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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.

  • JabbaPapa

    Witch hunting is your daily actvity in the blogosphere, isn’t it JB…

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s just his usual sort of dribble … er, drivel sorry.

  • JabbaPapa

    What a vile comment !!

  • JabbaPapa

    Every single one of us is a bunch of cells.

  • Maccabeus2

    Sounds superb – which school was it?

  • JabbaPapa

    1) Aquinas is not synonymous with the Church

    2) that was a point of view of mediaval (secular !!) science, itself derived from Aristotle about 2600 years ago

    The notion that fetuses are not human beings is based on 2600 year old science, that has been completely rubbished as being inconsistent with what we have discovered about the origins of life in the meantime.

    Still — that doesn’t mean that I’m not frequently flabbergasted by liberals/atheists/etc who simultaneously claim that homosexuality is caused by DNA, that is to say that it is provided by their life even BEFORE the moment of conception — whilst claiming that fetuses are not human beings (even though they also claim that some of them are already homosexual at that stage).

    The sheer intellectual incoherence of the liberal-atheist position is STUNNING in scope.

  • Maccabeus2

    What a remarkably self-righteous, self-satisfied, smug little statement.

  • Mary O’Regan

    Francis Philips’ spirited post invites us to look at two different environments:  Catholic Bavaria where the vocations of the Ratzinger brothers flourished and post 1960s Britain where the faith didn’t grow in the hearts of celebrated novelist Piers Paul Read’s children.  Her post looks at the conditions for passing on the faith and for nurturing vocations.

    Despite the tumultuous times of 1930′s Germany, their parents Josef and Maria Ratzinger kept a peaceful, loving home where their children could hear the call to the priesthood. Some might think that the advert-for-a-good-wife that the Pope’s father put in the paper does not benefit the Pope, but objectively it does help us understand the Pope better. The Pope’s father looked for a wife who had the necessary skills for caring for children.  He was not thinking of his future children.  If the Pope’s mother had been nobility and was not able to sew and cook meals using inexpensive, basic ingredients; the Ratzinger children would have been hungry and unkempt.

    One person has commented to say that they are ‘laughing hysterically’ because they have read the post and think that the post is arguing that the Germany where the Pope grew up in was ‘better’.  No – it was not a ‘better’ environment because of Nazism but because of the robust Catholic culture in Bavaria and the the bravery of the Pope’s parents in passing on the faith which resulted in one of their sons sits on the Throne of Peter today.

    Francis Philips’ post does not rely on opinions – but fact. Fact: The
    Ratzinger brothers became holy Catholic priests – not because of the
    prevailing political Nazism – but in spite of it.

  • MJCarroll

    When schools fail an OFSTED inspection the headmaster is sacked.

    The spirituality in Catholic schools is now non existent.

    I make no apologies for my comments. In fact, I would go one step further and scrutinise the Board of Governors and the senior management teams in Catholic Schools.

    It is not so much of a witch hunt but, a modern day form inquisition of what is being allowed to happen in Catholic schools that should be happening.

    And why not? The sooner the better!

    The sooner it happens the sooner everyone can stop moaning about how bad Catholic schools are.

  • Dproc2001

    Thanks for responding to my posting. I think that comments and criticism are vital to the life of the church and of course things need to be challenged. There are also many things that I would change about the catholic schools I worked in. But your postings are too black and white. You give the impression that you know everything and teachers and priests known nothing. Somehow I do not buy that. I am pleased that some of the young people you have met think that you answer their questions. But. you sound though that you have a chip on your shoulder about RE teachers however and I cannot understand why. Have you got evidence about all these teachers blagging their way through their profession?

    I actually teach, as I told you, in a non-catholic school. None of my colleagues are as you describe them. They love the subject and are dedicated to exploring important religious themes with young people. In all the schools I have taught in, some catholic, I do not recognise the kinds of people you are describing. I have never met one RE teacher who was not dedicated to her subject matter. Your comments are unhelpful. The Church will not be able to face the modern world very well if the people within it just attack each other in the manner you do.

  • Dproc2001

    Thanks for your comments and encouragement JByrne. I must admit that I was somewhat astonished by the tone of the some of the comments posted. But I do look upon it with some humour. I cannot believe though that people, and especially catholics, can speak to each other in the manner these people do! I thought that Catholics strove to put into practice the teachings of Jesus. Clearly not many of them here do!

  • Mikethelionheart


    Please learn to read.
    The comment in my post referred to Protestants using their position to undermine Catholicism not just to their being employed in Catholic schools.

