Sunday, November 13, 2011

RCIA: A Travesty

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a program that was instituted to help non-Catholics make the journey into the Catholic Church and/or to help those who were not Catholic but had an interest in what the Church taught. Some Catholics enter RCIA to refresh their own Catholic faith. Sounds good so far. Yet, it is no  secret that the RCIA program is in dire straits. Being the gateway for most converts to the Church, it is a well known that many parishes have "do it yourself" RCIA programs that have a lot to be desired. It's also no secret that the ignorance of many of today's Catholics is the result of poor catechesis of the last forty years. How has this challenge been met? It simply hasn't. The same old "Catholic Lite" is continued to be taught with no end in sight.

Though some parishes have a great program that teach solid Catholic doctrine, too many parish programs are filled with laymen who teach heresies or distort traditional doctrines, and these 'teachings' are passed on to unsuspecting candidates that do not know any better. In many parishes, pastors are not the ones conducting the classes and have picked certain people from the parish, with many being progressive Catholics, to take over the responsibility of teaching with little or no oversight and so abuses abound. If the Church is capable of standing up against abortion, restructuring the whole system of protecting children from abusive priests and putting on the brakes against same sex marriage, then what of the RCIA program? What will it take to build a solid RCIA program that is standard in all parishes and requires strict supervision over what is taught?

The troubles concerning RCIA hit home this week when a protestant friend of mine emailed me and told me of her experience. Due to scheduling problems because of university classes falling on nights that RCIA classes were conducted, she has inquired from a certain parish what was needed to enter the RCIA program and how to work around the scheduling conflicts. A protestant from birth, she began to study the Church in relation to her own faith and has come to see the Catholic Church as the one, true Church and has fallen in love with it. She now has an overwhelming desire to see this through and become a Catholic.

She has met with the Deacon and spoke to him at length, yet since that meeting, she has heard nothing more. She has sent multiple emails to the parish office asking about their program, but has yet to receive a reply. Not stopping there, she also called another parish in the area about their program and left a message. Nothing. There is one other parish that she considered calling but thought better of it. She knew from having gone to mass at this third parish that it would not be for her. She herself called it a "Catholic Lite" church, and this is from a protestant.

She searched deeper into the RCIA and found that doctrinal errors are being taught and everyone seems to know, yet nothing is done about it. She found the mentality of those that know of the abuses and errors, as unacceptable. In her email to me she writes a summary of what she's found of the prevailing thought in RCIA;

"So you want to enter the Church?  We are going to help you. You may get real fortunate and end up in a class that is faithful to the teachings of the Church, or you may end up being taught things that contradicts Church teachings.  If you end up in the latter, we are just going to assume that it won't matter. People are fallible, and you just have to overlook that they may teach you heresies. In this case, heresies are no big deal. Heresies or not-- you must attend these classes.  Cross your fingers and hopefully we'll see ya at graduation.  Have fun!" 

Further excerpts of her email to me, remember, she is a protestant... emphaisis mine.

I've spent my LIFETIME attending classes that teach heresies!!!!!!  It's called 'Sunday School' in a Protestant Church!  I've DONE my time. My whole reason for being attracted to the Church was that she is supposed to be consistent in her doctrine. It isn't as if you all are taking a guess here as to what the Church teaches. You've got the manual that is not up for personal interpretations! 

But the RCIA gets treated as if heresies and inconsistencies are 'no big deal.' For crying out loud-- THIS is the doorway you all have proclaimed is the gateway to the Church.  We protestants don't get in unless through this means-- and it gets treated by the Church with less consideration than a University in Peru??

Everybody gets all up in arms over a Catholic Hospital or place of business having to provide artificial birth control (and I am too, I promise you!)  but when it comes to people entering the Church, there is a yawn. "Yeah, man............we probably ought to do better when it comes to teaching the catechism, but it's not that important to us. As long as the people show up, we'll trust God to take care of it in the end. It doesn't matter-- there are way more important things to be worried about."

