Monday, February 04, 2008

What does "Catholic" mean?

I had a very unpleasant conversation on the phone last week with someone who was very involved in Catholic Secondary Education, in it he described Catholic as meaning "inclusive of everything", I suggested he read the definition of "Catholic" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

There is still a pernicious trend in the Church were the very institutions that parents and priests trust to hand on the faith that Christ and his Apostles handed down to us actually distort it out of all recognition. Think of the madness of "Catholic" adoption agencies that support adoption by single gay or divorced and seperated people, or aid agencies that hand out condoms or support other that do, for example.
Paul Priest, a young parent, on his excellently written, now re-formatted blog, examines one instance of this.
We really do have to rethink the purpose of Catholic education. We place so many of our resources in our schools and yet our young men and women leave without even the most basic understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, or the Nature of Christ, or the purpose of the Church, the result is they lapse. Our Sunday evening Mass is full of young men and women but practically all of them are foreign, hardly any went through the Catholic educational system. An English priest friend of mine working abroad, said "When I was in England I knew that by the age of 18 at least 90%, perhaps even 100% of those who were baptised have lapsed". Thirteen years of Catholic education should produce better results than they do. The trouble doesn't seem to be with our Primary Schools, except perhaps they infantalise the faith, and fail to teach children to worship in an adult way.
There are so many things in the Church in England and Wales that we simply accept without question, which bishops and priests ask the laity to support, which really are distructive of the faith that we want to pass on.
The elephant in the room is Catholic education, and in particular the Catholic Secondary School. In England we have a number of former Anglican married priests with young children, all of those I know are looking at some alternative to the ordinary local Catholic comprehisive schools.


George said...

Fr Ray - you are so right! As a parent (sorry! I mean father) of six children all of whom have gone through/are currently in the Catholic education system and as a governor in our secondary school I wholeheartedly agree with you.

I firmly believe that the Catholic Education pink-elephant is down to one thing - relegating our Glorious Faith to little more than a GCSE subject. That was such a clever ploy by the 'enemy'.

As such therefore RE is on par with English, Food Science, IT, Geography etc... and seen by the children as little else, of equal or of no value to the other subjects as their interest takes them.

Teachers have such a busy timetable that it would be unfair to put the blame on them. It's the current system and curriculum. Of course parents (sorry again! I mean mothers and fathers) have the duty and obligation to pass on the Faith within the family home, but again sadly we know all to well that this does not always happen. So, if at least in our Catholic schools the roots of the Catholic Faith were nurtured and strengthened with 'lessons', recollections, retreats, activities, courses, vocations days, weekly Holy Mass (as I remember it), Benediction etc... we could say that yes, this IS a Catholic School that is living its Faith and strengthening its children in theirs. The educational system is too centred on cramming our children full of information - much of which will be of little value in the real world. The Catholic Faith on the other hand is a diamond of such infinite value that to with-hold this from 'these little ones' is indeed the greatest sin of all.

As for well-meaning Catholic Educators who see inclusiveness and open-mindedness as the core of our Faith - well, they have been so open minded for such a long period that their brains have fallen out! Yes, Fr Ray - they need to get back to the Catechism.

Ditch the RE syllabus completely there are enough GCSE subjects out there - TEACH THE FAITH.

Anonymous said...

I would agree wholeheartedly with all that has been said here.

A woman I know went to teach in her local joint faith Catholic & Anglican School. The only problem was that the course she was given to teach the Catholic children was far from Catholic. She complained to her parish priest but he said it was a can of worms and did not want to get involved. She rewrote the course as she was going along correcting errors. One day the Anglican rector overheard her describing the Anglican Church as protestant. She was upbraided by him for saying such a thing. He said the Anglican Church is the Reformed Catholic Church not a protestant Church. In the end she left as it all became too much and she had no support.

