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How much harder it is to raise Catholics today than it was during the Pope’s childhood

Despite tremendous hardship, the Bavaria in which the Ratzingers were raised was a happy place

By on Monday, 30 April 2012

I was interested to read Piers Paul Read in the Charterhouse column of the Herald for April 27; he is lamenting the fact that none of his children, now adults, practise their faith – this despite a Catholic education and a conscientious and believing Catholic father. What went wrong? Read blames the Catholic schools they attended, where the emphasis was on justice and peace and the Catechism was simply ignored.

Of course, it is more complicated than this. At the same time as Catholic schools were abdicating their responsibility to pass on the Faith, the world outside had embraced the Pill and sexual freedom, and had developed an aversion to what seemed to be old-fashioned morality with its censoriousness and prejudices. Hugh Greene was Director-General of the BBC, Mrs Mary Whitehouse was a figure of fun, the Abortion Act was passed and the Second Vatican Council had left confusion and disarray in its wake. It has not been a good time to try to bring up children to be practising Catholics.

Contrast England from the 1960s onwards with Bavaria in 1920. I say this because I am just reading the most moving memoirs of Mgr Georg Ratzinger, “My Brother the Pope” (published by Gracewing for £16.99.) Mgr Ratzinger, as is known, is the older brother of Pope Benedict. Now aged 88, he lives in retirement in Regensburg where for over 30 years he was the conductor and choirmaster of the famous cathedral choir.

The traditional Catholic culture of Bavaria was still strong when the Ratzinger boys were growing up – as the Pope himself has testified to in his own memoir: Milestones. Family life was very stable, mothers did not go out to work, divorce had not impinged, parish life was vigorous and there were no televisions, computers or mobile phones. Life was not easy – Mgr Ratzinger recalls his father, a policeman, being paid by the day and his earnings being almost immediately worthless because of inflation; there was also the growing political threat from the Nazi Party, which Ratzinger senior abhorred. Yet there was none of the lack of a shared morality between the generations and between family and the outside world inferred by Piers Paul Read’s article.

Two things stand out in Mgr Ratzinger’s book: the strength of family life and the seemingly natural development of both sons’ vocations to the priesthood that sprang from their homelife and parish activities. The author admits that he and his brother did not know that his father, at last financially secure enough to afford to marry, had put an advertisement in the local Catholic newspaper in April 1920: “Mid-level government official, single, Catholic, 43 years old, with an irreproachable record, from the country, seeks to marry in the near future a good Catholic girl who is tidy and a good cook and can do all the household chores and is also proficient at sewing and has her own furnishings.”

There is no mention of wanting “fun” or a “partner”, the wish to “travel” or the need for a “good sense of humour”, so common to today’s personal ads. Feminists would also want to lynch the good policeman for sounding so obviously “sexist”. But actually the couple – she was 36, had been working as a cook and was probably glad of an upright, devout spouse with a secure income and accommodation to go with it – made a very happy marriage, recalled by their sons with great affection and love.

By the time he had finished primary school the musical elder son already knew he wanted to become a priest. He went to the junior seminary aged 12, to be followed by his bookworm younger brother at the same age. Today junior seminaries no longer exist in this country; it is thought to be psychologically unsound to select boys at such a young age. But for the Ratzinger brothers, loving music and the liturgy, growing up in a family that prayed together every evening (and ate three meals a day together in the kitchen-cum-dining room), enjoying walks and family sing-songs, it was the ideal culture to nurture a vocation.

As Read’s article suggests, raising children as Catholics today is a very different matter.

  • JByrne24

    As Rowan Williams recently pointed out:
    our ancestors were not Human Beings  (Cardinal Pell and many others would agree).
    I can probably give you a LINK about this if you are interested.

  • JByrne24

    “semantic”?  Do you really mean that?

  • teigitur

    Its not hard to guess that, sadly, that was your experience.

  • teigitur

    Of course people have changed, they always will. Be a very dull world if everything and everyone remained the same. Certainly people question more, but in the past the Church would have tried to answer those questions robustly. No longer, they are very milk and water, except, of course, when it suits them.
     Man was never made to be alone. He is a creature of community. To an extent that relatively modern phenomenon is a manifestation of selfishness.

