... through his work doing apologetics in parks and on street corners, Sheed was in a particularly good position to see what the see the intellectual state of the average Catholic, as well as the intellectual. And what he saw, it seems, worried him. Throughout the '30s, '40s and '50s he spoke to bishops about the state of catechesis (which he generally considered to not be at all good -- in part because those doing the catechising were not themselves sufficiently knowledgeable) and addressed numerous groups of seminarians and teaching sisters.
What he found was that all too often even the priests and nuns tasked with teaching the laity were not able to deal well with questions that went beyond the memorized questions and answers in their catechisms. This was not, he said, through any lack of faith (far from it, there was in intensely strong belief in the teachings of the Church and if anything an overly strong belief in infallibility, which attached the stamp of dogma equally to the everything from abstaining from meat on Fridays and women covering their heads in church to the immaculate conception and purgatory) but rather through a defensive posture which the Church had taken in much of Europe since the Reformation, emphasizing memorization over argumentation and discipline over education.
One of the examples of the kind of "beyond the catechism" questions that Sheed would pose is as follows:
Sheed: "Does the pope need to go to confession?"
Other: "Yes, of course. The pope must go to confession regularly to receive forgiveness for his sins."
Sheed: "But if the priest's authority comes from the bishop, and the bishop's authority comes from the pope, who has the authority to forgive the pope?"
The answer, of course, is: Christ. And since our sins are forgiven through the power of Christ by the priest who acts in persona Christi, any priest can grant the pope absolution. People knew this, Sheed says, in their hearts. They understood that the pope needed and received absolution. But far too often questions like this would stump not only Catholic school children, but also the nuns and priests who taught them, because they weren't used to thinking about what they believed meant.
(He has a good bit more that is well worth reading; take a look at the whole thing (link in the title of this post].)