My nephew is a Catholic but has no idea about any of the faith. He took RE at A level. We used to sit down over a cuppa discussing the topics that would come up in class. I would give him the Catholic position and discuss the problems presented in a Catholic light. This was all news to him. He said to me one day that he was really disgusted that he had not been taught any proper Catholicism at all. I told him to go into his teacher and ask whether he could have some Catholic Catechism lessons. He did and was told by a member of the RE department "school is no place for indoctrination". I do not know whether this teacher was Catholic or "other".

The school is very large and was formed by the merger of two faith schools, one Anglican and our own Catholic school. We were promised that our Children's faith education would be looked after properly and that they would have proper formation. This promise has been betrayed. Today a non-Catholic teacher is teaching the children their Catholic faith in this school.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for the increasing numbers of parents who feel that they have no alternative but to home-school their children because they have lost all confidence in Catholic education in this country. The present Pope is clearly a firm believer in the influence of Benedictine monasticism on the recovery of Christianity in the West. Is it not high time that one of the remaining Benedictine schools in this country took a courageous lead and rethought its approach to Catholic education in line with the Pope's hermeneutic of continuity? I am thinking particularly of introducing pupils to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and traditional devotions and placing greater emphasis on teaching the Catechism. They could organise conferences of Catholic schools in both the private and state sector to show the results of this. It might just set an example for Catholic schools both private and state to follow, as well as making these schools an option for traditional Catholics again.

I would refer readers to the invitation Dr.Alcuin Reid made to the EBC when he lectured at Downside in 2006 and encouraged them to lead from the front in implementing the BXVI reforms and reinvigorating Western monasticism

Aside from Downside now offering the traditional mass in one of their parishes there does not appear to have been much take up on his other suggestions.

Physiocrat said...

Yes, I have noticed that religious schools generally often seem to turn children right off. Not just Catholic ones. I have long thought that the money spent on them is a waste.

I would go further. The way many things are done in most schools is a turn off for the pupils. I was fortunate in not having studied English Literature as a school subject - indeed, much of the school curriculum passed me by. I think I was lucky, as so often when a subject is studied at school it sucks all the life out of it and makes interesting things boring.

I learned most of what I know outside of school eg I got my knowledge of biology from collecting jam jars of water from the local ponds, supplemented by reading, visits to museums, etc. Not in the classroom. Physics and maths I learned mostly from having model railways and building radios, the classroom just topped-up by providing me with information I was looking for.

What I have seen of schools is that they are a procrustean bed, these days cutting everyone down to the lowest level, knocking down children's natural curiousity and a cruel and abusive situation if ever there was one. Imprisonment from 4 to 16, it can amount to, and if that is how the children feel about it, and they often do, then they will have negative thoughts about whatever they get there.

So perhaps the whole notion of "schools" as an institution needs to be re-thought. Ivan Illich would be a good start.

Kate said...

George is spot on with his comments on the situation in Catholic secondary schools.Catholic primaries are also affected,not least by the number of 'directives'that come down from on high, deflecting teachers from teaching, or interfering with the way in which they teach.The secular state has it's eye on church primary schools, seemingly with the opinion that they are O.K. as long as nobody takes their faith too seriously; a reaction to the 'Fit for Mission' document that was published recently by the Bishop of Lancaster and has been endorsed by Rome.Oona Stannard of the Catholic Education Service has commented that 'Fit for Mission' is the aspiration of one bishop for his diocese,and as one Bishop known to me has it "we don't have to do everything that Rome says.
I think it will take a root and branch review of Catholic Education in England and Wales, with a mandate to recover its proper Mission through Evangelisation and Catechesis that is both thorough and orthdox. "Fit for Mission" offers a way forward, and has not been bettered by anything produced in Catholic Education circles in the last 30+ years.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

I couldn't agree more with George.

To withold the truths of the Catholic faith from little ones is a very wicked thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Our children are going to the local state primary (we are 10 miles from the local catholic school).

My experience of catholic education was that it was a secular school, many of the teachers atheists or agnostics (some of whom seemed to take particular glee in undermining doctrunes etc. at every opportunity), with some catholicism thrown in, mainly due to the efforts of a handful of teachers and nuns. To be fair mine was better than most but the overall impression it gave was a very watery faith with a vaguely Christian ethos of the be nice to everybody type.