  • Oconnord

    Selfishness? Harsh judgement but I won’t disagree. As to being a creature of community, there I think we’d agree. The whole global community idea has led to people ignoring the actual communities they live in. I try to be involved in both. 

    Where I think we’ll differ is that robust answers are not the same as real answers. I mentioned before that even when I was a kid in the 70′s the answers were too often “be quiet, I’m right because the church/god says so”.

    If you take the subject of contraception, for example. The church relies on a philosophical construct they call Natural Law. But it simply falls apart when you compare it to other ways in which we treat natural biological processes. The church doesn’t insist we avoid medicines, which interfere with a natural condition like disease. It’s not even consistent by advocating NFP but not condoms, although of course it does try to justify the difference.

    Faith, no matter how well thought out does not provide answers. It tells you to stop asking the questions or claims they are unanswerable.

  • theroadmaster

    You are gravely mistaken from a scientific point of view if you think that a zygote is just a carrier of “genetic material that can produce a human”.  The zygote is human life in progress and just simply a potential human being.  The latter fallacious depiction of human life at the earliest stages of development, has been chillingly used by pro-abortion supporters as a “reasonable” excuse for destroying life in the womb.

  • theroadmaster

    As soon as the sperm fuses with the egg, the genetic blueprint of human life has been set forth in a developing human.

  • theroadmaster

    It has all been said before.  A zygote is a human with potential and not a potential human being.  To argue to the contrary, is to defy scientific reality.  A cell from your mouth has not been conceived directly by a sperm and egg, unlike a zygote.

  • theroadmaster

    This is poor science and does not contradict the points made to counter your illogical description of life in development during it’s initial stages.

  • theroadmaster

    I mean’t “The zygote is human life in progress and not simply a potential human being.”

  • teigitur

    Not so much a judgement as an observation……
     Now you know I am going to disagree with you about faith. If you have enough of it,it has all the answrs. The trouble, as ever, is we do not have enough. I certainly don t , and find not having any to be unimaginable.
     Contraception…mmn don t tell me you are as hung up on sex as many of the Prelates? lol
     I think the Church is correct to say that its not optimum in a relationship. It certainly puts up a barrier, that it would be better to be without. However, I do not think it a sin, as long as its just that; CONTRA-ception, and not something like the morning after pill, which usually causes early abortion, which surely is a most heinous sin.

  • Helen

    As a child of the 60′s and 70′s I agree that Vatican II caused some confusion for our teachers & priests as to what and how to pass on the Faith. Today’s families have to field the onslaught of outside opinions from television and the internet.  But we have had a Catechism as a guide now for 10 years – Let’s use it!  I have just completed a Certificate in Catechesis by distance learning with Maryvale Institute to do just that.  Next is to set up the network of communication in our Parishes to pass on what has been learnt to our fellow Parishioners – young and old.  And let’s have more collaboration between Schools and Parishes – we put so much into schools to pass on the faith but how do they help our Parish communities to grow and be sustainable.

  • Oconnord

    Hey sometimes I think sex is like money, you think about it more when you aren’t getting any:)

  • teigitur

    Perhaps I m spoiled, always having had plenty of both…….lol

  • Kenneth

    You avoided the question. All of your responses so far only indicate a state of denial. You rejected the scientific and the theological definitions of human being. What is your definition of human being? Answer the question. You must have some sort of definition in mind for you to declare to yourself that one (a zygote) is not a human being. Just declaring it to be absurd avoids reason. Answer the question!

