Highlights Tensions Among Home-Schoolers
Courtesy of The Wanderer -- July 15, 1999 issue
The decision of the board of NACHE, the National Association of Catholic Home Educators, to ban Seton Home Study School as a vendor at its upcoming home education conference July 16th and 17th in Manassas, Va., brings to the surface simmering disputes among ordinary home-schooling parents and local support groups and a self-designated leadership that wants to function as an official Church-approved organization.
But the growing rift among Catholic home-schoolers and home-school organizations has resulted in a deeper problem and raised difficult questions concerning the relationship between lay organizations and the hierarchy.
The nub of the issue is this: Why would a national home-schooling organization, namely NACHE, extend an invitation to William Cardinal Keeler to serve on its board of advisers when other home-school apostolates and organizations have been scandalized over this prelate's promotion of objectionable sex education programs placed in the curriculum of Catholic schools?
The decision of the NACHE board to ban Seton, the country's oldest and largest Catholic home study program - against the advice of NACHE's spiritual director, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. - is, however, merely the most recent of a number of developments that trouble veteran home-school advocates and home-schooling parents.
The troubles began in 1994, shortly after the National Catholic Education Association sent a survey to diocesan education offices asking them for information on the number of home-schoolers in their dioceses, how they impacted on their Catholic schools, and what "type of Catholicism" home-schoolers embraced, i.e., pre- or post-Vatican II.
>From the results of the survey, it was clear to Sr. Antoinette (Toni) Dudek and her fellow NCEA and diocesan bureaucrats that the rising number of home-schoolers posed a clear and present danger to Amchurch: Almost 100% of home-schoolers were described by diocesan bureaucrats as "conservative" or "fundamentalist."
So Sr. Toni found the excuse to draft a policy statement on home-schooling for every diocesan education department in the United States so that home-schoolers could be treated in a uniform manner. What she understood, correctly, is that the bishops still control the sacraments, and could use their bureaucracies to ensure that every home-schooled child presenting himself for Confirmation passed through an Amchurch brainwashing process.
Eventually, dioceses began formulating guidelines, and most contained a number of common features, such as: requiring home-schooling parents to use only books that have diocesan approval, requiring parents to obtain diocesan approval of texts used for home-schooling, requiring parents to be "certified" by the diocese in order to teach religion, requiring home-schooled students to attend diocesan-mandated retreats, and so on. The NCEA's intrusion, said home-schooling advocate Fr. Charles Fiore, "is another example of its pattern of bullying.
"Amchurch goes on its merry way, and picks on the smallest kid on the playground. Catholic parents don't need to have one hand tied behind their back by the bishops' bureaucrats; but these people want the control and power, and they don't want any Catholics outside of their orbit."
NACHE, founded in 1992, under the guidance of Fr. Hardon, was initially designed to be a national support group for home-schooling parents, offer a national convention for Catholic home-schoolers, and issue a quarterly newsletter, The Catholic Home Educator.
After the NCEA survey came out, NACHE's leadership opposed other home-school leaders who objected to the NCEA survey and attempts by national or diocesan organizations to bring home-schoolers under NCEA control.
In 1996, when several dioceses began formulating policies to regulate religious education and sacramental preparation for home-schoolers, Kimberly Hahn - a charismatic speaker and star on the home-schooling lecture circuit - joined NACHE's leadership.
At the time she joined the board, she had been working closely with Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl's sex education expert, Fr. Kris Stubna, author of the controversial Catholic Vision of Love sex Ed curriculum.
Pittsburgh home-schooling parents objected to "outsiders" like Hahn coming in to assist in the formulation of diocesan sacramental guidelines, especially because so many of them were excluded by the diocese from the process.
At the time, Fr. Stubna and Kim Hahn insisted that they were just forming a home-school study group; but they did eventually draw up a diocesan policy to govern home-schoolers. Subsequently, NACHE promoted Catholic Vision of Love as a "chastity program" to be used by home-schooling parents, which enraged many precisely because it was programs like Wuerl's CVOL, mandated in parochial schools and religion programs, which drove them to home-schooling in the first place.
Last year, Stubna and Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore were invited to join NACHE's board of advisers - another development that prompted many parents to wonder what NACHE's leaders were trying to accomplish.
"What NACHE seems to be doing," says prominent home-schooling advocate Virginia Seuffert of Chicago, "is marginalizing itself from Catholic families.
"Catholic parents don't want a sex educator on NACHE's board, and they don't want a prelate who is not `family-friendly' as an adviser and keynote speaker at a NACHE conference."
The decision to bring Keeler aboard as a NACHE adviser - particularly after his treatment of parents who objected to the showing of pornographic videos at Notre Dame Prep - outraged home-schooling mother Maryanna Bartold of Detroit, founder of Keeping It Catholic.
