Catechisms & Big Business

There is some controversy surrounding the recent purchase of Saxon Math by Harcourt since Harcourt is a supporter of Planned Parenthood. In September 2004, Catholic World Report published an article I wrote on the review process the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has of catechetical texts. What I found in researching this article was the amount of influence these big companies have over the context of the books.

This article was on the Catholic World News site, but since Phil Lawler took over completely and is no longer editor of CWR, the article is off the web, so I thought I would post it here. I don’t remember what the article was titled and what you see here is not exactly what was published since I have the unedited version. Parents, do you know what catechism your children are reading?

That question has concerned many people since the end of the Second Vatican Council. It is well-known that after the Council catechetical texts were drastically revised to reflect “the spirit of the Council.” Those revisions meant out with doctrine and in with fuzzy concepts of community, self-esteem, “God made me special,” and even sex education.

Finally, a year after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1993, the then-National Conference of Catholic Bishops started a Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. One of the tasks the committee assigned itself early on, according to Msgr. Daniel Kutys, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who is deputy secretary for catechesis at the USCCB, was that of reviewing catechetical texts to see how they were doing in passing on the faith.

After reviewing texts for a year, there were 10 areas where catechetical texts were seriously deficient which then-chairman Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, of Indianapolis found:
* the Trinity and the Trinitarian structure of Catholic beliefs and teachings;
* the centrality of Christ in salvation history and his divinity;
* the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings;
* a distinctively Christian anthropology;
* God ‘s initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action;
* the transforming effects of grace;
* presentation of the sacraments;
* original sin and sin in general;
* the Christian moral life;
* eschatology

In other words, catechetical texts were not handing on the Catholic faith as it has been known over 2,000 years. That report was issued in 1997. Fast forward six years to 2003 and hear what Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans had to say at the November USCCB meeting about high school catechetical texts:
* “Some of the texts found to be inadequate are relativistic in their approach to the Church and to faith…”
* “Our young people are not learning what we know and believe is based on objective truth revealed to us by God…”
* “The sacramental theology which our young people are being taught is also often seriously flawed…”
* “Moreover, moral teaching, like faith teaching, may be presented using tentative language, implying that morality is a matter of opinion and personal choice…”
* “Other problems which commonly recur include a studied avoidance of revealed proper names or personal pronouns for the Persons in the Blessed Trinity…”
* “The christology in texts may be unbalanced with an overemphasis on the humanity of Jesus at the expense of His divinity. Sometimes the treatment of the Holy Spirit is either missing or flawed…”
* “The interpretation of Sacred Scripture tends to rely almost exclusively on the historical-critical method and does not generally draw on the rich patristic and spiritual interpretation in the Church…”
* “The approach to the Church often overemphasizes the role of the community…”
* “In general, the high school texts are strong in their emphasis on the social mission of the Church and the moral responsibility that Catholics have in this area. The social teaching, however, is not always grounded in the divine initiative of the Holy Spirit related to personal moral teaching or to eschatological realities.”

In other words, high school catechetical texts still are not handing on the Catholic faith as it has been known over 2,000 years.

The review process was developed over four years. In it, a bishop and two others from a pool of theological and pastoral experts review a particular series that is voluntarily submitted by a publisher. The review will generally last three to six months. During that time, the team will evaluate the series from a protocol developed by the USCCB committee primarily based on the “In Brief” sections of the Catechism.

After the review, the texts are given one of three grades: found in conformity; could be found in conformity, but needs changes; and inadequate and must be rewritten.

Of the nearly 130 series and texts that have been submitted thus far, only about 10 have been given the “found in conformity” rating the first time through, according to Msgr. Kutys. The “vast majority” of others, he added, are in the second category. Around 15 percent of the material submitted is found to be completely inadequate and must be re-written. The grade school publishers, said Archbishop John Myers of Newark, have been “quite cooperative and are anxious to be found in conformity” since many dioceses are strict about what texts are used in their borders.

But “there has been more difficulty in getting publishers of high school series and high school texts on the same wavelength as the committee,” he said.

Voluntary and confidential
The entire process of review, though, is voluntary and marked by confidentiality. Publishers, he said, have the option to submit the material or not. The reason the bishops “wanted it voluntarily submitted is they didn’t want to review material that didn’t have a chance at being changed. The whole philosophy is that the publisher gives it to them and they’re looking for help in making it better if that was necessary.”

Which of those materials are rejected, he added, is confidential, as are the committee’s other proceedings. The only thing that is known publicly is a quarterly update of those texts that have been found to be in conformity, which is listed on the USCCB website.

When material is submitted, a review committee is formed of a volunteer bishop reviewer and two theologians who are familiar with catechesis both theologically and pastorally, Msgr. Kutys said.

