Daily Mail article and compulsion in Catholic education

There's an article in the Daily Mail (for tomorrow's print edition) called "Head 'too religious' to run a Catholic college". I should make it clear (as I have to various journalists who have all been quite understanding) that I absolutely cannot speculate or comment in any way on the reason for the Principal's resignation, or the investigation into Leadership and Management, etc. (Nor will I publish any comments on this blog that speculate on those issues.) But, of course, there are some things that apply more generally and I'm happy enough to comment on those.

Generally, the Mail article doesn't have the anti-Catholic ring of yesterday's Guardian. Unfortunately, it does repeat the caricature of Barbara McGuigan - something that needs to be addressed more fully at some stage. I was amused to see that the Marian procession has now become "a procession around the playing field carrying religious icons."

The article ends:
Father Finigan said today: "It is ridiculous to call a Catholic institution too Catholic. The college is not in the business of compelling students."
Actually, the two sentences were in separate parts of a conversation but you can't be too fussy about these things. Of course it is ridiculous to call a Catholic institution "too Catholic" - rather as it would be to call a sports college "too sporting".

As to "compulsion", it is true that no Catholic institution wants to be in the business of compelling students. The ideal is to encourage students to develop in their faith and to engage them in various activities including prayer, worship and religious education.

However, "compulsion" is a loaded word. There are some things that will be a part of the life of a Catholic school or College. You could say that pupils are "compelled" to attend registration, or that students studying physics are "compelled" to attend physics classes. Traditionally, there have always been pupils in schools who have complained about being "forced" to do sports. (The young Joseph Ratzinger himself hated sport at school!)

Naturally, as students get older, it is more important for the element of personal engagement to be encouraged. However, I am glad that the CES has not given in on the question of a change in the law for sixth forms. If students have a personal "right" to opt out of all religious activities, it would greatly hamper major events in a College or school. Exercising the right to "opt out" would apply across the board so that students could demand the right to stand outside while prayers were said at the beginning of a whole school event.

A Catholic educational institution should be able to have prayers and religious education at events that are for everyone without having to pick their way through some legal maze of "my rights". As so many people have commented in various places on the internet and in the community, if you apply to a Catholic institution, you must not be surprised if it is Catholic.

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