By W.H. MARSHNER
June 12, 1975
EDITOR’S NOTE: We publish herein a commentary by contributing editor W.H. Marshner in which he reviews the recent series published in THE WANDERER (2-20, 2-27, and 3-6, 1975, issues) about the Archdiocese of Cincinnati with respect to the state of religious education and catechetics in that See. Mr. Marshner also responds to the criticism made of the articles by Most Reverend Joseph L. Bernardin, Archbishop of Cincinnati, who asserted the reports were “unfair” and constituted unjust criticism and ridicule of “innocent people.” We discussed our intention to publish Mr. Marshner’s response with Archbishop Bernardin and invited his Excellency to submit whatever commentary he might wish to make for concurrent publication. Elsewhere on this page we publish Archbishop Bernardin’s reply.
Dear Mr. Matt:
I have received the draft of the article by Mr. Marshner which you intend to run in The Wanderer. I appreciate your invitation to respond to it. I have decided, however, not to respond to it in detail,
There are a number of reasons which have prompted my decision. First of all, no one has ever denied that in the field of religious education, as in others, there have been problems and mistakes. This is due to the human situation in which we find ourselves and from which we cannot completely extricate ourselves this side of Heaven. I do not believe, however, that the best way to cope with whatever difficulties may exist is through the kind of journalistic exchange which you have proposed. As the chief pastor of the Archdiocese who must not only teach and correct but also reconcile, I favor other methods of fulfilling my responsibilities.
I can assure you that Bishop Pilarczyk and I, either personally or through others, do look into every problem or abuse which comes to our attention. Furthermore, we currently have under study mechanisms for program appraisal, teacher certification and testing. Rather than spend a lot of time answering articles, we would prefer to spend our time on the many programs and instrumentalities we already have and those still in the planning stage which are designed to improve the quality of religious education at every level. The fact that we have not answered Mr. Marshner does not mean we think he is totally correct or totally false, but only that we prefer not to run in response to journalists.
I would also like to mention that Bishop Pilarczyk in recent weeks has met with representatives of Concerned Parents.
With cordial good wishes, I remain Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph L. Bernardin
Archbishop of Cincinnati
Over two months ago The Wanderer completed publication of a series called “Cincinnati: Archdiocese on the Brink,” penned by yours truly. Reader response in that city, to judge by letters sent to me and to the editor, has been overwhelmingly favorable. Several parents’ organizations have distributed xerox offprints, and a public meeting, organized to discuss the series on April 2nd, was well attended. Hence there is no question that these articles have been welcomed as accurate and constructive by hundreds of people in the Cincinnati area, both lay and clerical. Unhappily, their Archbishop does not agree.
In a letter to his clergy on March 31st, and in another to his education staff on April 1st, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin referred to my reporting as an “unfair” attack upon “innocent” people and reaffirmed his “personal support” for all those who had been singled out for criticism. To quote him exactly, in the March 31st letter he said: “Several weeks ago some articles about our Archdiocese appeared in The Wanderer. These articles, for reasons that I shall not elaborate on in this letter, were very unfair. Many innocent, dedicated people were unjustly criticized and even ridiculed. At the same time, however, it was my judgment that the best response would be silence.” Similarly, in the letter of April 1st, Archbishop Bernardin noted that certain members of his education staff had been “publicly and unfairly criticized,” and he added: “The purpose of this letter is simply to assure you and your associates that you have my personal support and that I am very grateful for your dedicated work.”
It seems very difficult, therefore, to avoid an unpleasant question. Is there a fundamental conflict between this reporter and the Archbishop of Cincinnati? In other words, must a person who reads my series come to the conclusion that if he agrees with me, he must disagree with the Archbishop, and vice versa? I do not think so. I do not think the issue is nearly so clear-cut, and I doubt that this unpleasant question is in fact the correct one.
