Keeping It Catholic Network

Homeschool Flash Alert

June 23, 1999. Ignoring the advice and recommendations of Fr. John Hardon, S.J., NACHE (National Association of Catholic Home Educators) has refused Seton Home Study School as a vendor at NACHE's upcoming July 1999 conference.


NACHE rejected Seton on the basis of a July 1998 Seton newsletter article entitled, "Authority in the Church." The "Authority" article was a response to a May 1998 TORCH (Traditions of Roman Catholic Homes) article written by Mary Hasson.


Mrs. Hasson is on the boards of both TORCH and NACHE. At that time, Mrs. Hasson made serious allegations against unnamed Catholic homeschoolers and their obedience to Church hierarchy. She also made what appeared to be a serious charge of schism against those Catholics who question abuse of legitimate Church authority.


Seton's July 1998 article was written to correct "basic misunderstandings" about authority in the Church, religious education by parents, and homeschool sacramental guidelines.


Fr. John Hardon, S.J., once a NACHE board member but removed from the board by its lay members, was allowed to remain as spiritual advisor to NACHE. Fr. Hardon has said he decided to remain as NACHE's spiritual advisor as he "hopes to be of some influence" to NACHE.


Recently, Fr. Hardon wrote to NACHE in defense of Seton. His defense including the following points:


-- that Seton's article was a direct response to a TORCH article, not a NACHE article. It appears that Fr. Hardon implied that if the two groups insist they are not one and the same, then NACHE should not take actions on behalf of TORCH.


-- that NACHE's stance on "homeschool sacramental" guidelines is complete, unquestioning obedience to local pastors, in the name of the local ordinary (bishop) when it comes to the catechesis of children, while Seton also maintains obedience to the Magisterium and the parental right to catechize children, using materials of parental choice;


-- that, as it is the purpose of the annual NACHE convention to offer Catholic homeschoolers the opportunity to view and purchase homeschool materials, Seton Home Study, a Catholic program, should be welcome to host a table at the same conference.


-- that Seton Home Study is a Catholic school approved by the local bishop.


Last but not least, Fr. Hardon wrote in his letter to NACHE, "I strongly recommend that you invite Dr. Clark and Seton Home Study" as a "gesture of unity and friendship."


Unfortunately, NACHE totally disregarded the advice and recommendations of their own spiritual director, Fr. John Hardon. The NACHE board, without the approval of Fr. Hardon, has decided to stand opposed against Seton and will not allow the Catholic program at its conference.


Below is a short synopsis, received via email from Seton Home Study School:


"NACHE is not allowing Seton to be a vendor at its conference in July.


The main reason is the article which appeared in the Seton newsletter a year ago called "Authority in the Church." The article was in response to an article by Mary Hasson in the TORCH newsletter. Mary Hasson, of course, is an officer in NACHE also. So NACHE has decided that Seton cannot be a vendor at their conference."


"Seton is making plans to have a Seton Curriculum & Book Fair on the same days in a school near the NACHE conference so as to service those who were expecting to buy Seton new or used materials. The Seton Curriculum & Book Fair will be free since people have already paid to attend the NACHE conference. The dates will be the same, Friday, July 16 and 17, from 9 AM to 9 PM on Friday, and from 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturday."


Click here for updated information on Seton's FREE Admission Catholic Book Fair. Seton will be displaying thousands of new and used Catholic textbooks - and these books will be available for purchase.


Please feel free to pass this entire Keeping It Catholic Flash Alert to as many homeschooling families as possible.

You may also wish to include the following Seton article below, entitled "Authority in the Church." It is this excellent article upon which NACHE has based its decision to reject Seton Home Study School as a conference vendor. 

The Keeping It Catholic Network will continue to keep you informed with any updates.


 Marianna Bartold

Keeping It Catholic


Authority in the Church

As it appeared in the July 1998 Seton Home Study Newsletter.

Viewers can contact Seton at (540) 636-9990.