Yes. Abortion is important. It's about the sanctity of Life. Entering the Church is about the sanctity of Life, too. Condoms don't cause abortions, but they impede the potential to life. The requirement of a badly done RCIA class is like a big condom-- it impedes the potential to an individual's life within the Church.

But there is something dreadfully, sinfully wrong when a group of people shrug at something that is this important and say, "Yeah, there are some problems with the system, but that's how it is."

The 'that's how it is' mentality ain't gonna cut it. I've seen more stuff written on the need for Latin Masses than I have the practices of RCIA classes. I think it is commendable and understandable that the Church want prospective members to discern the body and be aware of what the Church teaches. I also find it deplorable that they have selected such a lousy and untrustworthy method of implementing it. It is possible that it would be faster for me to join an Episcopal Church and then take the' back door' into the Catholic Church than it would be for me to wait on an RCIA class that I could attend-- and THEN risk getting fed some real garbage. 

Her email was not pretty and yet, she spoke the truth. I cringed when I read it. It is not only the bishops that are responsible for this travesty, but priests and the Catholic layman alike for allowing this to go on without putting up a bigger stink about it. There are several things that the Church could do to try to alleviate the problems existing in the RCIA program. There are no quick fixes but here are some suggestions that may be viable enough to be worked on and developed:

1. Bishops, in a joint session and all in agreement,  need to issue a guideline as to what will be taught in RCIA. That guideline needs to be comprised of strong, authentic Catholic doctrine without any deviancy of what will be taught in ALL parish RCIA programs. Furthermore, 'touchy' issues such as women's ordination, the real presence in the Eucharist, marriage between a man and a woman, contraception and abortion, and acceptance of homosexuality must not be presented to those entering the RCIA as issues that are still open to debate. They are not. The Church has spoken on these issues and the debate is over.

2. Pastors and/or Deacons have to take on a greater role in teaching these classes, or at the very least, oversee what is taught. No longer are layman to be assigned in this role without strict supervision. We have seen the results of this lack of oversight in the last forty years. The diocese also needs to take a greater role in making sure what the parish teaches is in line with Church doctrine, and that is not always the case.

3. If the Church is to invite people to the RCIA, then it should be ready to give a quick reply to those inquiring about becoming Catholic. There is nothing that will put off a future member of the Church more than getting the impression no seems to care by not replying to their inquiries in a reasonable time.

4. Sponsors that are chosen to share their faith and help an RCIA candidate through their discernment, need to be chosen for their adherence to orthodoxy. That is not to say they have to be put through an inquisition, but rather, that the sponsor should be asked certain questions concerning doctrine and does not hold and teach deviations to doctrine because of ignorance or willful disobedience to the Church. Remember, sponsors are chosen by the candidates and are usually someone that the latter trusts as a Catholic friend. A sponsor may go to mass every Sunday and regularly receive the sacraments and to an observer, may seem very faithful, but that does not mean they do not hold errant doctrinal thoughts as though they are Church approved.

I will not say that all parish RCIA programs are failures for they are not, but a person such as my friend should not have to shop around to find a parish that teaches doctrinally sound classes. We should all  be on the same page. We've lost a whole generation of Catholics due to poor catachesis and the continual sweeping of the problems of the RCIA under the rug will produce another unless systematic changes are made to the program.

On a sadder note, because of all the obstacles placed in my friends path, she is now entertaining the idea that perhaps God doesn't want her to enter His Church. And it's all our fault.


  1. Your wrote:

    "On a sadder note, because of all the obstacles placed in my friends path, she is now entertaining the idea that perhaps God doesn't want her to enter His Church. And it's all our fault."

    Oh, right. A couple of human beings in two parishes are fallible and have not sent a limo to pick her up for RCIA classes so God doesn't want her to enter His Church? Nice cop out for her.

    "She has met with the Deacon and spoke to him at length, yet since that meeting, she has heard nothing more."

