Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Compilation on Thomas Groome

by Catholic Culture Staff


This compilation is provided from various sources on the Internet to give background information on the writings of Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome, who has developed a method of catechesis called "shared Christian praxis." This method aims to create an attitude of suspicion towards Church teaching among the students.

Publisher & Date

Catholic Culture, June 28, 2005

Thomas Groome is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and a "guru" of the new catechetics. His method of religious education is known as "shared Christian praxis". Influenced by the Chilean Marxist Paulo Freire, Rahner and Boff, he 'suspects' divine Revelation, the Papacy, the ministerial priesthood and the sacraments. Groome also dissents against the Church's doctrine on the male-only ministerial priesthood. In his book Sharing Faith (1991), he asserts that "the exclusion of women from ordained ministry is the result of a patriarchal mind-set and culture and is not of Christian faith."

This compilation is drawn from the following sources on the Internet and is provided as background information.

  1. Letter by Dr Susan Moore
  2. Excerpt from articles by Fr John Walter
  3. Teaching the Truth by Dennis MacDonald
  4. Reply to Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta, Australia about Thomas Groome's method by Eamonn Keane.
  5. Letter from Jerome Gonzalez
  6. Thomas Groome calls for "reconstructed" priesthood (excerpt from The Church Around the World)

The following excerpts are taken from sources that approve of Thomas Groome's experiential method.

  1. Mission in the context of plurality: Christian educational perspective by Hannibal Cabral
  2. Liberation Perspectives on Justice Education by Michael Harrison, Padua College, Mornington Victoria
  3. Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision by D. Campbell Wyckoff

Thomas Groome (letter)
Dr Susan Moore

Recently there has been heated public discussion about Religious Education materials influenced by the thinking of Boston College's Thomas Groome. These materials have been used more and more widely in Australian Catholic schools.

If it were true, as defenders of Groome claim, that the method of teaching developed by him, 'shared Christian praxis', encourages teachers of Religion to reflect with their students on life experience, and to interpret that experience in the light of Scripture and Tradition, nobody could possibly object to its influence.

But, as Eamonn Keane's writing has demonstrated, Groome's method actually encourages something quite different. Like his theology, it is informed by a disturbing attitude towards Papal authority and Church doctrine. This attitude is earthed in an ideological approach to teaching and learning known as a 'hermeneutic of suspicion'.

Naïve thinkers could easily confuse a 'hermeneutic of suspicion' with a healthy critical outlook, failing to realise that there is an enormous difference between being 'critical' in response to life and to ideas about life, and being 'suspicious' of them.

When we are suitably critical of life and thought, in an effort to see things as "in themselves they really are" and to assimilate "the best that has been thought and known in the world", we accept nothing mindlessly. We reflect on what we have met, and we evaluate it rigorously, in the spirit of trust and openness that is basic to docility.

To be just to thinkers who have been highly regarded by our forbears for hundreds of years, it is essential that we manifest such a spirit.

In response to the teaching of the Magisterium, which embodies the definitive teaching of the Church on faith and morals, a hermeneutic of suspicion is inappropriate.

Yet Groome is propelled by this hermeneutic. In its service he casts serious doubt on the soundness of the Church's deposit of faith: e.g. that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ (not the Vicar of the Church); that, through apostolic succession, the content of divine revelation remains constant for all time; that the ordained priesthood differs significantly from the 'common' priesthood of the faithful; and that Rome has no authority to ordain women as priests.

What Groome endorses is a theoretically egalitarian idea of communal decision-making reminiscent of the object of Orwell's most savage satire. In practice this idea is the reverse of egalitarian. Its basis is hubris, posing as enlightened discernment; and its effect is to undermine the Word of God in the name of collegiality.

Castle Hill, NSW

Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 9 (October 2003), p. 14

This is the second of two articles on the state of the Church in Australia. Fr John Walter is the parish priest of St Joseph's, Riverwood, in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Catholic educationalists have quite often sheeted the blame home squarely on the non-practising families the children come from. But that does not explain the huge leakage from the faith of others whose parents are pillars of the Church and who in earlier times were themselves educated in the same Catholic schools. This is another tough question yet to be resolved.

The factors are many. They include the increasing secularisation of our society with the inroads of a popular secular ethic; the undoubted falling away from the practice of the faith within a materialistic society whose only heaven is the here and now; extremely poor to erroneous catechesis influenced by such false religious education idols as Gabriel Moran and Thomas Groome whose theories of "ongoing revelation" and "hermeneutic of suspicion" have contributed greatly to stunting, if not killing, the seeds of faith.

