Perhaps Catholic schools no longer provide an answer…


Over at The Wanderer, James J. Kirkpatrick has written a defense of San Francisco’s Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, for injecting a so-called “morality clause” into the contract of archdiocesan teachers. Archbishop Cordileone has come under heavy fire from activists—including some self-identified “prominent” Catholics—who claim the clause would “create a repressive environment in which not only dissent, but any critical thought, robust exchange of ideas and genuine dialogue are discouraged and punishable by loss of livelihood.”

All Archbishop Cordileone apparently has required is that employees of San Francisco’s archdiocesan schools “conform their hearts, minds and consciences, as well as their public and private behavior, ever more closely to the truths taught by the Catholic Church.” These moral issues include “adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations” as well as “the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Presumably, Kirkpatrick accurately assesses that

…this is not the understanding of the role of teachers of secular subjects in Catholic schools held by those protesting Archbishop Cordileone’s morality clause in San Francisco; they do not see the teachers of secular subjects as “ministers” of the Catholic faith.




Yes, the ideal is that “practical” Catholics (defined by Kirkpatrick as “loyal to…Church teaching”) should be teaching every course in the curriculum. It is also quite likely that those who protest the Archbishop’s mandate don’t hold that view.

The issue isn’t just who is teaching those courses, as the ideal is that every employee appreciates one’s ministerial role simply because the school is a Catholic school.

Why? Contrary to Mr. Kirkpatrick’s assessment, the subject taught in Catholic schools is not the various academic disciplines comprising the curriculum. No, the subject taught is each and every student enrolled in the school.

Those who work in Catholic schools are charged with forming what the Church calls an “integral person,” that is, a person whose mind, body, and soul are imbued with the truth as revealed by the Gospel as well as the truths unveiled by human arts and sciences.

In this sense, administrators, teachers, and staff members of a Catholic school aren’t just “professionals” but also are a community of adult “ministers” who collaborate in forming integral persons and, at a minimum, each according to one’s contractual responsibilities. If “practical” Catholics aren’t available, there are many “practical” non-Catholics and non-Christians who might very much desire to minister in this way to the students enrolled in Catholic schools. Certainly this is not the ideal, but preferable to a community of adults who are, at best, “Catholic In Name Only.”

But, Kirkpatrick veers away from the facts when he asks whether this ideal is a realistic possibility or even necessary, in every instance. Yes, as he notes,

It doesn’t make sense for a Catholic school to hire teachers of subjects such as those who are going to devote their classes to promulgating a worldview indistinguishable from what is taught at a “progressive” academy in Greenwich Village or Berkeley.

He then adds:

That is not the reason why Catholic parents send their children to Catholic schools.

Really? For decades, research findings have been rather consistent: Parents send their children to Catholic schools for a number of reasons. In general order of preference, these include: a strong academic reputation; a climate characterized by order and discipline; teachers who care; and, a sense of community that emphasizes generic, pan-Protestant values. Teaching and practicing the Catholic faith appears very low in the list of reasons (anywhere from 10th to 15th).

Reminiscing a bit about his five brothers and sisters, all of whom graduated from their parish elementary school in the late 1950s and 60s, Kirkpatrick notes:

…we could chose [sic] from literally dozens of Catholic high schools in New York City, run by many different orders of priests and religious brothers and sisters: Jesuits, Marists, Christian Brothers, Dominican Sisters, and the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, for starters. It was pretty much the same during the years I taught at a Catholic high school in the Bronx in the mid-1960s.

Once again, Kirkpatrick is accurate in that many people do “call those years the ‘golden age’ of Catholic education in the United States.” And perhaps they were. He is also accurate when assessing that

…there were very few laymen who taught with me who considered themselves “ministers” of the faith. In fact, not all practiced their faith. Not all were Catholics. More than a few dissented from the Church’s teachings on contraception, divorce and remarriage, and abortion.

