The Pope's Poor Word Choice

Over the last few days, a few comments about catechists have come from the Vatican. I have to admit to finding neither of them particularly inspiring.

First, the Prefect for the Congregation for Clergy said that catechists are an “asset to parishes and a promising sign for the Church today.” He went on to express gratitude to catechists and to exhort them to a deeper relationship with God. That’s all well and good, but I think it is underwhelming to call catechists “an asset to parishes.” An asset is something that is useful. Catechists are not just useful, they are inexpendable!

Now, Pope Benedict has spoken about catechists as well, saying that being a teacher of faith is more than just a job but is something inseparable from living a Christian life. I couldn’t agree more. But then he went on to say this:

“Educators of the faith,” said the Pope, “cannot run the risk of looking like some sort of clown, who is simply playing a role.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t know any catechists who are clowns. Catechists are extremely dedicated people seeking to live a life of discipleship and impart it to others. I know what the Pope is trying to say – we do not act a part – we live it. But I don’t think his choice of the word clown is very wise. In fact, I find the suggestion that some catechists may simply be acting a part to be insulting to catechists in general.

Let me know what you think.

About Joe Paprocki 2736 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

6 Comments on The Pope's Poor Word Choice

  1. What language was the original in? Was it a colloquialism, a word choice or a translation that was less than edifying? Perhaps he was referring to people who are so busy being amusing that they forget the meat of the Faith?

    I checked the Zenit translation (presumably from Italian, though that is not clear) and only the one reference is made, so it could be any of the above. It could equally be a poor choice of words by the Holy Father. I don’t believe the charism extends to the weekly Angelus…

  2. Mallys, I think he was attempting to use imagery like the classical Greek actors who wore masks when performing. That image would have worked better. The word clown just rubs the wrong way.

  3. Joe,

    I had not heard of this statement until just now.
    I firmly believe that what I do does make a difference and am not too concerned.
    We are all on a mission and the statement will NOT dilute my enthusiasm on my mission.
    Words are very powerful and I will use this topic (not from Rome) in my next class to let the children know how words must be carefully constructed and are rarely taken back. I will pray for all of us tonight.


  4. Joe, I don’t believe for a second that the Holy Father lacks appreciation, gratitude, and respect for catechists. I just think he made a poor word-choice that distracted from his core message.

  5. We all know the Holy Father; his work ,his great intentions ,his dedication and the very tough job he has to do and with all the wonderful work we have to do in the vineyard why are we nit picking??

  6. Maria, we certainly don’t want to belabor the point…we’re just having conversation about word choices. Words can be misconstrued and I know that some bloggers have done just that with the Pope’s use of the word “clown” to suggest that he was taking a swipe at the state of catechesis today (which I don’t believe he was doing).

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