Cincinnati: Archdiocese On The Brink (Part II)


Cincinnati: Archdiocese On The Brink


February 27, 1975

Part II

Despite its extraordinary advantages, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is on the brink of a peculiar kind of trouble. I called it a “crisis of confidence” in the first installment of this report, because it compromises the trust which Cincinnati’s most zealous Catholics have in their Church leadership (which means in the last analysis, their hierarchy).

The tepid are unaffected. The Catholics who think more about inflation than religion, who don’t have children any more, or send the ones they do have to public schools, who have no idea what their children are being taught in CCD and little incentive to find out, who don’t care what kind of sermons are being preached because they don’t listen to them anyway, who have never struggled to understand a single teaching of their ancient-Church and wouldn’t know a heresy if it bit them — these go placidly on, slowly disappearing from the pews, slowly vanishing into the woodwork of secular America, but never making any trouble for the bishop or his staff. They give to Cincinnati, as to every other American diocese, its predominant atmosphere of somnolence and quiet decay, as of a great machine slowly succumbing to the law of entropy, but for reasons quite unknown to engineers. To those who cannot distinguish the quiet of contentment from that of indifference, or who judge religious affairs by counting majorities, talk of a “crisis’’ in Cincinnati must seem the invention of a journalist desperate for news.


But those who realize that the future of every diocese in America depends upon a spiritually active minority, will look for that minority and, finding it in crisis, will cry alarm. The Catholics who are upset in Cincinnati and getting mad enough to fight are precisely the rare ones who have made the sacrifices to obey Humanae Vitae and kept their children in Catholic schools at rising cost and cared enough to read their children’s textbooks and known enough to see what was wrong. How many of them are there? Nobody knows. Perhaps only a few thousand; but the circle keeps growing as every year a few more parents (and not only parents: young people and priests, seminarians and young women looking hungrily for the Religious life) somehow become alarmed, find their spiritual moorings, and drop out of the indifferent majority. And nine times out of ten, the source of the alarm is some scandalous, preposterous incident in a Catholic school.


  • The senior-class girls at Our Lady of Angels High School have a graduation play, in which they carry a large statue of Our Lady onto the stage and crown her with a toilet seat.
  • The editor of the student newspaper at Edgecliff College, run by the Sisters of Mercy, publishes a rapturous account of her visit to an abortion clinic; despite public furor, she is neither fired nor dismissed.
  • Parents spend $800 a year to send their child to St. Xavier High School, where he is taught religion by Mr. Scot Gannon, who tells the boys he does not believe in the Trinity, and that Christ was not God (or didn’t know He was God) until He rose from the dead.
  • A leader of CCD at St. Veronica’s tells an astonished parent audience, “No child up to age ten can commit sin”; this leader is an Ursuline Sister.
  • The Ursulines are the Sisters who take the fourth vow, the vow to teach. But their Religious life is such a shambles that the McMillan Street convent has had no novices in 10 years; the novice mistress herself has left. In Cincinnati today the five biggest orders together have only 15 novices. A Precious Blood Sister told me, “We have nothing to offer a girl in Religious life.” An Ursuline told me, “I wouldn’t encourage any girl, even my worst enemy, to enter a convent in Cincinnati.” The only exception is the very traditional Daughters of St. Paul, whose small community in this city has 35 postulants this year, and had 28 professions last summer.
  • Scores of grade schools use the Archdiocesan Christian Family Life and Sex Education Program, in the teacher’s manual of which we find the following: masturbation is dismissed as a normal product of “discouragement in inter-personal relationships, too few friends, anxieties about home, school, etc.”; “Care must be taken not to stimulate within the child such feelings of guilt and fear that will only exacerbate the practice” (p. 67) — as if repentence for sin were an incitement to sin! Further along: all methods of contraception are listed and recommended to be taught, including the abortifacient IUD (p. 86); pictures to illustrate “overpopulation” are encouraged (p. 87); “therapeutic abortions” may be justified (p. 90).
  • This sex-ed program is taught to the girls at Our Lady of Angels by a priest, Fr. Robert Apking; one day he uses a slide projector to flash on the wall an enormous penis; the girls are asked to write on the blackboard all the slang names they can think of for this organ.
  • Two ladies interested in religious education attended the annual convention of the Arch- diocesan Council of the Laity, where they are steered to the “serendipity workshop.” A nun organizes the participants into several groups; one is supposed to moo like cows, another to bleat like sheep, another to cluck like chickens. Then she tosses a ball back and forth; “Here, chickens, catch the ball!” The two ladies walk out
  • Fr. Leo Klein, S.J., is made head of the theology department at Xavier University. I have a tape of his talk at a Day Of Renewal, Nov. 5th, 1974, in which he announces that the doctrine of a transcendent, Triune God is meaningless, and that God is “in everything,” “touching us in all of our experiences.”
  • High school children are given a “Halloween Mass,” in which the priest dresses as Merlin the Magician and performs the “magic” of turning water into Kool-Aid.
  • I haven’t finished the list of absurdities; I’ve barely begun, but you get the picture. Not every school in Cincinnati is this way, but enough of them are grotesque enough to have produced the wave of protest I have mentioned that is occurring all over town.


