The month of September marks the beginning of a new school year. Given the growing rhetoric in Alberta that is once again advocating for an end to Catholic public schools, I thought it is important to outline why maintaining the Catholic ethos and identity of our schools is critical in the face of such arguments. This fall we will also have the election of new Catholic trustees who must be committed to promoting the vision and mission of our publicly funded Catholic schools.
What is a Catholic school and what makes it distinct and relevant in our current society? Catholic schools are communities of faith and learning. They can be diverse in their configuration i.e. public, private or charter, yet focused on presenting the unity of truth which is acquired through reason and faith and which ultimately binds us. It might be a surprise to some, but Catholic schools are not intended to be for Catholics alone nor to exclusively advocate the Catholic faith. They are in fact school communities for all but which are rooted in a Catholic world view, ethos, and identity that serves to inform a wider view of educating our young people.
Catholic schools are not institutions of propaganda, as some would argue, nor are they to be driven by agendas, theories, and educational trends of a government ministry. The Catholic educational tradition offers experiences of learning that allow for evangelization and the catechetical support of young people in the faith. However, the task of education is much broader. It is to promote a wholistic experience of learning that forms and completes every person, preparing them for life, to appreciate the value of their life, and that of others, by offering back to society values and goods that they willingly share for the benefit of all in our society. This is the distinctly Catholic approach to education which enhances the human formation and mature development of the next generation of young people.
Pope Benedict, in his critique of our contemporary educational culture, used the term “educational emergency” to describe the increasing difficulty that we encounter in transmitting the basic values of life and good behaviour to the new generation of young people. At the core of this “emergency” is the belief that truth is relative, that what I subjectively believe to be true for myself is “truth” and must be accepted by others. Pope Francis has also identified this tension between unity and diversity of truth for educators – “Dialogue, in fact, educates when a person relates with respect, esteem, sincerity of listening and expresses themselves with authenticity, without obfuscating or mitigating one’s identity” which is nourished by an evangelical faith and inspiration. This is the role of our Catholic school teachers who must engage in this dialogue through their teaching in a society and culture which is becoming more secular.
The Catholic school curriculum needs to have this intercultural dialogue while balancing the relationship between religious education and catechesis. This initiative of intercultural dialogue is distinctly Catholic and one which we offer to society through our Catholic schools. The teaching of the Catholic religion has it own aims which are different from catechesis which promotes a personal relationship with Christ and a maturing Christian life-whereas religious teaching offers knowledge about Christianity and the Christian life in meaningful and culturally enriching ways. Catholic schools have a core curriculum of religious faith instruction that permeates all subjects. For Catholic students, this might also serve as a pathway of catechesis which must always respect a wider and more meaningful integration within the family and the life of the Church. This curriculum is primarily “knowledge-based” for those students who are not part of the Catholic tradition. It invites them to be reflective, to grow in religious literacy and knowledge while being open to a human formation that reflects the Christian understanding of the human person, their inherent dignity and destiny.
Catholic schools, both public and private, have the potential to contribute to the cultural enrichment of society. Despite the hostility towards religion, these schools will serve as a continuing recognition of the importance of religion and belief in civic society. Therefore, Catholic schools have a unique opportunity to enter these debates to teach about the value of religion and religious ways of thinking to a wider society. The key to the future mission and identity of our Catholic schools is the commitment of the parents and teachers to see Catholic education as an enrichment of our culture through such a Catholic ethos and identity. Education by its nature requires an openness to other cultures without the loss of one’s identity. We cannot lose sight of this rich tradition of Catholic education and schools.
☩ Most Reverend William T. McGrattan, D.D.
Bishop of Calgary
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A friend of mine recently told me a story about the joy of taking the family to dinner.
Their father was in an advanced state of dementia. His care became more than his family could provide at home, so they were forced to place him in a nursing home. But they remain devoted. Dad was always easy to love, and still is, even when the greater part of him is gone.
One night the family visited and stayed to have dinner with him. It was the usual generic dining hall fare. Dad had little to say. In his younger days he was bone-shakingly funny and the tireless, unapologetic cheerleader for his children; now he mostly repeats simple questions.
When dinner was over and everyone was getting up to leave, Dad suddenly became agitated. No one could understand what was wrong nor could he articulate his distress. Then his wise daughter-in-law had an idea. She handed him a paper napkin and a pen. He scratched away, at peace, and handed the napkin back.
The napkin was the cheque for the meal and he was paying for it. His joy was to take his family to dinner.
At that moment, his family saw their dad both as he had been and what he had become. In the fog of Alzheimer's, the essence of his old and protective habit of love survived. Everyone also learned something from the loving insight and action of the daughter-in-law.
The love that Jesus demands of us, his disciples, is that simple and profound. He asks us to love one another as he has loved us: to put ourselves second to others, to seek our joy in bringing joy to others, to honor and cherish others simply because they are sons and daughters of the God of mercy and love. This loving father continues to teach his children the transforming love of Christ.
It is the responsibility of all members of the faith community to heed the call to serve and support the formation of our children, whether that call is Catholic school trustee, educator, parent, priest, bishop, or community supporter. The responsibility to show Christ to our students lies on all our shoulders.
As we prepare for another municipal election this fall, it is important that we reflect on the important role of Catholic trustees and their vocation of service.
The role itself can be described in a variety of ways - politician, goal setter, policymaker, planner, communicator, information receiver and disseminator, advocate for education, and role model.
Catholic school trustees are a vital link between the school, the church, the community, and the government, and they provide an essential Catholic oversight of the school division or district. The Catholic school trustee, answering the vocation of trusteeship, is a steward for the Catholic school. This vocation is a call from the Church and the community to bring together faith and political life to share in the central mission of the Church: passing our Catholic faith on to our children.
