Why are students from Catholic schools doubtful, skeptic, and not firm in faith?

Question (from a reader): 

Can you comment on my observation that most students who graduated from Catholic schools tend to be the ones who are doubtful, skeptic and not firm in the faith?  What must be done?


In the study of theology, we must study all objections to the faith in order to present the truth of the Catholic faith.  This is what St. Aquinas did in his Summa Theologiae.  First he presents the question, then raises all objections or difficulties, and finally presents his resolution.  I think the problem in the current teaching of theology is that it limits itself to presenting the question and raising the objections, but never the Catholic resolution.  Even if the official Catholic teaching is presented, it is presented in such a way that it is only one of the many interpretations or resolutions.  Thus, the student ends up choosing for himself what truth is, which leads to Cafeteria Catholicism.

Surprisingly, it is possible to teach the Catholic faith even to Muslims, Buddhists, and Pagans, by phrasing the question as follow: “What does the Catholic Church officially teach about such and such question?”  This is an objective question which demands an objective response that does not require assent of faith.  The problem with some theology courses, they go to higher ordered thinking skills without making sure the simple objective questions are easily answered by the students.  For example, the student must first be able to state the dogma of the Transubstantiation, before he can discuss in what sense is the Church the Mystical Body of Christ and how it is different from the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Other theology courses also uses reading lists which has majority written by of modern theologians which are considered by the Church as heretical; only a small fraction is by the Doctors of the Church or the Encyclicals of the Pope.  And the Catechism is even never mentioned in the discussions.

How do we improve the teaching of theology?  I shall recommend only one thing which the popes themselves recommend: teach St. Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.  As Pope Leo XIII wrote in his Encyclical Aeterni Patris:

Z 1. But, furthermore, Our predecessors in the Roman pontificate have celebrated the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas by exceptional tributes of praise and the most ample testimonials. Clement VI in the bull In Ordine; Nicholas V in his brief to the friars of the Order of Preachers, 1451; Benedict XIII in the bull Pretiosus, and others bear witness that the universal Church borrows lustre from his admirable teaching; while St. Pius V declares in the bull Mirabilis that heresies, confounded and convicted by the same teaching, were dissipated, and the whole world daily freed from fatal errors; others, such as Clement XII in the bull Verbo Dei, affirm that most fruitful blessings have spread abroad from his writings over the whole Church, and that he is worthy of the honor which is bestowed on the greatest Doctors of the Church, on Gregory and Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome; while others have not hesitated to propose St. Thomas for the exemplar and master of the universities and great centers of learning whom they may follow with unfaltering feet. On which point the words of Blessed Urban V to the University of Toulouse are worthy of recall: “It is our will, which We hereby enjoin upon you, that ye follow the teaching of Blessed Thomas as the true and Catholic doctrine and that ye labor with all your force to profit by the same.”(35) Innocent XII, followed the example of Urban in the case of the University of Louvain, in the letter in the form of a brief addressed to that university on February 6, 1694, and Benedict XIV in the letter in the form of a brief addressed on August 26, 1752, to the Dionysian College in Granada; while to these judgments of great Pontiffs on Thomas Aquinas comes the crowning testimony of Innocent VI: “His teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error.”(36)

St. Aquinas is the most lucid of all theologians: straight, direct to the point.  An oral exam in Theology courses usually takes 15 minutes.  This would just be enough to explain one question in Summa, with its objections and resolutions.  Teach Aquinas and in four years, the students will leave the university with a firm faith in the Catholic teaching.


About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

7 Responses to Why are students from Catholic schools doubtful, skeptic, and not firm in faith?

  1. c.pio says:

    wishing you and your family,

    Merry Christmas and a Joyful New Year.


  2. c.pio says:


    Sir Sugon, maybe by january2012, with your permission granted to me I’ll post two articles of yours in my blog.

    tnx again.


  3. Quirino M. Sugon Jr says:

    ok, pio.

  4. Ben says:

    “Why are students from Catholic schools doubtful, skeptic, and not firm in faith?”

    Nah. . . Of course when a student graduates, he/she already have a better knowledge about logic and morality. He/she will tend to be more inquisitive . . . especially about religion, that is if he/she still care for his/her life in the Hereafter. They are (1) doubtful, (2) skeptic and (3) not firm in their faith because of the ‘must-be-believe doctrines of the Church’ and the school.

    Example. The undeniable CONTRADICTIONS in the Bible. The doctrine of Trinity. The purpose of the Christ’s death on the cross ‘to wash away mankind’s sin to name a few.

    In their conscience, it say that something is wrong and there are lots of questions that need answers.

  5. Angelo Perez says:

    Succinct! Thank you Sir for posting!

    University education should include critical thinking and analyses in its subjects. Instead of giving the usual “lecture” on the subject/field, different points of view are brought into the fray. Debates are encouraged. Contemporary efforts (i.e. journal-level analyses) are being studied.

    I do not object to these. In fact, being a science major and a very curious person, I laud these efforts by my professors to instill in us a mindset in which we can evaluate different situations from the psychological, sociological, and even theological point of view (among others, of course).

    I’m really thankful that at least my Theology courses so far are alright. In my first, we dealt with the 5 Proofs on the Existence of God by St. Thomas Aquinas. I had as a supplementary reference book “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” by known apologist Peter Kreeft (both the book and author are superb by the way). Our readings briefly touched on St. Thomas’ Summa, and the said book utilized the same technique that St. Thomas used, and which was mentioned here: the exposition of objections to the taught doctrine, then their refutations/rebuttals.