I should say right off that I intend to defend my work against any charge of inaccuracy or unfairness. Not a shred of information has come to light in the months since publication which would incline me to alter or retract anything of substance. But at the same time, it would be completely contrary to my intention if people saw in The Wanderer series a challenge to the authority of Archbishop Bernardin or a quarrel with the pastoral steps he has personally taken. Quite the contrary: in the first part of the series I repeatedly praised the initiatives of the Archbishop, and the whole point of my analysis was to show that the religious education problems of the Archdiocese, especially the crisis of confidence brewing among parents, would be greatly alleviated if Archbishop Bernardin and his Vicar for Education, Bishop Pilarczyk, took more initiatives in this field, exercised more episcopal supervision, and dealt with the problems of parents more directly instead of relying upon staff.
In other words, if The Wanderer series had been picking a fundamental quarrel with Archbishop Bernardin, it would have contradicted itself. It is absurd, therefore, to read the series as weakening any Cincinnati Catholic’s loyalty to his Archbishop. Obviously the issue is elsewhere.
A CURIOUS LACK OF REFUTATION
Let me put the real issue in perspective by going back a bit. The Cincinnati series ran to slightly more than 15,000 words. In all that half-acre of print, I recounted a few anecdotes and criticized a few people by name; but these stories and criticisms were merely illustrative material, included to provide specific examples for the main points I was trying to make. These main points were five in number and went as follows:
- I reported that dissatisfaction over the results of religious education existed in Cincinnati. In fact, its existence has not been denied.
- I reported that this dissatisfaction has never been taken seriously by local or archdiocesan school officials; there has never been an open and objective discussion of the issue based on the premise that the dissatisfied parents might, possibly, be right; in fact I reported that on the archdiocesan level not a single officialof the school office had ever bothered to read the offending textbooks. These facts, too, have not been denied.
- I reported that the cause of dissatisfaction is the objectively verifiable fact that Catholic school children today are ignorant of elementary information concerning the teachings and moral precepts of their Church, and I presented test scores to illustrate this fact. It, also, has not been denied.
- I argued that this ignorance is the result of a methodology sometimes called “experiential catechetics,” which has been adopted by a number of religion textbooks widely used in Cincinnati and elsewhere; I identified this methodology with the work of Bro. Gabriel Moran and contended that Moran’s theological basis for the method is untenable. No part of this argument has been challenged, refuted, or denied
- Finally I reported that those parents who have tried to do something about the situation (and after all, they are the “primary educators,” so why shouldn’t they try to do something?) have discovered that they have in fact no effective channel, or structure, or procedure through which to influence school policy. This descriptive statement about the present power-structure of school decisionmaking in Cincinnati has not been denied.
Now, when I say that a point has lot been denied, I mean that neither of the Archbishop’s letters denied it, and that none of the letters received by this newspaper denied it, and that none of those present at the public meeting on April 2nd denied it. In other words, the entire public discussion of this series, from the time of publication to the present, has involved no challenge whatever to the five essential points. I find this awfully curious. Here somebody comes along and makes the most damaging claims about the state of religious education and about the decay of parental rights, and those whom one might expect to resent these claims (including the local Ordinary) say nothing directly against them. Rather, the quarrel is picked elsewhere. The response seems to be one of casting doubt on the credibility of the whole series by picking on the accuracy of the illustrative anecdotes or by complaining about certain details of style.
JUST AND INJUST CRITICISM
Certainly as far as Archbishop Bernardin’s two letters are concerned, the issue boils down to this: I criticized certain individuals — was I unfair in doing so? This is a perfectly valid question, and I am happy to deal with it; I merely wish to register my surprise (and it’s a very pleasant surprise) that this is the only question brought forward.
Very well, the Archbishop believes that many innocent people were unjustly criticized. This is an ambiguous statement. In order to answer it, I must distinguish three possible meanings. Thus:
- The Archbishop believes that a good many of the things I said about these individuals is flatly false; or else
- he believes that a good many of these things, if not altogether false, are nevertheless “unfair” in that they place a warped interpretation on the facts; or else
- he believes that I selected my material in such a way that the things I said, though occasionally true, nevertheless add up to a wrong-headed picture of the whole situation.
Needless to say, the three possibilities are not mutually exclusive. The first implies that I did not get my facts straight. The second implies that I put a needlessly dark interpretation on the facts which I did get straight. And the third implies that there are so many facts I did not consider that, in effect, I made a mountain out of a molehill. Fair enough? I must now deny all three.