But, Kirkpatrick may not be as accurate as he believes in his assessment that

 All of them…would have accepted—some more compliantly than others—a requirement that they not use their classes to proselytize anti-Catholic views; all would accept the proposition that they serve as models of good behavior and solid citizenship in their role as teachers. All would agree that they had a responsibility to teach academically sound courses. (italics added)

Today, the sad fact is that many graduates of those Catholic schools Kirkpatrick laments having passed from the scene are not “practical” Catholics but hold dubious moral positions that align better with those of liberal Protestantism. Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin are but two examples of “prominent Catholics” who had nearly the same educational experience about which Mr. Kirkpatrick reminisces…all the way through Catholic college and graduate school.

In fact, the research once again is pretty clear that, beginning in the mid- to late- 1960s—as the transition to lay faculty started—those who have taught in Catholic schools have been eerily similar to the public at large in terms of their attitudes about Catholic moral teaching, in general, and the very matters Archbishop Cordileone has contractually mandated, in particular.

Apparently, those teachers weren’t quite as willing to comply with keeping their moral opinions to themselves. One outcome of this transition has evidenced scores on standardized tests of basic knowledge of the Catholic faith and its practices have for the most part demonstrated no significant difference between graduates of Catholic elementary and high schools and those who attended parish religious education programs.

Embarrassing but true.

In retrospect, that “Golden Age” about which Kirkpatrick reminisces may not have been so golden, after all. It may have been in some respects, but not quite as golden as Kirkpatrick implies.

Yes, it would be a tremendous boon to the Church if, as Kirkpatrick notes,

…the religion courses were sound, and the social studies and literature courses were supportive of Catholic values, and the Mass and the rosary were regular parts of the students’ lives, the school was solidly Catholic, worth every dollar in tuition payments.

In most locales. there simply aren’t a sufficient number of those “practical Catholic” parents whom Kirkpatrick identifies as “looking for a solidly Catholic environment for their children” for parishes to operate the kind of Catholic school he envisions.

Perhaps the more challenging and difficult truth that must be considered in light of the signs of the times is that, in face of the fact that many so-called “Catholic” schools are “Catholic in Name Only,” perhaps the Church should stop sponsoring educational institutions. After all, finding qualified personnel has been a perennial problem for Catholic schools. Paying a just wage to those who are qualified and willing to teach in Catholic schools has also been a perennial problem for Catholic schools. Building and funding those schools has been yet another perennial problem for Catholic schools.

The Church has an interest in the moral education of baptized children, not necessarily in building Catholic schools to do that. Parents possess a prior right to educate their children as they see fit and when it come to the moral education of Catholic children, the Church must figure out how best to support parents in what is their prior right.

Confronting a new age having different challenges may require discerning more effective ways to catechize children and young adults so that one day, they will be the kind of “practical” adult Catholics that all of us would hope they would be. After all, they’re going to be the Church’s future if it’s to be a Catholic Church.




To read James J. Kirkpatrick’s article in the Wanderer, click on the following link:

To read about the reaction to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s mandate, click on the following link:

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link:

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  1. The supposed Golden Age somehow led rather rapidly to complete collapse of Catholic culture in the biggest US cities. Some of that can be blamed on elements in the Church angling for that — but where, exactly, were they educated? By the supposedly terrifically formed Catholic schools?

    The problem is deeper than that. The bishops had already decided that the prestige and public political and social power hat their position afforded them mattered more than doctrine. That had happened as soon as none complained about JFK saying his personal conscience wouldn’t influence his political actions.

    Catholic schools made sense when the demographics of Catholics could support them. Now, parishes bring in non Catholics not to evangelize them but to afford the best and building upkeep. The less the student body is Catholic, the less the orthodox Catholics will give their time and treasure to that parish. The more the nominally Catholic will get the sense that Catholic practice isn’t a requirement for their souls, just a tuition break.

    Catholic schools have long since stopped being academically strong. Their teachers are the same as public school ones, educated in the same colleges and with just as little knowledge and no more wisdom.

    The Catholic schools should close until they can evangelize their parishes back to bursting with children. If they can do that, then there may be a point to it again. Right now, it is largely indistinguishable from state ed.

