Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The USCCB and Catholic Schools

Here is a link to a new statement by the Bishops, "Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium."  There's some really good stuff (and also, I'm afraid, some clunky cliches about "young people" as a "resource", etc.) in the statement.  Here is a taste:

Young people of the third millennium must be a source of energy and leadership in our Church and our nation.  Therefore, we must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education and faith formation designed to strengthen their union with Christ and his Church.  Catholic schools collaborate with parents and guardians in raising and forming their children as families struggle with the changing and challenging cultural and moral contexts in which they find themselves.  Catholic schools provide young people with sound Church teaching through a broad-based curriculum, where faith and culture are intertwined in all areas of a school’s life. By equipping our young people with a sound education, rooted in the Gospel message, the Person of Jesus Christ, and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith, we ensure that they have the foundation to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world. This unique Catholic identity makes our Catholic elementary and secondary schools “schools for the human person” and allows them to fill a critical role in the future life of our Church, our country, and our world (Catholic Schools on the Threshold, no. 9).  It is made abundantly clear in an unbroken list of statements, from the documents of the Second Vatican Council to Pope John Paul II’s 1999 exhortation The Church in America (Ecclesia in America), that Catholic schools play a vital role in the evangelizing mission of the Church. They are the privileged environment in which Christian education is carried out . . . Catholic
schools are at once places of evangelization, of complete formation, of inculturation, of
apprenticeship in a lively dialogue between young people of different religions and social
backgrounds. (Catholic Schools on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, no. 11)

I was pleased, in particular, by the Bishops' strong and explicit endorsement of educational-choice programs. 

Advocacy is not just the responsibility of parents and teachers, but of all members of the Catholic community. As the primary educators of their children, parents have the right to choose the school best suited for them. The entire Catholic community should be encouraged to advocate for parental school choice and personal and corporate tax credits, which will help parents to fulfill their responsibility in educating their children. . . .

Parents have the constitutional right to direct the upbringing and education of their children
(Pierce v. Society of Sisters), and we call on the entire Catholic community to join in advocating for the opportunities and resources to implement this right through constitutionally permissible programs and legislation . . . .

In some states, so-called “Blaine” amendments, which ban or severely limit assistance to private and/or religious schools, make the attainment of this goal very difficult, if not impossible. These amendments are part of an anti-religious and, more specifically, anti-Catholic legacy in our nation’s history. We need to advocate for the repeal of these relics of unfortunate bigotry.

The primary and most powerful obstacles to school choice are the teachers unions, many members of which are Catholics.  Do these members do enough to challenge their unions (which also, of course, do many good things) about their implacable hostility to choice-based reforms?

Also welcome, in my view, were the Bishops' clear challenges to Catholic laypeople to take more seriously their stewardship and social-justice obligations, and -- even more important -- the connection between those obligations and supporting Catholic schools. 

We call on the entire Catholic community—clergy, religious, and laity—to assist in addressing
the critical financial questions that continue to face our Catholic schools. This will require the Catholic community to make both personal and financial sacrifices to overcome these financial challenges. The burden of supporting our Catholic schools can no longer be placed exclusively on the individual parishes that have schools and on parents who pay tuition. This will require all Catholics, including those in parishes without schools, to focus on the spirituality of stewardship.  The future of Catholic school education depends on the entire Catholic community embracing wholeheartedly the concept of stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, and translating stewardship into concrete action.

It is unfortunate, but true, that many Catholics (in my experience) seem to regard Catholic schools as (a) the business and concern of parents with school-age children only; or (b) helpful back-up choices for those who live in areas with lousy public schools.  This statement connects Catholic schools to the heart of the Church's ministry.  One wants to be charitable and pastoral, of course, but I wonder if the Church does enough to challenge Catholic parents who can, but don't, send their children to Catholic schools?

The statement ends on a rock-solid note:

As we, the Catholic bishops of the United States, and the entire Catholic community continue our journey through the twenty-first century, it remains our duty to model the Person of Jesus Christ, to teach the Gospel, and to evangelize our culture. We are convinced that Catholic elementary and secondary schools play a critical role in this endeavor. “Thus it follows that the work of the school is irreplaceable and the investment of human and material resources in the school becomes a prophetic choice . . . it is still of vital importance even in our time” (Catholic Schools on the Threshold, no. 21).

Thanks to my student, Chris Pearsall (formerly with the USCCB) for alerting me to the new statement.



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