    A deacon, who has many responsibilities, took the time to listen to her lengthy speech? Or did she allow him to talk as well? The phrase "spoke to him at length" suggests she did most of the speaking but perhaps that's not what was meant. Reading your blog, we don't know if that's her phrasing or yours.

    In any case, she had a long chat with a deacon yet "has heard nothing more." What is she waiting to hear this late? (RCIA starts in September and it's now mid-November.) Unless the deacon is in charge of RCIA, she needs to talk to the person(s) in charge, especially since she has a conflict and can't come to the classes. If people aren't answering her e-mails, why doesn't she phone during office hours? Or talk to the deacon or priest after Mass, find out who she should call and when to call them?

    I'm not sure why you're writing about her experiences as part of a critique of RCIA programs in general as she hasn't been in an RCIA program. In fact, she seems to be trying to avoid RCIA, to enter the Church without RCIA. I understand that she has a conflict but it's really up to her to work that out. Imagine if she talked to her professor at the university and told him that she wanted to join a church and the classes were offered at night, conflicted with his classes, asked if she could skip his classes and still get credit. I think we know what he would say, after he stopped laughing.

    Her experience does show one of the advantages of having all religious education on Sunday mornings. Most people who want to enter the Church just sign up for RCIA and go to the classes. Many, if not most, also do extra reading, even take classes by mail. A lot of people call the parish office before ever attending Mass and ask the secretary a lot of questions, including how to say the Rosary. We all know that RCIA is not perfect but also realize that it's not possible to teach everything about the Catholic Faith in about eight months of one hour a week classes. How many adults would be willing to spend an extra year or two in RCIA?

    RCIA "Grad" and Former RCIA Team Member

    1. There are many aspects to each person's unique journey into the church. Yes, there are parts of this woman's story that might invite further discussion in fairness to the parish and Deacon. But your response, RCIA "Grad," evidences a sour sarcasm that dismisses her experience out of hand without any sign that you are open to justified critiquing of the RCIA program and plan. In fact, your hypothetical character attacks are unsubstantiated and show more about your own state of mind than hers.

      Our experiences and takeaways are different, but I absolutely identify with the woman's experience in trying to engage with the Catholic church through the RCIA pathway.

      I am writing 3 years after this story was first posted. Maybe things have evolved for the better in her parish. Good intentions for RCIA do not automatically translate into good execution and good results. Those engaged in the RCIA programs would do well to be more charitable than Anonymous and to be open to the aspects of any RCIA program that create barriers to entry into the Church and a true understanding of the Church. - Jane

    2. This blog and your reply (RCIA Grad) date from 2011. Five years after this blog, this woman's experience is still common. It reflects my own experiences before entering in 2015, and I have spoken with 5 others who entered and who went through similar struggles with RCIA. In an era of espoused emphasis on evangelization, these experiences are absolutely inexcusable. Each seeker is a "lost sheep" - one we are called to do everything possible to find and save.

      RCIA Grad - In the 5 years since your reply, you may have developed a Christ-like spirit of charity. Your comments in 2011 are appalling. I use a strong adjective only to get your attention...that you will read your comments this year with the mind of Christ...the Christ who welcomes an "uncatechised" thief on the cross into heaven.

      Church - It is time for you to seriously seek people attending RCIA and inquire about their experiences - good or bad. In 2016, things remain much the same as experienced by this blogger's friend. It is more than sad. It is abandonment of our duty as go and make disciples.

  2. I'm on board with what you are saying, and you made some good suggestions. And though you and your friend will be used as the example, this suggestion is very general and intended for the readers out there.

    You and your friend should file a complaint with the bishop of the diocese. Email, snail mail, telephone. Try to get an appointment with him. Be specific in your complaint. Document everything. Show him the emails she sent to the parish involved. Make him very much aware of this situation.

