hands of this guy? 

So why would you ask me to?

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