Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 6, 2009

“Dumbing Down” even in the Church?

For some time now, the accusation of a “dumbing down” has been charged against our education system. Grade inflation in the schools, lowered norms for standardized tests, lowered minimal passing averages, stretched out and simplified curricula and so on have been charged and defended and explained and denied. There are certainly some very bright and competent students making their way through the system! But societal beliefs have taken priority over traditional educational norms, and there are consequences.

I fear that much graver consequences are coming upon us, due to a moral, a religious “dumbing down” that has taken root in our parishes and dioceses. I’m not talking here of the 7th and 8th grade Confirmation candidates who cannot recite the Hail Mary or even the Our Father, and who have not received the Sacrament of Confession since their First Communion, and who are in the Confirmation program because “my parents made me come.” No, my concern is more for their parents, and the parents that these children will grow up to become.

Adult faith formation in this country, America, is either non-existent or pathetically inadequate in many if not most of our parishes and dioceses. In “position papers” from the bishops in America we hear the right things – we hear what the Church as Church believes and teaches. It is the actual practice that is so impoverished.

The General Directory for Catechesis (1997) makes clear the scope of formation needed:

GDC 175. So as to respond to the more profound needs of our time, adult catechesis must systematically propose the Christian faith in its entirety and in its authenticity, in accordance with the Church’s understanding. It must give priority to the proclamation of salvation, drawing attention to the many difficulties, doubts, misunderstandings, prejudices and objections of today. It must introduce adults to a faith-filled reading of Sacred Scripture and the practice of prayer. A fundamental service to adult catechesis is given by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and by those adult catechisms based on it by the particular Churches. ….

What is the proper scope? The universal Church teaches that the “entirety” of the Faith must be “systematically” proposed to our adults! And we have such a presentation to base our adult formation upon, in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” In America in particular, the priority that adult formation must hold in the over-all program of education and formation is also made clear in the U.S. Bishop’s document, “Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us” (1999):

§ 5 § Adult faith formation, by which people consciously grow in the life of Christ through experience, reflection, prayer, and study, must be “the central task in [this] catechetical enterprise,” becoming “the axis around which revolves the catechesis of childhood and adolescence as well as that of old age.”

§ 6 § To make this vision a reality, we, as the Catholic bishops of the United States, call the Church in our country to a renewed commitment to adult faith formation, positioning it at the heart of our catechetical vision and practice. We pledge to support adult faith formation without weakening our commitment to our other essential educational ministries.

Instead of adult formation being our “central task” in all formation programs, being “the axis” of all else – instead of being at “the heart of our catechetical vision and practice” – in practice adult formation is the “extra” that is typically first to be dispensed when budget or space or time conflicts arise. Many pastors give only lip service to the need for adult formation – some do not even give this much, but rather see their adults as knowing pretty much all they need to know about the Faith and the moral challenges of our culture. The result is little to no support from the clergy for real adult formation, and of course “if Father doesn’t think it’s important, why should we?”

Adult faith formation is crucially important. In these dangerous times, it is critically important; it is urgent; it is essential. This is a “dumbing down” that is leading not only the Church but the whole culture to disaster. The dimmer the light of Christ becomes in a culture, the more widespread and bloody becomes the brutality of a growing culture of death. Darkness is coming, and the Church in America is sleepy from her self-indulgences. May God arouse us, and soon! Jesus did not go to the Cross to enable moral compromise, religious indifference and social acceptance. Jesus died to enable our sanctity: He calls us to be saints, to be His light, to pass the saving Gospel on to the many who know not their right hand from their left. Lord, give us renewal!


  1. Dear Thomas,

    Hand-in-hand with the “Dumbing down”, I would suggest there is also a “Numbing down”.

    Teaching in public, private, and parochial schools for many years, I have seen students gradually become weaker in mind and heart on all levels of education. It is chilling to see the insensitivity which comes from ignorance of God’s Truth.

    The Bishops were following the Holy Spirit in calling for an emphasis on Adult Faith Formation because there is still hope for adults to regain the Truth which may have been denied them, and then pass on that Truth to their children, and to their peers. Adults are the decision-makers, and there are serious consequences when adults are not making decisions based on Truth.

    Not only in America, but all over the world people are suffering because they have lost the real knowledge of Who Love is, and how they can love in truth. They have been “dumbed down” so they don’t think and “numbed down” so they don’t care.