    Do you actually have anything real to say or is it all just hate filled garbage?

  • Mikethelionheart

    This is my exact point.

    It will be better for the future of the Church to cease having Catholic schools and put the resources instead into having vibrant churches that are centres of teaching and evangelisation.

  • Mikethelionheart

    How very judgemental.

  • Mikethelionheart

    Well we can argue all day about the RE teachers you’ve met and the RE teachers I’ve met.

    I think the facts speak for themselves.
    The only figures we have on the matter show that Catholic pupils that go to Catholic schools are more likely to leave the faith than Catholic pupils that go to non Catholic schools.
    Something is not being done right. I believe in my experience I can see what.

    Our primary schools are fantastic but, whether you like it or not, our high schools are not doing what they were set up to do. 
    Running these schools is a burden that we can do without.

    Oh, by the way, there was a report by NATRE back in, I think, 2009 that stated that RE was the worst taught subject in this country. There was something similar in the last 12 months.
    It’s not about being negative anymore than OFSTED are. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out things that need to be improved.

  • Oconnord

    How come catholic parents are not being blamed in the article or comments? Surely it’s reasonable to assume if they wanted their children to have an in-depth catholic education they would take steps to provide it. Perhaps the parents simply don’t care about the religious aspect of education. They may be far more concerned about the secular aspects which will lead to a good college and degree.

  • Jason Clifford

    While it is certainly true that Catholic schools are generally failing in a big way to fulfil their vocation to be Catholic it is also true that this is nowhere near as important as the volume of replies to this article (and the heading of the article!) suggest.

    Isn’t the real issue is not the school but rather the home? We need to be faithful catholic families in order to give rise to a generation of catholics who will be faithful to the Church. If instead of gifting our children with a home and family culture centred in faith we allow them to be given over to the culture of the surrounding society it should be no surprise that they are catechised for the world and not for Christ and His Church.

    Children with a good grounding in faith will be willing to stand up for their faith at school. This may be the only viable route to evangelise the schools.

  • WSquared

    Tina, what makes you think that love, within marriage or not, is all warm fuzzy feelings with our special someone?  True love is charity in truth, and truth in charity.  Namely, true love is Communion with Jesus Christ, who is of one substance with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  We hear over and over again that “God is Love,” and to love rightly is to enter into Communion with that love. This much is true, whether you are married or not, for this is the sort of love that we all seek, whether we are married or not. 

    If you actually read what Pope Benedict XVI  (to say nothing of his predecessor) has to say about love, he has more than a thing to teach you and me, namely that love isn’t just about duty, but that service and sacrifice can and do involve joy and grace.  He “gets it,” because he lives this sort of life in his priesthood.  Furthermore, it doesn’t take any decent, sensitive priest much to know from what his parishioners tell him in confession, or when they seek his advice, if their spouse is treating them badly, or that they themselves are part of the problem (or both).

    A little humility, please.  And that goes for all of us when we presume that priests don’t know much about love.

  • Vger72

    “Catholic pupils that go to Catholic schools are more likely to leave the faith than Catholic pupils that go to non Catholic schools.”[Citation needed]

  • Rich

    Im not sure why my comment got removed when I used precisely the same words you did… but anyway: If you wouldn’t include yourself in the description you gave of RE teachers, then surely there are many others who don’t fit that description either. If you were an awesome teacher, as you claim, I would have expected your original post to be more along the lines of “well actually some Catholic schools and teachers are pretty great, this is what I do at MY school to bring the kids up properly in the faith…” If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem as they say…

  • teigitur

    Sadly Damo, parents  went to the same sort of schools. One would need to go back to Grandparents before authentic Catholic teaching can be found in most of our schools. at least 40 years,

  • Alan

    If I belonged to a church with bishops anything like you suggest, I’d be off and look for another church.  Leaving aside your fantasies however, I think there are 2 points that should be made in this discussion regarding changes in society.  First, compared with 60 years ago far fewer people choose to belong to organisations of any kind.  For example, only a small fraction of the numbers in political parties 60 years ago belong now.  This is a societal trend which inevitably affects churches.
    The more important point, however, is that people today are far readier to critically examine what they are told rather than blindly accept it.  It is useless simply to state a long list of doctrines and tell people to accept them or else.  Good reasons need to be given, and all too often they are not.  Simply saying “accept this because Pope So-and-so said it in an encyclical in 18-something” is utterly useless.  People with your way of thinking really need to recognise how people are today, not how they were in villages 100 years ago.