What do Archbishop Bernardin and his chief lieutenants propose to do about it?

In an interview with the Cincinnati Post (Nov. 16th, 1974), the Archbishop recognized that religious education “is one of the chief causes of polarization” in the Church today. And he asked: “As a bishop, I consider this to be my most serious responsibility, making sure only authentic Catholic doctrine is taught in our schools and other religious education classes.” Archbishop Bernardin gave an interview to this reporter around the same time (Nov. 14 th) in which he acknowledged that textbook inaccuracies are a valid dimension of this difficulty. “Sometimes more clarity is needed,” he said, “and, of course, sometimes you run across things that simply aren’t correct, and these things have to be corrected.”

But this “most serious responsibility” is one the Archbishop prefers not to exercise directly. In part, the reason is simply that he can’t. Nobody who has an Archdiocese to run can possibly read all of the textbook series or intervene in every dispute that arises between parents and teachers. Necessarily, he has an education office — which includes a religious education department — to assume the lion’s share of the burden. Plus, the Cincinnati Catholic school system is a highly decentralized one, in which all teacher problems and textbook problems are supposed to be settled competently at the local level. The Archdiocesan education office is advisory in nature, not a central management. But all of this, I repeat, is only part of the reason why Archbishop Bernardin prefers to move indirectly, circumspectly in dealing with the crisis.

A second part is this; he has very definite ideas about proper structures, proper channels through which any controversy should pass before, Heaven for- fend, it ends up on his own desk. He does not see himself as an ombudsman called to defend the ordinary Catholic against the middle management (which is a pity, because most dioceses are getting to the point where they need such a figure). As a result, the Archbishop seems to consider it rather a “fluke” that he ever became involved in the banning of Bro. Hurst’s Love, Sex and Marriage, then in use at McAuley High School and one or two others. On Feb. 22nd, 1974, he sent a letter to the pastors of the McAuley feeder parishes announcing his decision on the book, but also making this observation; “Normally questions of this kind are handled at the local level. In this instance, because the normal channels were bypassed, I did become involved.” Normal channels? Bypassed? Many would say that the “normal channels” are more like a mine-field, and that “bypassing” them is the only way to get anything done, at least where textbook disputes are concerned. Several parent leaders told me that Archbishop Bernardin’s door is often the only one that is really open. “Bernardin will see us, but on the lower level we are barely tolerated,” was one man’s formulation of the plight. But Archbishop Bernardin obviously disagrees. In his Nov. 14th interview with The Wanderer, he repeatedly declared, “We do not have an impenetrable bureaucracy here… I’ve told all my staff that I want them to be very sensitive to the people who come here.” And yet … Does anyone really doubt that Bro. Hurst’s wretched book would still be in McAuley High School to this day, if the Archbishop had not become directly involved?

