At this time in the history of Catholic home schooling, very few families have any problems with their parish in regard to the preparation for the reception of the sacraments. However, there are still occasional problems. One problem we sometimes hear is that the parish does not approve of certain books used by the parents, even when these books have an imprimatur, that is, a bishop’s approval of the books.
Some years ago, as a response to the widespread problem of bad catechetical materials, the bishops set up a committee to evaluate these materials. A list of approved materials is now maintained by the committee. Some parishes want to require that parents use only materials from this approved list. However, books used by parents are not under the same regulations. This is similar to, for instance, regulations on doctors who must go to medical school and meet certain standards. However, parents who want to give their children an aspirin are not under the same regulations. As a parent teaching your own children, you are not bound by the regulations that schools or CCD programs may have.
Parents have the right to prepare their own children to receive the sacraments, using textbooks or catechisms or videos. In fact, they have the responsibility to teach their children by good example, primarily. They don’t need to use books at all, though we would hope parents would use at least the Bible and stories of the saints. However, they can read the Bible or saints stories to their children, or they can tell their children the Bible stories, without putting the book in the children’s hands at all.
Jesus came to earth as a Person. He taught by word and by example. He expects us to do the same, which is the teaching of the Church.
In the Rite of Baptism, the priest exhorts the parents as first teachers “to be the best of teachers.” Vatican II tells us “parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.” (Declaration of Christian Education, #3)
In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, Pope John Paul II is very definite in his description of the rights of parents to educate their children. “…it (the right) is original and primary. …it is irreplaceable and inalienable and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” (Familiaris Consortio, #36)
The Charter of the Rights of the Family (Article 5, a & b) states: “Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious conviction…parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their conviction.”
The Code of Canon Law supports parental rights as well. Canon 793.1 recognizes that a parent’s duty to teach extends to “the right to select those means and institutions suitable for Catholic education.” The means are the books or videos or catechisms or the Bible or stories of saints; the institution is the home in case of home schooling parents. As long as the catechism used contains authentic Catholic doctrine, which is approved as authentic by the imprimatur, Canon Law raises no objection. Canon 799 goes so far as to say that education of the children should be “in accord with the conscience of the parents.”
Pope John Paul II in Catechesi Tradendae (#67) teaches that “…the parish must continue to be the prime mover and pre-eminent place for catechesis.” The pope added: “In short, without monopolizing or enforcing uniformity, the parish is the pre-eminent place for catechesis.” Note the phrase “without monopolizing or enforcing uniformity”. The parish cannot monopolize because parents are primary educators; the parish cannot enforce uniformity by insisting that parents must use the same “means” or materials that are being used in the parish.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in #2221, 2224-2226, and 2229 supports parental rights in the education of their children.
In the spirit of Vatican II and obeying the Canon Law 793.1, parents have the right, as recognized by the Church to choose the “means and institutions” to teach their own children. The pastor’s responsibility is to make sure that the children are ready to receive the sacraments.
Pope John Paul II in Catechesi Tradendae writes “…in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, the ‘Church of the home’ remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus, there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children’s catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal.” (#68)