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Sunday, 6 January 2008

Lancaster diocese smokes out the secularists

I have been remiss in not posting something about the excellent document from Lancaster Diocese, "Fit for Mission? Schools." This is part of a diocesan Mission Review and has received widespread praise, including an enthusiastic endorsement from Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, Secretary for the Congregation for Clergy who said,
The Congregation is especially pleased as your pastoral plan is precisely that which was called for in the "General Directory for Catechesis" after the release of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church"'
(Cf. the CBCEW press release.)

Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue said,
"To be honest, I have been overwhelmed by the positive response! Before Christmas, my office was inundated with congratulations, enquiries, and requests for copies of Fit for Mission? Schools from within the diocese, from around the country and internationally."
I have not read the whole document yet but even just skimming through, I am bowled over by it. I know that trads may pick holes in one or two bits of it but frankly this is in a different league from anything I have seen in terms of school policy in over 23 years as a priest. Here are one or two quotations that give you an idea of why it has had such an enthusiastic reception. In the initial action checklist, one of the "actions" for creating a Catholic ethos is:
Create / enhance
  • Respect for the authority of the doctrinal and moral truth safeguarded by the Pope and the Bishops
Another "action" under Pillar 1. Profession of Faith is:
Use the CCC
  • CCC in library
  • CCC for each teacher
  • Primary schools - one classroom set of the compendium
  • Secondary schools - one classsroom set of the CCC and the compendium
  • Train Teachers in the use of the Catechism
The document also recommends schools to arrange a Corpus Christi procession and to check that Sunday Mass is included in all school trips or activities taking place over a weekend. Schools are encouraged to pray for vocations and to identify possible candidates. The schools are told not to refer pupils to outside agencies for counselling on matters related to sex since "this is the prerogative of the parents". The checklist also includes the question,
"How do we empower our pupils with the absolute truth of Catholic doctrinal and moral teaching?"
Discussing this with other clergy, I suggested that the "crunch" will come when a school receives its Diocesan Religious Inspection and gets a bad grading for not following the policy. There are plenty of ways that a Headteacher or Governing Body could make trouble for the Diocese. And it seems that the allies of such troublemaking are already digging in and positioning their artillery.
The Observer reports (MPs challenge 'doctrinaire' bishops):
Barry Sheerman, chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, schools and families, said he had heard of other cases and felt that behind the scenes there was 'intense turmoil' about the future of Catholic education. 'A group of bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line and I think it would be useful to call representatives of the Catholic church in front of the committee to find out what is going on,' he said. 'It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers' money after all.'
It is an amazing admission on the part of a senior parliamentary figure that he thinks that it is all right to have "faith schools" as long as people are "not that serious about their faith." It is no surprise to find this but it is a surprise to see it stated so baldly. It seems as though everyone just assumes that Catholic schools are not going to be all that serious about their faith. It is ludicrous to characterise Bishop O'Donoghue as a "fundamentalist" but clearly anyone who takes the Catholic faith seriously is considered to be such.

The National Secular Society goes further and calls the mild-mannered bishop's perfectly balanced and sensible approach to Catholic education "a Taliban-style regime of Catholic orthodoxy". (NSS - Religion in schools – long overdue for a radical rethink) It was the NSS which first gave the story to the Observer and they seem to feel that they have Ed Balls in their circle of influence:
It is time for Ed Balls to do what other education ministers have not had the guts to do – tell the Archbishops and the bishops that their time is up in schools.
It seems that they may be right in their assessment of the Schools Secretary as we see from this sinister snippet:
Asked about his opinion on faith schools, Mr Balls said they were being monitored and that measures would be taken if they proved to be "divisive".
To be honest, I am not confident that we will win the battle with the secularists for our schools: we have given in for so long that we no longer have the resources within Catholic Education circles for the fight. As I have suggested, it is likely that much of the most serious trouble will come from people within the Catholic education system itself: senior staff, governors and officials who will be outraged that the Church should suggest that they actually follow the teaching of the Catechism and other documents as "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality". But it is good to see that in at least one diocese the education department will go down fighting.
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