The Archbishop of Birmingham’s latest political excursion has been a remarkable success, if, that is, you believe him, the Catholic Education Service, the secular press, and of course the now furious National Secular Society.
Feel free to agree with them all yourself, too. But from my point of view the upshot of it is this: at the moment, the average Catholic secondary is approximately 95% full of youngsters whose families have little or no interest in the Catholic faith but just so happen to have an Irish granny. Were it a brand new Catholic School, it would contain 70% of the above and 25% of children from ‘other faith traditions or none’. Big deal.
This is neither a victory nor a defeat, merely a policy change in regard to where the English Catholic Church will source the little pagans whose education it is so happy to subsidise.
My concern, and the concern which I think our Bishops should share, is for the 5% or so who come from families who genuinely are committed to bringing their children up in the faith, and who want them to go to a school where their efforts will be not undermined, but supported, by sound christian teachers in a Catholic environment. This was the purpose for which the pennies of the poor and the ceaseless labours of many saintly religious built up our Catholic education system during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and we owe it to them to carry on that work.
Last week, Archbishop Nicholls protested in the Telegraph that the government’s proposals were “A Trojan horse, bringing into Catholic schools not only those who reject its (sic) central vision, but oppose it.” . The truth is that the Trojan horse got into Catholic education a long time ago and, like the original Trojans, we didn’t need anyone to make us open the gates, we did it ourselves in our naivety.
This whole situation had, and has, little to do with any macchiavellian schemes on the part of the the Department for Education. No doubt they do want to control us; they’re socialists after all and that is their instinct.
But the situation Catholic education is in is simply the result of there being fewer and fewer people who could be called ‘Catholics’ in any meaningful way, but still just as many (if not more) places in Catholic schools.
The result, of course, is this: the vast majority of Catholic schools, particularly the secondary schools, are now largely staffed by secularly minded teachers who indoctrinate the children of secularly minded parents with secularist ideas. All under the authority of the local bishop and 10% funded by the local Church.
And what this means is that parents who genuinely want a Catholic education for their children don’t get it. They don’t get it because the local Catholic school has it’s own priorities. They do not think it important to celebrate major feast days; they would not know how to give sound catechesis (indeed they would think its content either silly or offensive); they do not introduce the children to the rich cultural heritage which is the patrimony of every Catholic. Finally, they seldom have teachers capable of being suitable role models for young Catholics.
Almost all of the boys I was at school with who came from good, Catholic homes have now lost their faith. To be more precise, they lost their faith when they were at school, between the ages of 13 and 18. I can’t help feeling that if they’d gone to a school where being a churchgoer was the norm rather than unusual, where most of their friends were also from good, Catholic homes, and where there were teachers who set an example of living the christian life, they would have stood a much, much better chance of keeping their faith. Is there anyone who would disagree with that?