Top 6 reasons Catholic Parents are not fulfilling their role as ‘Primary Educators’.

Over the last two generations in the west, we have experienced a massive watering down of the faith. We are in a position now where very few Catholic parents are fulfilling their role as primary educators. How can parents transmit something that they do not know themselves? It’s not fair.

I will fight for these parents – my siblings, my friends, for as long as it takes the lazy, crazy people in charge of the church right now to actually do something about it. Until that happens I will continue to teach parents how to Understand, Live and Transmit their faith to their kids through my other blog

There are of course many contributing factors to this massive problem, but here are my top 6…

1. Poor Religious Education. 


Sadly, we cannot assume that the religious education received by today’s Catholic parents in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s has been thorough or effective. Since the Second Vatican Council the emphasis in religious education has been on providing students with a variety of experiences such as prayer services, art projects, and community service instead of teaching such basics as the Ten Commandments, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the meaning of grace etc. 

When this “experiential method” of teaching, along with religion textbooks which de-emphasized and watered down Church teachings, were introduced into Catholic classrooms in the 60s, proponents of the “new catechetics” promised that the new methodology and texts would make the Catholic faith relevant to youth. Instead they have resulted in widespread religious illiteracy and alienation from the Church and its teachings. I myself am living proof of this. I am 35. I came out of school with very little real knowledge of the faith. I had no idea that a relationship with Christ was possible. I had never even heard of Papal documents, the Catechism, Youcat or studied scripture in any real way until I went to Maryvale university 4 years ago. I never got taught the basics of the faith.

The methodology in teaching the faith over the last two generations has been Man centred rather than Christ centred. It has been predominantly preoccupied with the experience the student is receiving rather than the content being transmitted.

In 2000 Geraldine Stafford, Catholic Writer and Catechist for 25 years, recognised this problem and stated that: “Group prayer, art projects and community service all have their place in catechetics, but the primary responsibility of catechists is to follow Christ’s command to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded” (Matt. 28:20).” She recalls one student’s reaction when she told her year 8 class that she would be quizzing them on the Ten Commandments, the Two Great Commandments, and the Beatitudes. “You really expect us to learn these things?” one of her students asked in shocked disbelief. Her reaction indicated that memorization in RE class was a totally new experience for her.

She stated: “We must provide our youth with the experience of learning the teachings of Jesus and his Church if we expect them to develop a healthy, vibrant Catholic faith. As Saint John Paul II has pointed out: “The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert of a memory-less catechesis.”

In his article, “Mad Methodology,” Sean Innerst observed that “catechetical methodology is not only important insofar as it is the vehicle for imparting the content of the faith, but because, if wrongly conceived, it can undermine the whole content of the faith.” He cited this statement from the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism’s report: “When the methodological starting point is predominantly human experience, the texts at times easily leave the impression that human initiative is the prerequisite for divine action. God’s initiative appears subordinate to human experience and human action.” Innerst says that it is no accident that the “process of redefining faith and revelation in terms of personal experience coincides with a nearly 30-year process of dissent from Catholic teaching. . . . With the wrong methodology, even the best content will be no weightier than the opinion of the next person who picks up the text.”

2. Why are we playing Catechetical Roulette?


“One of the biggest challenges (for Catholic families) is the defective catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church – I can speak from my experience in the United States – for the past 40 to 50 years.”  – Cardinal Raymond Burke, Family Synod 2014.

Why do we not have a central recommended program of Catechises and Evangelisation for each diocese? It seems strange to me that in one parish you will get brilliant formation and catechesis based on Holy Scripture, the Catechism and Papal doc’s, and in the parish up the road you will something quite different based on people’s own personal opinions of what they would prefer the catholic faith to look like.

It is at the point of First Holy Communion or Confirmation that many of today’s catholic parents are suddenly re-discovering their faith. For a large majority it will be the first time they will have ever read scripture. For many families it is the chance for the non-Catholic spouse to learn about the Catholic faith. It is an opportunity for evangelization and catechesis that must not be missed.

Parishes need to make adult formation classes a priority at the same time as the children are learning their sacramental prep. Sacramental prep needs to be family focused rather than child focused because if it is important to the parents, it will be important to the child.