  • Young Person

    A very interesting article. But as regards to the comment on
    Junior Seminary, I would argue that these would no longer serve their purpose
    in the modern world. Yes it worked for the Ratzinger’s but in the modern world going
    off to train for the priesthood at that age in most cases is not sensible. You
    don’t know your own mind in your teenage years so I would never promote people
    getting married under 24ish or becoming priests. We need priests who know their
    own mind, are doing what’s right for them and are ‘of the world’. I do not mean
    by this they have to have had lots of girlfriends in their youth, or whatever but
    we need priests who understand normal life and what it’s like to be a member of
    the laity having been a member themselves for a significant period of their
    life. The disciples were men of their time, Newman was a man of his time, and John
    Paul II his (and there are obviously so many more examples). A Man should not
    become a Priest unless it’s right for him. This tradition of one Son in each family
    going to seminary I would state is mis-guided. My own grandfather (my Mums Dad)
    was sent to seminary by his Mother and left very soon after because it wasn’t
    for him. I am very grateful for this not only because I obviously wouldn’t have
    existed as a result, but because he wasn’t suitable for it and it wouldn’t have
    been right. Unfortunately he never really had much faith personally for the
    rest of his life although he raised my Mum and her two sisters in the faith,
    sent them to Catholic school, insisted they went to Mass and they all still
    practice to this day. He was seen attending Mass several times before he died
    but my point is being forced into the priesthood or trying for it too young when
    it’s not right can damage the individual’s faith if they decide to not go through
    with it but also if they are ordained it can turn out to be counterproductive
    where it’s not what they’re called to do and it can mean they can actually not
    be good at what they do and not be an effective priest.

    One another front, I really don’t buy this idea that Vatican
    2 is the reason why the Church is undoubtedly smaller in the West in the 21st
    Century (notice I said smaller, not small – we’re still a force to be reckoned
    with). Pope John XXIII talked of letting fresh air into the church. As
    Catholics we believe the Pope is the head of the church and the Holy Spirit
    guides him to lead the Church. So the joke with the Holy Spirit forgetting to
    turn up is amusing, but not accurate. Let’s get one thing clear – the crisis
    would be far deeper if Vatican 2 had not happened. I am a child of Vatican 2. My
    grandfather on my Dads side was a Deacon and Baptised me and I had a packed
    church that day because my parents at the time were very involved with Churches
    Together so many Christians from other denominations were present. I struggle
    like any other Catholic with my faith and elements of the Church but my belief
    in Christ and the Eucharist means my faith is strong and despite its faults,
    the Catholic Church is the one that can claim to go back to St Peter, and a result,
    Christ. The 60s changed the West for ever. Love the Music or hate it (I happen
    to love it) but it was certainly a time when it became no longer ‘cool’ to be
    Christian so people stopped going to Mass. With the invention of Contraception it
    meant that you didn’t have to worry in the same way of getting pregnant so
    people started having sex on a more open and regular basis out of wedlock. And
    then there’s Abortion. The Secular events of the 1960’s changed society and its
    relationship with religion, not what was going on in the Vatican. As a young
    person (in the church that can mean anything can’t it, but for the record I’m
    under 21), me and my Catholic friends are very aware that we are part of what
    will be in the WEST (not the world) a smaller church but at the end of the day
    everyone who is a part of it will want to be, and the same will be said of our

  • Peter A Bishop

    It is not the schools.  The schools have done a good job.  Our children have learned to think for themselves.  They no longer accept what they are told without critical evaluation.  They have come to the opinion that the church made up the most of what is taught as the faith.  Young people know that Jesus never ordained anyone, yet we have apostolic succession, priests and bishops — the church made all this up.  Jesus gave us the gospels not a hierarchy.  The young people have also been disillusioned by the tremendous sexual abuse of children and the cover up by the hierarchy.  They won’t trust their children to the celibate clergy of the church.  They do not see this as a church to believe in.  The young people see sex as a good thing, but the church has awful hang-ups about sex and the young people can think for themselves on this.  They are also probably questioning if there is an after-life or if there is a God to believe in.  The church not the teachers has done a poor job.  Where is the outreach to the older teens and the twenty year olds?  There is none. The church has failed them and it is no wonder they have walked away. 

  • Peter A Bishop

    Protestants are Christians too and probably have a better grasp of the authentic scriptures than Catholics.  It would be better to see them as our sisters and brothers in Christ.

  • JabbaPapa

    Why ? Is the word too hard for you ?

    I’m unsurprised.

  • JabbaPapa

    You are very clearly a walking example of a disastrously bad religious education during your formative years.

    As such, your post is a clear demonstration of the truth of what is being said.

  • JabbaPapa

    Protestants mutilate Scripture by ripping out several books of the Bible that they dislike, for some rather outdated reasons, as motivated by some revisionist mediaeval Orthodox Jewish and anti-Christian ideas on what constitutes the canon of the Old Testament.