    Pope Benedict issued today his encyclical entitled “Charity in Truth”. I have only begun reading it but allow me to share these words from his second paragraph:

    2. Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36- 40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter, “God is love” (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God’s love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope. (entire encyclical is posted at

    Many adults have not been formed correctly in the truths of the faith and we are all suffering the consequences. Humanity is losing it’s true orientation toward God. Many do not understand the Truth of God’s Love. He continues to pour out His Love, His Holy Spirit, and holy men like Pope Benedict XVI are cooperating with His Grace. May more persons listen to his words! Those who have not heard God’s Truth are left with the faulty opinions of men, and are susceptible to their lies.

    Each one of us needs to hear the Holy Spirit as He speaks through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church. We need to recognize the Voice of the Good Shepherd and run from the hireling, as well as from the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Renewal of the Church depends on each one of us. God is always willing to love us, but are we willing to live and die to love as Jesus did?

    St. Francis of Assisi, whom God told to rebuild His Church which was falling into ruin in Francis’ day, told his little band of followers when he was nearly worn out: ” Brothers, let us, at last begin!”

    Brothers and sisters, no matter where we are, in our life’s journey, let us too, by God’s Grace today, at last BEGIN!

  2. I wish it were true that is was just a “Dumbing Down.”

    But so far in my journey with the Church, I have realized that the Church has been hijacked. Things that are mere fantasy have found their ways into the Church. Priests are passing on information in their homilies that have no historic backing and are totally contrary to tradition. They are mutilating the gospel: turning miracles, like the multiplication of the loaves and fish, into merely people following Christ’s example of sharing his food with the ones around him. Or going completely against all known Tradition and claiming child baptism was not founded by the Apostles. You even confront the pastor with the biblical evidence and you are told you are wrong.

    When this happens what is the reason to even try and show the quotes from the saints who speak of it being handed down. Some preach that from the pulpit now that contraception and divorce are okay. They use their “educated reasoning,” “Well back in those days many children would die before they reached the age of 10 to 12 so that is why the Church was against contraception.” or “The average age of a person was 30, so the person who lived to 60 had the chance to have at least two wives or husbands. SO IF YOU GET MARRIED AND DIVORCED A COUPLE TIMES IN YOUR LIFE THAT IS FINE” ?????????? I am not joking. Maybe it is because it is FL and we are just a liberal state all around. But then again there have been bishops that have ordained women priests. The church may not recognize them but they claim,

    “The group ‘RC Womenpriests’ receives its authority from Roman Catholic bishops who stand in full Apostolic Succession. These bishops bestowed sacramentally valid ordinations on the women listed above. All the documents pertaining to these ordinations have been attested and notarized. All minutes of the ordinations, including data about persons, Apostolic Succession, and rituals, together with films and photos are deposited with a Notary Public.”

    At what point should we make a scene. When things are said in Church I know for a fact are wrong. What do I do. I haven’t been in the fullness that long but I feel as if I should stand up, slam my missal on the floor as loud as I can, and just scream ” Heresy!!! Heresy!!!” I wish I were holy enough to make this statement, but sadly I am so far from it I couldn’t say such a thing.

  3. Hello Timothy,

    Thank you for your comments, painful as they are to read. You express a frustration that I can certainly relate to. I am happy to read the hesitation that you experience as well, however – a hesitation that keeps you from venting that frustration prematurely: “I wish I were holy enough to make this statement….”

    It is important, I think, to see the Church as she is in fact. She is always in need of reform and renewal (as we all are!). But it also true, always, that she is in her very essence holy. The Church is holy, because Jesus is holy, even though there are sinners among her members. Jesus continues to work His work through her, even through bishops and priests, religious and laity who cause us to wonder in amazement and deep personal distress. But because of her intrinsic and true holiness, we can persevere and continue in hope.

    It is important also, I think, to acknowledge and remember the many truly holy priests and bishops in the Church! In their holiness they point us to Christ, and they help us in our own journey in Him and to Him. Praise God for His holy priests! May he send us more – many more.

    Every one of us has a calling from the Lord – a vocation, a part to play in the great work of Christ. You have yours, and I have mine – and the Lord gives grace as He sees fit, to help us live our calling, our responsibility. It is not easy, to follow Christ! It is good to go slowly – to be very sure that we act as He would have us act, and not out of our own very human reactions and impatience. We must pray, and pray, and listen to know that it is His will that we live! And we also need to pray for others! Especially for those who falter under their own callings and vocations.

    Blessings and grace to you.


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