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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.

  • Adam

    I really do need to read Mgr. Ratzinger’s book! It sounds simply lovely!

  • teigitur

    An awful lot of the lapsation of our children is indeed because of the “Catholic” schools.Most of which hsave long sinced ceased to be anything of the sort.

  • Maccabeus2

    When it comes to Catholic schools and their abject failure to pass on the Faith, it can be summed up very briefly: No Catechisms, No knowledge, No prayers, No Faith. For 40 years this systematic non-system has been applied to court the favour of those ruling elites who in reality have nothing but contempt and derision for everything the Faith holds dear. Who’s to blame? Ultimately the buck has to stop with the guys in charge: the bishops, the bishops, the bishops. Many of these have been pusillanimous little careerists at best, and perhaps just as many have been, and still are, outright apostates. I have little doubt the said gentlemen will roast in Hell for the desolation they have caused and the many lives that have been lost that could have been saved and positively directed towards productive and fullfilling lives but who were instead led to the edge of the abyss by a spineless English hierarchy and then callously ditched without so much as a backward glance.

  • Mikethelionheart

    I am an RE teacher in a Catholic school. If I had the power I would ban Catholic schools tomorrow. There is no attempt to teach the faith. The head teachers are careerists that couldn’t care less. The RE teachers are either non believers or old fools who don’t even know why they believe what they believe so can’t explain it to young people who do not automatically follow the faith of their parents. And the clergy are spineless cowards who don’t want to cause a fuss. The blame lies with the bishops. They are supposed to be in charge. 
    I’ve lost out in interviews to non Catholic RE teachers. In Catholic schools!
    There’s a lot of cronyism in all schools and no less in Catholic ones.
    The money are parishes spend on schools would be better spent making our churches vibrant centres of the community that actually evangelise.
    All Catholic schools do is make children associate Catholicism with an authority that they despise.
    Close them down or completely change them.
    Of course neither will happen. The status quo will grind on.

  • JByrne24

    “Catholic schools were abdicating their
    responsibility…”  Well that is an
    opinion.  However our Catholic schools
    have no option BUT to live in the real world for the benefit of the children
    entrusted to them – you (and even some of our schools) may not like that, but
    it’s a fact that neither you nor they can change.

    Then we move on to the apparent real evils of
    the “world outside”. The “world outside” is an extraordinary phrase. The real
    world should not  be outside the schools
    (if the schools are doing a proper job) nor is it outside the everyday
    experiences of the children – it is the world in which they live, and will live in for
    many years to come. The schools have a duty to prepare them for life in the real world (“outside”, as you would say). The evils are (yet again!) identified very largely with matters about sex: the pill, sexual freedom, the abortion Act, aversion to (“what seemed”) old-fashioned morality (sex again, we are not talking here about robbery
    or fraud etc), Mary Whitehouse (sex again), H.C Greene and, of course, the dreaded
    and dreadful Vatican2. 

    The fact is that none of these things are the real evils of
    today’s world – the real evils are ignored. These include: war, poverty,
    discrimination in all its forms, fanaticism in all its forms, the behaviour of
    banks and some businesses, unemployment, lack of health provision etc.
    These are the evils which destroy families and
    the hopes and God-given rights of individuals.

     Mr Ratzinger’s (senior) newspaper advertisement
    read like an advertisement of the time in which he wrote it, living in the
    countryside. In parts of very rural France it’s even possible today to read
    somewhat similar ones in local papers. They fit the time or/and place.

    England in the post 1960s compared badly to Bavaria in the post 1920s – this must surely
    be a rather bad joke?

  • Kate Ann

    I enjoyed this article until I read about the advert placed by the Pope’s father. O f course it belongs to a different time and place but even so it comes across as coldly methodical and I think it will do the Pope no service. It must be very difficult for him to preach about the necessity of love within a marriage when it appears he experienced very little of it, just duty and service, very noble but not the stuff happy marriages are made from

  • Dproc2001

    I am astonished by all the posts here as they seem to reveal your readers as having a very crude and simplistic understanding of the problems facing the Catholic Church in the modern world. It is very easy to blame RE teachers and Bishops and Head teachers for the evils of the modern world. Indeed, it is the easiest thing in the world to find a scapegoat! May I point out that Fr. Robert Barron wrote an insightful article about this very issue a week or so ago in this paper!