    So no, I don’t think so.

    That doesn’t mean they’re not our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also doesn’t mean that sola scriptura is anything other than a heretical abuse against Revelation.

  • JabbaPapa

    I see — so naming and attacking people in response to a post having nothing to do with them, concerning an exchange that they have not contributed their thoughts to, somehow doesn’t constitute an unwarranted personal attack for no good reason at all ???

  • JabbaPapa

    Nice to know there will always be someone in here to spread malicious rumour and gossip, anyway. Good job !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    The problem of poor catechesis stretches back further than the 1960s, right back into the end of the 19th century, in the more early industrialised parts of Europe — though the 1960s is when the problem became generalised throughout most of the Church.

    You are simply confirming the contents of the article, and your daily contributions in here are clearly informed by the poor catechesis that you received at the time.

  • JabbaPapa

    If you take the subject of contraception, for example. The church relies on a philosophical construct they call Natural Law. But it simply falls apart when you compare it to other ways in which we treat natural biological processes. The church doesn’t insist we avoid medicines, which interfere with a natural condition like disease.

    That’s an interesting objection, but I think it’s based on a false comparison.

    Natural Law is not a synonym for biological processes — it is the understanding that the biological and geographic, chemical and physical, and other natural realities that exist are ordered according to God’s Will, and that living in accordance with those realities as they have been created is to live according to that Law. And that deliberately flouting those realities is to reject it, and ulyimately reject God’s Will as expressed in the order of Reality.

    This does not mean that the alleviation of human suffering must be shunned, it is instead a philosophical approach to Science that is both Humanist and Christian, as defined in relation to the spiritual needs of the ordinary natural state of being of mankind, defined not on the basis of whichever individualism but on the basis of those Humanist and Christian ideals.

    (I’m obviously not using Humanist as an improper “synonym” for atheist, BTW)

    If there are any valid philosophical objections to this, as there might be, I don’t think you’d find them where you’re looking for them.

  • JabbaPapa

    There’s clearly a question of personal temper yes, and that varies from one individual to another.

    The teachings of the Church on sexual morality *do* fully take this into account ;-)

    There is a clear opposition beween the universal ideals, and the individual realities — an opposition that is central to the Catholic teachings ; not contrary to them.

  • Kenneth

  • JabbaPapa

    The teaching of the Church, going centuries further back than the birth of Christ in this particular sense, has always been that abortion is murder.

    You are confusing the position of Aristotelian science on the question with what the Church has always taught.

  • JByrne24

    Neither myself nor anyone else suggested that the Ratzinger brothers became priests “because of the prevailing political Nazism” (as you put it) in Bavaria.

    I, and others, were commenting on the utterly absurd remark by Ms Phillips that 1960s Britain compared unfavourably with Bavaria in the 1920s and beyond.

    It was this which gave rise to the mock hysterical humour mentioned by a fellow writer.

  • JByrne24

    Oconnord wrote: “The church doesn’t insist we avoid medicines, which interfere with a natural condition like disease.”

    Quite so. The contraception matter concerns SEX. Wherever you can find a sex related subject, there you will find the traditional Church preaching.

  • JByrne24

    Peter A Bishop wrote: “The young people see sex as a good thing, but the church has awful hang-ups about sex ……”

    This is a very kind and gentle way of stating this very obvious fact. Thank you.

  • JByrne24

    ” It would be better to see them as our sisters and brothers in Christ.”

    I have often thought so too.

  • JByrne24

    No, not “attacking” anybody – simply recalling some past, clearly stated, observations/thoughts that are pertinent to the point under discussion.

  • JByrne24

    It is not “malicious rumour and gossip”.

    It is experience and observation. 

    I taught for almost 40 years in Catholic Secondary schools and colleges; so I do know what I am talking about.

  • Peter A Bishop

    The church has lost it with birth control because the people have not received or accepted the doctrine.  Sixty years ago, the Catholic laity made their own decision about birth control and it stands.  The bishops are in denial about it and keep trying to push a dead doctrine. Nobody is listening on that one. If the people haven’t received it and pactice it, it is not Catholic doctrine.  The church needs to catch up with its people.