The earlier comments about the need to implement parish-based sacramental programs appropriately apply here too. But while these will work fairly well at the primary school level, what is badly lacking at the secondary and tertiary level is faith reinforcement by a well-directed apologetic for the faith. The problem we encounter here is that a sizeable contingent of disbelievers and unbelievers are teaching in our schools and lecturing on our university campuses.

What is more, widespread adoption of Gabriel Moran's "ongoing revelation" theories and of Thomas Groome's "hermenutic of suspicion" by religious education professionals have wreaked great havoc on the maturing faith of many young Catholics.

If nothing else, theories such as these have been eminently successful in sidelining the precious gift of faith; in the one case, there is no need for a teaching Church; and in the other, rationalistic scepticism leads to complete unbelief.

Teaching the Truth

In his book A Generation Betrayed (reviewed in the November AD2000), Eamonn Keane clearly demonstrates the subversive and anti-Catholic nature of Thomas Groome's catechetical method known as shared Christian praxis.

Keane does this by quoting Groome himself's boasting how he used his catechetical method to lead members of a parish altar society to change their position of support for the Church's teaching on the non-ordination of women to the priesthood, to one of opposition to it.

The question that has to be put to those in charge of religious education is: How can anyone, in justice to parents and children, promote Groome as a religious education luminary when the essence of his method is to plant doubt in the minds of students regarding the reliability of the Church in teaching the truth of the Gospel?


Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 1 (February 2003), p. 15

(This is a response to Bishop Manning's letter.)

I have the deepest respect for Bishop Manning as one of the chief pastors of the Catholic Church.

My article in the December edition of AD2000 made no assertion that the Parramatta "Diocesan Religious Education Program, Sharing our Story, contains material which contradicts orthodox Church teaching." Rather, I drew attention to the fatally flawed nature of Groome's shared Christian praxis, the prescribed methodology for Sharing Our Story, as well as citing examples of how Groome promotes dissent from the dogmatic and definitive teaching of the Catholic Church.

Thomas Groome's shared Christian praxis is made up of several "Movements" - none of which may be omitted. For example, Groome states that if the educator bypasses Movement 3 the process "would not then be shared Christian praxis" (Sharing Faith, p. 218).

Movement 3 involves the application of a "hermeneutic of suspicion" to Scripture and Tradition. This means that divine revelation, as it has been mediated and authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium, enters into shared Christian praxis from a perspective of "suspicion" with a view to sifting out the "untruth" which Groome asserts is present "in every statement of faith".

In his published works which outline the process of shared Christian praxis, Groome treats the teaching of the Church as mythic putty which he sometimes subjects to heretical reinterpretations.

The character of the methodological principles of any discipline influences its conclusions. Pope John Paul II alluded to this when he told a group of US Bishops that "methodologies used" to renew catechesis "have to respond to the nature of the faith as truth received" (L'Osservatore Romano, 3 June 1998).

Shared Christian praxis is an ideological construct wherein Groome's theological perceptions are imminent in his pedagogical method. It invites teachers to "devalue" Catholic doctrines which have been "judged certain" by the Magisterium by subjecting them to "suspicion".

Sydney, NSW

Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 1 (February 2003), p. 15

Experts? (letter)

AD2000 (July 2002) states in "The Church around the World", that one Thomas Groome, "widely quoted in Australian Catholic educational circles as a catechetics expert", has declared (among other gems), that "those who hope for a systemic overhaul of priestly ministry know that when celibacy is taken off the table, the same surely follows for women's ordination".

Now I don't profess to be an expert, but I do know, say, the difference between a square and a circle.

The Catholic Church already allows married priests in its Byzantine or Eastern Rites; it also allows married ministers who have converted from Anglicanism and wish to be ordained as Catholic priests to do so (subject to the usual requirements); and it would seem feasible that as part of an effort to eventually join in unity with the Orthodox Church(es), it might even allow priests of the "Latin" or Western Rite to marry.

This may be considered a "square".

The matter of the "ordination" of women, however, can be considered a "circle". It has nothing whatsover to do with the matter of Latin-Rite priestly celibacy.

The Papacy has formally and definitively declared that the Church has no authority whatsover from Christ to ordain women to the priesthood and that this is to be held to by all of the faithful. Definitive means "final, not subject to change", according to my dictionary.

The Vatican has stated that this ruling is irrevocable - theological "experts" or no theological "experts".

How anyone calling himself a Catholic cannot see the plain-as-your-nose difference between these two matters is beyond me.

As I have been asking for some 35 years now: Where do they get these people from? Why do "Australian Catholic educational circles" give these people credence? Where are the bishops?