    Now I consider this next point very important. When people post to the internet about problems such as the one posted here, they should name the diocese, and the parish involved. This is important for several reasons. Let's say 5000 people read this blog. Let's say the diocese is Anytown, USA. Now let's say that 50 of those readers actually reside in the diocese of Anytown. Some of those 50 may just fire off a letter of their own to the good bishop of Anytown. Heck, some of the other 5000 readers just may drop the bishop a line, too. If the bishop has not only your letters, but the letters of dozens of other folks also, he is more apt to sit up and take notice. If nothing else, it alerts the general Catholic blogosphere to a serious problem which needs addressing. Links can be set from this incident to other blogs resulting in a much better informed Catholic laity.

    When naming offending dioceses and parishes, you must post your name, or at least blog name. You have a right to name them in your complaints, and they have a right to respond to your complaints.

    When dioceses are not hidden in anonymity, even by their accusers, much good can come from it, provided all parties involved, including readers of these blogs and prospective complainants act responsibly.

    Michael Lawrence

    1. Michael, I agree that specific dioceses and parishes should receive attention that includes open dialogue related to experiences of people in their own programs. But I don't agree that this is appropriate for blogs. This is not the type of forum where people are given a fair hearing and treated with respect. Blogs and ComBoxes are great for identifying a general problem. But in general, they are terrible places to address the nuances of problems such as these related to RCIA...and they are impossible places to develop and discuss possible solutions.

    2. Michael, I understand your heart, but I seriously disagree with both points. Firstly, I lived the same experience as this RCIA participant and did reach out to priests, the diocese priest for education and to national leaders in evangelization. I received no response or interest. It is established in everyone's mind - rightly or wrongly - that RCIA is a parish matter. This is a key problem that must change in order to make progress in correcting its deficiencies.

      Most importantly, the problems with RCIA are global and are generated by decisions handed down by Vatican and Bishop authorities. No good is done for anyone by trying to shame individual parish volunteers or priests. Reforming RCIA is a huge issue and must be addressed in a methodical and constructive way that respects all participants.

  3. Your friend would be full of joy by setting up appointments with the pastor of a Latin Mass (FSSP, Institute Christ Sovereign King, etc.), re: her conversion - no RCIA, no heresies, the priest himself gives the catechesis.

    The New Mass is Protestantized by it's omissions,ambiguities and subversions, a Protestant service, that will make Protestants out of Catholics, sad to say.

    The New Mass is emphasizes the ordinary, banal, the secular.

    A Traditional priest will teach tradition, he is the alter Christus.

    There is an atmosphere of supreme reverence during Mass.

    The Mass is God-centered.

    Find this and she will find joy and peace.

  4. Absolutely fantastic. I'm a convert through the RCIA program, and I remembered hearing some women's ordination stuff in my RCIA class, and I knew right then and there that was wrong. Turned out the woman teaching the class was a convert herself from Protestantism, and seemed to have not quite left everything behind. When my husband converted, I was glad his RCIA class was run by a very orthodox nun that gladly answered questions, but didn't pull punches.
    It does seem like either everyone just assumes it's OK to teach garbage, as long as we "get them in the door", or what's more likely, people just don't know what's being taught. RCIA's one of those ministries it's hard to get volunteers for, and I think some DRE's are willing to "settle" on someone smuggling heresy in the back door because there's no one else.

  5. "RCIA's one of those ministries it's hard to get volunteers for, and I think some DRE's are willing to "settle" on someone smuggling heresy in the back door because there's no one else."

    Which is precisely why adult education and RCIA need to become a priority for parishes and diocese. We need to hire (and pay) people who are qualified for this work rather than accepting whoever is willing to show up.

  6. I'm struggling with my RCIA. Because the person teaching the class outright denied Christ. It hurts to hear denial of Christ much less hear it being taught to new converts.

    1. You need to mention this to your pastor. If you are sure that Christ was denied and I assume there were others in the class present then this situation needs to be brought out in the light. I will offer up my prayers for you.


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