What I would like to see:

  • Each parish will have in place a recognised ongoing adult formation / evangelisation course recommended by their diocese such as Anchor.
  • When people request to get married or have their Child baptised, Priests need to assess where people are in their relationship with Christ and then direct them accordingly– delaying the sacrament if necessary.
  • Marriage prep needs to CLEARLY spell out what catholic marriage is. The couple then have to decide if they really want a catholic marriage or not.
  • Marriage and Baptism prep need to include content on building a domestic church.
  • Pastoral accompaniment needs to go beyond the actual celebration of the sacrament.

3. Sacramentelised but not Evangelised or Catechised. 


Here is Pope Francis famously Baptizing Giulia, who’s Catholic parents are married civilly but not in church. I hope the Holy Father took this opportunity to not only make sure Giulia’s parents are properly catechised and evangelised, but also to sort out their marriage situation. Obviously if they are wishing their home to be a domestic church in which the faith is transmitted, they will realise that their witness in being sacramentaly married (or not) will speak volumes to their child. They obviously do not see the need for a sacramental marriage. I would bet £100 that they do not realise they are the primary educators of their child and have never even heard the term ‘domestic church’. Baptism of a child presents itself as a natural opportunity for sorting out all these issues and enables and empowers the parents to carry out their role as primary educators much more effectively.

I believe the way the sacraments have been administered over the last 2 generations has resulted in a massive watering down of the faith. I believe not enough time, energy or money have been invested in sacrament prep. And from my own experience, a lot of the sacramental prep out there is variable in it’s accuracy and effectiveness.

Here is what you can get in terms of sacrament prep if you live in some of the parishes around my area…

Baptism: 1 hour

First Confession/Holy Communion: 6 months: 1 hour per week for the Kids. (Parents get 6 x 1 hour sessions based on what the kids have been learning.)

Confirmation: 6 months: 1.5 hour meeting per month + 1 day retreat.

Marriage: 1 full day

Holy Orders: 7 Years

There seems to be a lot of time money and effort put into Children’s catechesis, and very little put into Adult catechesis and ongoing formation. Why is this? Is adult formation not as important? I would argue that taking into account the lack of effective religious education and catechesis over the last 2 generations it is now more important.

Earlier this year I spent several months getting involved with a local Baptism prep class. It was a one off, 1.5 hour session. At the end of this 1.5 hours, parents were expected to go off and bring up their children in the faith! I was greatly surprised and horrified to discover that 90% of these parents were unable to recite the Our Father without reading it off a sheet in front of them. They also had to fill in a sheet during the class stating why they wanted their child baptised. Most of them wrote ‘Family tradition’. Others wrote ‘To be part of the Church’. Very few had any understanding whatsoever that Baptism is the choice to turn away from sin and to  begin a relationship with Jesus. The vast majority of these parents need to go through RCIA. A priest friend of mine feels that many catholic churches today have become “Baptism Factories”.

A friend of mine is a great example of this. She is open in saying that she had poor religious education and catechesis and as an adult she has decided that the Catholic church holds no spirituality for her, so she has chosen Buddhism instead. She wanted her son to go to Catholic school because she wanted him to learn good moral values. At age 7, he turned round and declared that he wanted to be baptized! She was very happy for this to happen. He got baptised abroad and his Godparents live abroad. His mum is now bringing him up half Catholic, half Buddhist. They do not attend church. It is great that her son got baptised, but he, like his Mum has been sacramentalised without being catechised or evangelised. The cycle continues…

Why are we dumping people after the service? Do we really think that now they have been sacramentalised they are ‘done’? This applies to all the sacraments – but especially marriage:


“The initial years of marriage are a vital and fragile period during which couples become more aware of the challenges and meaning of married life. Consequently, pastoral accompaniment needs to go beyond the actual celebration of the sacrament.” – (Para 35. mid-term report, Family Synod 2014)

The nurturing and social contact, the education and catechesis… the pastoral accompaniment must continue after the actual celebration of the sacrament.


4. Marrying a non-Catholic. 


In 2013 in our parish we had 12 Catholic to Catholic weddings, and 23 Catholic to non-Catholic weddings. I feel it is safe to say that in the west, this is now the norm. Most families I know are in the position where 1 spouse is not catholic.

With one Catholic parent the transmission of the faith in the home by lived example, is reduced by at least 50%. 

