Friday, March 04, 2005


Today I'm going to take a bit more of a local bent, although I suppose what I'm discussing has a larger radius, in the abstract. We had a Reconciliation service on Wednesday at my high school. For those of you that don't know, a Reconciliation service is a gathering in which Catholics celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation, where we confess our sins to a priest, acting as God's intermediary, and are forgiven by God for our sins. In the past, we've usually had a program for these services with a basic examination of conscience printed in it. However, this year Father Lewis, our campus chaplain and/or Ms. Miller, our campus minister (I'm not sure who made the decision) felt it necessary to provide something more for our contemplation during our examination of conscience. In addition to the usual program, a booklet was provided. The booklet was a "Teenage Guide for Confession," written by Father Frank E. Papa. Father Papa is obstensibly an expert on teenagers. I was able to find a bio of him online, and according to the bio, he has over 25 years of experience in working with teenagers, including homeless youth. He also has a doctorate in canon law. This would appear to make him well qualified to write a guide to confession geared for teenagers.

What he wrote is definitely not a guide for teenagers. What he wrote is one of the most conservative laundry list of sins I've ever seen. Among the many, MANY things Father Papa lists as sins are "joining or taking part in the false worship of non-Catholic 'religions,' tarot cards, chain prayers, horoscopes, lucky rabbit's feet, lucky numbers, passionate prolonged embraces with sexual intent, tampons (for contraceptive use), " and the kicker, "'steady dating' (placing oneself in the near occasion of sin by dating the same person steadily with no intents or prospects for marriage in the near future within approximately 12 to 18 months)."

Now, I'm not going to dispute that the Catholic Church feels all those things to be sins. In fact, I'm not going to dispute that there are good reasons for most of those things to be sins. Yes, even the dating for 12 to 18 months thing. But Father Papa chose the worst possible way to present the various sins he wanted the teenage readers of his pamphlet to consider. By listing all of them without explanation, he totally turned teenagers off to whatever the pamphlet is saying. Using the 12 to 18 months thing as an example, by simply listing that as a sin without explanation, he gave teenagers the impression that the Church feels that all steady dating is a sin. In reality, I feel that what Father Papa was trying to convey is that by dating someone steadily for that long, you run the serious risk of becoming sexually active with them, and are thus guilty of putting yourself in a near occasion of sin. But because of the way he chose to present his list of sins, all our student body got out of the pamplet is that the Catholic Church feels that dating someone for over a year is a sin.

Even worse that the fact that because of his presentation many of the sins on his list were misunderstood is the fact that many sins that had direct application to our school and our lives were overlooked. For example, Father Papa also lists as sins "showing disrespect and disobedience to your school principal and teachers...drunkenness, drug-abuse, steroid abuse, self-induced malnutrition causing excessive weight-loss due to vanity...indecency in dress, sexually suggestive gestures, postures, or mannerisms...wasting time, money, or talents, cheating...gossiping, slander, betraying trust, eavesdropping...impure conversation, impure dress, impure music lyrics...greed, envy, and prejudice."

I wonder how many students at our school honestly feel that willingly disobeying a teacher is a sin? I think we all know that we have a serious problem with drinking at our school, and a slightly lesser one with other forms of drug abuse. Anyone who has been to a soc hop knows that 90% of the females at Gross Catholic don't understand the original intent of clothing. All teenagers are tempted by time wasting and by cheating, just as all teenagers are tempted by gossip and spreading rumors. I know that almost everyone at our school thinks nothing of impure conversation, to say nothing of impure dress or impure dance lyrics, and I'm pretty sure that we've all been seriously envious of someone else sometime in the past few months.

These are all serious problems in our school that need to be addressed. But because of Father Papa's insistence on including ALL sins in that booklet, the outrage many in the student body felt over his poor presentation of sins such as using lucky numbers, contraceptive tampons, and steadily dating someone overshadowed the actual reflection we should have been doing about not wearing enough clothing, drug use, and cheating.

This brings me to the abstract part of my argument. Should Catholic educators be focused on giving teenagers a list of all sins and make us strive for perfection, or should they be more focused on making sure we lead relatively good, relatively holy lives, and accept that as good enough? I know I would rather have someone who occasionally messed up, perhaps got a little frisky with the opposite sex, perhaps told a lie, maybe even got drunk once, but who led a generally "good" and fun life rather than someone who was prim, proper, and never sinned, yet was cold and heartless, or even worse, someone who was totally and utterly morally bankrupt inside. To me, its about the end result: when a teenager graduates high school, are they prepared to lead a relatively moral, good, and just life? If so, then their Catholic educators have been successful. This pamphlet did more harm than good because it pushed many students away from all Catholic teaching, including the basic bedrocks necessary to lead a relatively moral and just life. Father Papa apparently feels it necessary to shove all sins down the throats of teenagers without regard for the consequences rather than to have a more measured approach that has a greater success of permanently touching the most lives.

Now that I've delved into the abstract, back to reality. As a student at Gross Catholic, the use of this pamphlet has forced me to draw one of two conclusions: either Father Lewis and/or Ms. Miller are utterly out of touch with our student body, or they are incompetent. If they (whoever made the decision to use the pamphlet) made the decision to use this pamphlet based on the belief that it would truly help us examine our conscience, they must have no feel for what our student body believes and how it feels about the Catholic Church and its teachings. However, if they did know this, and still chose to use this pamphlet, they are incompetent, for one of two reasons. Either they read the pamphlet and still made the decision to use it, or, more likely, they didn't fully read the pamphlet and still chose to use it without knowing what was in it. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they just made the decision to use the pamphlet without reading it, but that does not absolve them of blame. Setting aside the fact that it would have taken 15 minutes of their time to fully read the pamphlet all the way through before distributing it to the student body, how hard would it have been to run this by Pastoral Council? Even Pastoral Council VP KBRod was expressing disbelief/amusement at Father Papa's list of sins. If he is laughing at something related to the Catholic Church, you know you need to go back to the drawing board.

Father Papa's badly presented pamphlet is unacceptible. Our responsibilities as a Marianist High School to educate for formation in faith and to educate for adaption and change demand that our students are better provided for when it comes to educating them in their faith.