RE ‘Religion not a factor’ – results of schools survey (CL 23/11/03), the Catholic schools represent the major evangelical drive of the Catholic Church in this country. In effect, and in fact, they represent the Church to their students and most of their teachers are indifferent or ignorant of Catholic principles of understanding and teaching – ie Catholic doctrine.
For years now only 2 per cent of the schools’ population have returned to the Church, less than what we have from the population at large, and many past pupils are negative in their attitude towards the Church.
The Catholic Church I believe in has been commissioned by Jesus Christ, the Son of God and imbued with the Holy Spirit. The Church exists to communicate the word, God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is ‘the way the truth and the life’. He is the ‘alpha and the omega’ in his self giving, suffering love. He is the redeemer of humankind and brings us the ‘pearl of great price’.
To the many unbelievers in the school system, this is all irrelevant and meaningless.
The article reports the executive director of Edmund Rice Education in Queensland, Dr Sultmann, as saying that ‘Catholic schools are not about telling people what to think’. He is quoted, ‘It’s about invitation and conversation, not so much about expectation and dictation. The research is saying we have to change our thinking. Catholic parents don’t send their children to Catholic schools because they have to. It’s about inviting parents and having a conversation about faith and strengthening resolve about it.’
Dr Sultmann fails to address the fact that for the parents referred to, ‘ ‘the absolute essential’ for the education sectors included quality teaching, care of students, school discipline, parent involvement, moral development and school philosophy. Religion – religious education or faith tradition – did not rate as one of the key critical attributes.’
There is nothing surprising to many interested Catholic observers in this statement of values. They are priorities of people who want a well run school which can prepare their children for their careers and secular life. They are the priorities of people with secular views of the world – not faith views. They are pale beside Christ’s eternal priorities of service, sacrifice and love, and would not inspire anyone to found a school system.
Dr Sultmann has no right to refer to people with such views as ‘Catholic parents’. Not unless being a Catholic now is no more than attaching oneself to the Church as a type of cultural club which provides benefits like a better than average education for their children.
Such parents do not do the Church any favours by putting their children in Catholic schools and virtually demanding priority be given to their own philosophies.
It is the parents who appear to have the ‘expectation and dictation’ of ideas, and for many of us that is nothing new. People are not going to change their deeply held views of the world because Dr Sultmann, or some other academic, invites them around and has a ‘conversation about faith’.
It highlights, rather than relieves the aridity of the school system, to hear that a perceived success presented by Dr Sultmann is one parent who believed in motivation by heroes and had Jesus for one of her heroes.
The Catholic school system is a ‘barren fig tree’, and it is simply not Catholic. Increasingly the Church is becoming an odd element of the school complex. The Church should have extricated itself from the schools years ago and allowed them to proceed as a private school system. She could then have put her energies into communicating with people at large and focusing those whom the Holy Spirit opens to our faith.
It is the responsibility of the secular society to educate children for careers and civil life. One must ask, is it really possible now for the relevant Church authorities to put Christ first and take the step?
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