    It is also very easy to shout out that re-introducing the catechism etc. will make things better. If it is that easy why don’t you go out and start evangelising instead of moaning?! You clearly know so much better than the bishops and the teachers! 

     I am Head of a Religious Studies department at a non-catholic school but I taught RE for some years in Catholic schools and I have to say that all the colleagues in two different religious studies departments that I worked with were hard working, intelligent and dedicated people who were committed to helping students explore themes connected with faith. Some struggled with their faith. But then, most people do. 

    I haven’t got any easy answers to the problems in facing modernity. I am curious that your readers seem to think they do! One thing I am sure about  however – you will only change things for the better IF  YOU CAN FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE TO SAY AND HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE IN YOUR HEARTS. No knowledge of prayer, catechism etc. is of any value at all if you do not have love. 

  • Tina

    I think you speak a lot of truth. My husband works in an RC school that performs really well in terms of getting brownie points from Ofsted. However there is little heart and even less soul in the place, most teachers, the Head in particular are far more concerned with their own ego. My daughter has had to put up with bullying from an RE teacher who is a protestant vicar. I have come to the conclusion in fact that bullying in schools is in the main instigated by teachers, who they decide to pet, deride or simply ignore, they lay the ground rules

  • MJCarroll

    I am always quick to blame the Bishops when something goes wrong but, there is another major factor here.

    There are plenty of Catholic School headmasters that are no better Catholics than the average liberal pew sitter. FACT!

    Yes, there is need for leadership from the Bishops, but strong leadership from Catholic school headmasters is now long overdue. If you don’t like me saying it. Too bad. IT IS A FACT!


  • theroadmaster

    The Ratzingers were blessed in respect to the traditional Catholicism that was so deeply embedded in the Bavaria of their youth and this obviously formed their worldview which has never left them.  Today we are faced with a severe dislocation regarding the spiritual formation or lack of it, regarding recent generations of lay-people in Western nations which has put so many of them at odds with the teachings and practices of the Church.  A lot of people seem to take their views on moral issues from experiential-based feelings and secular values which are so pervasive in today’s societies. This is in part a product of the watered-down catechesis and religious instruction that they received in class as children, which has left them bereft of the intellectual tools to make mature theological reflections.  Over the centuries, the clergy have been regarded as the natural founts of  religious wisdom and this in turn has inadvertnetly contributed to a discernible gap forming between lay-people and their priests in relation to  Faith-based knowledge.  Vatican 11 of course has underscored the importance of lay involvement in Church activities and daily reading of the scriptures but somehow these very laudable objectives seem to still in their embryonic stages in many countries.  Catholics deserve no less than to receive a full Christian formation, based on a no-frills, full-bodied representation of the teachings and doctrine of the Church in accordance with scripture, tradition and reason.  This should be a life-long process that provides people who go through with it, the means to bolster their Faith and stimulate their Intellectual curiosity.

  • theroadmaster

    So abortion which is the willful destruction of life in the womb not deserving of our utmost attention?  It is clear from anyone who correctly prioritizes evil in our world, that the abortion industry is a blight on civilization.  Poverty and discrimination while repugnant on their own terms are solvable with regards to enlightened government policies in terms of education and social policies.  But a life is destroyed as it is developing, then we have a terrible tragedy that cannot be reversed.   In effect we have a  terminated human with potential who will never know what it is like to go hungry or experience unemployment.

  • Rich

    So which are you, a non believer or an old fool?

  • Mikethelionheart

    I am astonished by your post Dproc2001

    Sometimes negative things need to be said because negative things are happening and need to be challenged.
    We are well aware of the many, many reasons the young are turning away from the faith. That is no reason not to speak out against our own institutions when they are failing in their duty.

    By the way, I do evangelise. I’ve bought more people to the faith than any priest I’ve ever met. A pupil said to me in a Catholic school last year “It’s great having you as our RE teacher Mr O’…because you actually answer our questions”.  

    Too many RE teachers blagging their way through, no interest in the subject at all let alone belief, only interested in themselves and their own route onto the senior leadership team and a nice hefty pay rise.