Ad primum. I conducted interviews in Cincinnati with several dozen people. I included in the series no incident for which I did not have eyewitnesses, and I quoted no statement for which I did not have either tape-recorded evidence or the firsthand testimony of several witnesses. Thus if any person to whom I attributed some statement or some action is now denying it, well, let’s just say that his or her memory could stand improvement Furthermore, if the Archbishop has based his two letters upon any private assurances given to him by these people to the effect that my version of some event or some quotation was untrue, then he has been seriously disserved. It is not simply my word against theirs, but the documentation I can produce against their word. If the Archbishop would like to see this documentation on any particular point, I shall be happy to make it available to him for his private use.
Furthermore, it can hardly fail to be significant that of all these alleged victims of injustice, only one has taken the obvious and forthright step of writing to The Wanderer to demand a retraction. In that one case, I have rechecked my sources, I have concluded again that they are reliable, and I am standing by the story as written.
Finally, this allegation of inaccuracy has taken some truly absurd forms. I am not referring now to the Archbishop’s letters but to gossip floating around the Diocese, some of which surfaced at the April 2nd meeting. Take for example the disgraceful toilet-seat incident at Our Lady of Angels High School: I am told that a certain spokesman for the school is now telling people that this incident was the work of “vandals who broke in.” In fact it was a public act of the school’s own students, as hundreds of witnesses can testify. Or take the demonstration over Fr. Flanagan: I am accused of exaggerating the number of demonstrators. In fact, I never knew the exact number and didn’t state it. I said “carloads.” The accuracy of this statement was confirmed on April 2nd when one of the organizers of the demonstration revealed that in fact seven cars had brought people to the picketing and that close to a hundred parishioners had wanted to come but had been dissuaded by Fr. Flanagan’s firm opposition to any action in his behalf. I could cite other lame efforts to discredit the substance of my report through nit- picking or misrepresentation, but I prefer simply to issue a challenge. If anyone cares to assert that my facts are false, let him come out into the light of day. Let him send a letter to this newspaper stating his version of the event. I have no doubt that others will step forward to refute him. If I am wrong, I shall retract.
Ad secundum. Did I treat anyone unfairly or uncharitably by taking an isolated fact or quotation and presenting it within some interpretative framework which gave the whole event a false meaning? This is obviously a harder charge to dispose of, but I think it will not stand. Certainly no one has written to me to argue that I am guilty of this mistake. Therefore, in the absence of any concrete charge, I must reply in generalities.
First of all, most of the incidents which I reported are what one would call “typical.” And the persons whom I criticized by name are almost all habitual offenders.
These are people about whom I had several stories in hand, all pointing in the same direction and adding up to a pretty clear picture of their attitude. The offenses in question included crazy liturgies, false statements about sexual ethics, denials of Catholic doctrine, and acts of bureaucratic arrogance against parents. I related about ten such stories in the series, but I have in hand at least 50, many of them relating to the same persons or the same institutions which I mentioned by name. Hence if the charge of unfairness is meant to suggest that I picked isolated and atypical events, I can deny it absolutely.
PERSON AND PERSONNEL
Secondly, there are many devout Catholics who hold a sincere but dangerously oversimplified view of the Church. They tend to envelop all the priests and nuns they know with the garment of sanctity which properly belongs to the Church herself. In Jacques Maritain’s phrase, they fail to distinguish between the Person of the Church and her personnel. To such people, of course, any public criticism of a priest or Sister is almost automatically scandalous, unjust, or uncharitable. Similarly, there are those who apparently can’t distinguish between the various types of business which go on in an archdiocese. Dogmatic teaching, sacred liturgy, spiritual counsel, administrative policy — it is all one to them. They imagine that if some educational bureaucrats happen to work for the archdiocese, their administrative decisions are thereby one with the spiritual heartbeat of the Church herself. Hence, if somebody criticizes those bureaucrats, even on the administrative level, some people immediately assume that the archdiocese itself has been vilified. Nonsensical as these confusions are, they do exist. I have encountered them in this case in the form of a vague bias (rarely put into so many words) to the effect that my articles must be unjust and uncharitable simply because I criticize ecclesiastical officials and mention names. Such bias is too silly to merit a long refutation. Those who think this way have not assimilated the message of Vatican II, which encouraged a greater freedom of discussion in the Church on all issues so long as the Faith itself is not in question.