"After reading about the scandals at Notre Dame Prep, and the heavy-handed way he treated good Catholic parents, perusing the materials that he allows in his diocese, the cavalier attitude he shows when dismissing parents' concerns, and promoting sex indoctrination programs like New Creation - I could not understand why NACHE asked Keeler to serve as an adviser," she said.
(Keeler, who was recommended to NACHE as an episcopal adviser by Bishop John Myers of Peoria, Ill., is, coincidentally, a personal friend of Kimberly Hahn's father, the Rev. Jerry Kirk, with whom Keeler serves on the ineffectual interfaith Religious Alliance Against Pornography. At any rate, Keeler has opened doors to Vatican officials for NACHE's board.)
At NACHE's 1997 annual convention, Cardinal Keeler was the keynote speaker, where he spoke on the need for good interfaith relations; Stubna addressed the 1998 conference. In his address he said "the bishops are the Magisterium" and after his audience gasped, he then added, "in union with the Pope."
Another problem mentioned by Bartold and other veteran home-schoolers contacted by The Wanderer, is that NACHE seems to be in a process of marginalizing anyone who does not wholeheartedly endorse everything it does, as well as marginalizing any group which voices criticism or objections to diocesan policies which violate parental rights in the education of their children.
"NACHE claims that those who sound such alarms - which would include many associated with The Wanderer - are advocating a stance against the institutional Church," she said.
This assertion is ironic because most home-schooling parents are serious Catholics, active in their parishes, who want nothing more than to teach the faith to their children. Already, according to Virginia Seuffert, home-schooling families are producing the majority of religious vocations for the Church in the United States.
The Latest Dust-Up
Over a year ago, Mrs. Bartold, the mother of six children, framed the problems in Catholic home-schooling with three articles - "Home-Schoolers: A House Divided" (April 1998), "Home-Schooling: Next Casualty?" (June 1998), and "Home-Schoolers and the Hierarchy" (July 1998).
Mrs. Bartold is founder of the Keeping It Catholic Faith, Family and Home Education Network, the EWTN Online home-school forum, the Michigan Catholic Home Educators, and the Catholic Home School Network of America (CHSNA).
The articles addressed non canonical home-school guidelines promulgated by various dioceses, NACHE's recent association with Cardinal Keeler, and NACHE's endorsement of Protestant educational materials for Catholic home-schoolers.
One of Mrs. Bartold's articles also critiqued "Catholic Home Education: Homeward Bound," written by two NACHE board members, Mary Hasson and Kimberly Hahn, who also serve on TORCH, the Tradition of Roman Catholic Homes.
In May 1998, TORCH printed an apparent rebuttal to Mrs. Bartold's "House Divided," with TORCH criticizing the "attitudes" of home-schooling parents experiencing difficulties with home-school sacramental guidelines.
Although TORCH acknowledged personal "conscience" decisions, TORCH questioned the faith of those with such difficulties and relegated them to a group of Catholics "who regard our bishops as enemies. Where is their trust in the institution Christ founded? Where is their fidelity to the Church? And who ordained them to pronounce judgment on the orthodoxy of priests and of bishops chosen by the Pope?"
TORCH made a slight concession to the Church's internal problems, observing: "Throughout the Church's history there have been some who have been less than perfectly faithful. That fact does not deputize lay people to be theological vigilantes."
The author of the TORCH article, Mary Hasson, closed with an invitation:
"As for me, I stand with the Church and invite those who have chosen to be adversaries of the bishops and priests of our Church to take a step for unity and come back to the fold."
Many home-school advocates, including Fr. Hardon, Seton Home Study School, Keeping It Catholic (KIC), Catholic Home School Network of America (CHSNA), and Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), were alarmed at TORCH's and NACHE's apparent charge of schism.
Authority In The Church
With Fr. Hardon's imprimatur, Dr. Mary Kay Clark, Seton's founder and director, published a response to Hasson's article which became the reason for NACHE to ban Seton from this week's conference.
In July 1998, Clark published, "Authority in the Church," in her newsletter.
Before publication, "Authority" was submitted to four priests to review doctrinal content: Fr. Hardon, and Seton's two chaplains, Fr. Robert Hermley and Archimandrite Fr. Constantine Belisarius, and Fr. Fiore.
None of the priests found fault with it, and Fr. Hardon added the comment that the article was "free from doctrinal error."
Seton provided a carefully worded explanation on the types of authority that exist within the Church regarding parental rights. Seton addressed situations where parents must obey a diocesan regulation or may feel obligated to ignore a diocesan regulation.