Here is the problem: on the level of principle, there is substantial agreement between Archbishop Bernardin and the dissatisfied parents; but on the level of action, there is at least this difference. The Archbishop does not want the Hurst case to form a precedent for his own direct intervention, which amounts to saying that he does not want educational questions to be resolved by direct dealings between parents and their bishop; he wants them to be resolved primarily by educators, either locally or with the advice of the Archdiocesan Education Office.


Which brings me to what I think is the third reason why Archbishop Bernardin prefers not to be directly or immediately involved. He believes in educational “expertise.” He thinks that textbook, program, and curriculum questions involve a specifically “pedagogical” dimension which neither he himself nor the parents are properly “credentialed” to judge. I can’t quote him as saying this in so many words, but a number of his obiter dicta make it rather clear that he thinks the review of a textbook is a more complex affair than the theological review he might make of an adult book, in that pedagogical considerations might justify a wording or a presentation which on strictly theological grounds, adult grounds, might seem insipid or ambiguous. (I leave aside the question of outright error, where of course pedagogical arguments would hold no water.) For this reason, Archbishop Bernardin has set up an education office which consists entirely of “professional educators” and which has neither office nor structure nor formal liaison for concerned parents as such nor for direct parental input, consultation or review at the policy-making level.


It is this attitude — deference to an alleged educational expertise — translated into management policy, which constitutes the heart of the problem in Cincinnati. It is the very problem analyzed recently in the Critic by Dr. James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University. Hitchcock argues that the power of the “religious professionals” in the Catholic Church is growing at the expense of both the hierarchy and the laity, and he predicts that “the scope of genuine lay initiative” will diminish steadily as these experts become more organized and more assertive.

Indeed, Hitchcock declares that the much-touted “renewal” of Catholicism in America since Vatican II has been a misnomer. What has really happened, all too often, is something else: the “liberation” of the religious professionals and the increase of their power. “Thus,” he writes, “the post-Vatican II church is a good deal more clerical, not less, than it once was and the laity’s voice has remained muted.” He continues, “The layman finds his position diminished because he must deal increasingly with experts who, because of their special competencies, claim to know far more than he does about religious needs.”

But the laity is not the only group to suffer. The impact of this new, professional class on the Bishops, Hitchcock predicts, will put the latter increasingly in the position “where it is easy to behave as though the professionals ‘are’ the Church. Surrounded by experts all with their own plans and goals, it is the rare bishop who can stand to be in constant tension with his staff.” Thus, he says, the U.S. Bishops will very likely become “increasingly liberal,” and he explains, “This will not be because the Vatican appoints liberal bishops, although that might happen, but because many bishops will decide the future of the American Church lies with the various organized groups of religious professionals, most of which are essentially ‘liberal’ in orientation.”

Hitchcock’s choice of the word “liberal” in this context reflects what the religious professionals tend to call themselves, but a better word would be “technocratic,” and a still better word would be the one used 30 years ago by Cincinnati’s magnificent Archbishop John T. McNicholas: “Fascist.” Archbishop McNicholas here for a quarter century (1925-1950), was chairman of the American Bishops’ education committee for many of those years (the job now held by Archbishop Borders of Baltimore). On April 8th, 1947, he gave a famous address to the forty- fourth annual meeting of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), in which he denounced in the secular education of that day the very tendencies which are now rampant in Catholic education — the latter which has become the empire of Hitchcock’s “religious professionals” par excellence.