Thirdly, there are those who believe my articles must be considered unfair simply because I presume to criticize professionals engaged in their professional field without being a professional myself. The first question they want to ask is “Young man, are you a professional educator?” As soon as I say, “No, sir, I just write for a newspaper,” by George, they’ve got me. Presuming to criticize teachers and school officials; presuming to criticize textbooks without being a trained expert — it’s anti-intellectual, Birchite, extremist, West Virginian.
SIMPLE AND COMMONPLACE LOGIC
This is another bias. But this one is often expressed in so many words. It is a bias people have learned from the professional educators themselves. The reader will please bear with me while I refute it on grounds of logic and common sense.
Let us begin with two opposed propositions:
- Religious education is succeeding (call this statement p).
- Religious education is failing (call this not-p).
The professional educator concedes to you and me, the noneducators, the public, the full right to assert p as often and as loudly as we like. We can carry banners for the local school system, sing hymns of praise for the superior instruction our children are getting, campaign door-to-door for the bond issue or fork over in the collection plate. However, the professional educator denies us the right to assert not-p. That proposition, we are told, requires expertise which we do not possess. Only educators have the requisite knowledge to assert not-p.
Now, propositions are intentional structures which pick out states of affairs. If the state of affairs picked out by the proposition obtains, we say that the proposition is true. If that state of affairs does not obtain, the proposition is false. Thus far, the matter is very simple. However, we note next that propositions can be either affirmative or negative. This is odd because there are no negative states of affairs. There are no negatives floating around in being, that is, in extra-propositional reality. What, therefore, does a negative proposition pick out? A negative state of affairs? No. It picks out a positive state of affairs but denies that that state of affairs obtains. For example, if I say it is not raining today, it is not because I have put on my anti-matter glasses and noticed the existence of negative rain. I have simply denied that the proposition, “It is raining today,” is true. In other words, the proposition, “It is raining,” and the proposition, “It is not raining,” pick out the same state of affairs, but the first affirms it to obtain and the second denies it. This is really very simple and commonplace in modern logic.
Now, let us go back to our original pair of propositions. “Religious education is succeeding” (p) picks out a (positive) state of affairs. Its contradictory, “Religious education is failing” (equals, not-succeeding, equals not-p) does not pick out a different (negative) state of affairs; it simple asserts that the same state of affairs does not obtain and hence asserts that p is false. Therefore, if I have the information to assert p, I must have enough information to assert not-p. If I know enough to say when it’s raining, I obviously know enough to say when it’s not raining. If I can see that education is succeeding, I can jolly well see when it’s failing. Thus the bias inculcated among us by professional educators rests upon an elementary logical blunder.
VICIOUS CIRCLE FALLACY
But wait. Perhaps the educator does not really concede that you and I know enough to assert p. Perhaps we have misunderstood him. Perhaps he only allows us to repeat after him, on the basis of what he knows, not what we know This line of reasoning looks a little more consistent logically (though it is frightfully arrogant). But left see how it stands up.
The educator presents us with a syllogism, as follows:
Education is such that only educators have the right to make judgments about it.
But p and not-p are judgments about education.
Therefore, only educators have the right to assert p and not-p.
Now, obviously, what you and I would like to know is where the educator came up with his first premise. This rule that “education is such that only educators have the right to make judgments about it” (let’s call this rule r) — where did it come from? It’s a very sweeping claim. How does the educator know that it is true?
When we ask this question, the expert smiles. We have made the mistake, he says, of challenging him on his own turf. He knows that the rule r is true because he knows all about the nature of education, whereas we, poor things, do not have enough information to know whether r is true or false. Thus, the educator defends himself with a second syllogism:
Education is such that only educators have the right to make judgments about it (equals r);
But r is a judgment about education ;
Therefore, only educators can assert r.
