End Notes: A Call to Babel

A teacher can give us explanations but she cannot give us understanding. The function of the teacher is not to trade ideas. It is a bane of what we laughingly call our educational system that the seminar, once the preserve of graduate studies, has trickled down into high schools, into grade schools, into kindergarten. I suppose that in day care centers they now consult the toddlers to find out how to run the place.

A teacher, by definition, knows more than we do, if we are pupils. Teaching is an art and learning is another, but they are distinct, if complementary, activities. Confusing the one with the other is a sure way to prevent either from achieving its end. Graduates are now blissfully ignorant of history and mathematics and science. We will be told that they now think for themselves and are not as docile as kids once were.

Well, no doubt it does put a crimp into one’s creativity to have to accept the multiplication table, the precise dates when things happened, and who founded the country and why. But to call this having one’s own ideas about such things could only occur to a product of such an educational system.

The nonsense that has pervaded education generally for much of this century has long since crept into the way in which the faith is passed on from one generation to the next. You don’t need to hire a pollster to find out that products of Catholic education, grade school, high school, college, have not the faintest idea of what it means to be a Catholic. If they have been taught anything about the Church’s teaching—what St. Paul called the deposit of the faith—it is very likely that they have been told that it is they who must decide what it is. The bankruptcy of religious instruction is one of the major scandals in the Church in this country. There is a counterpart of the NEA within the Church that opposes any effort to pass on the rich patrimony of the faith to our children.

There are those who regard the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an impediment to religious instruction.

There are those who regard encyclicals as invitations to debate.

There are those who treat most solemn pronouncements of the Magisterium as the expression of a surpassed position.

There are ordained priests whose grasp of the faith is shaky. They seem to see it as an inner experience without content, which is why their sermons tend to dwell on personal experiences, little vignettes to tug the heart strings, but whose relevance to the great truths of salvation is unclear.

Into this scandalous situation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago has just lobbed the suggestion that what is needed to confront the crisis in the Church is—dialogue!

He proposes that open-minded “believers” get together and chat about abortion and women’s ordination and doubtless other objects of the theological dissent that has torn the Church since Vatican II.

With all due respect, this is arrant nonsense. It is one more instance of the failure of the hierarchy to do their solemnly ordained job, which is to pass on the deposit of faith, whole and entire, and to do so authoritatively. This is not, as seems to be feared, a matter of imposing their personal and thus private views on others. What God has revealed and what the Church teaches is not a matter of opinion—mine, yours, or anyone’s.

There is nothing to discuss on the matter of the morality of abortion. If any bishop thinks there is, shame on him.

There is nothing to discuss on the matter of women’s ordination. If any bishop thinks there is, for God’s sake let him resign.

The last thing that is needed is a discussion of the teachings of the faith as if they were propositions that had to be ratified by what has come to be called dialogue.

Dialogue is the word that is used for waffling and for the culpable failure on the part of bishops and priests to do their ordained task.

We have “dialogued” the unequivocal teaching of the Church on contraception right out of the consciousness and conscience of Catholics. Those who have brought this about are hard at work getting other items on the secular agenda confused with truths of faith. Feminism calls for women’s ordination. Nonsense about language calls for tortured translations of sacred texts.

Of course, such subversives want abortion discussed, and divorce and homosexuality and all the rest of the items of a culture to which the Church stands opposed. They should be silenced, not heeded.

Faith is a free responsible acceptance of what God has revealed in Jesus Christ and through the Church. But the acceptance must be of what is offered, not of some substitute reached as the result of a discussion that treats heterodox positions, the effective rejection of the faith, as if they must be accommodated.

Faith comes from hearing, not from dialogue.

For the love of God, let the dialogue cease, and the teaching begin.


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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