Recently there has been heated public discussion about Religious Education materials influenced by the thinking of Boston College's Thomas Groome. These materials have been used more and more widely in Australian Catholic schools.
If it were true, as defenders of Groome claim, that the method of teaching developed by him, 'shared Christian praxis', encourages teachers of Religion to reflect with their students on life experience, and to interpret that experience in the light of Scripture and Tradition, nobody could possibly object to its influence.
But, as Eamonn Keane's writing has demonstrated, Groome's method actually encourages something quite different. Like his theology, it is informed by a disturbing attitude towards Papal authority and Church doctrine. This attitude is earthed in an ideological approach to teaching and learning known as a 'hermeneutic of suspicion'.
Naïve thinkers could easily confuse a 'hermeneutic of suspicion' with a healthy critical outlook, failing to realise that there is an enormous difference between being 'critical' in response to life and to ideas about life, and being 'suspicious' of them.
When we are suitably critical of life and thought, in an effort to see things as "in themselves they really are" and to assimilate "the best that has been thought and known in the world", we accept nothing mindlessly. We reflect on what we have met, and we evaluate it rigorously, in the spirit of trust and openness that is basic to docility.
To be just to thinkers who have been highly regarded by our forbears for hundreds of years, it is essential that we manifest such a spirit.
In response to the teaching of the Magisterium, which embodies the definitive teaching of the Church on faith and morals, a hermeneutic of suspicion is inappropriate.
Yet Groome is propelled by this hermeneutic. In its service he casts serious doubt on the soundness of the Church's deposit of faith: e.g. that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ (not the Vicar of the Church); that, through apostolic succession, the content of divine revelation remains constant for all time; that the ordained priesthood differs significantly from the 'common' priesthood of the faithful; and that Rome has no authority to ordain women as priests.
What Groome endorses is a theoretically egalitarian idea of communal decision-making reminiscent of the object of Orwell's most savage satire. In practice this idea is the reverse of egalitarian. Its basis is hubris, posing as enlightened discernment; and its effect is to undermine the Word of God in the name of collegiality.
SUSAN MOORE (DR)
Castle Hill, NSW