Willetton, WA

Thomas Groome calls for "reconstructed" priesthood

Links celibacy to "gay" US clergy

Thomas Groome, widely quoted in Australian Catholic educational circles as a catechetics expert, has recently called for a "reconstructed" Catholic priesthood.

In a report in the Boston Globe (19 May), the US theologian commented on the current sex abuse scandals, noting that in a communique from Rome following their meeting in April, the US cardinals and episcopal leaders had said that because "a link between pedophilia and celibacy cannot be scientifically maintained" they would remove priestly celibacy from the discussion.

Groome commented: "Those who hope for a systemic overhaul of priestly ministry know that when celibacy is taken off the table, the same surely follows for women's ordination."

He also suggested there could be a link between celibacy and a so-called "gaying" of the priesthood in the US: "Surely many good Catholic gay men, told by their Church that their orientation is 'intrinsically disordered' and that they are 'called to chastity' for life, say to themselves, 'If I must be celibate, why not be a priest?'"

However, "even if celibacy is not one of the root causes of the present scandal ... it is high time that we reconstruct the Catholic priesthood."

Apart from introducing optional celibacy, he said, the Church should also allow women priests and bishops: "The presence of women as priests and bishops would be an extraordinary gift to the life of the Catholic Church ... To ordain women would surely hasten the demise of clericalism - the antithesis to priesthood as servant leadership - and catalyse a renewed ministry of 'holy order'."

Others questions needing to be addressed, said Groome, were "lay participation in the oversight of the Church, the clandestine way bishops are selected [and] the inflated role of the Roman Curia".

The following excerpts are taken from sources that approve of Thomas Groome's experiential method.

Mission in the context of plurality: Christian educational perspective
Hannibal Cabral
From the beginning of the history of the Jewish community, religious education has taken a central place in the life of the people. As it is rightly said, education depends upon what Bernard Bailyn calls "The great axles of society - family, church, community and the economy."1 Christian education is the systematic, definite teaching ministry of the Christian community, which helps its members in their faith formation so that they would become the agents of transformation in and outside the community. Maybe Thomas Groome's definition suffice this understanding:

Christian education is a political activity with pilgrims in time that deliberately and intentionally attends with them to the activity of God in our present, to the story of the Christian faith community, and to the vision of God's kingdom, the seeds of which are already among us.2

Christianity is not a package of ideas and beliefs that once ascended from the clouds. Nor is it a philosophy that any intelligent individual might think for himself/herself. "It is the life of a community of people responding to God's deed in Christ and God's continuing activity in the world."3

What is the relation existing between mission and Christian education? Because Christianity is the life of a community, its aim is not the promotion of the community, but the healing, preaching, teaching and reconciling mission to which the community is called. Hence Christian education is also described as the effort "to introduce persons into the life and mission of the community of Christian faith."4 This conception of Christian education is consistent both with the biblical understanding of the Church and with the findings of recent educational psychology about the learning process. One cannot overlook the role of tradition, culture and handing over of the religious experiences of the faith community through its generation. John Dewey calls it "the funded capital of civilization". Part of the task of Christian education is to ensure that our "funded capital" is preserved and made available to people in the present.

Likewise, the contemporary educational psychology emphasizes the importance of the human relationships in which education takes place. Particularly psychologists like John Dewey, Piaget, Kohlberg, Erick Ericksons have shown that human development and growth involves more than intellectual forces. In other words, one's faith formation also takes place in his/her socio-political, politico-religious and historical context. The question of what does my faith say about the various crisis, challenges, problems, social evils that I encounter in my day to day life cannot be ignored when we discuss the role of Christian education in the context of pluralism.

In the Indian context, Christian community cannot function without relating to the multi-cultural and multi-religious reality. In fact we have to admit that in spite of this realization we have failed to formulate our objective of mission and the Christian religious education in this broader perspective. Therefore, realizing the role of Christian education as effort to introduce persons into the life and mission of the Christian community, we need to discuss a few important issues.

Liberation Perspectives on Justice Education

Michael Harrison, Padua College, Mornington Victoria

An important background in the discussion of how to educate for justice is Latin American theology and educational theory. Liberation theology challenged Catholic social policy and ecclesial practice, and the insights of Paulo Freire and his co-workers questioned educational theory throughout Latin America and the world in general.

The experience of poverty and oppression, and the turbulence caused by revolutionary movements attempting to wrest power from intransigent oligarchies, provide the background for these significant developments in theological and educational thought. The essential insight in this for justice education is the emphasis on the need for action and reflection as essential parts of the theological and educational process.