For example, Seton explained that, should parents find a situation morally dangerous to their children (perhaps a mandatory coed weekend retreat, an example provided by Mary Hasson in her TORCH article) or in violation of canon law (for example, an unnecessary delay or denial of a sacrament to a child), parents do not have to comply because the diocesan guidelines do not correspond with canon law.
The Seton article closed, "In the end of her article, Mary Hasson invites `those who have been adversaries of the bishops and priests of our Church to take a step for unity and come back to the fold.' Besides the fact that this seems to be offhandedly charging people with the serious matter of schism, one wonders what NACHE and TORCH believe to be the proper attitude toward invalid and possibly dangerous regulations. Is it the official position of these organizations that parents are obligated to follow regulations which violate their consciences and the natural law? Truly, that is unity at all costs."
Despite Fr. Hardon's approval for Seton's article, Mary Hasson of NACHE repeatedly demanded that Seton retract, claiming the article damaged both her and NACHE's reputation.
Fr. Hardon advised Dr. Clark to "stay silent and pray," and Dr. Clark has submitted all NACHE's requests to Fr. Hardon, who remains to this day NACHE's spiritual adviser.
"NACHE has no complaints about our educational materials," said Dr. Mary Kay Clark, director of Seton. "They are disturbed about one article that has their own spiritual adviser's approval."
Katie Moran, president of CHSNA, commented, "NACHE's conference is one of the largest home-school conferences on the east coast. By denying Seton a chance to accommodate Catholic home-schoolers, who is it that NACHE is serving? How can they serve Catholics by offering Protestant materials and denying Seton? If they do this, how can they claim to be a Catholic home-school conference, especially when there won't be any vendors of Catholic home-school materials there?"
CHSNA's concern is that home-schoolers will not be served," echoed Virginia Seuffert, CHSNA's secretary. "The three largest Catholic home-school study programs will be absent from NACHE's convention. Nobody, and that includes NACHE, is claiming that Seton has any problems with their materials."
And it appears that Seton is not the first Catholic home study program to run into unresolved conflicts with NACHE.
"We have had experiences with NACHE, and it was not pleasant," says Tony Ambrosetti of Our Lady of Victory (OLVS) Home Study School.
Ambrosetti recalled that three years ago, NACHE printed an article that contained detraction of OLVS.
"When we asked the NACHE board of directors to correct the slanderous statements, it refused to do so, but allowed us to make a statement which the board promised to run in its next newsletter," said Ambrosetti.
"In that subsequent newsletter, statements we made in our defense were manipulated and twisted, and there was further slander about OLVS.
"To this day," he continued, "our requests to NACHE for restitution of our good name have fallen on deaf ears. We find it ironic that an organization that apparently considers itself to be the arbiter of whether anything related to home-schooling is Catholic, should so blatantly disregard the requirements of Catholic social principles to make restitution for besmirching another's reputation."
Robert Brindle, director of Our Lady of the Rosary Home School, asserted, "We've been boycotting NACHE for years because of what NACHE has been doing - promoting sex education under the guise of `family life,' and recommending Protestant teaching materials."
Jim Bendell, legal counsel for Roman Catholic Faithful, who has been an outspoken critic of NACHE's alliance with Cardinal Keeler, mused, "What is curious about NACHE's position is that NACHE does not hesitate to have Protestant vendors at its conventions.
This means that NACHE believes it is permissible to tolerate the views of heretics, but not of knowledgeable orthodox Catholics who commit the supposed sin of disagreeing with the policies of NACHE."
Roman Catholic Faithful has a standing objection to NACHE becoming an officially recognized lay organization by the Church - especially with Cardinal Keeler as its moderator, for several reasons, especially NACHE's own claim that it will be the bridge between home-schoolers and the hierarchy.
"We home-schoolers don't need a bridge - we're already members of the Church and we are already connected to the institutional Church. For NACHE to imply otherwise is simply untrue and patently unjust," he said.
Swirling amidst all these controversies surrounding NACHE's positions on various issues, is the fundamental problem of why certain prelates in the Church continue to refuse proper implementation of the Pontifical Council for the Family's document, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, in their dioceses.
+ + +
For the benefit of Catholic home-schoolers who hoped to peruse Seton materials at the NACHE conference, Seton is offering a free admission Catholic Home School Book Fair, just two miles from the NACHE Conference at Metz Junior High. Seton will be displaying and selling thousands of new and used Catholic educational materials at the following location: Holy Family Academy, 10591 Pineview Rd., Manassas, Va. - on July 16th-17th: Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Defending the Honor and reputation of the Mother of God
Rick Salbato "The Publican"
Managing Editor & Director
Back To Newsletter
For additional information in defense of the Truth,
the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Mother of GOD,
please visit Unity Publishing's Libray of Catholic Articles.