Another childhood friend of ours is a perfect example of this. He is the Catholic in the marriage. However, growing up he suffered the same poor religious education, poor catechesis as we did and crucially, he is not evangelised. He has married his non-practising Hindu wife civilly and has not had the protection of a dispensation. This has resulted in their children remaining unbaptized. It is down to him to transmit the faith to his children. How exactly is he supposed to do this?

Of course every situation is different, and it very much depends on how supportive the non catholic spouse is. Another friend, for example, is married to an agnostic who accompanies him to church each week and is extremely supportive of their sons catholic upbringing. But very often the Catholic spouse compromises their faith to keep their non-Catholic spouse happy – especially (I have found) in the area of contraception. This is a subject that is never talked about and I feel Catholic parents in this position are currently offered no support.


5. Accepting Secularism as the norm. 


“Today’s world appears to promote limitless affectivity, seeking to explore all its aspects, including the most complex. Indeed, the question of emotional fragility is very current: a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity do not always help greater maturity to be reached… In this context, couples are often uncertain and hesitant, struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of emotional and sexual life… The crisis in the couple destabilizes the family and may lead, through separations and divorce, to serious consequences for adults, children and society as a whole, weakening the individual and social bonds.” – (Para 10. mid-term report, Family Synod 2014)

The present climate of relativism, secularism and individualism rejects nearly all that Christianity stands for, meaning that those whose faith is unstable are facing many new and unexpected perils. Most are just not well equipped enough to deal with it.

Today’s secular culture, teaches us from youth that devotion to God is a private matter. Our society makes us ashamed not only to speak about God in the workplace or to our neighbours, we are even hesitant to show a vibrant faith to our own children. In fact, we often feel uncomfortable with our own religious desires.

It is essential for parents to be made aware of the realities of our secular culture and what that means in terms of being a catholic parent today: It’s massive anti-Christian influences such as the media, consumerism and many of today’s political ideas. Catholic parents and teachers, now more than ever, need to realise that living and passing on the Catholic faith is essentially counter-cultural

Once parents are awakened to the realities of how our society is under such major influences, it will be easier for them to recognise and confidently reject the things, regarded as normal by society, that are actually totally anti Christian. This takes a lot of courage and is much easier to achieve as a community than as individuals.

6. Clericalists Despise the Primary Educator.

Finally, there is one other extremely disturbing issue. I have come across members of the clergy, religious, and even catechists that do not recognise parents as the child’s primary educators. They do not believe in educating and empowering the parents to fulfil their role, but instead feel that it is their job. This goes directly against the teachings of the church and I would recommend people to be extremely vigilant of any type of children’s catechesis that does not directly involve the parents. Parent-less catechesis is only adding to the problem. If you ever come across this issue, you might want to show the people involved this section of Gravissimum Educationis:

“Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking. Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered. Hence the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs. It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and office of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught from their early years to have a knowledge of God according to the faith received in Baptism, to worship Him, and to love their neighbour.  Here, too, they find their first experience of a wholesome human society and of the Church. Finally, it is through the family that they are gradually led to a companionship with their fellow men and with the people of God. Let parents, then, recognize the inestimable importance a truly Christian family has for the life and progress of God’s own people.” – Para. 3 Gravissimum Educationis

Come on Bishops! Wake up, admit your past mistakes, and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS CRISIS!!!



3 thoughts on “Top 6 reasons Catholic Parents are not fulfilling their role as ‘Primary Educators’.

  1. Pingback: Top 6 reasons Catholic Parents are not fulfilling their role as 'Primary Educators'. | Christians Anonymous

  2. Father Andrew Greeley told the U.S. Bishops about this in the early 1980’s, the fall of the faith due to weakness based in the loss of Catholic Education. My question, ‘Why aren’t we opening the school doors wide to anyone that wants to learn?’ -rephrased- ‘Why won’t the Bishops today ensure the schools are funded to support anyone that wants to attend?’ Not only does evangelization begin with the next generation, but those that recognize that claim the hearts and minds of that generation early on. I’m not quite sure how to proceed, but promoting free education in Catholic schools rather than the $5K/year tuitions has to become a priority for our New Evangelization. We need those twelve years of 5-days/week religious instruction to strengthen the Church and support the continued evangelization work.