  • Cestius

    It’s not all bad. Admittedly a high proportion of cradle Catholics lapse during their teens, but a significant proportion of my local church congregation are converts both from atheism and other branches of Christianity.  The church needs to do more to attract and evangelize those from outside the church. Some teenagers will always lapse, some will return and others will not, but the church needs to look outwards as well.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Kate Ann

    That is really shocking what is happening with your daughter.

    I have come across many examples of protestants and evangelicals getting jobs in Catholic schools and using their position to undermine the faith.

    There is now a rise in joint Catholic-Anglican schools.
    Proof, if it were needed, of the utter pointlessness of our schools.

  • Tom

    I recently finished my education at a Catholic school. Each pupil had a copy of the CCC. We prayed regularly, at whole school mass, during assemblies, and at mass with just our class in the small chapel that was at the centre of the school. RE lessons were very much Catholic centred to the point that we hardly ever discussed other religions. We read papal encyclicals. All the RE teachers were practising Catholics, as were all the senior leadership. We had our own chaplain. We went on religious retreats. Every year there was a pilgrimage to Lourdes. We had vocations day where priests and nuns would talk to us about vocations.

    I’m curious: what would my school look like if was MORE Catholic?

  • Lefty048

    laughing hysterically right now i couldn’t help myself.  so raising a child with the oncoming of nazism is a better environment than now?  with the anti- semetism in europe at that time  certainly not restricted.   to germany but help from austria and poland   and of course the english government.  you people are truly clueless.  i believe the 6 million who perished in the concentration camps and the other 20 to 25 million who died would think things are better today.  those of you who think the english government under chamberlain was not anti jewish need to read some history books.   sorry,  we still have a long way to go but things are better today.

  • JByrne24

    ALL of the above real evils I have mentioned above (and the rest of them) destroy Human Life – and usually also other Human lives that depend on the particular life first destroyed.
    I cannot accept the current teaching that a zygote or bunch of cells is a Human Being.
    The past teaching of the Church, on this matter, has not always been what it is today – so in that sense I am a more traditional Catholic than you !

  • JByrne24

    …………FACT !  …………….FACT !   etc

    You have obviously watched that (Chief) Inspector Jacques Clouseau film !!

    But, YES, of course, what we need is a witch hunt.

  • teigitur

    That sounds like a Catholic school. But it does not even remotely resemble any of our local Catholic schools. Papal Encyclicals!? They have never heard of them. Yours must be the exception that proves the rule.

  • teigitur

    What are any human beings except bunches of cells? Some bigger, some smaller.
     “A more Traditional Catholic” Now there is self-delusion.

  • Kenneth

    Thank you for your evidence in confirmation of the article and other commenters here. By the way, the Christian Church’s teaching concerning abortion goes all the way back to the first century, as seen in the Didache.

  • theroadmaster

    Well, you may not accept the incontrovertible fact, that a zygote is human life in it’s earliest formative stages, but Science proves otherwise.  You say that you prefer scientific rationalism over religion, but there you have it and you do not accept.  You are wrong in your assertion that the Church has been less than consistent in Her 2000 year old history regarding the subject of abortion.  As one of the posters has pointed out to you, it goes right back to such early apostolic works as the Didache.

  • JByrne24

    Dproc2001 writes: “I am astonished by all the posts here as they seem to reveal your readers as having a very crude and simplistic understanding of the problems facing the Catholic Church in the modern world.”

    Well Dproc2001 welcome to this website, you have obviously not been around here very long, for you would otherwise have considered this simple-minded nonsense quite normal. 

    I have speculated with the (admittedly a bit far-fetched) idea that these people were out to discredit and harm the Church by making its future existence improbable. 
    To these bloggers many Catholics (such as myself) are destined for Hell (no doubt about that at all) for failing to conform with their silly ideas. They also inform people (who believe that they are good Catholics) that they are nothing of the sort, and pronounce their formulae of dismissal from the Church. 
    They are living examples of the failure of Catholic schools OF THE PAST to properly educate their pupils in the Catholic Faith.

    Try to do some good Dproc2001, for as long as you can put up with it.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Teigur is right.

    I have worked in 4 Catholic schools and been involved in another. Catechisms in school???? Never heard of it. One RE teacher didn’t even know what one was. As for reading an encyclical…….
    In the school I’m in now there are 5 RE teachers; 2 practising, 2 pretending, 1 atheist.
    The head of department is only concerned about her constant trips abroad every holiday and disappears everyday 30 seconds after the bell’s gone. She was baptised Catholic though so that makes her a Catholic…apparently.