Please NOTE: On July 9, 1999, KIC corrected a typing error made by KIC when placing Seton's article on this website. The paragraph (below) corrected begins "Thus we have three situations which will need to be addressed in different ways." KIC inadvertently left out a short but important line in that paragraph, and this website version now states exactly what appeared in the Seton July 1998 newsletter.

All emphasises below are Keeping It Catholic's.



An article appeared recently on the front page of a TORCH newsletter written by Mary Hasson, an officer of the NACHE organization, regarding the attitude of homeschoolers toward those in authority in the Church. We believe it reflects basic misunderstandings about authority in the Church.


The first basic misunderstanding regards the nature of law and authority. Temporal authority is always limited and never omnipotent. Human authority is limited both by scope and by matter. The scope of this authority limits who might be subject to a law. For example, parents have a great deal of authority and can issue laws and edicts for their own family, but they have no similar authority to issue laws for other families or for communities as a whole. Similarly, a state government can issue laws for their own citizens, but cannot issue laws that bind the citizens of other states.


Authority is also limited by matter, or what a law refers to. Parents have authority over their children in many things, but there are certain things which they cannot command. For example, a parent cannot command a child to marry a certain person, or not to enter the religious life. Similarly, a government cannot command those things pertaining to the inner workings of families or of the Church.


Authority is also further limited by the fact that it must be exercised in accordance with both natural law and eternal law. We might add that, in the case of Church regulations, authority must be in accord with Canon Law.


Regarding the rules and regulations promulgated by many diocesan departments of religious education, we can rightly ask whether these regulations are valid exercises of authority, or whether they violate the principles of law and are void.


It would certainly be admitted by all that both parents and bishops have authority over religious education. Parents have authority first from the natural law, and then by the positive commandment of God to teach the Faith to their children. Bishops have the authority to teach, to sanctify, and to rule in the Church that Christ has established.


It should be obvious, however, that neither parents nor bishops can have total authority over religious education, because if one party or the other had total control, then there would be no room for any authority on the part of the other. Thus, we must conclude that authority is shared, and that any law of edict which places complete control of religious education in the hands of one party is invalid.


Now, in several dioceses around the country, rules have been implemented which seem to place total control of religious education in the hands of the diocese. These rules, for example, require certain religious texts to be used and even prohibit the use of other texts. In several dioceses, the sacraments are denied unless homeschooled children are enrolled in a parish religious education program. Some regulations talk about the pastor or his agent visiting the home; another talks about a "covenant" between the pastor and the parent. These kinds of requirements make the parent the mere agent of the diocese. Many canons could be cited showing why this type of regulation is invalid, but suffice it to say that a parent could reasonably deem such a rule invalid, based upon both the natural law and competent canon legal advice (see Dr. Edward Peters' Homeschooling and the New Code of Canon Law).


There is a crucial distinction to be made between a law which is burdensome and a law which is void. Clearly one must follow a burdensome valid law (to the extent that one can). If the bishop of a diocese declared that all Masses in the diocese must be said between the hours of 1 and 5 in the afternoon, that would be a burden, but would still be a valid law. However, if the bishops said that all Masses would substitute Buddha for Christ, that law would promote heresy and be invalid. Catholics would be bound to follow the burdensome valid law, but would be bound to disobey the heretical invalid law.


Indeed, there is a third type of situation which seems to come up regarding home schooling regulations - perhaps the most common. This is the type of law which could be considered void by reason of lack of authority but does not actually violate the conscience. Such a case would be a regulation which provides for home visits by a DRE for home educated children. There is simply no authority in canon law or tradition for Church authorities to make such an unprecedented claim to interfere in the inner workings of a family. However, parents would not be obligated to disobey this law since it would not be a sin to comply.


Thus we have three situations which will need to be addressed in different ways. In matters where the bishop has authority to command and does validly command, Catholics must obey. In matters where there is no authority to command, Catholics may choose to obey or not, depending on their assessment of the prudent action. In matters where a regulation violates the conscience (for example, a requirement that families use a textbook which a parent deems heretical, or a requirement that a child attend a co-ed overnight retreat for teens, which the parent deems dangerous), the parent cannot comply.