“The God-given rights of parents,” he said, “are either not understood or are Ignored by our secularist educators and by many school administrators who, in a delusion of sovereignty, act as though they, not the parents, have control of the educable child. Those who do not understand the basic principles of the whole social Christian order readily become Fascists or totalitarians in education.” Archbishop McNicholas then called upon all “fairminded members of the teaching profession” to study parents’ rights seriously. “Such a study,” he concluded, “will make clear: (1) that the authority of parents extends to every hour spent by their children in school, and (2) that the teachers of the school, and the State itself, are but the deputies of the parents in the education of their children.”

The great question is whether Archbishop McNicholas’ principle has not been reduced to pious platitude or legal fiction in his own Archdiocese. You will never hear the principle denied; oh no, it is daily on the lips of the Vicar of Education, Bishop Daniel Pilarczyk, the Director of Religious Education, Fr. Robert Hater, the Superintendent of Schools, Fr. Jerome Schaeper, the individual school principals, and all the officious, arrogant, theologically illiterate, and sartorially incognito “female religious” who buzz around these offices (and whom I like to call “fascettes”). Rather, it is denied by the very structure of the bureaucracy. With no direct policy-making voice (and not even a veto), parents are in a state of structural oppression; for the structure of the school office is palpably one of educator — and administrator — sovereignty, whatever the rhetoric may be.


OBJECTION; The “oppression” might exist if the archdiocesan school office were, indeed, a central management. But Cincinnati is decentralized. Textbook decisions are made at the local level, and there parents have their proper input.

ANSWER; The local level is still a power structure consisting of the principal, the teaching Sisters, and the parish coordinator of religious education (usually a fascette). Parents are nowhere in the structure except on the parish board of education, whose elected members may be socially prominent in the parish but 999 times out of a thousand have never read a single textbook series nor formed any notion of what the conflict is about. They stick to finances. Moreover, even in those rare cases where the parish board is well-informed and disposed to act, it has no control over the Sisters unless the pastor backs it up. If the pastor tries to back the parents up, the Sisters threaten to leave, in which case, 99 times out of a hundred, the pastor backs down. If he doesn’t back down, the long knives come out and a brouhaha is had by all. Polarization sets in, smear campaigns go on, reputations are ruined — all the nonsense I documented in the first installment of this report. Only at All Saints Parish has a happy solution been found. So, if you think parents’ rights can be easily, regularly asserted at the parish level, friend, just try it.


Moreover, the fact that a local school is administratively autonomous does not mean that the educational ideas prevailing in it are locally generated or controlled. There is no doubt that the staff of the archdiocesan religious education office dislikes the Our Sunday Visitor Series, for example, and inculcates that dislike throughout the Archdiocese by means of centrally sponsored teacher-training programs. Similar biases are inculcated in the myriad workshops sponsored by the “progressive” textbook publishers (for their own profit) or by the updated Religious orders or by the National Catholic Educational Association — none of which acknowledge any accountability to local parents or local school boards. Look at the boards of directors and the paid consultants of the major catechetical publishers; then look at the religious education staffs of the major American dioceses; then look at the officers of the NCEA and the staff members of the USCC division of education: what you find is an interesting overlap of key names, an in-grown national “establishment,” in which the people who design the books and programs, the people who evaluate and promote them, and the people who profit financially from them are time and again the same people. But this conflict of interest has never found its Ralph Nader, nor will it, until a few more Catholics begin to care as much about their children’s souls as they do about car fenders.


Meanwhile, back to our subject.

(1) The structure through which Catholic education is managed in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati includes no meaningful, workable channel for parental review. (2) At the same time, Archbishop Bernardin, despite occasional and praiseworthy interventions, has made it clear that he trusts that structure to resolve any “polarization” which exists. There you have the two conditions which frame the present crisis, like an upper and lower millstone. So long as those two conditions continue, the concerned parents are completely dependent upon whatever open-mindedness and whatever good will exist in the top officers of the management structure.

