A vocation that includes marriage and children brings with it the rights and responsibilities related to that vocation. Due to their vocation, parents have a responsibility to educate their children. This includes religious education.
In an article found here a Msgr. Barreiro said, “it is absolutely clear that parents are the primary educators of their children”.
Some individuals (found in the link above) insist that religious education (teaching the catechism) is the domain of the pastor and not the parents; others in the same article place the primary responsibility on the parents. To better decide who is correct let us begin with a question, “Who has the power here?”
Parents decide if and when they will bring their children to the parish for religious education. The parents have the power. The person who has the most power has the most responsibility. If the power is in the hands of the parents so too is the responsibility before God.
This power and responsibility combination is why the pastor is not at fault when Catholics skip mass on Sunday. The pastor fulfilled his obligation by saying Mass at regular times. His responsibility ends with his power to fulfill that responsibility.
This holds true for religious education. It is the domain of the pastor to provide for religious education in his parish. PARENTS decide if they will bring their children to a particular religious education program so the responsibility is THEIRS and does not fall to the pastor who already fulfilled his obligation by creating the religious education programs.
Measuring religious education
Either the children know the faith or they do not. Either the parents taught the children, or caused them to be taught by competent others, or they did not. As long as the Faith is passed on properly it should not matter if the parents chose to undertake that instruction themselves, pay for a parish school education, or use a weeknight religious education program given at the parish hall.
What is essential is that religious education is made available by the pastor of the parish and that parents fulfill their responsibility to educate their children in the Faith.
Parents fall into one of two categories when it comes to religious education; they are either irresponsible about religious education or they are responsible about religious education.
Irresponsible about religious education:
Some parents do not care and cannot be bothered to teach the Catholic faith to their children and are solely responsible for their failure. No pastor will be blamed for the irresponsibility of these parents. No matter how good or bad the parish program is, these parents don’t care.
Irresponsible parents may bring the kids to the parish for religious education once a week or even pay for a Catholic school but because they are irresponsible they do not teach the Faith at home, nor do they care if the program is good or bad. Their children will remain largely untaught in the Faith because their parents are not teaching them.
Responsible about religious education:
Parents who care deeply about the religious education of their children WANT their children to learn the Faith. These parents teach the Faith at home by word and example, seek out the most effectively means for the religious education of their children, and rightly look to their pastors for assistance.
The pastor is responsible for the quality of religious education classes offered in the parish to parents for the religious education of their children.
Parents want their efforts to teach their children respected. To attract these parents, parish programs need to be rich in Church teaching and unafraid to challenge the children to learn. They want participation in a parish program to aid in their efforts to teach the Faith. To attract the participation of the responsible about religious education parent the program has got to be GOOD. Poor quality programing is the leading reason why parents choose to skip religious education programs. There is no rebellion against proper authority in this, it is merely a question of quality programs or their lack.
Parents irresponsible about religious education are a problem in that their example sets the bar for religious education very low; they either ignore religious education totally or sign up for whatever program is convenient for them with no care as to its quality.
Parents responsible about religious education are diligent in seeking out good quality religious education programs and avoiding any whose poor quality would hinder their goals for teaching the Faith to their children. They deserve the support and praise of their pastors and bishops because in the end, whose children better know the Faith?