I am not really sorry they are in a state school. The vaguely Christian ethos is just as strong. The main advantage I have in not sending to a state school is that, if they are taught things that go against the doctrines of the church I can point out that they are not catholic so is only to be expected.

If a teacher in a catholic school goes aainst Church doctrines it is much more difficult for the parent.

The second advantage is that as they are not at a catholic schoolthey attend church Cathecism classes which are held at church under the direct authority of the parish priest.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

When I was at school, R.I. was taught exclusively by priests.

We didn't study for the G.C.E. "O" level, or any external examination, so it never became just another subject in the curriculum.

This may have left us weak in bible history, etc., but it left us with a keen knowledge of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

And R.I. was always interesting.

(This was a very long time ago !)

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

George is quite right when he says that most Catholic schools have reduced religious education to a subject on the curriculum and nothing more, so the faith isn't being communicated in a meaningful and effective way.

I am firmly of the view that parents need to take the lead in instructing their children in the faith. This is not something we should delegate to the local Catholic school, so that we have a convenient excuse when our children grow up and leave the Church. Many Catholic parents make a similar mistake to Catholic schools, taking their kids to Sunday Mass for the "Catholic hour in an agnostic week" but doing little or nothing else to pass on the faith.

I had the great good fortune to attend a Catholic school where the RE teaching was of the highest standard. There was a very committed team of RE teachers who stuck their necks out to present a completely orthodox and rigorous version of the faith -- with no concessions to the spirit of Vatican II -- in defiance of the diocesan experts. We were still using the Baltimore Catechism in the 1980s, long after it had been thrown onto the bonfire at most Catholic schools!

However, in spite of the quality of the RE I received, I am one of a tiny minority of my school contemporaries who still practise their faith. So it wasn't the RE teachers or the RE curriculum at my school that were to blame. The RE teachers were fighting a losing battle against general social godlessness, but they were clearly getting precious little support from the parents either.

The snag is that that most of today's Catholic parents aren't as lucky as me, and have not been given the grounding -- from parents or school -- to educate their children in the faith, even if they wanted to.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the lack of appropriate ethos in British Catholic schools is the result of a failure in the education system or a failure in the control of the diocese in question.

My school always seemed to be more closely linked to the teachings of the diocese than to that of the county council and as a result we were drilled on pro-life issues, attended mass regularly, sung lots of Latin and could rattle off the Sacraments, the Beatitudes and the parables of Mark's gospel. We were even encouraged to attend confession regularly, something l absolutely hated in those days because there was no grill to hide behind.

My old headmaster retired recently and was awarded a Papal knighthood.

Unfortunately, where most of the teachers stuck to the teaching the faith, sadly all my school chaplains who at the time had a very crucial role in the school have all subsequently left the priesthood..

Physiocrat said...

As parents get to realise what is happening in all schools, and with the new lottery allocation system which is meant to ensure that every class has its quota of disruptive pupils, we can expect to see a growth in home schooling. Perhaps them people will gradually come to realise that schools are a procrustean bed and come to wonder why such a cruel and abusive system was tolerated for so long.

Anonymous said...

As a rather strict Anglo-Catholic who took the Pope fairly seriously I had no inhibitions about sending my children to a Catholic school and was very happy when to O level in religious matters they were instructed by an excellent elderly Spanish nun. At A level however a lay teacher raised such difficulties in their minds about Holy Scripture , and was generally so liberal in her interpretation of her faith, that I had to withdraw them from religious instruction. I was very surprised.

Anonymous said...

It is not just Religion that is taught badly but also History. I can remember in 1979 a student of mine at what is now a Russell Group University, from a well known Catholic Public School, telling me that the first time he had been taught English Catholic history since the Reformation was by me.

One hopes that now there are so many good historians such as Duffy, Norman, Gilley, etc. this is no longer the case.

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