Who the reviewers are is also confidential. The practical reason for that, Msgr. Kutys noted, is so publishing companies won’t be tempted to go to the bishops to ask them to evaluate the text before it’s officially submitted.

It also gives the reviewers the freedom to “speak their mind and say what needs to be said,” according to Archbishop Myers.

Additionally, the list of bishop reviewers changes as their own responsibilities change. For example, if a bishop is an auxiliary or has a smaller diocese and then is assigned as an ordinary or to a larger see, he might remove himself from the list of reviewers because of the new responsibilities.

Those texts which were found to be in conformity the first time through are not trumpeted. If a publisher decides to reveal how it received its “found in conformity” status, it must reveal the entire report, Msgr. Kutys said.

Such was the case with the Faith and Life series which was first produced by Catholics United for the Faith and published by Ignatius Press, but is now entirely owned by Ignatius. CUF was among the first groups to submit its texts for review, according to Eric Stoutz, the director of information services for the apologetic group based in Steubenville, Ohio. CUF developed the Faith and Life series in 1984, Stoutz said, because the head of the group at the time thought there wasn’t an adequate catechetical text out there.

The conformity review, Stoutz said, “was an excellent exercise they had us go through.” While the series was one of the few found to be in conformity the first time through, he said, there were suggestions made that they pay some more attention to social justice issues. “We were strong on credal issues,” he recalled, “but there was a suggestion that we work on the social concerns area.”

“They didn’t let us off with a completely free pass,” he commented.

The series has undergone another evaluation since Ignatius Press recently took over the copyright and made revisions to the texts. That new series is on the current conformity list. The review can also change some companies around, like William H. Sadlier, Inc. This is a family-owned group that has been in the business since the 1930’s. When their texts were put through the review process, they were rejected completely, one source said, an action which devastated the family, which is strongly Catholic. In fact, they nearly gave up completely. But Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., a friend of the family, encouraged them to try again. They did and their texts have now almost become the industry standard.

It’s not perfect
The review process has greatly improved catechetical texts, according to professional catechists who are considered orthodox Catholics. But two things need to be remembered, said a diocesan catechetical director who requested anonymity. First is that the review is rather “narrow” and focuses only on “if anything is against the Catechism” and does not look at age-appropriateness or methodology. No consideration is taken into account, for example, of the document from the Pontifical Council on the Family called The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

This comes into play, for instance, with what should be chastity education materials but what end up being sex education materials. Two series are notorious for this – Growing in Love from Harcourt Religion Publishers and the Benziger Family Life series. Both of these series teach the mechanics of sexual activity in fifth and seventh grades. But the bishops refused to review anything that had to do with physiology, biology, sociology or psychology, said Msgr. Kutys, since it has nothing to do with doctrine. So to respond to this, Harcourt and Benziger pulled their sex education stuff out of the old books and made them into separate books. That way the books dealing with doctrine got the approval, but not the sex education materials.

The second thing, the director said, is that a text found in conformity does not necessarily mean that it is an endorsement of the text, though some publishers have presented it as such. So while the text may conform, that doesn’t automatically make it a good text.

There are other issues as well. For instance, while there is a vast improvement in texts over what had been in place before, there is no requirement for bishops or pastors to use the newer texts since the review has no particular status in canon law, according to Msgr. Kutys.

Diocesan catechetical directors downplayed how much the old texts might still be getting used. Peter Ries, the director of catechetics in the Diocese of Lansing said publishers revise their series every five years. Those that are currently being marketed on the elementary school level have gone through the review process and been approved.

But not all of the old texts are gone, as one Minnesota parent recently discovered. Brian Gibson has two children in a Catholic school in a Minneapolis suburb. He had to withdraw them both from class because his parish is using the Benziger Family Life series. As he investigated, though, he discovered that the text is older than the text that is currently on the USCCB conformity listing.

What is being used, he said, is what one would expect to come from Planned Parenthood. Gibson should know. He’s the executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul, whose group pickets in front of the PP abortion clinic in St. Paul everyday.

The real problem
And that is where a real problem comes. Unlike Sadlier, or religious-owned publishing houses like Ignatius Press or Loyola Press, some of the most popular catechetical textbook imprints are owned by huge corporations. Benziger, for instance, is owned by McGraw-Hill, Brown-ROA was purchased by Harcourt and is now Harcourt Religion Publishers, and Silver Burdett Ginn is owned by Pearson Education.

McGraw-Hill is a huge company owning Business Week and Aviation Week magazines, Standard & Poor’s (including the stock tracking indexes of the S&P 500), a construction firm, four ABC-affiliated television stations in Colorado, California and Indiana, a health care publishing group and Platts, which deals with energy information services. This is all in addition to the book publishing end of things.

