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I have been to the trial several times but today was a very difficult day. The courtroom was packed with Lynn supporters on the defense side and victims, family members and supporters on the prosecution side. Although, it was so crowded some late-comers had to mix in where there was an available seat.  I looked around at the people who I never knew until this past year: Vicky and Steve, whose bodies were sexually violated as children; Art, whose beloved son is now gone forever; Sr. Maureen, always fighting for children and victims; Joy, who founded a support group for parents of victims;  Sharon, Vicky’s rock through the hard times; Irene and her husband, who attend vigils and support Justice4PaKids; Bill and other senior citizens, who do not let age or infirmity keep them from the vigils outside the Archdiocese in the rain, cold or heat…

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When the church authorities and parish Catholics treat abuse victims as the enemy it allows them to rationalize their hateful behavior. If only they could recognize us as Catholics too -members of the same faith family, disaffected, disillusioned, no longer comfortable at table fellowship but still part of the family. We did not choose to be abused, sodomized or raped by our Fathers but we were. The abusive priests are the enemy – not us. We are just the adult versions of the 3 year old, 4 year old, 7 year old, 11 year old us that was hurt – hurt so badly we can’t seem to let it go. Hurt so badly our faith was torn along with our tender bodies.

And when we need our Faith Family the most they turn away, call us liars, reject and verbally abuse us.

I find the people praying for Monsignor Lynn at the Philly trial to be unconscionably disinterested in the real victims and I cannot understand it. Have they not read the Grand Jury reports? Who do they really think Jesus would be defending, praying with, healing? The cowardly, corrupt, callous prelates of the Church?

Their piety and blindness sicken me. I despair of a just outcome to this case.

The more well-educated a theology teacher is in philosophy the better prepared they are at negotiating the difficult waters of critical thinking and faith. Faith exploration can become for students an exciting, mind-blowing, scary process leading to an informed commitment of mind and heart … or not. They have to be offered that choice.

The pursuit of Truth is not like erasing a scratch-off card, it is more like assembling a ten thousand piece puzzle made up of just different shades of blue. Presenting the faith as a series of definitive answers does our students a disservice because it denies them a personal journey of discovery within their faith community and makes Catholic Faith seem to require an all or nothing yes or no. While the truth of adult Catholic faith and practice is a much messier reality, as all adult Catholics know only too well.

Transcendent and Incarnate

Flesh and Spirit

Ascending and Descending

Dying and Rising

Bread and Wine

Fundamentalism and Truth

Being a religious educator comes with a responsibility to consider how much to engage students in critical thinking. Is critical thinking the antithesis of faith? A study in the journal Science recently asked that question (April 27, 2012).  Their conclusion was that a person’s fundamental, often more intuitive than rational, beliefs are not necessarily set in stone but can be influenced by engaging in analytical thinking. This is a good thing because it means there is hope for our Church.

Catholic religious education has moved away from the critical thinking that was encouraged in the ‘70’s and 80’s. There is now, once again, a fundamental fear of creating “thinking-Catholics,” a fear that originates in Rome and is communicated through our bishops’ control of textbook selections and curricula, and on the college level through mandates.

But in order to remove critical thinking from religious education one has to avoid the study of the Gospels, for starters. The Gospels present four authors/communities of faith who were applying the intuitive as well as analytical parts of their brains to the basic questions: Who was Jesus? What was his message? What did his death mean? Study of the various and sometimes contradictory views of the Gospels introduces students to critical thinking. It has to.

So the emphasis in religious education has moved from the Gospels and Jesus to doctrine and catechism, but without historical context and honesty concerning the messy process of doctrinal development. The first five hundred years of the church were characterized by an intense, often rancorous, sometimes even violent process of debate and disagreement about those fundamental questions raised by the Evangelists.

An introduction to early church history can be a great foil to doctrinal fundamentalism. Sadly, students are often taught ecclesiology in the place of Church history. When I last taught, in 2006, one high school textbook recommended for Church History was based on Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church and made no reference to the Reformation. None!  Yet an honest look at the Reformation would provide an extraordinary insight into the fallibility of the church.

But then, that’s the crux of the matter isn’t it. The Church can be seen to have done no wrong, to have taught no errors, to have been led only by saints. The underlying motivation of our hierarchy, in education as in all other matters, is fear of the Truth, not pursuit of the Truth.

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