Liberation theologians argue that, when faced with the scandal of poverty and oppression in the Latin American context, it is not enough for the Church to support in words alone.

·if we are to understand the theology of liberation, we must first understand and take an active part in the real and historical process of liberating the oppressed·(It) is vital to move beyond a purely intellectual approach that is content with comprehending a theology·"knowing" implies loving, letting oneself become involved body and soul, communing wholly - being committed, in a word· 1

Encouraged by the conciliar social teaching encapsulated in Gaudium et Spes, and the developing insights of their own theologians, the bishops of Latin America encouraged their churches to go beyond the pious spiritualising of previous generations and actively work for justice. In the oft-quoted words of the bishops at Medellin:

Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel· 2

In simple terms, the methodology of liberation theology can be described in the three-fold movement typical of much Catholic social thought - see, judge, and then act. 3 Boff and Boff describe this movement in more complex terms as three stages or mediations - the socio-analytical mediation which seeks to understand causes of the situation, the hermeneutical mediation which critically reflects on the situation, and the practical mediation which acts on the basis of this understanding and reflection. 4

Whether simple or complex in its explanation, the essential element of the process described is that action goes hand-in-hand with understanding and reflection. This is liberation theology's concept of praxis, a continual and integral movement between reflection and action where one component makes no sense without the other.

Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision
By Thomas H. Groome
San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1980. 296 pp. $12.95.

Member of the religious education faculty at Boston College, the author has been working for some years on an approach to Christian education that he calls "shared Christian praxis." His interest in developing the approach stems from a concern that arose during his doctoral work, and he has pursued it diligently in his dissertation, in a series of essays, and now in this volume.

The theme of "educational praxis" (basically, practice thoroughly informed by, and in dialogue with, theory) was introduced in American Christian education discussion by Paulo Freire, whose most influential book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury Press, 1970), proposed a radical plan for education in the form of a liberating adult education for preliterate South Americans. Stimulated by Freire, Groome developed the matter of education for freedom, but he was nagged by the need to introduce the Christian gospel explicitly into the process and by the need for an approach that would speak specifically to the American scene.

"Shared Christian praxis" is the proposal that has resulted. The subtitle of the book puts it in an appealing way. In the mature form in which it appears here, the five movements of shared Christian praxis are as follows: (1) naming present action; (2) participants' stories and visions; (3) the Christian community story and vision; (4) dialectical hermeneutic between the Story and the participants' stories; and (5) dialectical hermeneutic between the Vision and the participants' vision.

This educational model is proposed as theologically and educationally adequate, as "politically" significant and potent, and as useful with children, youth, adults, and intergenerational groups in a variety of cultural settings. The quest for theological and educational adequacy results in a superb survey of the critical dialectic of the development of educational thought from Aristotle to the present, and includes valuable critical expositions of the thought of key Christian educators along the way. Learners are seen as "pilgrims in time," creating a future in the present with an eye to the past, thus being essentially involved in a "political" enterprise, implying the use of power for the ordering of individual and social life. Mainly from his own experience, Groome demonstrates the use of the approach with groups of various ages and combinations of ages, insisting in effect that the model has universal applicability.

In arguing his case, Groome makes use of six theoretical categories: the nature of Christian religious education, its purpose, its context, the approach (where shared Christian praxis is outlined, argued, and illustrated), educational readiness, and the co-partners involved. With the focus on the one particular approach, these categories serve their purpose. But they also are the point at which critique may start.

Critics may, I believe, raise questions about the adequacy of his treatment of context, where there is more to the church as the setting for Christian education than simply "being Christian together"; with his approach as not taking full account of process (the full dynamics of Christian teaching and learning); with his idea of readiness as touching only one aspect of the timing of Christian education, and that psychological rather than theological; and with the notion of co-partners as slighting what Nels F.S. Ferré called "God as educator" and "learning from God."

At the level of practicality, shared Christian praxis is of keen interest to professional Christian educators, large numbers of whom have already sought training in its use. Adaptations are under way for cultural settings as far removed from the Boston urban scene as the rural churches of Appalachia. As this sort of use accelerates, ministers, professional Christian educators, and other church leaders will be using this book as their chief resource.

At the scholarly level, my prediction is that the book will be more widely and carefully studied and critiqued than any other recent work in the field. Comparable only to the work of persons like Coe and Nelson, it is bound to be worked over avidly by professors and seminarians, analyzed and debated in the critical journals, and discussed in depth by professional religious education groups. There is no other present work that deals so challengingly and constructively with the central issues in Christian education.

D. Campbell Wyckoff
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, New Jersey

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