Considering that the Church is extremely zealous in protecting the rights of parents in the exercise of their role as primary educators of their children, one would think that regulations issued by dioceses would be salutary and beneficial. Sadly, this is not always the case, as must surely be evident even to those who most fervently wish to follow diocesan regulations. There are examples from dioceses which completely ignore or disparage the rights of parents and make parents mere agents of the diocese. Clear and obvious violations of canon law do exist. Surely this is not in dispute.


It should also not be in dispute that several dioceses have issued good regulations that uphold the rights of parents and clearly follow canon law. We have no problem with such regulations. Indeed, good regulations probably make it easier for parents to homeschool because they dispel potential problems at the parish level.


The question then is really one of conscience and prudence. In the case of conscience, all should certainly agree that parents cannot follow diocesan regulations if these regulations are reasonably believed to be sinful. The example in the article of the overnight coed retreat is a good example. Considering the horror stories one hears about these "retreats," it would not be unreasonable for parents to conclude that it would be morally wrong to send their child to such a program.


Another case of conscience might come in one of the dioceses which is mandating the use of certain textbooks. A committee of bishops recently issued a report on the catechisms in use in the American parochial schools and CCD programs, which outlined the shortcomings of these catechisms. A parent could certainly conclude that these catechisms are so "gravely deficient," as Archbishop Buechlein stated, as to be heretical. If a diocese mandated such a textbook, a parent may feel obligated in conscience not to use it.


Prudence is a cardinal virtue in the Christian life. An important part of raising children is making judgments constantly about what is good and bad for them. Indeed, why would parents be home schooling if they did not intend to make such choices?


It is curious then that some people seem to accept any regulations issued by any diocese without a second thought. The attitude seems to be that if a bishop says it is required, then it is required and parents must be obedient, whether the bishop has the authority or not, and whether or not it is good for the children involved.


In reading Mary Hasson's article, one cannot find the slightest hint that parents are the primary educators of their children, or that the parents should use discernment in their children's religious upbringing. One would have to conclude from this article that bishops could simply ban religious home education, and that if they did so, Catholics would simply be bound to stop. And that would be that.


Unfortunately, Mary Hasson makes no distinction between the Church as a whole and the actions of a particular Church official. She writes, "The Church as I know it is not in the business of usurping or denying anything that is God-given." True enough, but is it therefore impossible for an individual diocese or an individual parish to usurp parental rights? Clearly, the Church as a whole does not usurp parental rights, but just as clearly individual dioceses and parishes can usurp parental rights.


Mary Hasson implies that those who are not happy with some diocesan guidelines are opposed to the institutional Church. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Our whole argument against diocesan guidelines which infringe on parental rights are based on the natural law and on canon law. Canon law is precisely what the institutional Church gives us to regulate interaction between members of the Church. How is it that an appeal to canon law can be deemed anti-Church?


As for Seton, we certainly do not see ourselves as the adversaries of the bishops. We have had a very good relationship with many bishops, including Bishop Richard Keating of Arlington, who recently passed away. Bishop Keating gave us permission to call ourselves "Catholic" in accordance with canon law. We have submitted some of our religious books to the Arlington Diocese for ecclesiastical approbation. The by-laws of Seton Home Study School specifically recognize the authority of the Bishop of Arlington, and specifically recognize the rights of bishops and parish priests in religious education. We specifically include Canons 804.1, 806.1, 890, and 914 in our bylaws.


Seton Home Study School has many good contacts with bishops and cardinals in the United States and around the world. We have letters of support from numerous bishops and cardinals. When we have home schooling conferences, we always use a local parish church. We have even had bishops say the opening Mass at conferences. We have had bishops ask us to help promote vocations in their diocese. We are not adversaries of the bishops, we are partners with them.


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.




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