  2. The Kingdom of God will not be advanced by shuttering Catholic schools. They can always be improved. But the greatest enemies of Catholic schools I have long found to be government-school Catholics. God save us all from such “discerning more effective ways to catechize children and young adults.” Their goal is to close Catholic schools, not to catechize the students. Period.

  3. In most locales. there simply aren’t a sufficient number of those “practical Catholic” parents whom Kirkpatrick identifies as “looking for a solidly Catholic environment for their children” for parishes to operate the kind of Catholic school he envisions.

    That’s because it’s been hammered across that a Catholic School won’t provide it– they can’t even provide proper faith formation classes once a week, all too often. More likely to get politics and theology of nice than a foundation for understanding Catholicism.

    It’s not that there’s no demand, it’s that there’s been a huge background of the only folks who come out satisfied are the ones not having kids, if they even stay in the Church.

  4. The key to renewal of Catholic School education is money. Every parish should have an endowment fund to support the nearest Catholic school(s). The endowments would pay teacher salaries only and in proportion to the ratio of active Catholic school students. Local parish control and staffing by volunteers will keep costs low and protect the funds from sex abuse litigation. Funds could be invested in diocesan approved vehicles such as the Ave Maria Rising Dividend Fund. The diocese could provide each parish with exemplar paperwork and bylaws to file 501(c)3 paperwork, saving costs and redundant effort. The intent is to make a Catholic school education as affordable as possible for every active Catholic family. Few middle class families can afford $6k+ per child after tax for tuition. Many baby boomer grandparents would happily contribute to these parish funds where their children reside. Great strength would inhere to the church by ‘feeding the lambs” as most of the active Church volunteers of my acquaintance did indeed attend Catholic school. Pastors need to be an important presence in the schools. They should walk among the children occasionally at recess and visit each class for a short talk at Easter and Christmas. Pay them too, an honorarium. Get the teacher pay above public schools and enroll them in Christian Medical Sharing groups. Let our children attend schools where they see a crucifix above everything sand where the Name of God may be used in prayer. A Catholic person might think a so-called Synod for the Family might actually look at helping our children.

  5. Money isn’t the problem. I wouldn’t allow my children to attend our parish school at any price, including free. The school is crummy. The school can’t teach kids to read or write or spell or subtract. And it still isn’t saving their souls. My kids’ school costs a great deal and is Christian. The evangelicals running it can walk and chew gum at the same time, imagine that.

    At every one of the dozen parochial schools within 4 square miles of my home, an endowment would just allow the schools to carry on their belief that each is good enough because it used to be good enough.

    The question remains: what evidence is there a parish knows how to teach children to read and can save souls at the same time? Currently none. So the parish should focus on the latter. If it can do that, then it can have a school that also focuses on the former.

  6. The reason my kids don’t go to Catholic school is the cost. As costs rose in general, less was spent for the school. But the staffing turned to “professionals” in most cases, who expect to be paid like professionals, regardless of their faith/lives. Over the years this sprials out of control. The solution, I think, is not to close the schools, but to: 1) fund the schools properly, even connecting local parishes to one school; 2) staff the school with teachers and administrators who support and live out the faith (they exist, believe me, they just go teach in the better funded public schools); and 3) priests and bishops need to actively encourage families to send their kids to the schools. (I’ve known too many priests and bishops who don’t show much interest in encouraging Catholic school attendance for Catholics.)

    Pius XI wrote a great letter on education…. we’ve forgotten it.

    (This doesn’t apply to all Catholic schools, just many, many, many of them)

  7. Without a doubt, Catholic schools represent a great potential for the Church. However, in the post-Conciliar era, many of them actually were destructive to the faith because staff members themselves had become hostile to the true faith. Thus, the collapse of the Church in America was being actively assisted by such Catholic schools. Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing.” In other words, even true doctrine, without Christian inner virtue — only possible with prayer — was not sufficient for the Church of the 50″s to digest the Council. Even today orthodoxy alone is not enough. More reliance on prayer is essential. I suspect that TV had a lot to do with the end of the family rosary and evening benedictions. We have to have the courage to renounce other pastimes and give time to prayer, not just for ourselves but for this poor world.

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