Prominent Catholic theologians, independent scholars and clergy have condemned controversial plans for religious education in Victorian Catholic schools as a return to the Dark Ages.
    The Sunday Age reports that drafts of the plan for the third millennium suggest students will be forced to learn what critics describe as ``literalist nonsense'' with no relevance for the 21st century Catholic Church.
    The initial draft guidelines for text-based religious education, aimed at 140,000 students, are said to ignore the reforming Vatican II Council of 1968. Critics say the plans are, at best, a throwback to Irish Catholic conservatism of the Australian church of the 1940s and 1950s.
    Critics argue that the drafts appear designed to force primary and secondary students at more than 300 schools into a male-oriented Catholicism that is out of touch with the realities of the modern church and gives the impression that Christians other than Catholics are second-class citizens.
    The proposals come from a committee headed by Monsignor Peter Elliott, the episcopal vicar for religious education for the archdiocese.
    Monsignor Elliott said the new primary texts would be ready next year for introduction in 2001. He described them as a ``call to faith and commitment'' based on the catechism of the Catholic Church and the Melbourne Guidelines for Religious Education, with language adapted to learning levels and an ecumenical content.
    He rejected misunderstandings that the final texts would be a ``return to the past'' or that the cognitive emphasis was a sharp deviation from existing guidelines. He said the criticism appeared to be based on outlines that had been revised eight times since they were sent out for comment. He agreed that the changes related largely to language, not aspects of Catholic teachings about which the critics complain.

12:09pm 24/5/99 / Sunday Age


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