  • JByrne24

    It is necessary to differentiate between (1) cells, or collections of cells (such as a zygote) which contain all the genetic material necessary for a Human life, and (2) an actual Human Being. These are very different things.

    A cheek cell, taken from your mouth, for example, also contains all the genetic material necessary to create a Human Being – but it is not itself a Human Being.

    In years to come it will be possible to clone a Human Being from such cells,
    However, we (rightly) show no particular respect for cheek cells (or other such Human cells) which is proper for Human Beings.

  • JByrne24

    Well every piece of matter in the universe is composed of atoms, ultimately built from the same elementary particles.

    Yet different objects in the universe have their own features and are quite distinct from each other.
    We rightly value a Human Being more than a stone or a blade of grass.

  • JByrne24

    teigitur wrote: “What are any human beings except bunches of cells?”

    Well, for starters, Human Beings (as opposed to bunches of cells) have souls, families, responsibilities ….etc.

  • JByrne24

    theroadmaster wrote: “but Science proves otherwise.  You say that you prefer scientific rationalism over religion,…”

    Science proves nothing of the sort. We, today, know that a zygote, and later bunches of cells, contain the genetic material that can produce a Human Being. The collection of genetic material is itself, rather obviously, not a Human Being.

    I don’t believe I have said that I prefer scientific rationalism “over religion” – although in SOME situations, I do.

  • JByrne24

    Two things have always struck me about Catholic schools (Primary and Secondary).
    (1) There is always a great deal of what I can only call “tension”, or a feeling of tension, in these places, and more than the usual degree of cliquishness and mutual bad-feeling (as perhaps demonstrated on this website).
    (2) There are many more occasions – meetings etc – during which alcohol is served.

  • JByrne24

    No, not a personal attack at all.

    The gentleman has several times advised people, including myself, that they are not really Catholics. I’m sure he would say so himself (well he HAS said so! – that’s exactly what I’m saying).

    I have also added my understanding that the Church’s teaching is that, after Baptism, they ARE Catholics.

  • teigitur

    Having things, does not a human make.

  • JByrne24

    I see; but that’s exactly what I thought.

    I understand that you DO object to Protestants being employed in Catholic schools because they are Protestants, but “not just” (as you say above) because of that.

    You  say you ALSO object because (you apparently believe) that they “undermine Catholicism”. 

    I think you are very wrong in believing these two things.
    Sorry if you thought my attempt at a little humour was “just hate filled garbage” – but this really did remind me of the rantings of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. 

  • JByrne24


    It was MJ Carroll who wrote “IT IS TIME TO SCRUTINISE LEADERSHIP WITHIN OUR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS !!!!!!!!!!!!!” (wow) – and this comment received 8 likes – a high number.

    This is real witch-hunting!

  • JByrne24

    Clever people those “Js” !

  • JByrne24

    An immortal soul is not a “thing”. 

  • teigitur

    They were indeed at one time. Sadly they may still be clever in the sense that you deem important. But lead many young souls astray.

  • teigitur

    I took it as a given that all humans had a soul.
     Having a soul is not the same as having things, you are correct. Shame you lumped it in with your list of other must-haves that, in your view, make a human.

  • Kenneth

    A zygote is a human being already growing. It is science. Zygote is part of the age range just as fetus is, and infant is, and adolescent is, and adulthood is. A cheek cell doesn’t age into an adult of its own action. A zygote IS a human being aging of his or her own accord only requiring nutrition and shelter, as all human beings need. The only difference between a zygote and and adult is age and location.

  • Parasum

    Children seem to be cliquish. So the cliquishness at RC schools may be simply a Catholic variant of a universal phenomenon. Schools seem to invite the formation of cliques & gangs; almost as a way of surviving.

  • buckingham88

    Education in any discipline and in the faith has to be a lifelong task and journey.As parents we can still converse with our children even if they have rejected their upbringing.They must have the freedom to do this otherwise assent to any position is a matter of formality not belief.

  • JByrne24

    Sorry, did not make myself clear.
    I was not talking about the children.
    There’s usually a constant state of war between the Secondary and feeder Primary schools, between teachers and the governors, the latter often (I regret) inflated windbags, and indeed between departments in the school (as well as bad feeling between more “orthodox” and enlightened Catholic teachers – as illustrated by this website).

    The RE dept is often mainly concerned with sex (yet again!) and is sometimes in battle with the Biology dept. – especially if the Bio dept is headed by a non-Catholic or enlightened Catholic.

    All these stresses give rise to tensions, which may be linked with the alcohol consumption.