  • For instance: Fr. Jerome Schaeper, the Superintendent of Schools. But this man is on public record as having said that the textbooks today are “500 times better than they ever were before,” and that it is unreasonable to expect an eighth- grader to know the Ten Commandments. You can forget about him.
  • For instance: Fr. Robert J. Hater, the Director of Religious Education. What about him? Recently he has been saying that he and his staff intend to get into the field of textbook evaluation, with the aim of producing, perhaps, a list of recommended (but not imposed) texts. Will he make a special effort to bring in the concerned parents on the ground floor of this evaluation? Well, judge for yourself. On Oct. 23rd, 1973, a group of concerned parents had a meeting with him, of which I have the minutes. They offered Fr. Hater a fat stack of textbook reviews (about a hundred pages typed, single-spaced; I have read these reviews and found them competently done; most were done by parents; some by a Jesuit priest). They covered every grade of Word and Worship, Pearl and Seed, and Life, Love and Joy. Fr. Hater waved them away with a languid hand. “I don’t have time to read that much.”

“Well, would you just take this one? It’s only eight pages.”

“No, I tell you what. Why don’t you summarize those things. Boil it all down into about two pages, and send it to me for my files.”

Okay, forget him, too.

  • For instance: the Sisters who work on Fr. Hater’s staff. Would they be more sympathetic? Well, about four months later, on Feb. 14th, 1974, another group of parents met with two of these staff members (Sr. Loretta Mick and Sr. Marlene Brokamp). The parents had come down to the school headquarters on W. Liberty Street to find the answer to one, simple question: do the archdiocesan school officers recognize the existence of a problem? Again, I have the minutes taken by the parents, which I shall now quote verbatim, because they are a comic relief. Those two Sisters ought to set up a vaudeville routine, call it Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. Listen:
  1. “We questioned why it is that some schools teach authentic Catholic doctrine and others do not. Sr. Marlene said that it was due to Original Sin.
  2. We asked Sr. Loretta if she approved of (Teilhard de) Chardin’s teachings. She said she never spoke of him.
  3. When presented with statements from the high school texts To Live is Christ, which we believed not to be in accord with authentic, Catholic doctrine, Sr. Loretta suggested that the statements could be out of context. We asked if she has read the books. She said no, but that she trusted the catechists and publishers.
  4. When we asked specifically whether they believed there was a serious problem with the religion programs in some of the schools of the Archdiocese, no direct answer was given. However, an example was given by Sr. Loretta about the mother of a student at ML Notre Dame who was the only mother in the entire school who thought something was wrong with the religious program. Sister said that we have to watch out for some of these parents, then pointed to her head, indicating the presence of a kind of mental condition. Sr. Marlene said she has been teaching for 17 years and wasn’t aware of any problems.
  5. Sr. Loretta said that we were shouldering too much of a burden by trying to solve the problems of the schools. She volunteered that she was not prepared to take on such a large responsibility.
  6. Sr. Loretta commented that 50 minutes three times a week (for religion class) or 150 minutes a week is a very small amount of time, and we shouldn’t expect too much.

(Conclusion) We are not convinced that the nature of the problem is recognized at the office; or, if they understand our complaints, they do not recognize them as problems. By implication, we appear to be recognized as the problem. It is also apparent that the school office does not plan any action to solve these problems.”


I have to tell you something else about Sr. Marlene, which I hate to do because she is a sweet woman (not by temperament a fascette). I feel like an ogre when I have to print something unflattering about a Religious woman who has devoted herself to years of very unassuming service, who has probably never developed a thick skin and who will probably get her feelings hurt by criticism in a newspaper. But it can’t be helped. Some people are just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and on the wrong side. Besides, this story brings out a key point about religious educators and their “expertise.” Sr. Marlene has a master’s degree in religious education. She is the staff person in charge of such education on the elementary level. One of her main responsibilities is teaching other teachers in the archdiocesan certification program. This year she is teaching courses entitled “Catechetical Ministry,” “Survey of Doctrine,” and “Religion and Psychology.” Obviously, then, she has a formative influence on what hundreds of school and CCD teachers will think about controversial matters, such as the textbooks. I thought we should have a talk, and I thought the subject should be on-going revelation.


