Now that the English-language edition of the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' is available, the immediate need is for its clear teachings to be transmitted into Australian Catholic classrooms at appropriate levels. The Wagga Wagga diocese's publication of a new primary level syllabus 'We Belong to the Lord', closely based on the new Catechism, is a prompt and positive move in this direction.
Bishop George Pell of Melbourne has written the following observations on the Wagga Wagga syllabus for 'AD2000.'
Under the energetic leadership of Bishop William Brennan, the diocese of Wagga Wagga (N.S.W.) has just produced We Belong to the Lord, a new religious education syllabus for primary children. The production of such a syllabus so soon after the publication of the English-language edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is remarkable in itself; even more so, given that Wagga Wagga is a small rural diocese.
A further positive feature of this syllabus is the fact that it is enjoying widespread acceptance from among the diocese's primary school teachers.
The Wagga Wagga diocese is already noteworthy for having recently established its own seminary (with eight seminarians now in residence, two external students for religious orders and two studying in Rome). It has probably the best seminarian to priest ratio in the country.
We Belong to the Lord has been the result of years of hard work.
Soon after his appointment in 1984, Bishop Brennan obtained the permission of Bishop Patrick Dougherty to use the guidelines of the Bathurst diocese as a starting point to develop a version for Wagga Wagga.
The first draft, To Live in Christ, produced a lively and mixed reaction and the well known and highly respected principal of the Catholic College of Education (Sydney), Br Ambrose Payne, chaired the committee set up to collate the responses. He recommended that the final draft be prepared by representatives of the four deaneries of the diocese, under an independent chairman.
Fr Frank Devoy of the diocese became the chairman with the four deanery representatives (two priests and two lay women), Gerard Gaskin from the Wagga Wagga C.E.O., and Mark Moriarty from Holy Spirit School, Lavington, as executive officer. The resulting 530 page syllabus, We Belong to the Lord, is the fruit of their labours.
Such an initiative is appropriate, since the Catechism of the Catholic Church is addressed first of all to bishops, each of whom is the chief teacher of Catholics in his diocese, not in the sense that the bishop must be the best theologian or pedagogue, but because he is par excellence the guarantor, the defender of the deposit of faith or truth which comes to us from Christ and the Apostles.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote recently to a retired bishop, an expert theologian, who was given a draft copy of the Catechism for his comments. His judgement was simple, "This is the faith of my mother." Loyal Catholics committed not only to sound doctrine but to the teachings of Vatican II on the liturgy, ecumenism, the important role of the local bishop and openness to the good things in the world, will also be reassured by the Wagga syllabus.
Throughout Catholic Australia religious education terms such as guidelines, curriculum and syllabus have somewhat different meanings. However, the Wagga Wagga syllabus is a catechetical text for teachers outlining the basic content, structure and direction for primary religious education.
It is a second stage after the Catholic Catechism, something of a local starting point for the teachers, who can choose their own methods to teach the Church's doctrines clearly in the light of children's experience and maturity. We Belong to the Lord remains to be brought to life by each teacher.
The syllabus's doctrinal statements have been divided into three stages of learning spread over the seven years of primary education, i.e., Infants, Middle Primary and Senior Primary. All in all there are 20 topics divided into the four sections of the Catechism, i.e., Creed, Sacraments, Morality and Prayer, which are developed into 129 units throughout the pupil's primary school life.
Each unit can be constructed from a mixed bag of 10 Resources which include the traditional sources of catechesis - Scripture, doctrine, liturgy, prayer, etc, as well as other resources, e.g., religious reference books and related materials from other teaching areas. The syllabus also contains a good subject index and, very usefully, it is cross-referenced throughout to the Catechism.
We Belong to the Lord is a most encouraging example of what can be done - and will no doubt be done in other dioceses. We can only hope that inter-diocesan co-operation will help those dioceses without Wagga Wagga's resources and perseverance and that Wagga Wagga will continue to lead in producing supplementary materials for its syllabus - texts, videos, computer software, etc. - for use by students.
This is only the beginning of a long story, as we labour over the coming years to build on the Catechism as an essential data base for updating and modernising our religious education programs at primary and secondary levels.
The Wagga Wagga primary syllabus is a giant stride towards this goal and a marvellous achievement.