June 20, 2015


The following piece by the redoubtable Daphne McLeod first appeared in  in Issue 45 of the  Brandsma Review in the year 2000. It originally been commissioned by the Catholic Herald, which declined to publish  the finished article—presumably for fear of annoying the English Catholic catechetical establishment.

Dr Kevin Treston, author of A New Vision of Religious Education told us he hugs a tree every morning to give him energy for the day. The 62-year-old Australian—who has written 11 other books on RE—was giving a day for catechists of the Portsmouth diocese on Saturday, September 25.

He was introduced by Sister Bernadette Duggan, Co-ordinator of Adult Education in the diocese. She told the 40 catechists present she had discovered Dr Treston’s books four years ago, and since then she had invited him over from Brisbane, Australia three times to address teachers and catechists in Portsmouth.

She didn’t say that in his books (A New Vision of RE, for instance) he teaches that “at the Consecration, the physical appearance of the Host doesn’t change, but the meaning does for those who believe” (p.75); that he “finds it hard to relate to a Church that treats women like second-class citizens” (p.68).or that “the only structure initiated by Jesus was the institution of the Twelve, and this structure disappeared after the death of Stephen” (p. 64).

Sister only said that we must all be open to the Holy Spirit and that She speaks to us in different ways.

Ambiguous input

Dr Treston’s presentations consisted of a great deal of trivia, long pauses while we thought about what he had just said, and then time spent “sharing” our thoughts with our neighbour and with the whole group. His own small input was ambiguous if not directly contrary to Catholic teaching.

For instance, he seems to believe that Revelation depends on experience, not the teaching handed down to us by the Apostles, for he said that people who say “I’ve got the truth” make him nervous , when they can’t know what experiences God has in store for them.

He described the Eucharist as “when we break bread with Christ together”, and Jesus as “an incredible person calling us to God’s love”. He told us that the miracles have nothing to do with proving that Jesus is God, and that no modern Scripture scholar would say that they have; that at Pentecost there was no wind, no fire and no gift of tongues, as these all came from the Old Testament.

The great people who carry our sinfulness are Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Bishop Romero, and “the institutional Church has not always been a healing presence, for we all know people who have not been healed by it.”

Brusquely dealt with

Dr Treston seems to be more concerned with social work than with Catholic teaching as found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. When he invited people to share their thoughts with the whole group, those who proffered Catholic teaching were very brusquely dealt with.

For example, when asked what helped to develop her spirituality, one catechist said she found that her daily Mass and visits to the Blessed Sacrament helped her. Dr Treston responded that though that might help some people, many—if not most—find God in Nature, such as trees and rainbows. Then he asked for Spiritual Experiences not connected to Mass and Holy Communion, and of course he got them.

Baptism was described as God accepting us as son/daughter and the community inviting us in, and he wasn’t pleased when another catechist reminded him that it also takes away original sin, all other sins, and bestows grace. He said he wasn’t going to go on all day about doctrinal points, and did she want to stay with the day?

Spoiling their day

Just before we broke for lunch a very angry man sitting at the back and wearing a pink shirt attacked those who were speaking as Catholics faithful to the teaching of the Church. He said he felt like going as he was fed up with people who were clinging to a kind of Church he wanted nothing to do with, and if they were not open to what Dr Treston was teaching why didn’t they go, and he would give them back their £10 as they were spoiling the day for the rest.

One lady protested that as she was a parish catechist she had every right to there, but he responded that he was glad she didn’t teach his children.

A lady who had not spoken at all remonstrated with the man in the pink shirt firmly but politely, pointing out that these people had only spoken when invited to, that they had all been extremely courteous, and that surely we could at least listen to each other. It was only when she addressed him as “Father” that the rest of us realised that he was a priest. He is, apparently, Rev. Ray Lyons, Parish Priest of St Bernard’s’ Holbury, and Executive Secretary of the National Conference of Priests, no less.

Pressing the Earth

The afternoon passed in much the same way as the morning except that Dr Treston gave us a brief lesson on Tai Chi, as he has studied several levels. We saw how to Heavenly Lifts, Shake Outs, Silk and Thread, Pressing the Earth, and the deep breathing that goes with this. Sister Bernadette closed the day, reminding us that there were bound to be tensions these days with catechetics.

But my final memory was of Pinkshirt—sorry, Father Lyons—telling some departing catechists that they were “whited sepulchres”. He also referred to what he called “those Thought Police at the front”.

On this, his third visit, Dr Treston addressed five separate audiences made up of heads of RE, school chaplains and Catholic head teachers, as well as parish catechists. One cannot help wondering:

Why does Bishop Hollis of Portsmouth keep inviting someone with such strange ideas to lecture those who will teach the children entrusted to his care?

Why did Bishop Nichols, chairman of the Department of Catholic Education—who had known the previous month that this day was to take place—not step in to protect the Catholic children who are now going to be led astray?

The situation is extremely worrying, and it calls for a great deal of prayer.

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