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Homeschool group rejects guidelines

NCR Staff

Guidelines issued recently by the Chicago archdiocese affirm parents’ rights to provide catechesis and sacramental preparation for their children at home, but tie the process closely to the discretion of the local pastor. The three-page statement has already been rejected outright by one Chicago-based homeschool organization as intrusive and unnecessary.

“Thank you for your help, your initiative, but no thank you,” said Catherine Moran, president of Catholic Homeschool Network of America, a group formed to “safeguard the rights” of Catholic homeschoolers.

A set of guidelines published in August by the Pittsburgh, Pa., diocese contains the same provisions as the Chicago policy. But Pittsburgh’s more broadly developed, 18-page pastoral document clothes the policy in rhetorically softer language, “encouraging” and “inviting” homeschoolers to join in parish programs, making allowances where resistance or difficulty was anticipated.

“The authority of parents and pastors has sometimes come into conflict because of the wide variety of readings of current diocesan policies for sacramental preparation,” says the Pittsburgh document, “Faith Education in the Home.”

“Homeschooling families should not be unduly burdened in sacramental years,” says the document. “In general, if they are providing their children regular and thorough catechesis, they should not be required to attend additional parish religious education classes.”

The Chicago policy guidelines, issued June 20, were developed by the Office of Religious Education in wide consultation that included some homeschooling parents. They affirm the role of parents as primary educators, but call both parents and pastors to a process of cooperation and dialogue toward the common goal of catechesis within the parish community.

The policy says that parents may, “in extraordinary cases, choose to provide formal, systematic catechesis for their children at home, apart from parish programs. This home catechesis is to be in accord with all applicable archdiocesan policies for catechesis.”

Pastors and parents are to enter “into dialogue regarding mutual responsibilities and expectations for catechesis.” This dialogue culminates in a written covenant between pastor, parents and the child.

The pastor is also responsible for providing “parameters and guidance in the selection of texts and other materials to ensure their conformity with the church’s catechetical documents.” Finally, it is the pastor’s responsibility to examine and determine the readiness of a child to receive any sacrament.

“We’re against these guidelines,” said Moran of the Catholic Homeschool Network. “They’re intrusive, a way of coming in with restrictions. We know our responsibilities as spelled out by canon law. We oppose having imposed on us that you have to use this curriculum, this book or take part in this program or you can’t receive the sacrament.

“If a diocese wants to impose guidelines,” said Moran, “they should impose them on those who need them. Let us continue doing what we are doing well. Our children are prepared. We are the bulwark of the faith. We are not the problem. We are the solution. Our children are outscoring other students academically, and the bulk of vocations are coming from us,” Moran said.

The Chicago guidelines were formulated to help, not intrude on parents, said Sue Bordenaro, a consultant with the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education.

“We began this two-year process of developing guidelines to affirm parents as primary educators of their children. We are trying to promote dialogue and cooperation between parents and pastors. Both, according to canon law, have their own responsibilities. There is no denying there is some unresolved tension here.”

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 1997