Well, if this reasoning is correct, you and I will have to shut up permanently. Happily, the logic of this “syllogism” is a mess. The second premise happens to be false, and the first premise is not in logically proper form. The mistake here is the one discussed by Whitehead and Russell as the “vicious circle fallacy” (Principia Mathematica, Cambridge University Press, 1962, pp. 37-38 and 60-65).
We are dealing here with the class of judgments which concern education. We can call that Class E. The rule r is not a member of the class E, because r is not a judgment about education (though it is disguised to look like one), but a judgment about other judgments. Properly stated, r says this: “No noneducator has a right to make judgments about education.” Well now, as soon as we state r properly, we see that it is not a judgment about education but a judgment about who has the right to speak. It is a denial of the right of free speech. Moreover, as we have just seen, r is not a member of the class E. Yet the educator’s expertise is limited precisely to the class E. Therefore, the educator cannot derive the “truth” of r from his knowledge of E. So how does he know that r is true? And what gives him any more right to assert r than you and I have to assert not-r? The answer: nothing. Pseudo-rules like r do not belong in the class of any professional expertise. They are matters of public policy and hence open to public criticism. Were it not so, the public would never have the right to judge the competence of any alleged expert, and we should all be at the mercy of white-coated totalitarians.
EXPERTS AND ABSURDITIES
Now, for those readers who may have found this logical exercise a little hard to follow, let me give a common-sense refutation of this kind of professional arrogance. Sr. Lucy Frenetica is the principal of St. Dymphna’s elementary school. Sister has been having a nasty pain in her shoulder, so she goes to the doctor. The doctor looks her over and says, “Looks like you have a touch of bursitis. Take these pills four times a day and come back in two weeks.” At the end of that time, Sister comes back with some bad news. “Doctor,” she says, “the pain is worse than ever.” What does the doctor do? In a free society, he examines her again; he changes the medication or the diagnosis or both. Here is a sample of what he does not do.
“Doctor, the pain is worse than ever.”
“Oh. really? Listen, Sister, you came to me because I am an expert, right?”
“Certainly,” she says.
“Now, you admit that only doctors have a right to make medical judgments, don’t you?”
“Why, yes, doctor.”
“Very well, whether or not you have a pain is a medical judgment, isn’t it?”
“Well, I never looked at it in that light. … I suppose it is.”
“That’s right. You have no right to an opinion on the subject, one way or the other. I say that you have no pain, and I am the expert. Please pay the nurse on your way out.”
No M.D. would dare to behave this way, because he would soon lose his last patient. But if he did talk this way, he would sound exactly like a professional educator working for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I have the names of half a hundred parents who can attest to a conversation something like this:
“Sister, my child doesn’t know any religion.”
“Oh? Well, listen, parent, you came to me because I am an expert, right?”
“Now, you admit that only educators have a right to make educational judgments, don’t you?”
“Of course, Sister.”
“Very well. Whether or not your child knows his religion is an educational judgment, isn’t it?” “Well, I never looked at it that way. I suppose it is.”
“That’s right. You have no right to an opinion on the subject one way or the other. I say that your child is doing fine, and I am the expert. Please pay the tuition and don’t ask any questions.”
In short, the biased notion that only educators have a right to talk about education leads to absurd conclusions in every direction. Those who think this way had better check their premises.
Ad tertium. Have I selected my facts in such a way as to make a mountain out of a molehill? I can handle this charge in very few words. I did not come to Cincinnati because I had a hankering for Hudepohl beer. Parents’ groups badgered my editor to send a reporter. I did not come with ready-made answers. I came to hear what people had to say. If the Archbishop thinks there is no real problem, his quarrel is not with me but with his own people. The scores of people whom I interviewed, the hundreds who have agreed with my analysis — are they all kooks? Are they all imagining things? An honest answer to that question would force those responsible for religious education in Cincinnati to face up to the five substantive points which I advanced, and which have so far gone unanswered. Then a real debate could begin, and the cause of truth would be served.