  • JByrne24

    Mikethelionheart wrote: “I’ve lost out in interviews to non Catholic RE teachers. In Catholic schools!”

    Having read your above comment (and a few other postings of your’s) I’m very glad to hear that.

    I trust you have no hard feelings about losing-out.

  • Mikethelionheart


    What are you dribbling on about?

  • Mikethelionheart

    I thought someone would come out with that.

    Very good.

    I am, actually, an awesome teacher. Even if I do say so myself. 
    Which I do.

  • JByrne24

    Kate Ann wrote: “I have come to the conclusion in fact that bullying in schools is in the main instigated by teachers, who they decide to pet, deride or simply ignore, they lay the ground rules.”

    Your above point goes beyond the purely religious. However from my own experience in school, that of my (now adult) children and that of my grandchildren, I believe your comment is very true.
    This is basically how discipline is maintained in a difficult situation, viz. tens of adults and hundreds of children (often adolescents, who will always rebel).

  • JByrne24

    The Church’s teaching has changed at least 3 times and probably 4 times.
    The Church once accepted the Aristotelian view that the foetus acquired the status of Human a month or several months (depending on its sex) after conception.
    St Thomas Aquinas certainly accepted that abortion within these limits was not murder, although he expressed his dislike of it.

  • JByrne24

    Well, if I’d been a thirteenth Century well-educated Catholic, I would have believed that which I mentioned in my reply to Kenneth, above.

  • teigitur

    Very true. Indeed converts frequently are far better Christians than those born and raised in the faith.

  • JByrne24

    I’m quite willing to believe that you do not understand. You have a very crude and simplistic understanding of the matters in question.

  • teigitur

    Are you implying that you are a 21 st century well educated Catholic?

  • teigitur

    Whereas you seem to lack understanding completely.

  • JByrne24

    It can often to hard to keep a straight face around here – but this comment of Ms Phillips’ is beyond the surreal.

  • JByrne24

    Protestants getting jobs in Catholic schools!
    Whatever next?

    Are you, or have you ever been, a Protestant?

  • Kenneth

    Until JByrne24 comes to learn humility, I doubt anything anyone says will matter. The ‘prodigal son’ comes to mind. Prayer will have greater effect.

  • JByrne24

    Mikethelionheart wrote: “She was baptised Catholic though so that makes her a Catholic…apparently.”

    Yes, well that’s what the Church teaches.

    (Although Benedict Carter, and maybe you too, believe differently. Benedict, from time to time, declares such people non-Catholic.)

  • JByrne24

    “Judge not, lest …….”

  • Kenneth

     Remember, humility…

  • theroadmaster

    Theologians in the 13th century did not have the benefits of an electronic microscope to observe life in it’s finest detail.  The fact remains that despite theorizing regarding conception and the inception of the soul, the thread of pro-life support for the growing life in the womb has remained constant down the centuries.  We have no excuse now for disbelieving that human life starts at conception, unless we are ignorant of the facts or else willfully stubborn and self-deluded in the face of them.

  • scary goat

     Hey!  I am very happy with my kids’ school thankyou.  I don’t want it shut down.

  • Parasum

    Hardly surprising. Converts have to decide they want to be Catholic – the others don’t. So they have no reason to think being Catholic is of any importance. So the danger of routinism & formalism is greater. The Church is usually much more healthy where it can’t take its existence for granted. When the Church has it easy, disaster is round the corner.

  • Parasum

    It might discuss other religions…

    The whole set-up sounds suffocatingly over-religious. Though maybe that is an error of perspective. I wonder how many who were there will lapse in the next ten years ?

  • Lindi

    Tom – your school sounds just the place I would have wanted for my five ( now adult ) children. The question is -  no , don’t tell me it’s name !

  • Lindi

    I am wondering if Tom’s school is a fee-paying one (!)

  • teigitur

    It may be, though our nearest fee-paying school is Jesuit run and whilst good in terms of exam results, is really bad on religious education. Sadly, as you d expect from that order, these days.

  • JabbaPapa

    What a wonderful personal attack for no reason whatsoever !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    What a vile comment.