  • Peter A Bishop

    Not sure that the church has always taught that abortion is murder.  Google Aquinas and abortion and you will get his view that the soul was implanted by God at 40 days for boys and 80 days for girls. 

  • Peter A Bishop

    It is true that Luther inadvertently used the Masoretic text for his translation of the Bible and that was one that the Rabbis had altered to suit their needs to reform Judiasm.  But that does not mean that Protestants do not use newer versions of the Bible today and probably depend on it more than Catholics in the formation of their faith.

    The church has made an accomodation on the argument of sola scriptura and I do not believe it is currently seen as heretical.  Interchurch dialogues between Lutherans and Catholics have made sufficient agreements on this issue.

    The church’s usual argument of the past had not been that sola scriptura was against revelation but that it ignored tradition. 

    You seem to be speaking from a dated and somewhat rigid catechetical base but the church has moved beyond the catechism. 

  • amator Dei

    Peter Bishop seems spot on to me. You might try thinking about what he says rather than insulting him. The truth is often unpalatable.

  • Peter A Bishop

    And your ad personam judgment is an example of not knowing what you are talking about.  I have had a superior religious education from childhood in excellent Catholic schools but I have grown far beyond the catechism faith I was taught there and I can make think critically about my faith.  I am exceptionally well read in philosophy and theology.  I hold three master’s degrees in theology and another in education. Your argument fails and fails abundantly.

  • JabbaPapa

    eek, fair enough actually, seem to have been in a poor mood when I wrote that — I take back what I wrote, and send you an abject apology.

  • JabbaPapa

    I still disagree — but my disagreement was, in hindsight, WAAAAAY over the top.

  • JabbaPapa

    I didn’t mean to suggest that interpretation based on Scripture is necessarily wrong, nor that a personal relationship with Revelation cannot be centred on Scripture, including within Catholicism.

    You make a good point about the ongoing ecumenical dialogue.

    An exclusive vision of sola scriptura certainly *is* heretical though — then again, I mentioned Protestantism very broadly, not Lutheranism in particular. Possibly this was a mistake on my part. I am aware of the recent rebuilding of some bridges between Catholicism and Lutheranism specifically, as well as of the evolution of Lutheranism away from sola scriptura stricto sensu.

  • Toronto AU Catholic

    “Young people know that Jesus never ordained anyone, yet we have apostolic succession, priests and bishops — the church made all this up.”  Let me get this straight – our Lord’s distinctly liturgical act on Holy Thursday, his selection of an ordained priesthood, granting of the power of the keys, the Eleven’s choosing of a Twelfth, Pentecost’s indwelling within a corporate body, subsequent Acts of the Apostles – and none of this was meant by Him to convey the Holy Spirit through an ordained priesthood in apostolic succession?

  • Anon

    ‘the common people are without definite religious belief and have been so for centuries’ Orwell wrote in England,shortly after the blitz. I read a few quotations from Milestones in A Yearbook of Seasons and Celebrations, Joanna Bogle’s essential guide to Catholic culture; and while we may not wish to emulate the total culture work of Germany in the 20s and 30s there is much of practical interest.

    Regarding schools, I suppose a problem is the constant kind accommodation and conformity with the  often well-meaning regulations that accompany state funding. At the other end of the risk spectrum, Fr. Jeremy Davies offers a description of ” a situation ‘of opposition and persecution practised against the church’ “at a Catholic school in his CTS booklet Exorcism.

     As I have carefully read all the comments here as part of my Friday penance I have to say that secular culture really is normalising immoralities: the culture of death, in all our minds, and we need the enjoyable Catholic things to counter it. Shall we all buy YouCat?

  • Susan

     What you call ‘critical evaluation’ is all too often knee-jerk reactions from the depths of their ignorance, or regurgitation of media propaganda. Young people do not know that Jesus never ordained anyone, but will often believe it (and other similar errors) if told often and confidently enough that it is a fact.

  • McAbby

    Catholic Schools are probably disastrous, but I think lots of atheists think – probably rightly – that they are still a better bet than ordinary state schools. Various non-believing but not necessarily deliberately immoral friends have been keen to get their kids in on some basis or other. RC schools are frightful sinks of iniquity, of course. But have you done research into the engines of corruption into which most kids are shoved and which we all pay for?