Sunday, May 8, 2011

If the clergy have teaching authority but parents have primary teaching responsibility, why can’t parents hold clergy accountable?

Today people in the United States celebrated Mother’s Day.  Keeping with the theme of mothers, I thought I’d write about parenting. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, parents, not the hierarchy, are the primary educators of their children’s faith.  Yet, the hierarchy reserves the Church’s teaching authority to itself.  Thus, parents have little control over what clergy spout at their children from the pulpit or other media.  This concerns me because of the amount of incorrect historical, factual, theological, spiritual and ecclesial information I’ve witnessed emanating from the mouths of clergymen.   If I am the primary educator, why don’t I have better recourse for shielding my children from clergy’s inaccuracies?

For example, I attended Mass today with one of my children.  The priest gave a homily overflowing with “history” and “facts” that were, for lack of a better word… wrong.   For instance, he told us that St. Luke was the head of the early church in Jerusalem when, in fact, St. James was. 

He also told us Mother’s Day originated from people bringing flowers to their “mother” church and this tradition somehow grew into honoring human mothers, when, in fact, Anna Jarvis campaigned for the Mother’s Day holiday to continue her mother’s (Ann Jarvis’) feminist efforts inspiring women to take a more active role guiding society and politics.  Anna succeeded in making Mother’s Day a U.S. holiday in 1914.  Anna’s mother, Ann Jarvis’ inspiration was the 1870 “Mother’s Day Proclamation” written by feminist and pacifist, Julia Ward Howard.  

He also provided us with a flawed etymology and linguistics lesson as he rambled about the term, “Theotokos” (Θεοτόκος in Greek characters).   He explained the term meant “Mother of God” and came from two Greek words: “theos” (Θεός) meaning “god” and “tokos” (τόκος) meaning “mother”.  He was correct that “theos” means “god”.  However, “tokos” means “childbirth” or “bearer”.  Thus, “Theotokos” means “God-bearer” or “one who gives birth to God”.  The actual Greek word for “mother” is “Meter” (Μήτηρ).   “Meter tou Theou”  (Μήτηρ του Θεού) is how one says “Mother of God” in Greek.  Though related, they mean different things.

Those were just a few of the priest’s erroneous statements today.  People familiar with the subjects readily knew he was incorrect.  But likely many people were not familiar with the subjects and just took what he said on faith.  The potential damage of his errant teachings is anyone who took his statements on faith, subsequently might believe and propagate incorrect ideas about a host of topics. 

Taking my role as primary educator for my child’s faith seriously, I found myself giving a running commentary throughout Mass correcting his errors, lest my child walk out of Mass today with warped ideas about language, church, theology and history.

Today’s priest was not the first priest I’ve encountered who takes great liberties with truth and facts.  Sadly I’ve encountered many.  Today’s priest, as a matter of practice, preaches homilies littered with inaccuracies; today was the norm not an exception.  He also teaches diocesan-wide classes.

What puzzles me is why priests like this are allowed to spout inaccuracies?  As my children’s primary educator in the faith, how do I dismiss an error effusing priest from having opportunities to teach my children?  What is my recourse?  Where is the governance?

If the clergy have teaching authority but parents have primary teaching responsibility, why can’t parents hold clergy accountable?

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