Monday, November 10, 2008

That Letter to my Bishop... in progress; I hope to send it out tomorrow, following a final edit. My goal is to get it down to a single page, which is difficult considering the complexity of the situation.

But I know that the chances of the bishop ever seeing the letter will be increased exponentially if the letter is no more than a single page in length, so I'm going to try to employ the few editing skills I have to trim as much as I can without losing any of what really needs to be said.

I do plan on sharing the full letter here eventually, but I'd rather send it and wait for some sort of response first. My general belief is that the most likely response is to receive a form letter of sorts from an office or committee to which the letter has been forwarded; it's actually less often the case that a letter receives no response at all, from my own and other people's experiences, provided the letter is polite and respectful.

What I have written can be summed up in some bullet points:
  • My children and other home schooled children have received the sacraments thanks to individual, pastoral priests;
  • Most Catholic home schooled children must take parish religious ed. to receive the sacraments;
  • These parish religious ed. and other requirements can be burdensome to home school families;
  • religious education leaders have a difficult task and must prepare children who receive no regular religious education as part of their normal schooling;
  • there are only two paths to the sacraments in the diocese of Fort Worth: one for children attending diocesan schools, and one for children who attend schools where religious instruction is not offered at all;
  • forcing children who attend Catholic home schools to take the second path is unjust, as it does not recognize that they are in fact Catholic school students who receive daily religious instruction just like their counterparts in the diocesan schools, in addition to devotional practices and so on;
  • adhering to the "two paths" approach sends a message to Catholic home school parent/teachers that their commitment to the religious education of their children means nothing at all as far as the parish is concerned;
  • other dioceses in America have developed a "third path" for Catholic students taught at home which respects the parents' commitment to their children's Catholic upbringing and sets only a handful of reasonable provisions for pastoral oversight, such as a brief interview with a child before a sacrament is administered, some access to parish materials to be used at home, and/or a volunteer home schooling liaison who helps coordinate the involvement of home schooled children in parish sacramental celebrations;
  • Since I am sure the Fort Worth Diocese does respect Catholic home schooling I am hopeful that some consideration will be given to these options to create a third path to the sacraments for Catholic school students whose Catholic school happens to be located in the home.
I think that this covers the basic aspects of the problem. Granted, I think that parents of public school students could also complain quite legitimately about some of the specific requirements their children must complete, but while I'm very willing to stand in solidarity with them the real problem here for Catholic home school parents is that we are, by and large, founding and operating Catholic schools. Catholic home schooling may be a less traditional method of providing a Catholic education to Catholic children than enrollment in a diocesan parochial school, but the reality is that now that such schools are seldom run by women religious who have taken a vow of poverty their costs have skyrocketed, making them out of the reach of many Catholic families especially those who have decided that living on a single income is a necessary part of their vocation (unless severe financial hardship were to strike the family).

And so the question isn't, at its root, whether every parish requirement for sacramental preparation is necessary and good, or bureaucratic and discouraging, or somewhere in between, though that would be, I think, an interesting discussion to have. Rather, the question for Catholic home school families is whether it is just or unjust for the parish, and the diocese, to insist that their children are not Catholic school students at all, and that far from trusting the parents to provide religious instruction the parish is acting properly in insisting that the children must repeat what they do at home in order to "prove" that they are ready for the sacraments.

Although it is, possibly, sad to admit this, the Catholic dioceses of America are never going to see a blissful return to the halcyon days of the glory of the diocesan-run Catholic school--at least, not in the lifetimes of anyone reading this today. According to this article, at the peak of Catholic education there were 5.7 million students, the majority of them Catholic, enrolled in parochial schools, but today, with a Catholic population of nearly 70 million, about 2.6 million students are enrolled in diocesan schools--and anecdotal evidence suggests that the proportion of non-Catholic students whose parents see the schools as a lower-cost alternative to extremely expensive private schools has risen as well.