The Congregation for Catholic Education puts it this way: "The heart and soul of Catholic education is Jesus Christ, and our school system finds its very reason for existence in its communication of the Christian message."
To be a Catholic school trustee represents a dual challenge: trustees must ensure that students are provided an education, while at the same time ensuring that Catholic principles and values are reflected in policies and practices of the school board, thus establishing an education system that is permeated by faith. In practice, this plays out in trustees being accountable to both government legislation as well as Canon Law (Church law).
Through legislation, the government rightly delegates much of its authority for the governance of education to locally elected boards in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. Catholic school boards are also accountable to the bishop in their diocese.
Canon 806(1) states: "The diocesan Bishop has the right to watch over and inspect the Catholic schools situated in his territory, even those established or directed by members of religious institutes. He also has the right to issue directives concerning the general regulations of Catholic school."
The ability to fulfill both a faith role and a political role without compromise is paramount for Catholic school trustees. Their position as leaders in the faith community requires understanding, a willingness to grow, and a commitment to bear daily witness to the faith.
Finally, the trustee is an important link in the partnership of home, school and parish. As representatives of the Catholic community to the government, trustees have the opportunity and responsibility to model their faith in the political arena. Implicit in that role is the responsibility to speak out when legislation or political action threatens to compromise the unique nature of Catholic education. Catholic school trustees must continually call for a discerning, visionary, and purposeful interpretation of legislation that recognizes the essence of Catholic education and its significance to society.
Candidates desiring to run for the position of Catholic trustee should consult the Local Authorities Election Act and the School Act for further information.
All eligible members of the Catholic community have the responsibility to vote on October 16, 2010 and to become involved in decisions regarding Catholic education.
☩ Frederick Henry
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I like Rex Murphy. I look forward to his commentaries on CBC television. I'm not always sure of what he is saying but I love the colourful way he says it.
In a recent commentary on Christopher Hitchens, "The Great Catholic Cover-Up," Murphy opines that Hitchens is one of the most militant, abrasive secularists of our time, perhaps only second in renown to the increasingly tedious and tendentious Richard Dawkins. Militant secularism is a peculiar phenomenon. It prides itself above all on reason, but reason in a very shrunken capacity - a kind of blustering, blistering, angry half-logic that perpetually targets the anachronistic straw-man conception of God as a big, bearded White Guy in the sky.
The same dismissive scorn shows up in Hitchens' piece, particularly in the coda to his loose pseudo-arguments about Pope Benedict's "responsibility" over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in Germany: "Ratzinger himself may be banal, but his whole career has the stench of evil - a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel."
I agree with Murphy that Hitchens is simply "bluster masquerading as reason." What are the facts?
From 1981 to 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of a department that dealt with the defrocking of priests, but not with suspensions and penalties for paedophile priests, which were the responsibility of local bishops. A number of bishops failed to suspend the abusive priests, some of whom continued to abuse. That is the scandal. It has been exposed and dealt with, and a number of bishops have, as a result, resigned. More important, guidelines are now in place to prevent it ever happening again.
In 2001, Pope John Paul asked him to review the local churches' handling of clerical abuse cases to ensure not only consistency and justice but also to ensure that the priests were more speedily dealt with. He accomplished this by amending the procedure for defrocking to allow for a fast-track procedure that did not involve trials.
The following is a brief summary of the Motu Proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela." of 2001.
A: Preliminary Procedures
The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric. Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.
If the allegation has a semblance of truth, the case is referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The local bishop transmits all the necessary information to the CDF and expresses his opinion on the procedures to be followed and the measures to be adopted in the short and long term.
During the preliminary stage and until the case is concluded, the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community, including the victim(s). Indeed, the local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese. This is part of his ordinary authority, which he is encouraged to exercise to whatever extent is necessary to assure that children do not come to harm, and this power can be exercised at the bishop's discretion before, during and after any canonical proceeding.
B: Procedures authorized by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith
The CDF studies the case presented by the local bishop and may also ask for supplementary information where necessary. The CDF has a number of options:
1. Penal Processes
The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct a judicial penal trial before a local Church tribunal. Any appeal in such cases would eventually be lodged to a tribunal of the CDF.
The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct an administrative penal process before a delegate of the local bishop assisted by two assessors. The accused priest is called to respond to the accusations and to review the evidence. The accused has a right to present recourse to the CDF against a decree condemning him to a canonical penalty. The decision of the Cardinals members of the CDF is final.
Should the cleric be judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal processes can condemn a cleric to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state. The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures.
2. Cases referred directly to the Holy Father
In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may choose to take the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree of "ex officio" dismissal from the clerical state. There is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree.
The CDF also brings to the Holy Father requests by accused priests who, cognizant of their crimes, ask to be dispensed from the obligation of the priesthood and want to return to the lay state. The Holy Father grants these requests for the good of the Church.
3. Disciplinary Measures
In cases where the accused priest has admitted to his crimes and has accepted to live a life of prayer and penance, the CDF authorizes the local bishop to issue a decree prohibiting or restricting the public ministry of such a priest. Such decrees are imposed through a penal precept which would entail a canonical penalty for a violation of the conditions of the decree, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state. Administrative recourse to the CDF is possible against such decrees. The decision of the CDF is final.
Pope Benedict is not responsible for a coverup. On the contrary, he is the one in the Vatican who has done most to rid the church of this scourge. He is the one who has acted most consistently and energetically to improve the church's handling of these cases.
☩ Frederick Henry