  • JByrne24

    Kenneth wrote: “A zygote is a human being already growing. It is science. Zygote is part of the age range just as fetus is, and infant is, and adolescent is, and adulthood is. ”

    I think that is a truly fantastic statement.
    Destroying a lump of genetic material can in no way be compared to destroying a Human Being such as an adolescent girl or boy.
    I would however agree that it is an enormous moral and intellectual problem of deciding where to draw the line – but going back to the point of conception, and soon afterwards, is absurd.

  • Kenneth

    So you have no actual argument to rebut the science. Just a wave of the hand and a shutting of the eyes, ignore the facts and the truth of the genocide that is occurring. You reject the teachings of Christianity, and you reject the truths discovered by science. What exactly do you believe in? What is your definition of human being, that you have chosen to hold contrary to both the science as well as the Church?

    “The Twisted Logic Underlying Abortion”

  • Peter

    Catholic parishes are becoming social clubs for mature adults who use their energies to fund the internal needs of the parish, wrongly believing this to be charity.   This is alien to young people who are attracted by radical ideals and not by a smug inward-looking conservatism.

    If parishes became more passionate and strident in meeting the serious needs of the poor and displayed elements of self-sacrifice in doing so, perhaps this would encourage young people to remain in the Church instead of leaving it in droves.  Not only that, it would also attract others from outside who will see the Church as a beacon for good.

  • JByrne24

    Nor is my family a collection of “things”.  The same applies to my responsibilities – my duties and obligations.

  • JByrne24

    No amount of science will inform you that a cell or lump of cells, containing genetic material capable of producing a Human Being (cheek cells etc of a zygote), is ITSELF a Human Being.

  • teigitur

    I should hope not. But none of them make you human either.The fact that your parents were, does. You inherited all from them, to which was only ever added oxygen and food. You are, who you are, from conception. Not before, not after, but at that moment.

  • JByrne24

    Mikethelionheart wrote: “I am, actually, an awesome teacher”.

    Actually Mike, I can easily believe that is true.
    But if it’s promotion in a Catholic school that you’re seeking, I should forget the good teaching if I were you.

  • JabbaPapa

    There is no actual semantic content in this waffle of yours.

  • Dproc2001

    Thanks once again for taking the trouble to reply to me. Once again, I would not like to suggest that RS teaching cannot improve. The report you refer to is not specifically referring to Catholic schools but to schools in general. One of the problems with the teaching of RS in general is that in many schools you cannot get specialists to teach the subject. I am fortunate where I am in that my department is full of specialists. The teaching of RS in the schools where I have worked has been very good. I am going from personal experience not from a report. But this is not my issue. My issue is that you seem to think that you have all the answers. So I would like to challenge you. Since you are clearly confident in your own ability to pass on the Faith, perhaps you would like to put it to the test. Would you consider coming to my school and speaking with some of our pupils, doing a session with them? As a Head of RS I am always looking out for new ways  of helping students explore religious issues. As you clearly know how to do this I would really like to see you in action. Alternatively, could you come and do an inset for my staff to give them some ideas as to what you think they should be doing. I mean this genuinely and with all humility. I know that I do not have all the answers and so I would like to seize on the opportunity when someone comes a long who clearly does. So, if you would like to pursue this further please respond in your next post and perhaps we could swap e-mail addresses.

    One final point. There is no argument at all about the RE teachers that I have met and have not met. They have all been great colleagues with their own strengths and weaknesses, more strengths though than weaknesses and I do not appreciate the crude generalisations that appear in your e-mails. 

    Finally, once again, if you are interested please could you supply me with your e-mail and I will get my sixth form classes to write to you to tell you about their experience of RS at my school. You might be surprised by what you hear. That will be one in four sixth formers as at my school a quarter of students take the subject as an A level at least.

  • Oconnord

    But that’s just shifting it back a generation, the same applies, Perhaps the (Grand)parents simply don’t care about the religious aspect of education.
    I think you may well be correct about authentic Catholic teaching but I don’t think there is an answer as easy as that. People have changed since my grandparents time. People are now questioners rather than followers. Another commenter said it better than I could in pointing out membership in all types of groups is down. 

    People are now far more independent than they were 50 years ago, one interesting figure is the number of people who chose to live alone now. It was rare in even the sixties for someone to move from the parental home and choose to live alone, now of course it commonplace.   

  • JByrne24

    Well I’m from over 50 years ago (as a pupil in a Catholic school) – and taught in a school run by the religious.

    Dear God (& I mean that), it scared the wits out of me – and ruined my life for years.