It may well be that the best and brightest future of Catholic education in America, especially an education that is completely free from government entanglement and the pressures for increased secularization that accompany such entanglements, is going to feature the Catholic home school. It is, therefore, crucial that these schools be recognized as truly Catholic schools despite their non-traditional location in the homes of parents acting as teachers and catechists. And a vital component of that recognition is the development of sacramental paths for these children that more closely reflect the requirements placed on students in traditional diocesan parochial schools, not on the requirements placed on students whose regular school hours do not contain any Catholic religious instruction at all.

It is not a matter of wishing for special treatment or pats on the back or extraordinary praise for home schooling. It is a matter of justice, to expect that all Catholic school students, whose schools are faithful to the Magisterium and conducted with diligent and conscientious care for the religious education of the children taught there, will be allowed the same or a similar path of access to the sacraments, regardless of the location or size of the school.


Charlotte said...

Our Catholic homeschooling friends here in town just went through this same thing. In the end, they won, but not without a fight, and not without hurt feelings. And yes, they did have to take their fight all the way to the archbishop. If you'd like to talk with them about their experience, just let me know, and I'll get you in contact with them.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your letter, Red--I hope you get a courteous and attentive response from your bishop. I have just started homeschooling my 4 year old, and I expect to have some of the same troubles in my diocese.

In addition, in my diocese, first communion and confirmation are offered together in 2nd grade. Since I am not sure of the wisdom of doing that, I may be holding my kids back from early confirmation. If any of your readers have any experience with kids being confirmed at a much younger age, I'd love to hear their comments about the experience.

--Elizabeth B.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! I just finished chopping a 1300+ two-pager down to around 700 words. Why is that always so difficult to do?? :)

As for early Confirmation--I'd go for it! The horror stories come about when you start hearing of teens being required to go on mandatory co-ed retreats, or go with a community service group to feed the homeless downtown at midnight, etc.

The Eastern Orthodox Church Confirms at Baptism, which the Byzantine Rite (and other Eastern) Catholics also do. There's no specific requirement that a person being Confirmed be a certain age or complete a particular course of instruction.

LeeAnn said...

Wish you were here! I am the volunteer DRE for my parish. I have no problem with parents home educating their kids through Sacrament prep, whether they are home schooled or not. In fact, in Everett, to the west of me, the two parishes there require parents to provide their own instruction for First Communion! I believe that goes for families who attend the parish school there as well. I'm eager to hear your final draft and the (hopeful) response.

Red Cardigan said...

LeeAnn, you are my ideal notion of a DRE. :)

It's pretty draconian in this diocese, though I don't know why. Friends of ours are going through a terrible time with Confirmation. One year of pre-C, one year of C-classes, and halfway through that second year their daughter leaves each class in tears of frustration. They've studied nothing about the Holy Spirit in all this time (gifts, fruits, etc.) but have had to memorize Mass times and names of parish secretaries; now they're learning about Creation and being given assignments like "What would your own six days of Creation be like? Write your own 'teen Commandments' etc."

They have to do 50 hours of community service; I'm told some parishes around here require three times that much!! And this young girl is a great person and a devout Catholic who studies religion every day at home--but that doesn't "count."

Anonymous said...

Hey, Red!
I have greatly enjoyed your blog. Keep fighting the good fight.

I don't mean to complicate your life, but let me make a suggestion that will exponentially increase the likelihood of a positive response. My bride is an assistant in the chancery here and her experience is invaluable. Make sure that your letter is no more than 250 wds. Describe tthe problem as briefly as possible. Then make sure that the following words are in it, in some form. "I would be happy to work with the Diocesan Director of Catechetics to set up a 'third path' like those that exist in other dioceses." Chanceries are hugely overworked and they are staffed to keep them that way. By offering to share the burden of setting up a program you identify yourself as a person who is willing to help, and they are very few in number.

You and your blog are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

from scotch meg:

get hold of the Archdiocese of Boston policy on homeschooling for religious education if you can... although it's not much help on "sacramental years", it does a good job on the principles which underlie a positive approach to homeschooling.

my own experience has been relatively positive; I met with the DRE several years running to show her my materials and all the variety of what I do; I use their books as well (although only as a supplement). my kids are altar servers and musicians for the parish... basically, I built trust. Now I think I can do pretty much what I want. Although my son is being confirmed with other homeschoolers through the local ER parish, because they don't have the usual nonsense about confirmation classes.