    I quite agree with this method of learning the faith. Sure, they may be objections (Bring them on!), let us study them. But at the end of the day, since we are learning Catholic theology, there must be precisely a Catholic “resolution”. This is what I think university-level theology/Catholic education should differ from other university subjects with their required higher level of thinking: it should emphasize what the Church is teaching, and not just the plethora of interpretations, in which the Magisterium is just sadly, one voice. After all, the truth that the Catholic Church professes is not relativistic; it is absolute. Even in the context of taking theology as a purely academic discipline, the Catholic teaching should stand out.

    I also agree that non-Catholics and non-Christians can learn the tenets of the Catholic Church. Theology can be taken, as I’ve said, as a purely academic discipline. And vice-versa. I know of some Catholics (even priests) who studied other spiritualities like Buddhism. Again, making religion an academic discipline should beget a study of the doctrinal pillars and official teachings, among others yet most of all.

    This is because the issue at hand is a religious one. Amidst the debates for and against, at the end of it all, and what matters most, is your faith.

    I also notice the problematic trend in Theology education today. While I laud and do not want to remove the themes of the Theology subjects offered in my school, I’m really sad (and frustrated at times) that we don’t have a course on Church and Sacraments. Other schools offer Salvation History, which have just been “touched on the surface” in my first Theology course. While I appreciate the Theology subjects we are required to take, I think we should still cover the basics, and if possible, relearn and strengthen them. It’s the same aim as with other disciplines right? In the college level, we will always be asked to not only be critical, but also intensify what we knew before. The experience should be both learning and re-learning. Repetition is one of the best ways of learning something right? For most of us, our last formal religious education was during those catechism classes for First Communion and Confirmation (well, this is my case).

    The problem is expanding into the lack of awareness of some Catholics to the official teachings of the Church. I really believe that one should not pass a Theology course on marriage and human sexuality if he/she does not know [at least] the official stand of the Church and why her judgments are like that when it comes to such controversial topics as homosexuality and contraception. For instance, someone posted online that the Church’s stand on homosexuals is against what it means to be a Christian: we should care for them and help them as much as we can. Case to point: that is what precisely what the Catholic church is saying! CCC 2358 says: “…They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

    I conferred this to a friend, and he said that unfortunately, teachers have different syllabi and reading material in which they teach such a course. Exactly what the post above is pointing out. There is no emphasis (where in fact there should be) on the Magisterium. I also believe that one should not pass Theology courses without knowing what the words “CCC”, “CFC”, “encyclicals”, “exhortation”, “Magisterium” mean, and without having read the CCC and CFC at least on the paragraphs relevant to the class. In the hierarchy of materials used for research/study, these are reference materials which should be consulted first.

    I am quite lucky that my teacher in marriage and human sexuality is using the CCC and CFC as references in our discussions (and he exhorts us to use those for our group reports). However, he also mentioned that our theology class is not a “basic Catechism” class. We would study different interpretations, even objections to the official Church teaching. But I do not object to that. That is part of critical analysis and university education. Nevertheless, the tenets of the CCC and CFC should be exposed.

    I don’t know if the University of Santo Tomas is offering a study Summa Theologiae in its foundation Theology courses. But I know that they offer separate courses on Salvation History and Church and Sacraments.

    [Disclaimer: I am not a theologian or a religious educator. These are just my takes on the issue.]


    Another take. A friend brought out to me that another reason why graduates from Catholic schools are like that is because the religion is “force-fed” on them. Maybe this is really a problem when it comes to proper religious education. Students just passive listeners, instead of seeking out what they finding out. In turn they become desensitized and indifferent to their faith in the long run, and eventually agnostics and maybe even atheists. Or become members of other denominations (the television is full of testimonies from these “non-Catholics). Such contradiction right? These people received a kind of education most Catholics cannot afford to have.

    However, that friend is a contradiction. He was not raised in a deeply pious household, nor studied in a Catholic household. He even joined Born-Again services upon prodding of his friends there. Yet, he is Catholic now, and I’m proud to say, more Catholic than most of us.

    As for my own case, I came from a Catholic elementary school, but from a [secular] science high school. However, I can say that the sectarian nature of the latter made me more Catholic in the process.

    I loved this comment in a Youtube video detailing Scott Hahn’s conversion story to Catholicism: intelligent people go in the Catholic Church (in which Scott Hahn and Blessed John Henry Newman are concrete examples) and the opposite go out of it. I know this may be an overstatement. But it’s still saying something.

    It’s really amazing how God works in and through people.


    Thanks for posting this answer! Sorry for the long reply.

    Merry Christmas to all!

  6. Angelo Perez says:

    However, the question posed should be corrected. Not all students from Catholic schools are like that. Let us not generalize. NOT ALL become doubtful and skeptic. Many still believe that Catholic upbringing and education has done them good and made them better persons. This is just a question exposing this very sad and very ironic situation. People Confirmed need to realize that that sacrament invites them to be witnesses of Christ, faithful to the renewed baptismal promises and the Creed.

  7. Jon W says:

    Students from Catholic schools are more skeptical because they are being taught a philosophy and way of life that no one lives anymore, so there is serious cognitive dissonance between what they are taught as true and what they implicitly believe as true by the way they and the society live their lives. This dissonance disposes them to skepticism. The people at NPR aren’t skeptical about the things they believe in because there’s no difference between what they claim to believe and how they live their lives. Their theory is consistent with their practice. With Catholics it is not so.

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