The radicalisation of the religious studies courses at Catholic teachers' colleges illustrates the present and growing problem within the institutions of the Church, beginning with catechesis.
In important areas of instruction and research, the authorities quoted, experts cited, and background material listed are heavily impregnated with the views of those who either oppose or throw doubt on the accepted Catholic doctrine.
The priest-director openly professes a belief in the increasingly dubious theory of evolution, throwing doubt on Genesis, the fall of Man and Original Sin; he avers that a Catholic may hold each of three positions on the "Virgin Birth", viz., "marital intercourse", "not natural", and "agnostic", and "still remain well within the Church". He has prescribed for study and written assignment a book by Matthew Fox, an author (a priest) silenced from further preaching and writing by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Under "Christology", minor and major written assignments were set for students. Eleven choices were given for the minor. They included "The Scientific Revolution", Moses, Jesus and Mohammed; Jesus and Marx; Jesus and Gandhi; the ecological problem; the arms race.
The Major Assignment reads: "Why do we need to reformulate the earlier conciliar statements about Jesus the Christ? What difficulties do we face in that task? Attempt such a reformulation of the doctrine of the Incarnation."
The wording of the major assignment makes it obvious that the student is expected to answer in the affirmative: that it would be considered an unsatisfactory reply if he/she stated the belief that it was quite unnecessary to reformulate statements about Jesus the Christ, that he/she was committed, in faith and intellectually, to the Church doctrine and teaching on the Incarnation; and that therefore it would be an impertinence or worse to attempt a reformulation.
The above is linked to another task: to "write notes on the virginal conception of Jesus". The background notes for this are quite extensive, beginning with the statement: "Until Vatican II unanimity in Catholic Church in regard to historicity. Since Vatican II many questions".
Mention of the Dutch Catechism, "the spread of controversy; Rosemary Ruether in the US and German scholars" leads into Raymond Brown's questioning of the "historicity" of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus.
The "three points of view re: virgin birth" are listed and then can be read against "earlier times" - "Since the miraculous is outside our history, then recent predispositions are against the idea that Jesus, who is like us in all things but sin would be conceived differently from other human beings."
Under "Authority" (pp 31-38 of Brown) students are referred to "Matthew and Luke: apparently accepted the virginal conception as historical. Where did they get their information? Possibly they have taken over an earlier belief that does not have an authentic historical basis."
Under "Church Teaching", we read inter alia: "Ordinary magisterium, though, has held this doctrine from 200-1800AD. But biblical criticism has qualified many of the notions held about the Bible".
Under "Scriptures" (pp 52-68 of Brown), the case "against" a virginal conception has three points:
"1. The 'high' Christology implied in this doctrine is hard to reconcile with [the] idea of a gradual development of New Testament Christology.
"2. The doubtful historicity of the infancy material in general.
"3. The silence of the rest of the New Testament."
"In Favour" has two points:
"1. The origins of the idea of a virginal conception, e.g., tales of marvellous births were created posthumously for great men, especially religious leaders, e.g., Buddha, Krishna and others.
"2. The charge of illegitimacy: an attempt to dampen a rumour".
Now had the director set out to strengthen the student teachers' belief in Church teaching and doctrine based upon the Scriptures in respect of Mary's virginity and the virgin birth of Jesus, it would seem natural and necessary to cite Manuel Miguens' The Virgin Birth, a definitive work published after, and because of, Brown (and Fitzmyer SJ), but he does not accord it even a mention.
Miguens, who received the Cardinal Wright Award for outstanding Biblical scholarship in 1975, taught for 13 years in the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum at Jerusalem, and for six years in the Catholic University of America.
Miguens' book is important because, in the author's own words: "My purpose is positive. Brown's and Fitzmyer's reflections and the problem that they think is unsolved, prompted me to read again the New Testament with their problem in my own mind, in an effort to contrast their positions, not with some texts, but with the general attitude of the New Testament in this regard."
The reviews were impressive: "Noteworthy ... a devastating defeat for the critical methodology employed by Brown and Fitzmyer. It is always a delight to read a superior defence of divine revelation"; "A reaffirmation of traditional Catholic teaching based on the examination of the scriptural data."
Why then did the director use Brown, not Miguens, since the latter confronts Brown so brilliantly on his own chosen ground?
In confronting him, Miguens wrote in his introduction: "If this writer takes up the subject of Mary's virginity as it appears in the New Testament, it is certainly not in order to deal with the problem of Brown's personal faith. This is not a problem for me to discuss, let alone judge or decide."
I subscribe to a similar sentiment in respect of those responsible for this dubious program; but point out to those ultimately responsible for Catholic education that surely they cannot be unaware of the first effects, that is on the faith of the student teachers; then progressively on innocent unformed minds of children who become victims of misleading and/or equivocal catechesis, and so on into the general Catholic community to replace certainty with doubt and/or confusion.