Perhaps I should explain that term and why it is important. The most controversial of the new catechisms have very little dogmatic content because they are designed in accordance with what is called the “experiential method,” or the idea that little or nothing is “meaningful” to a child except what he or she has experienced. On that assumption, the task of religious education is redefined. It is no longer a question of putting knowledge into a child but of drawing out the religious dimension which is said to be already implicit within the child’s own day-to-day experiences. Now. it must seem obvious that this procedure could lead, at best, to some kind of natural religion but could never lead to an understanding of Christianity. After all, the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whom Divine Revelation culminated, did not happen to me, nor to this tot I am supposed to teach. How, then, am I going to extract Salvation History from his or her history? How can I possibly not present the main facts of our religion as facts that happened long ago and far away, and which we know about not by our own experiences but by unimpeachable authority? Well, the “answer,” so to speak, is given by Bro. Gabriel Moran, the chief theoretician of the “experiential method.” What he does is very simple, but very radical. He redefines both “revelation” and “salvation history” to make them mean something which they have never been understood to mean before in all of Christian tradition. Listen to these breath-taking assertions from his book, Catechesis of Revelation (which has become standard reading for religious educators):

“Just as the Jews of old discovered God in their historical experience, the Christian student of today can discover God only through the experience of his own situation of space, time, and community. The history in which God reveals himself is… that of the child in twentieth- century America” (pp. 45-6).

In other words, Salvation History, the History in which God’s Revelation unfolded, is identical with all history, secular history, your history.

“A teacher with imagination can reconstruct a story from the past in a way that will catch the child’s attention, but there is no way to make the events of some past life recorded in a story the facts of one’s own life” (p. 46).


“… a theology of revelation demands that the history which the teaching of revelation begins with is always the student’s own history… his own experience, that is, the revelational history which constitutes his own life” (p. 48).

Modernism, and handed her the book. She seemed to be unacquainted with Lamentabili, unable to make out why I was drawing her attention to the part about Divine Revelation closing with the Apostles. Most surprising of all, she was unacquainted with the book, didn’t know what Denzinger was, had never seen it before.


I am at a loss for comparisons. Was there ever a student of geometry who hadn’t read Euclid? Of English law who didn’t know Blackstone? Of music, who had never consulted Grove’s Dictionary? Such and worse would be a student of Catholic doctrine who had never heard of Denzinger. But why am I talking about students? This is a teacher, nay a teachers’ teacher!

What am I saying? That Sr. Marlene is incompetent? Well, I would rather not make that Judgment, because I am after a larger point. Sr. Marlene is typical, you see. The women Religious and lay Catholics who are responsible for school policy all over this Archdiocese and all over America have credentials very much like hers: an M.A. in religious education, or in pastoral psychology, or equivalent course- work. And yet they have never used standard manuals like Denzinger, or Tanquery, or Ott, many of which are easily available in English, and without which it is impossible to situate the teachings of Vatican II within the deep continuity of the Church’s Faith. In that case: are they all incompetent? Yes. The answer is yes, provided you assume that a religious educator in a sensitive, administrative or policy-making position ought to know at least as much theology as a second-year seminarian. I think that’s a reasonable assumption. Look at Bro. Moran’s notion of experiential catechetics: how can a school official come to any reasonable opinion on the subject without knowing theology? More to the point: how can anybody preside over the teaching of Catholic Faith who does not know that Faith as the Church herself, over millennia, has taught it, formulated it, defended it, precisioned it?

I don’t know. And I suspect that Archbishop Bernardin doesn’t know either, which is why he chose for his Vicar of Education a man who very definitely does know these things, a man who is in no sense incompetent. Bishop Daniel Pilarczyk. He is the concerned parents’ last hope. Will he, at least, recognize the solid basis of their concern? We find out in my final installment.

(To be continued) Click here for Part III

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