The future of Catholic education is now exercising the minds of many in Ireland today. No doubt you have been following Caroline McCamley's posts on the St Genesius Blog: as a Catholic parent of four school-going children she is more qualified than most to speak, but, as experience teaches, she and those like her will be the last the powers that be will listen to in the debate. Why? Because of agendas. With a country that has the most liberal approach to education - allowing parents decide and our Constitution demanding that the government support them and provide finance for the schools parents have chosen, there seems to be little desire on all sides to actually respect this liberal approach. Instead, it seems to me, many movers and shakers want to impose a State system which will restrict choice. Now there's a thing - I'm pro-choice....when it comes to education. Why? Because that system allows for and respects religious freedom.
That said, the Catholic Church does have a lot of schools, and it is unfair for the Church to have to carry the burden of providing education for all the children of the state. Now that, of course, is no problem if there is no other provider, but there is, or if the majority of the parents in the state want a Catholic education for their children. This burden is even more unfair when you have a system where government insists on secularising Catholic schools in the name of "equality" to cater for non-Catholics who have no choice but to go to these schools. There is also the problem of sacramental preparation which takes place in school and that has not been as successful in recent years as it has in the past. Part of the problem there is an awful catechetical programme which should be consigned the flames and a new team of orthodox catechists appointed to write a new one.
So I'll put my cards on the table. I favour Catholic schools primarily for Catholic children. If we have to lose some of our schools to achieve that, well and good, but we do not let go without getting a very good deal from the state and cast-iron guarantees that we can have Catholic schools with a Catholic ethos with Catholic teachers, or at least those who support and will implement a Catholic ethos. I do not think getting palsy-walsy with the government is a good idea - we have to have our wits about us to get a good deal and the freedom we require, so doomsday speeches and homilies and a quick rush to the solicitors to sign over properties is a bad idea. If that is the way things are going to go, then we will be a pushover and we will lose our schools, even those we are "allowed" to keep. The Constitution allows us to keep our schools and our freedom - time we used that wise document to our favour. And we do not give away schools if we have a Catholic population to fill them - so the numbers game is a no-no for now. We do not hand over 50% or 40% or 90% unless the Catholic parents do not require these schools.
Regarding sacramental preparation. Well my personal opinion is that it needs to be taken out of the schools and returned to the parish. In our Catholic schools we should have a strong catechetical programme taught by those who know and practice the faith, but the preparation for sacraments should then require additional catechises in a parish context. Now some may say that is unreasonable - it will take too much time: exactly, that's the idea. Such a programme might finally finish the "rite of passage only" dimension to the sacraments where those who are not committed to the faith go through the programme for the day out, the dressing up, the photographs etc. This system will also provide for children who cannot get into Catholic schools but who are committed to their faith. Will this system exclude people? Yes, of course it will - it will exclude those who do not really want to be included.
We can look to the US and the UK for examples of how all this can be done. Now the Church in the UK is having difficulties at the moment, the old guard, left-wing by nature, is trying to enforce its own agenda and it seems that they having some success, as recent developments in London's Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School affair reveal. So we have to be careful. If we play our cards right and stick to our guns, and get the right people involved, we will be successful and we will find that our schools, as in every other country, will rise to the top. Of course there will be accusations of elitism, and our socialists in the Church may not like that, they may prefer "bog comprehensives", but such ideas and those who insist on them will just have to be pushed to one side. We must give our Catholic children the best education we can - in faith, and for the world. If we bear that in mind we will do well. Indeed if we put half the energy we have put in to the Child Protection procedures into building a new Catholic educational system and exorcising the old, then we will have one of the best in the world. But will the Church in Ireland bother........?