Also, my older children were all confirmed through a diocese that does the confirmation plus first Eucharist thing. Go for it. The teen programs are not meaningful, by and large, and the little children are very receptive. Plus you have history on your side, as pointed out above. And my daughter (who was in second grade) has benefited tremendously from the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this especially how it relates to justice or the lack of justice in most cases.
As far as we know, we have three options we could take 1 hire a cannon lawyer to convince the Bishop the law is in our favor 2 write Archbishop Sambi and ask for him to intervene which we hear he does 3 move to another diocese.

It is heartbreaking that we are not recoginzed as legitimate teachers although the law clearly states that fact. I was hoping the this would be discussed at the Bishop's conference but I haven't seen it on the agenda.

One more thing they do not realize is after all the struggling and begging and pleading there is the chance that the children themselves no longer want the sacrament. They can wait till they are adults, in their minds, which is very sad.

Are you going to send this to your Bishop?

Monkey Face said...

We started out putting our Asperger son in a small group confirmation class this year in preparation for the sacrament next spring. After that first meeting we pulled him out. The arrogant sophistication of the diocesan Catholic school kids and those from the public school (he is homeschooled) concerned us. Our son is too easily influenced and affected by these attitudes and behaviors.

With our pastor's permission we have begun instructing him at home and were even offered the option of his receiving the sacrament at RCIA or privately as opposed to the group option in the spring. Unfortunately, however, he must attend a group retreat and that concerns us greatly. His father or I may have to tag along as chaperones.

I do hope your concerns are heard and addressed in an acceptable manner. We will offer up a prayer for you and your family in the hope that the policies change in your diocese to respect the needs and desires of families like yours.

Daddio said...

I also look forward to reading your letter. We have been contemplating the same thing, and maybe we will go ahead and write our letter, too. No harm in him getting two letters, or more. We're getting nowhere with the "church lady" in charge of first communion at our parish. She thinks she's "accountable" for our kids' formation... WRONG. And the pastor seems to be in over his head, to put it gently. We have devised our own scheme for first confession and communion (just show up), but confirmation will be more problematic. Thanks for taking up the challenge and let us know if there is anything we can do to assist.

Anonymous said...

'There are only two paths to sacraments in the diocese of Ft Worth: one for those attending diocesan schools, one for those attending schools where religious instruction is not offered at all...this does not sound 'Catholic'...go for it, Red, faith, pragmatism and realistic expectations are on the side of other alternative paths, such as you've detailed. And, perhaps mentioning the issues that seem detrimental to full participation in the only alternatives presently offered, would be helpful in the long run for the next homeschooling family in your diocese that has your similar concerns.

Maggie said...

Good luck with your plight! It's unfortunate that strong (often homeschooling) families are put through so many hoops because the majority of Confirmation students don't have steller home resources.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to those who offered their thoughts on early Confirmation--the fact that it is common in the Eastern Church is certainly food for thought.

--Elizabeth B.

Anonymous said...

I'm the odd duck here, but I send my kids to public school and homeschool them in religious ed. I use the basic materials that my parish uses (through my DRE) and I supplement with whatever I think is lacking and so far, we've had no problems. None. Maybe it's just my archdiocese (Newark) or my particular DRE who is a little more loosey goosey.

That said, the whole religious education and parochial school model seems to be imploding. Property taxes are so high here in NJ that most Catholic children attend public schools. At some point in the distant future, there aren't going to be anymore elementary parochial schools in my area. There just isn't the population to support them. I recently read "Designed to Fail Catholic Education in America" by Steve Kellmeyer and he brought up some interesting points, the main one - the Church should focus on catechizing adults, not children.
Have you read this book?

Tony said...

I am in the diocese of Syracuse, and when my older daughter was getting ready to be confirmed, we asked our pastor if it would be ok if I home schooled my daughter in religious ed.

It was my daughter's request, because we educate our children in religion in small ways every day of our lives, she was much more prepared than the recent confirmand who was teaching CCD.

So we went to it with an adult textbook on Catholicism and weekly classes on Sunday night.

She had to do two papers, and we went on a field trip to the local TLM that a local priest celebrated under indult.