Harcourt is owned by a British conglomerate, Reed Elsevier Group, plc., which also owns Lexis-Nexis, the legal and media database company. And Pearson Education owns the publishing concern, McMillan.

What attracts many dioceses and parishes to these companies, say catechetical directors, is the fact that they have the money to service their clients very well by having all kinds of supplementary materials in video and DVD, giving workshops on using the curriculum and other such perks. But what is repulsive about them is that their companies support lifestyles that are the antithesis of Gospel teachings. McGraw-Hill, for instance, pays “benefits to people in sexual immorality,” said Tom Strobhar, chairman of Life Decisions International. What he finds ironic is that the investment guidelines the USCCB publishes do not even include looking at these kinds of benefits when an investor is evaluating a particular company. Nor do they warn against companies involved in pornography, Stobhar said.

McGraw-Hill also publishes college textbooks for women’s studies programs which invariably promote Planned Parenthood.

Perhaps, though, Harcourt is even more dangerous in this area. In 1994, Harcourt bought catechetical textbook publisher Brown-ROA. It was an era, said Sr. M. Johanna Paruch, FSGM, a catechetics professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, when small companies were being bought by larger ones for the sake of survival.

Brown-ROA was already controversial for their New Creation sex education series, she said. But since then, Harcourt has published Growing in Love. Its use has stirred controversy particularly in upstate New York and some have even requested that Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB, of Dubuque, Iowa, remove his imprimatur from it.

Harcourt also does a large business with Catholic schools on regular school textbooks, said spokesman Rick Blake, something they’ve been doing for years.

But beyond this, Harcourt also published in 1999 A Clinician’s Guide to Medical and Surgical Abortion, “the first clinical reference on abortion practice to be published in the United States in over fifteen years,” according to the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition to this, other Harcourt imprints have published such titles as Contraception: Your Questions Answered; Handbook of Contraception and Family Planning; Contraception and Office Gynecology, and The Lives of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals as a college textbook for use in homosexual studies programs.

And to make matters worse, Harcourt has a matching grant program which contributes to Planned Parenthood, though Blake was quick to point out that the contributions were minimal and did not come from the religion division. Some pro-life organizations have said that Harcourt has given significantly to Planned Parenthood in the past, but Blake was unable to confirm that. Archbishop Myers said that to his knowledge these connections have not been looked at, but he said, “I would find it offensive and I think it should be looked at.”

This issue will become even more pressing as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People gets further adopted, the archbishop said. The Charter calls for children to be sensitized to inappropriate activity. He has told the USCCB offices “that the right of parents must be respected in this regard. Because it is the natural right of parents to train their children in such intimate matters. I’m saying that rather simply insist that children go through programs in our schools or in our religious education programs, there should be a form created where parents can say, ‘I have taken care of this formation for my child on my own and I find that he or she is properly prepared in this regard.’ And that would be part of the audit, rather than force every single child to go through a certain program which the parent might not want.”

Msgr. Kutys told CWR that the bishops have never really looked at the issue of who owns what and the issue has never been raised in this way before. Whenever the USCCB has gotten together with the publishers, which is an annual meeting, they have always presented themselves as being at the service of the Magisterium, not at the service of their bottom line, he added.

That bottom line might be a good thing, said Sr. Johanna. When a large company is more concerned about the bottom line rather than a particular ideology, they’ll be more willing to do, for instance, what the bishops ask them to do so the books will sell.

But Msgr. Kutys has been told that those religious education divisions do not have the same kind of pressure to produce a profit as do other portions of the companies, and that the companies view those divisions as having some particular value beyond their minimal money-making capacity.

What that value is is hard to say. Perhaps it has to do with the fact of how much these companies sell to Catholic schools, something which is disturbing to Archbishop Myers. “One of the things which has occurred across the field of Catholic primary and secondary education, especially in the United States,” he said, “is that you used to be able to get a series for primary school that included substantial reference to Catholic history. You can’t do that anymore. The examples in the math books or sociology would be Catholic. And the phenomenon which you describe with the mega-corporations moving in has really homogenized the textbooks, homogenized the teaching, and I think resulted in a less Catholic identity of our Catholic education and that’s really too bad.”

Many talk about the two lost generations since Vatican II. What is worse to think about though is that the Catholic Church has been paying to lose them. The major publishers have been dominated by secularist thinkers and publishing textbooks to reflect that thinking and Catholic parishes and schools around the country have been paying to buy them so that the faith and morals of the Church’s teaching can be undermined in our children.

Posted by Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz March 23, 2006