Ignorant Catholics

The alarming void in religious education

Perhaps the religious illiteracy of so many otherwise well-educated young Catholics is too familiar to bear mentioning again. One has come to expect that even at elite Catholic colleges and universities, entering students will not know what is meant by the “Immaculate Conception”-hardly anyone knows that anymore. No surprise, either, when students do not know the proper number of natures and persons in Christ, Mary, and the Trinity-what’s an extra nature or two here or there? Besides, who’s counting? It’s not a chemical formula and it doesn’t take rocket science to believe God loves me anyway. As for ignorance of more technical terms, for example, confusing homoousios with a Near Eastern dish made of chickpeas (a good guess), or conflating the temperature at which paper burns with the date of a church council, who can worry? Still, when more than a third of the students have to guess how many Gospels are in the Bible, or think that the phrase “original sin” refers to sex; when more than half have no idea what is meant by “Incarnation” unless it has the prefix re-; when only ten out of a class of fifty know what “Exodus” refers to, or what is meant by the phrase “Real Presence,” and only a slightly higher percentage can give a credible definition of “sacrament”; when one student can convince a large group of classmates that “Catholic Social Teaching” refers to restrictions on same-sex marriage-we can perhaps bear to...

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About the Author

John C. Cavadini teaches in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also McGrath-Cavadini director of the Institute for Church Life.