IN MS STATEMENT on Roman Catholic Christianity, issued on Monday last, Bishop Smith declared that after demands that the nihil obsrat and imprimatur he removed, as Local ordinary he himself had read the book and had it examined by "competent theologians", as well as seeking the advice of diocesan religious education departments and those familiar with the GCSE syllabus requirements. Some of these were from outside his diocese.
He stresses that the book was commissioned as one of a series "designed to support" GCSE and other courses, "It is quite clear that it was not intended to be a 'catechism' of the Catholic Faith, nor a manual of Catholic dogma." It was intended as a "resource or a support" for teachers and pupils.
The syllabus lays down among other things, he says, that students are expected "not only to be aware of differences of opinion in matters of religious belief and practice, but also to be able to express an opinion of their own, based on the use of appropriate evidence and argument."
Bishop Smith says he has been advised that the methodology of the book is sound. "The author has used language which ... introduces them to Church teaching and enables them to explore, with the guidance of the teacher, the issues raised...
"It is equally important to recognise the need for education rather than a simplistic 'indoctrination' or learning by rote, because it is education which will enable young Catholics to grow towards an adult faith and begin to understand more deeply the doctrinal truths taught by the Church."
On the contents, Bishop Smith says: "I find that there is one statement which is quite clearly contrary to Catholic moral teaching, and that is the statement in chapter 51 on page 104, namely that 'with
drawal' is a natural way of family planning acceptable to Catholics. This is contrary to the common and traditional moral teaching of the Church, and the error should have been spotted by the censor and corrected. It is therefore necessary that an 'erratum' be placed in copies of the book to correct this error."
The Bishop says there are some minor inaccuracies, unclear or oblique statements, but "... a degree of inadequacy is not the same as judging them to be positively erroneous."
"But some of the most trenchant criticisms have been made in respect of Chapter 8, pp18-19, which deals with the Resurrection. It has been objected ... that the author has reduced the resurrection of Jesus from an historical event to something which took place spiritually in the minds of his followers. It is an objection which... simply cannot be sustained..."
In accordance with the syllabus, "pupils are asked to consider various views of the Resurrection. People do have different views of the Resurrection, including Christians, and the pupils 'must not only he aware of differences of opinion in matters of religious belief and practice, but also he able to express an opinion of their own, based on the use of appropriate evidence and argument.' In fact one of the tasks given to the pupil in this chapter is to read the accounts of the Resurrection in all four gospels and compare them. But more importantly, the chapter begins with a quotation from 1 Corinthians 15:17, `If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion' and the chapter ends with a very clear statement that: 'The official documents of the Catholic Church continue to emphasise that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event, not merely a spiritual experience in the heart of his followers'
(p19). "How anyone who reads this book objectively can assert that the author denies the bodily resurrection of Christ I simply cannot understand. Unfortunately... many of the criticisms seem to have arisen from taking sentences or phrases out of context, with the consequence that critics seem to want to make the author take a position which she is not taking. Each chapter needs to be read in its entirety, and the book itself needs to be read as a whole."
On accusations that the author explicitly rejected the doctrine of the Real Presence, Bishop Smith writes; I find a very explicit affirmation of Catholic teaching... The author states with the greatest clarity what Catholics believe: 'At the centre of this eucharistic prayer are the words of consecration. Catholics believe that when these words are spoken, the substance of the bread and wine becomes the substance of the body and blood of Christ, and that he is thus present on the altar'. In the glossary... Transubstantiation is explained as follows: `Change of substance. A theological explanation of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which continues to look like bread and wine. The outward appearances (colour, taste, etc) remain, but the Inner reality (substance) is changed into the body and blood of Christ' (p26)" The Bishop adds that the assertion that the author destroyed the notion of Christian marriage, is "total nonsense". The chapter, he says, is "an excellent summary exposition of the essential Catholic teaching".
He also deprecates the "vindictive and personal vendetta" against the author and her husband, Clare and Bert Richards, and stoutly rebuts "sweeping and quite unjust" attacks on Catholic education, defending schools and teachers, "in particular... of my own diocese".